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Breakfast Monday, 21 October, 2002, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
Stuck in the middle with ewe
Geoff Walker and sheep on Brennand Farm
The centre of Great Britain is on Brennand Farm
It sounds bizarre but the debate over where precisely is the dead centre of Great Britain is, quite literally, the centre of debate.

BBC News Online has done a series of features this week which pinpoints where exactly lie the dead centres of Great Britain, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Breakfast was live at Fenny Drayton: the 'real' centre of England. Our reporter Quentin Rayner talked to Brady Haran, who has written the below article. And to Margaret Farmer who is a farmer.

The town of Haltwhistle has a claim to fame.

Bright red banners and colourful signs adorn the Northumberland town, proudly declaring it to be "The Centre of Britain".

However it is not the only town boasting the title, the main rival being Dunsop Bridge, Lancashire, 71 miles (114 km) away to the south.

Peat bog near the exact centre of Great Britain
The "true" centre is surrounded by peat bog

BBC News Online used co-ordinates calculated by the nation's chief mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, to find the exact centre.

A global positioning system (GPS), which utilises satellites to find precise co-ordinates, was used in the search.

According to the Ordnance Survey's definition, the centre of Great Britain (factoring in its 401 associated islands) lies on Brennand Farm, about seven kilometres north-west of Dunsop Bridge.

On the exact point - grid reference SD 64188.3 56541.43 - there is no monument or sign. It is just an undistinguished clump of grass surrounded by peat bog.

Low profile

The nearest landmark is a lonely, rocky outcrop known as the Whitendale Hanging Stones.

Farmer Geoff Walker, who runs Brennand Farm, said he did not imagine the site becoming a tourist attraction.

However some hikers occasionally visited the stones, he said.

Middle Knoll, which is near the centre of Britain at Brennand Farm
Middle Knoll is popular with hikers

A more popular destination for hikers is the coincidentally named Middle Knoll, a striking dome-shaped hill just a few kilometres away.

"If the centre had been up on the knoll, then I can imagine that would have been a big tourist attraction," Mr Walker said.

"As it is, only a few people visit the stones so they can say they went to the centre of Great Britain."

Mr Walker farms sheep and suckler cows on the 3,000-acre property, run by his family since 1970.

At nearby Dunsop Bridge - the nearest town to Brennand Farm - the only monument is a payphone.

Box marks the spot

BT installed its 100,000th payphone at the site in 1992 and included a plaque to explain its significance.

It reads: "You are calling from the BT payphone that marks the centre of Great Britain."

In fact, the phone is 4.2 miles (6.8 km) from the true centre.

Payphone at Dunsop Bridge
Dunsop Bridge's monument is a payphone

Postmaster and shop owner Phil Woodhead said the town did not capitalise on its status.

"There is only that payphone really... we haven't put up big signs or anything like that," he said.

"If this was a bigger town with more shops, then maybe we would do something.

"But because we are so small, there is really no-one to push it."

Alternative view

But in Haltwhistle, David Taylor sees things differently.

He runs three businesses which use the name Centre of Britain - a hotel, laundrette and gallery.

He describes himself as an "amateur centrographer" and is passionate about the topic.

The symbolism of being at the centre appeals to the curious part of our minds

David Taylor

He finds the whole business with Dunsop Bridge "irritating" and refuses to believe the centre is anywhere but Haltwhistle.

The method used by the Ordnance Survey - known as the centre of gravity method - was "inappropriate" for Great Britain, he said.

To put it simply, the Ordnance Survey used a computer to find the point at which a cardboard cut-out of Great Britain would balance on a pinhead - its centre of gravity.

'Complicated' system

It is a technique widely recognised and used by many mapping agencies.

However Mr Taylor says this method is "incomprehensible" to most people.

He calculated the centre of Great Britain using six mathematical techniques and most of them gave the answer as Haltwhistle.

Centre of Britain Hotel logo
Centre of Britain Hotel was named in 1997

The main technique, which he says dates back to "ancient times", is finding the mid-point along Great Britain's longest line of longitude (which runs from the Orkney Islands in the north to Dorset in the south).

"The symbolism of being at the centre appeals to the curious part of our minds," he said.

Ordnance Survey spokesman Trevor Mouncey said the gravitational method was "the standard arithmetic principle of determining the centre of an irregular two-dimensional object".

"As such it has been used by everyone from Captain Cook to Nasa. It's a standard scientific application."

The basic problem is one of determining the centre of an irregular three-dimensional object on the surface of a sphere

Trevor Mouncey
Ordnance Survey

Mr Mouncey said the Ordnance Survey calculated the point at the request of a customer, but he did not understand why it generated such interest.

"As a cartographer, the centre of a land mass holds no romance or ethereal connotations as every cartographer and surveyor knows there is no such absolute," he said.

"I guess the less objective among us derive interest and intrigue from these points and I guess it might have something to do with the roll-out of scientific discovery over the last three centuries."

The location of Great Britain's true centre may never be entirely clear because of arguments over what method should be used to calculate it and the fact that Great Britain's shape changes with tides and erosion.

Furthest point

"The basic problem is one of determining the centre of an irregular three-dimensional object on the surface of a sphere," Mr Mouncey said.

"Not only that, but the 'irregular object' is surrounded by water which keeps moving about and is also responsible for changing the shape of the object on a daily basis."

It could be argued the centre of Britain is the furthest point from the sea.

The Ordnance Survey says this point lies just east of Church Flatts Farm, about a mile south-east of Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire.

Over this week, BBC News Online will reveal what lies at the centre of each country in the UK.

The reports include:

  • Tuesday: The couple living at the centre of England, near Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire.

  • Wednesday: Life in a cow field at the centre of Northern Ireland.

  • Thursday: The construction crew working at the centre of Scotland.

  • Friday: The windfarm threatening the scenery at the centre of Wales.

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04 Sep 02 | Wales
15 Mar 02 | Education
02 May 00 | Science/Nature
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