A few years ago I was on the train with a friend as it chugged into York Station. It’s a big station and the signs which had my destination printed on them filled me with excitement. I was looking forward to this trip as I’d last been there 21 years previously with my primary school. I’d visited Jorvik to see some old Vikings and climbed the crumbling city walls and played football in a nightly “Scotland V England” fixture. Every boy’s dream, so I couldn’t wait to see how the city appealed to the 32 year old me, a more rotund, refined and rounded gent than the 11 year old boy I once was. I jumped off the train and started looking heading towards my hotel which I knew was about twenty minutes away. As I left the station, I spotted an information stand, with LED screens and most importantly, maps. I must have been grinning openly and ecstatically as I was ridiculed for the next five minutes or so as to why I needed a map to find my way around York. When I finally asked my friend which way she thought the hotel was, her reply was a helpful “I don’t know”.
Last week I watched the 1977 film, The Rescuers. A Disney animation that’s one year older than I am which I was seeing for the first time and included a scene where the two main characters, Bernard and Miss Bianca (a pair of very well dressed mice) have just arrived in New York. They are sheltering under a bus stop, discussing where to look for Orphan Penny on their map. It was hard to tell from the viewers’ angle, but like a true cartography geek I wondered what type of map it was. Was it a Bartholomew original? OS Explorer? Not a Harvey I thought. Up until about 45 seconds earlier I had no idea that mice even used maps.
A map. Mind Altering Perception. Many Amazing Places. My Ambling Pal. Maps offer a multitude of possibilities. They keep me safe on the hill. They let me peek into worlds I have a hankering to explore in unimaginable detail, leading me to believe I’ve already been there. Their accuracy appeals to my minor autistic tendencies, tendencies which I feel everyone has to a lesser or greater degree. Their vastness appeals to my spirit of adventure and exploration. Re-folding a map after I’ve fingered the contours, rivers and hills isn’t a skill I’m very proficient at still. But I love the look and feel of a map, whether an Ordnance Survey Landranger No. 43 (Braemar and Blair Atholl) or One Eyed Willy’s pirate map from The Goonies. For some they are merely a way of making transit from A to B without the added stress of getting lost. For me they are a long list of future voyages and nothing stimulates the mind more than opportunities and maybe a risk or two.
Satellite Navigation is fine. It’s up-to-date with its bright, shiny touch screen and will get you from that A to B. There is a place for them but paper maps don’t need rebooted or updated. I don’t think the kindle will ever truly replace books and in the same way technology will never mean the end of paper maps. Although I write this piece the week after the Ordnance Survey announced that that it was to stop routinely producing paper maps of the whole country. The only saving grace I could see for this blatant money saving scheme was that a lack of paper maps for remote areas could mean a return of the 18th century explorer, a role I’d happily take on, re-discovering our own countryside. I quite like the idea of modelling myself as a new millennial David Livingstone, rediscovering Skye, Torridon and Cairngorm for the rest of Scotland.
While watching the news a couple of years ago there was a segment on a new exhibition at the National Library in Edinburgh. The name Bartholomew is legend in mapping. They were the first modern map makers as we know them today: accurate, detailed, coloured, a work of art but also incredibly practical. This exhibition was a celebration of their pioneering work and so, like a good map geek, as if caught in a Death Star tractor beam, by the end of the week I was drawn into the doors of the library and the world of early map making and the Victorian “can do” attitude. Those two hours looking at pictures and reading the stories and anecdotes were my own journey of discovery and confirmation that I have some of that spirit in me. Although I’m not sure I would have suited the top hats.
And what about the rescuers map when looking for Orphan Penny? Did X mark the spot? Was it marked with Cats and cheese shops? Since they found her, their map must have been accurate and detailed, so I’m pretty sure it was an Explorer map rather than a Landranger. Of course mice use maps….
(PS, I bought 3 Explorer maps today to complete my West Highland Way collection. We start on Saturday for seven days. I’m hoping Bernard and Miss Bianca’s good luck in finding Penny will rub off.)