HE set himself a massive undertaking, to tell our history, the story of our lands.

But hey, this is Neil Oliver, archaeologist turned journalist cum inveterate roaming television presenter – he was going to come up with the neatest of solutions.

And the title of the tome he talked about in the Queen’s Hall on Saturday says it all: The Story of the British Isles in 100 places.

So it is that the man most well known for treading the Coast ended up taking many a detour inland.

“People stop me in the street and say, ‘You’ve been everywhere ... which are the places I should visit?” he said.

“I usually stall for time, saying there’s so much, so many places that I hardly know where to start ... but after careful consideration of that places question, this book is the answer I have to give.”

The stories and places relevant to telling the story of the British Isles were like stars in the night sky, too numerous to count, he said.

At first sight their volume was overwhelming.

“But if you have someone to point out the patterns – the constellations, planets and galaxies – then the mass of it begins to make sense.”

He begins his book in Happisburgh, Norfolk, where he picks up the scent of pioneer man. Archaeologists examining an area of ancient sediment there in 2013 unearthed a layer of compacted mud that still bore 50 human footprints.

They deduced they belonged to five adults and children, who had most likely been foraging for food, such as seaweed, crabs and shellfish, that particular day almost one million years ago.

He continues the discourse on our antecedents in another chapter, about Creswell Crags on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border.

Oliver said: “Planet Earth has brought forth and let live many different kinds of mankind.” Among them, Homo habilis, the handy man, Homo ergaster, the working man, Homo antecessor, the pioneer man, Homo erectus, the upright man, and Homo sapiens, the wise man – us!

The first inhabitants of the limestone caves at Creswell were Neanderthals, around 50,000 years ago.

“Those Neanderthals would have come on foot, following herds of bison, mammoths and horses,” he said.

“At Creswell Crags they found ready-made homes, places to sleep, butcher their prey, make tools.”

“They left behind hand axes made of flint and other cutting tools, proof of life.”

Fast forward through the centuries and 20 or so chapters on places as diverse as Ceide Fields in County Mayo (The introduction of farming and the daily grind), The Ness of Brodgar on Orkney (The heart of power), Great Langdale in Cumbria (Stone axes and the invention of Heaven), and Wiltshire with its ‘big five’ – West Kennet Long Barrow, Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and Salisbury Museum, home of the Amesbury Archer and the reader arrives at our own Sycamore Gap.

Oliver opens the chapter entitled ‘The boundary of empire’ with: “Best to declare right now that Hadrian’s Wall has never – never – marked the border between Scotland and England.”

It’s a common misconception that can drive a passionate Scotsman into an “eye-popping” rage, said the man from Renfrewshire.

“Given the scale of the thing – and the patchiness of its condition over much of its length nowadays – it is important to pick the best place on the line to appreciate the wall’s majesty and its audacity,” he said.

Serving his purposes to a ‘T’, Sycamore Gap and its eponymous tree are rooted not just in our social and military history, but in a landscape that lends itself admirably to a quick geology lesson. Oliver duly obliges.

On Iona, he charts the coming of Christianity, and at Lincoln Castle the insurrection that led to the Magna Carta and the birth of democracy.

There are the battles that defined us politically – Bannockburn, the Wars of the Roses, the Pitchfork and Jacobite Rebellions – and the places that to this day are synonymous with the First and Second World Wars.

Scapa Flow, Slapton Sands and Alderney still speak of death and occupation.

There are the characters that have, well, characterised us. Sir Francis Drake, Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill are among them, each standing firm at the helm as they sailed into stormy seas and adversity.

There’s the Brontes, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the brawny men of John Brown’s Shipyard on Clydebank and, oh, so much more in this big-hearted book.

Oliver asked if we realised just how lucky we were to live here. “Much of the world has been made a God-awful mess by religion, corruption, internecine war and stubborn stupidity.

“Many folk, from lands so blighted, wish they could have what we have, that they could live as we live. And who could blame a single one of them?”

His book, he said, was a “love letter to the British Isles”.