THE STORY Teller
TV presenter and archaeologist Neil Oliver reveals his favourite places in the UK – and why he’s heading on tour to spread the word
Everything makes more sense when you study history believes Neil Oliver. “It’s the stuff people talk about. As animals, we’re curious about each other – hence the popularity of gossip magazines.”
Famous for his distinctive long dark hair and for the walking the length of Britain’s coastline presenting the stunning series
Coast, Neil is embarking on his first national tour: The Story of The British Isles in 100 Places. The tour is based on a book of the same name, which he wrote to encourage people to discover what is on their doorstep.
His 16 years of broadcasting have taken him on a personalised tour of the British Isles visiting hundreds of places, and he is often stopped and asked where he recommends. “These are the 100 places I think people should go and see,” he says. He believes his personal account of these places, which all link “like shining gems on a chain”, give an understanding of the British Isles and why they have developed as they have. All the places have witnessed events that are significant to British history; from footprints made by our earliest ancestors, through to the Romans and Vikings and more recently the industrial revolution and two world wars.
He was introduced to history by his father, a salesman who loved taking the family to historical sites, but part of the motivation for the book was his love of archaeology. “It’s the opportunity to handle objects that were last handled by someone 8,000 years ago,” he says. “As well as reading about the Battle of Flodden, in Northumberland, if you go to the place you get a sense, an atmosphere of what it would have been like on that day in 1513. It’s a unique experience that you can’t get from a book.”
He has worked on the project for the past 10 years, but choosing 100 places proved difficult. “Because I have seen so much of Britain there were certain places that remained in my memory as having a significance. My problem wasn’t finding 100, but cutting it back from 500.” Included in his 100 favourites are places as diverse as the Tilbury Fort in Essex; St Wystan’s Church in Repton in Derbyshire, famous for its Anglosaxon crypt; and Dungeness headland in Kent.
Finding a favourite place is hard, but Neil loves Iona in the Inner Hebrides for its beauty and spiritual feel, the magic of Avebury in Wiltshire and the legends of St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Home is Stirling in Scotland, but he spends time unwinding in the little seaside village of Elie in Fife where he ‘disconnects from life’ walking his Irish wolfhound Gracie and spending time with the family.
He hopes that the tour will remind people that you don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to see something interesting. “The story that Britain has to tell I would say is the best story. It has been a place that has mattered for thousands of years. People used to come here for tin and copper to make bronze in the Bronze Age. Cornish tin was one of the best sources of tin in the ancient world. If you grew up here, like people that grow up anywhere, you can easily overlook the significance of your own place.”
As in Coast, Neil will be inviting audiences to look at places in a different way and he hopes they will go away with the same passion for history that he has. “History can sometimes feel like a dry subject you studied at school. But I find it is as thrilling as any Marvel movie.”
Neil Oliver The Story of The British Isles in 100 Places is coming to Cheltenham Town Hall on Friday, October 19.
Visit neiloliver.com for
ABOVE: View of Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount island in Cornwall at sunset