We have never been as far as page fifty-eight on our road atlas before.
We live on page three and these days might occasionally get as far as page sixteen, but page fifty-eight is going it some and by rights that end of the book should be pristine, except the atlas fell in a puddle a while back necessitating a dry-out in the bottom oven, so it's now a sort of dessicated, wrinkled, prunish thing, but I do now know every inch between here and John O'Groats and back again.
As you can see, very cold and very windy at John O'Groats and it wasn't long before I succumbed to the allure of an earflap hat on this holiday, but at least we can say we've been there.
I really think Bookhound, the Tinker and I deserve an award for negotiating ourselves around this at 4pm on a wet and windy afternoon.
Bookhound and I for driving and navigating it respectively without grounds for divorce pending, and the Tinker for saying A720 at the right moment when a sign and a lane suddenly appeared out of nowhere. We were heading home via the east coast and Dunfermline and the agreed plan was to cross the Forth Bridge, avoid Edinburgh city centre at all costs, find that A720 ring road somehow, and then get off it onto the A702 and head on south towards Silverburn. Having resisted the temptation to borrow the Gamekeeper's SatNav before we left I'll own up, I was momentarily wishing it would apparate on the dashboard, because there seemed many a slip(road) twixt South Queensferry and the Silverburn road and surely an argument in off-the-beaten-track Musselburgh beckoned.
But no... thankfully peace and harmony prevailed, we found ourselves on the right road and gave ourselves a pat on the back as we ticked off the conquest of another major conurbation.
In typically disorganised fashion I have moved backwards from The Old Ways to reading the second book in Robert Macfarlane's trilogy, The Wild Places and his thoughts on maps have really chimed with all this.
'The commonest map of Britain is the road atlas. Pick one up and you will see the meshwork of motorways and roads which covers the surface of the country. From such a map it can appear that the landscape has become so thickly webbed by roads that asphalt and petrol are its new primary elements... an absence also becomes visible. The wild places are no longer marked. The fells, the caves, the tors, the woods, the moors, the river valleys and the marshes have all but disappeared...'
So I was delighted that we had thought to take an Ordnance Survey map along with us too.
It's a sobering thought as you travel that you can live in a country as comparatively small as the UK all your life and just never have seen bits of it. I had never been further north than Glasgow and so I really didn't want to miss anything. Our planned route north through the Great Glen was wonderful, I'd love to go back and walk it someday, but with a decent map I could at least look and wonder whilst offering a running commentary with useful things like..
' Those are the Monadhliath Mountains over there...'
'Oh this is original, someone ran out of names here ...Loch Lochy.'
I have been reading Nan Shepherd's book The Living Mountain, an exploration of the essential nature of the Cairngorms (slightly to the east of this map) which was Nan Shepherd's 'secret place of ease', and though she feared 'too many boots, too much commotion' with the increase in tourism, she balances that with a generosity of spirit that I must remember when our little West country corner is soon heaving with visitors... 'but then how much uplift for how many hearts'.
The soulless and purely functional nature of the road atlas, complete with its legacy of dried-out damp patches, doesn't thrill or inspire me quite so much...
The journey through Glencoe and on through the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness has to be one of the most spectacular in the UK...
and with a stop at Spean Bridge for the Tinker to pay homage to the Commando memorial, remembering all those who died in the Second World War and since.
This is where the commandoes trained for action in WW II and the attrition rate was high even in training, let alone in the theatre of war, the location is spectacular, the memorial incredibly moving with its Garden of Remembrance to more recent casualties in Afghanistan.
Robert Macfarlane goes on to suggest this about maps...
'The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented....but maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way...they create forceful biases in the way a landscape is perceived and treated...It can take time and effort to forget the prejudice induced by a powerful map. And few maps exert a more distortive pressure upon the imagination than the road atlas....it encourages us to imagine the land itself only as a context for motorised travel. It warps its readers away from the natural world.'
Not something I had actively considered before but now I see it very clearly, and though the road map was sadly essential or we would have been hopelessly lost, with an OS map alongside I also have a real feel for this land of 'stone, wood and water' of which Robert Macfarlane writes. The Wild Places is his own prose map, an attempt to
'...make some of the remaining wild places of the archipelago visible again.. to link headlands, cliffs, beaches, mountain-tops, tors, forests, river mouths and waterfalls.'
From this journey and this book I see that I now have my own memorable illustrated prose map in my mind and imagination too.
How about you..SatNav or road map??
Any spectacular journeys that have given you that mind map too??