Fine ash produced during explosive volcanic eruptions can be dispersed over a vast area, where it poses a threat to aviation, human health and infrastructure. Here, we focus on northern Europe, which lies in the principal transport direction for volcanic ash from Iceland, one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. We interrogate existing and newly produced geological and written records of past ash fallout over northern Europe in the last 1000 years and estimate the mean return (repose) interval of a volcanic ash cloud over the region to be 44±7 years.