Dear fellow travellers
Hot summer days! And the polar ice melts. So we retreated to the cool of a library and looked at maps that recall past advances of ice sheets across Europe. The Quaternary ice age, which reached its maximum extent about 25,000 years ago, saw several waves of ice advance. Most of Britain, all of Norway and Sweden and the entire Baltic region were covered by ice.
Those are the broad details which are well known. We doubt whether folk in the Suffolk village of Hoxne spend much time discussing past ice ages. But they have more reason than most of us to reflect on Quaternary glaciation. For one of the stages in the last ice age is named after the village. Evidently, the Hoxnian stage was a mellow period of warmer climate between two cold spells.
Hoxne plays the historical card very deftly. The village claims to be the spot where Edmund, King of East Anglia, met his fate at the hand of the Danes. That cruel moment of English history is recalled in a memorial plaque. Edmund's end seems to have been rather like that of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in October 2011. Edmund was hiding in a culvert when Danish forces found him. Just as Gaddafi over 1100 years later also took refuge in a culvert. This fact may prompt you to reflect on quite what ninth-century culverts were like, but we want to tempt you back to glacial history.
Hoxne cuts a dash in the world of Quaternary geology. Men and women with spades and hammers probably make pilgrimages to Hoxne to pay homage at the type site for one particular interglacial stage. They will surely not find a lot of use for their hammers, for everything is pretty soft around Hoxne. But that hammer is a badge of office for geologists.
Hoxne is one of a number of spots in England that are improbably prominent in Quaternary history. Birmingham and London count for nothing in this narrative. But Wolston does. It's a small community on the main railway line from Birmingham to London. Not for half a century has any train stopped there. The next stage of the Quaternary period after the Hoxnian was the Wolstonian.
One day an enterprising tour operator with an interest in geology might start a glacial tour of England. It could and should include Hoxne and Wolston. It should include a visit to Flintshire and the Wirral for one scene in the ice age drama is called the Devensian. Our dictionary tells us that the Devenses were people living in and around the Dee Valley. The small village of Beeston in north Norfolk is recalled in the Beestonian stage.
Ice-clad Britain with its many periods of interglacial respite has spawned a wonderful litany of names. And the geological maps that recall the various stages of the Quaternary give a very different perspective on our continent. They show how the North Sea was, for a spell, dry land. Now there's a thought to fire the imagination.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)