With Channel 4’s brilliant series Walking Through Time finishing this weekend, LFTO chats to presenter Tori Herridge about lost worlds, the science of walking - and competing with Strictly...
OK, so being scheduled against Saturday night behemoth Strictly Come Dancing is a challenge – but it’s not one that is fazing Dr Tori Herridge, presenter of the fabulous Walking Through Time and LFTO’s new favourite TV walker.
The fantastic three-part series reaches its finale this Saturday night with a journey along the Jurassic Coast in Dorset on the trail of one of the most dramatic extinction events in earth’s history.
Key to the series’ success has been Tori herself, a palaeobiologist from the Natural History Museum who has four endearing qualities:
* breathless enthusiasm
* masses of genuine scientific knowledge
* the ability to explain everything without talking down to the audience
* and most importantly for us: a real passion for walking.
Couple all that with beautiful filming and sumptuous landscapes, and you have a recipe for something that’s far deeper and more exciting than the average package of “oooh it’s so lovely” outdoor telly.
“It’s been a real privilege to do this series,” says Tori.
“Fair enough, it’s tricky being up against Strictly, but the first episode got 1.2 million viewers, which is fantastic – in fact it was the most-watched programme on Channel 4 that Saturday.
“I don’t see it as an ‘antidote’ or alternative to Strictly – it’s for anyone who’s curious and loves a mystery, because that’s basically what science is.”
The series is a natural successor to Tony Robinson’s Walking Through History, but instead of focusing on human history, Tori’s emphasis is on natural history from periods ranging from 1.2 billion years ago to ‘just’ 14,000 years ago.
Episode 1 shed new light on the staggering tale of Britain’s only space impact – an asteroid which smashed into what is now the Assynt region of northwest Scotland some 1.2 billion years ago. (In fact she revealed its most likely impact site – the town of Lairg – when previous research presumed it had been lost beneath the waters of The Minch)
Episode 2 traced the journey of a family of mammoths up the Church Stretton valley in Shropshire around 14,000 years ago.
Episode 3, being screened this Saturday, burrows through the layers of history on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, revealing that the muticoloured strata of Lyme Regis, Kimmeridge and Budleigh Salterton are actually the remnants of a mass extinction that wiped out nearly all life on earth.
And as it turns out, Tori’s dual passions of walking and science have more in common than you might think.
“Science and walking are both about curiosity I think,” says Tori.
“You head out there partly for the views and the escape and the exercise, but also because you want to know more about the world.
“I plan most of my walks like scientific expeditions. The planning involves using your brain, the walking involves endurance. It’s an adventure, one that fires your romantic imagination, but you also have to temper that using your rational mind: being sensible, knowing when you should give up the summit and turn back or change your route.
“When you think like that on a walk, it occupies your mind and forces you to forget all your troubles, and I love that.”
Tori grew up in Southend, Essex, but binged on adventurous books and felt she was “always a mountain person in my head”. On a family holiday to the Lakes at the age of 11, she forced her whole family to climb the Old Man of Coniston because of its appearance as ‘Kangchenjunga’ in the classic children's adventure Swallows and Amazons. At the age of 16 she began walking the eight miles from sixth form college to home every day via the rolling hills of south Essex. And later she became a full-on hillwalker, falling in love with the Scottish Highlands, the Lakes and Snowdonia.
The series has given Tori the opportunity to explore some of her favourite landscape – but she says there are countless more stories to tell in the UK countryside.
“It all depends on the viewing figures obviously, but I’d love to do more,” she explains.
“For instance, I’d love to do the story of Scafell Pike, which is one of the most magnificent volcanic calderas in Europe once you unlock its geology.
“But I’d be just as happy telling the story of the mountain bumblebee, which is incredibly rare but is making a comeback in the Shropshire Hills because they’ve brought back and nurtured the things it needs to survive: hay meadows in the valleys and bilberry on the upland.
“Britain is full of incredible stories of geology and biology, some big, some small. I’m just really thrilled to get the chance to tell some of them.”