HMS Gannet at the Chatham Dockyard (Dreamstime)
List Words : Wanderlust team | 13 October

7 UK wonders which should be UNESCO World Heritage Sites

With Cumbria's Lake District declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017, we look at seven other UK places on UNESCO's ‘tentative’ list of sites under consideration

1: The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland, Shetland Islands

Mousa ruins, Shetlands (Dreamstime)

Mousa ruins, Shetlands (Dreamstime)

The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland is a combination of three sites scattered across the Shetland Islands. The site on the island of Mousa boasts the tallest Iron Age round tower still standing in the world. Old Scatness, near Sumburgh Airport on the main island, consists of medieval, Viking, Pictish and Bronze and Iron Age ruins. Jarlshof, just down the road from Old Scatness includes a round tower and defensive wall and has been described as ‘one of the most remarkable archaeological sites ever excavated in the British Isles.’

The sites were added to the UNESCO’s Tentative list in 2011. The Tentative List is used as a candidate list by UNESCO from which new World Heritage sites are chosen. The Crucible of Iron Age Shetland is regarded as one most significant examples of the European Iron Age in an area outside the Roman Empire and remarkable in terms of their original construction and in surviving the ravages of time. For the traveller, their evocative setting on the windswept, treeless landscape of the Shetlands is breathtaking and well worth the trip to the UK’s far north.

What UNESCO says

2: Chatham Dockyard and its defences

Figurehead of HMS Wellesley in Chatham Dockyard (Dreamstime)

Figurehead of HMS Wellesley in Chatham Dockyard (Dreamstime)

Lying on the Medway in Kent, to the south side of the Thames estuary, Chatham is the world's most complete example of a historic dockyard from the Age of Sail. It was time when dockyards were the industrial centres of Europe and the fortunes of nation hung on their existence and smooth operation. Chatham was also an important cog in the defence of the Empire, providing the Royal Navy with the facilities it needed to build, repair and maintain the fleet that ruled the waves during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The site is huge and offers an incredible array of attractions for visitors to check out. The proposed World Heritage Site includes the River Medway, the Chatham Historic Dockyard, Brompton Barracks, Brompton Village, Fort Amherst and the Chatham Lines, a continuous array of permanent artillery fortifications built to protect the docks from attack. Kitchener Barracks, Old Gun Wharf and Upnor Castle are included too. The dockyard is already a popular tourist spot, with restaurants and cafes, play areas for kids, and plenty of parking.

What UNESCO says

3: Creswell Crags

The Ochre Horse (Creative Commons)

The Ochre Horse (Creative Commons)

Creswell Crags is a spectacular limestone gorge, honeycombed with caves on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The caves were occupied during the last Ice Age and are home to the northernmost cave art in Europe. As well as cave art, flint tools and engraved bones from Mesolithic times have been found as well.

The area was put on the Tentative List because it illustrates how our early human ancestors responded to long term climatic and environmental change, revealing the adaptability of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens hunter-gatherers. Visitors can explore the site on their own, following a network of walking trails, or go on one of the many guided tours offered. The Cave Art tour is particularly popular, as is the Ice Age Cave tour. There is also a permanent exhibition of objects found in the caves, including bones engraved with human and animal figures, the UK's only known examples of figurative Ice Age art.

What UNESCO says

4: Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory

Down House (Dreamstime)

Down House (Dreamstime)

Darwin's Landscape Laboratory covers the house, gardens and countryside near London where Darwin lived and worked for forty years. It was here, in the gardens and fields of Down House in Kent, that Darwin developed his theory of evolution by natural selection. It is also where he wrote 'The Origin of Species’.

The site was added to the UNESCO Tentative List because Darwin’s daily observations and experiments here had a profound influence on the life sciences, medicine, agriculture, philosophy, the creative arts across the world. Many of the plant, insect and animal species that were observed by Darwin can still be seen in existing habitats today, giving visitors a rare insight into the life and work of this scientific legend. Down House is 16 miles south of London in Orpington and is run by English Heritage.

What UNESCO says

5: Jodrell Bank Observatory

Jodrell Bank Observatory (Dreamstime)

Jodrell Bank Observatory (Dreamstime)

Set in Lower Withington, near Cheshire, the Jodrell Bank Observatory has played an important role in the research of meteors, quasars and pulsars. Home to a clutch of powerful radio telescopes, it has been used to observe cosmic rays and track space probes at the start of the Space Age.

The site's most iconic structure is the enormous Lovell Telescope. It was the largest steerable telescope in the world when it was built in 1957, and is now the third largest. While it is famous for tracking space probes, including many Soviet space craft, it has also performed other important tasks, like measuring the distance from Earth to Venus and Mars.

The Observatory is open to visitors. It boasts a number of intriguing pavilions, including a Planet Pavilion, with a clockwork orrery (a mechanical model of our solar system); a Space Pavilion, that illustrates how radio telescopes discover distant objects in space; and a Star Pavilion that is used for lectures.

What UNESCO says

6: The slate landscapes of North Wales

Abandoned Cwmorthin Slate Quarry at Tanygrisiau in North Wales (Dreamstime)

Abandoned Cwmorthin Slate Quarry at Tanygrisiau in North Wales (Dreamstime)

Slate has been a sought-after commodity in northern Wales since Roman times, but the industry really hit its peak during the 19th century, expanding rapidly between 1856 and 1900. The quarries here supplied roofing materials and slate products throughout the world and developed quarrying technology and transport infrastructure techniques that were adapted around the world.

It also had a profound impact on the landscape of the area as well, creating what UNESCO describe as distinctive quarrying environments and towns and villages that are classic examples of the 19th century industrial vernacular.

The area nominated on the Tentative List is broad and wide reaching. It includes Penrhyn (the quarry, the harbour, the railway and the castle), Ffestiniog (the quarry, hydro power station and railway), Gorsedda (the quarry, tramway and worker settlement), Gwynedd quarry and the main university building at Bangor, because it reflects the quarrymen's financial contribution to, and zeal for, education.

What UNESCO says

7: The twin monastery of Wearmouth Jarrow

St Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth (Dreamstime)

St Peter’s Church, Monkwearmouth (Dreamstime)

The twin monastery of Wearmouth Jarrow was a wonder of its time. Two separate campuses, 14.2 kilometres apart, the monastery operated as one in a very biblical sense. It was a powerhouse of intellectual endeavour, a champion of beauty and craftsmanship and home to the greatest library in Europe. It was here that the great scholar, Bede, was nurtured.

St Peter's, at Wearmouth was the first part built, finished in 672. St Paul's, at Jarrow, was completed in 681. They were the first buildings in the British Isles to be built in stone with Roman-style sculpture and coloured glass windows. They also created a canon of monastic rules that went on to be followed across Europe. Both parts can still be visited today, one on the south bank of the River Tyne, the other on the north bank of the River Wear.

What UNESCO says