The sto­ry­teller

TV pre­sen­ter and ar­chae­ol­o­gist Neil Oliver names his favourite places in the UK

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Julie Lu­cas

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.’ N Visit neilo­liver.com for more on Neil Oliver The Story of The Bri­tish Isles in 100 Places tour

ABOVE:View of Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount is­land in Corn­wall at sun­set

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