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Great British facts: 'Henry III had a pet polar bear'

As Dallas Campbell goes in search of secrets lurking below our home turf, Keeley Bolger unearths some other surprising Great British facts

Published 27/06/2015

Cows that can’t be minded drunk
Cows that can’t be minded drunk

The Jam might have shot to number one with Going Underground back in the early Eighties, but doubtless the Surrey punk rock band would dodge their own pleas if they knew what was really lurking beneath Britain's surface.

Back in 2013, a team of workers had the "pleasure" of spending three weeks dislodging the UK's biggest ever "fatberg" - a whopping 15-tonne mass of congealed food, household waste and fat from Kingston Upon Thames. And only this year, one Chelsea sewer made a splash by being the unfortunate host to a 10-tonne fatty floater.

Just thinking about these monstrosities is gross enough, but Bang Goes The Theory presenter Dallas Campbell had the dubious honour of actually heading underground to help unblock the sewer, for BBC One's new two-part series Britain Beneath Your Feet.

Scotland-born Campbell (44) isn't only delving deep into sewers for the show, but sets out to reveal how an underground perspective can offer a fresh way at looking at the hidden rivers, mines, power stations, iconic buildings and amazing wildlife across Britain. He's also finding out more about the ground some of our most well-known structures and cities are built on.

Who knew, for instance, that 325 million years ago, the site where Edinburgh currently sits was once a volcano?

What other surprising things about Britain have been buried underground over the years? We track down some other strange facts about our this land we call home.


Not everyone looks forward to the idea of spending hours in the air, but the world's shortest scheduled flight takes things to the extreme, as far as short haul's concerned. The journey, from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney islands, is only one-and-a half miles and takes just two minutes.


You probably know that the highest point in Britain is Ben Nevis at 4,406ft, but were you aware that England is 74 times smaller than the USA? That Great Britain is the ninth largest island in the world, or that nowhere in the UK is more than 74-and-a-half miles from the sea?


Scouse, Brummy, Welsh ... the British Isles are rich with accents. There are so many different dialects, in fact, that the accent changes with every 25 miles you travel. And there's good news for us too; according to a survey at the start of the year, the "British accent" (whatever that is) is considered the most attractive in the whole world.


Every British passport is issued in the Queen's name and also bears the Royal Arms on the front jacket. And because her name is issued in every British passport, Her Majesty doesn't actually need a passport to travel overseas. The rest of the royals do, however, as do the Queen's horses, ponies and donkeys (though these must have a horse passport).


Next time you receive a piece of post from outside the UK, have a look at the name on the stamp. There, you'll notice that the country the stamp was bought in will be printed on the stamp. The UK is the only country in the world which does not display its name on postage stamps.


The Queen is well known for her beloved pooches - corgis Willow and Holly and dorgis (that's a corgi and dachshund cross) Candy and Vulcan - but her four-legged friends pale in comparison to her royal predecessors' pets. Back in the 1200s, King Henry III had a polar bear, believe it or not, who lived in the Tower Of London and used the River Thames for his daily watery exercise.


If you're researching your family history and you happen to go as far back as the 19th century, don't be surprised if you have to add a few Marys to your tree. Back in 1811, it was thought that nearly a quarter of all women were called Mary.


Hollywood might have led us to believe that dinosaurs, giant sharks and aliens are the things to be afraid of, but often, there's more danger lurking at home. Well, in Britain at least, where as many as 6,000 of us injure ourselves every year, by tripping over our trousers. Even more unlucky are those unfortunate enough to fall down the stairs while pulling up their bottom halves (yep, it really happens). Meanwhile, back in 1999, reports stated that 3,000 people had hurt themselves tripping over a laundry basket.


Among Britain's strangest laws is the one whereby pregnant women can relieve themselves anywhere - should they suddenly feel the urge - including in a policeman's helmet. Meanwhile, it's illegal to look after a cow while drunk, to beat a carpet or mat in the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police, and it's against the law to fire a cannon near a house. Phew.

  • Britain Beneath Your Feet, Thursday, 8pm

Belfast Telegraph

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