Hands up if you've heard of Muckle Flugga!
To eliminate show-offs, could you also place St. Agnes, Soay or Ness Point on the map?
I certainly could not have managed this until recently, yet they are all in our country. They are the north, south, east and west extremes* of Great Britain**.
I always encourage people to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats at some point in their lives to get a better understanding of the place we live in. Nick Hand went one step further in his exploration, cycling a full lap of Great Britain.
But even he didn't make it to the poetic-sounding Muckle Flugga. Our country is full of beautiful, surprising places and we should make the most of these long, lingering summer days to go somewhere we have never been. You don't even need to go far to do this: I bet there is somewhere interesting within 15 miles of your house that you have never been to.
I'm feeling particularly fervent about this at the moment. Here's why...
Years ago I stood at John O'Groats, tired but jubilant, and gazed out to sea (or, more accurately, into the fog). I had conquered Britain by bike and I could go no further.
I was wrong.
For last week I was in the Shetland Isles, more than 100 miles further north than "J O'G". This time, as I stood outside my tent in the soft solstice midnight light I looked at the lighthouse on Muckle Flugga and the tiny islet of Out Stack, I was at the top of Britain. And I realised that only now was I beginning to realise how little I know of my own country.
My tent was pitched on a patch of flat green grass like a billiard table. A metre away from the door was the cliff edge, swirling with puffins and scores of other seabirds swirling above the crashing turquoise waves far below. Not only was it one of the best camping spots I have enjoyed in Britain, it was one of the best in the world. You don't need much time or money or expertise to experience a night's camping like that. You just need to go do it.
I have not yet been to St. Agnes, Soay, Ness Point, Rockall, or any number of other super places. But I certainly will do. It's a lifetime's work to know your own country, and there's no better time to start than right now.
* - pedant alert: I have not included the Channel Islands because they are Crown Dependencies, not constituent parts of the United Kingdom and Rockall is not internationally recognised. There are a couple of other pedantic details too, but summer is not the time to be discussing stuff like this!
** - apologies to Scottish, Welsh, Shetland and Scillian separatists!