The Birth of Britain Review: Tony Robinson Gets Icy…

BIRTH OF BRITAIN: Monday 24th January, C4, 8pm

“Wow, that’s what I call a change in the weather.â€?

So says Tony Robinson in tonight’s Birth of Britain which looks at the Ice Age of Britain and how it changed our landscape forever. While ‘climate change’ is a term banded about nowadays, often as if it were a modern phenomenon; as Robinson reminds us, natural climate change has seen warm spells followed by ice ages for hundreds of thousands of years.

Robinson begins his quest of discovery with the Loch Ness, and meets naturalist Adrian Shine (and yes, judging by his unkempt monster of a beard, he is also a ‘naturalist’ when it comes to appearance), a man who has spent more than 30 years investigating the myths and facts of Loch Ness.

Never mind the Loch Ness Monster – what’s of more interest to scientists is how the Loch Ness became so impossibly deep (it is said to go beyond 750 foot). By drilling into the lake bed, Shine is able to demonstrate that, “if ever there was a monster in that lock, it was a glacier.â€? He also takes Robinson to see the ‘Rocking Stone’ a large rock which sits (or ‘rocks’, due to its seemingly wobbly balance), 1,200 feet up a steep valley. Shine uses the rock as evidence to show how high the glacier reached. As he points out, “it’s not fallen out of the sky,â€? and in fact “the ice put it hereâ€?. We’re also told of a myth concerning the rock: he warns Robinson, “if you’re a McDonald by the way, you should avoid it because it’s meant to fall on you.â€?

Thankfully safe of any McDonalds in his ancestry, Robinson moves on to Glasgow, Hornchurch and finally Leicester Square. Along the way, we find out about three strange parallel lines in the valley of Glen Roy, which for 200 years, scientists (including Darwin) have been trying to make sense of. Some have even attributed it to the work of fairies, which, disappointingly hasn’t become the widely accepted theory.

The effects of the Ice Age can be found everywhere in Glasgow, from the uneven, far-from-flat surfaces (cue a shot of Robinson puffed out and cycling uphill) to the ‘drumlins’ it sits on – raised egg shaped mounds in the land. Meanwhile in Hornchurch, Robinson discovers evidence of the most southerly reaching glaciations in Britain. Palaeontologist Danielle Schreve demonstrates this by analysing the muddy steps at the side of a humble railway embankment, proving that it’s not just the ‘scenic’ locations that carry historic evidence.

Elsewhere, Schreve presents fossilised spotted hyena droppings (nice) and explains how hyenas, along with monkeys, rhinos and elephants were all once common in Britain during periods of warmer climate.

For a subject that at first glance might seem pretty basic (well, if you belong to the ‘ice is just frozen water’ school of thought, that is), Robinson’s ice ‘voyage’ uncovers some fascinating facts about the lands we live in (strange to think that lions and hippos once roamed Leicester Square). Of course, an interest in the effects and development of an Ice Age will serve you well, but for anyone wondering ultimately, what is the relevance of all of this analysis, as Robinson says, “if it wasn’t for the Ice Age, we wouldn’t have the white cliffs in Dover and Britain would still be part of France.â€?