An explorer's guide to the islands of Britain

Time spent near or in water is the secret to health and happiness. Over the past 10 years compelling and consistent science has been explaining that the rivers, oceans, lakes, canals, waterfalls, fountains and even bathtubs of our wild places and homes makes us feel more relaxed, energised and connected and that proximity to outdoor blue spaces makes us more active too.

This blog explores ‘blue space’ and the staggering scale and diversity of it in the UK’s wild and urban places, as well as our homes and gardens. Over the next year we will be discovering all of the different forms of water in the UK, experiencing it with all our senses and playing in it in every way possible! Quite simply we want to understand how we can all get more time in the amazing blue spaces we have in the UK.

This is the first of a series of blogs – be prepared to be amazed by how much water there is out there.

Water, water everywhere

In the wild, water is quite literally found everywhere in the UK. Here’s an idea in numbers:

  • 1500 discrete river systems and multiple streams and brooks that make up an astounding 200,000 km of water courses
  • 90 river estuaries
  • 40,000 lakes in the UK with 31,460 lochs and lochans in Scotland alone and innumerable natural ponds
  • 11 major aquifers
  • 105,000 springs, wells and boreholes
  • 19 hot springs
  • 31,368 km of coastline
  • 6000 islands
  • 60 peninsulas
  • 44 bays stacked with beaches and rock pools and
  • 131 significant waterfalls

It’s not just about amazing numbers though, we have some stand out quirky things too. We’ve the second highest tidal range (15 metres) in the world along the Bristol Channel – just stand next to a cliff at low tide and look up to the seaweed high above you, hanging off the high tide mark. We also have the unique phenomenon of the Severn Bore, which is so big at times that it can be easily surfed.

Adding life to urban landscapes

It’s not just the about the wild places though, water is found everywhere in our built environment too. Fountains and architectural water features decorate towns, city centres and country houses where they add life to the landscape. We have built canals and aqueducts, wells, seawater lidos, swimming pools, surf-domes and moats and our homes have baths, showers, sinks, bird baths, fishponds and paddling pools. It is undeniable that we have built water and blue space into our lives so that we can sit next to or in it, walk beside it, listen to it, be mesmerised by its movement, feel the touch of it on our skin and feel refreshed, energised or calmed as a result.

Is it going to rain tomorrow?

Water exists in our lives in another way too. There’s no escaping the fact that us Brits talk about the weather a lot. If you think about it though when we talk about the weather most of it relates to water – whether it is falling on our heads, filling up our rivers, freezing over our cars, brushing the landscape white, painting amazing colours or forming changing shapes in the sky or a ‘real pea-souper’.

In its myriad forms water creates an incredible diversity of weathers to experience with all of our senses. We can see it, feel and hear it and touch it. We can walk and play in it, photograph it or write about it. Whether it’s rain, mist, fog, frost, ice, hail, snow, clouds, rainbows, sleet or humid – it’s all about water and we see it every day.

Jump in with us

I hope we have justified to you that water is quite simply everywhere, we are never more than a few metres away from it, but we might not always notice it. There’s a lot of water that remains hidden in plain sight and now’s the time to discover it and celebrate it.

With the support of Ordnance Survey Getoutside we invite you to join our year of the Blue Space Challenge on Facebook – a community for all water lovers in the UK. Over the next 12 months we shall be choosing a theme a month ranging from discovering your local water, water wildlife, how to get in it, under it, on top of it and near it, and experience it with every sense. We’d love you to help us share the magic of water far and wide, so that more of us can discover its secrets in the UK. Ultimately we want healthy water and we want that to be accessible to everyone.

On 1st July, whilst we still respect the ‘lockdown’, the month’s theme will be local water. Be amazed what’s out there, a photo-competition for the most obscure, how to find where the water is, and lots of ideas for families.

We are always planning new islands and adventures, sign up to our newsletter and be the first to know!

Next adventure?