Treasure Maps

This week I had cause to drive into Huddersfield, an experience which I usually do my best to avoid - not because I have anything against Huddersfield itself, but because the road layout seems almost wilfully confusing. I’m not sure how many ring roads there are, but the endless series of turns and slip roads feels like something from a multi dimensional Escher drawing.

The reason for the drive to Huddersfield was twofold: one to get my van radio fixed and, two, to pick up my husband’s visa. (Regular followers of this Weekly Word and my other writings may be interested to know that he is here. Whoop! TFFT etc.) Consequently, he was in the van with me and informed me - I’m not sure whether it was with disdain or incredulity - that in contrast to the layout of Huddersfield, thanks to Utah‘s grid system you can give him an address for any property in any town in Utah until he’ll be able to find it. There’s no Midgefield Road or Hanging Butt Lane going on there it’s all grid numbers and perfect predictability. Or uniformly dull, maybe?

The van radio needs to be fixed because I have adventure plans (or possibly cultural education plans for the American Husband). I have acquired a selection of Ordnance Survey maps and I plan to go exploring - off to new locations via van and bike. I love Ordnance Survey maps, they are a national treasure as far as I am concerned. Yes there are electronic mapping services and even Ordnance Survey's own excellent app system, and using these you can add satellite imagery, street view layers, cafe reviews and all sorts of bells and whistles. But I think that the Ordnance Survey map in print form presents a uniquely fulfilling opportunity, whether you actually go to the place or you just sit looking at the squares, the lines and the annotations within. My husband is unfamiliar with these maps and is yet to fully appreciate their wondrousness. I plan to educate him.
I have got a selection of maps for parts of the country to which I’ve never been. I plan to choose squares and go and explore, to pick out paths and follow them, to go and see what that medieval something is and how tall is that standing stone. With a paper map there is always a level of unpredictability about any outing. A bridleway doesn’t mean it will be easy to pass by bike, a footpath may not necessarily follow the line on the map - particularly if it’s avoiding a large bog. Of course there’s always the potential for an annoyance in the form of obstacles, blocked off routes and unofficial diversions, but perhaps they’re just the opportunity to get on your high horse and do some reporting to the local authority.

An Ordnance Survey map gives you enough information to see that there is potential, without eliminating all questions and providing all answers. You can make some educated guesses: a path along the top of a dyke that’s there for sea defence between salt marsh and the arable land beyond is fairly likely to be passible - if you can get to it around the farmers' obstacles. Whereas a path clinging to the edge of close contour lines with marsh markings all around is pretty much a guaranteed slog. I like the absence of total information - I don’t want to check for segments on Strava, photos of sights to see, or graded trail conditions. I want to discover for myself that the ruins are but a few stones in the grass, or an ancient wonder. Is the marked pub still open, a real ale delight, or a Stella and cider horror. There’s a time and a place for knowing what's ahead, but for weekend meanderings gently discovering new places, I think an OS map is hard to beat.

Go grab yourself a cuppa, open out a map, and pick a square. If you don’t know what’s there, go and find out. There may just be some treasure waiting for you.

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