One of the joys of going away is getting to see different landscapes of course. I’ve recently returned from a week in the far north of Scotland and my trip there gives me a deeper appreciation of cartography as an art form. Why?
Appreciation of Maps
Firstly, the old maps are beautiful in their own right.
Secondly, because several of our trips in Scotland are on the A9 right on the coastline and you can feel as if you’re driving on the edge of the world there.
You see how the land mass is formed and I always have a renewed sense of wonder at how accurate the old cartographers were. No computers – only basic measures (by today’s standards), pens and pencils and lots of paper! Given the coastline of Scotland is in anything but a straight line (!), this makes their achievement the more remarkable.
I also love the “Here be Dragons” slogan which appears on some old maps. It beats “we didn’t go any further so really have no idea what is out there” as a reason not to explore and map accurately. (You’d never get away with that one at the Ordnance Survey, at least not now, would you?!).
It’s an interesting thought to blame anything you can’t fathom on there being great big lizards in the vicinity but that may just be me. It also says something that people would have accepted that as a matter of course. (The only time you would genuinely have to worry about this would be if you came across the Komodo Dragon. If ever there was an animal to avoid, the Komodo Dragon is it).
Uses of Maps in Fiction
Fantasy fiction often uses maps, so much so they are usually expected in the great sagas. Sometimes a map is used to show the reader pictorially what the created fictional world is like before getting into the story properly. The Lord of the Rings Is a classic example of this. Indeed with that wonderful epic, you need to know where Gondor is in relation to Mordor and where The Shire is to make sense of how long Frodo Baggin’s journey was. It also helps you make sense of the politics that comes into play later in the trilogy.
The Discworld series by the much missed Terry Pratchett had its own map. I always love some of the street names from Ankh-Morpork here. Anyone fancy a visit to Peach Pie Street? (And don’t say only if the next street has Cream in it somewhere!).
Other lovely names include Body Street (whose?), By-Your-Leave Walk (again, whose?!), Dry Liars Walk (I don’t know if somehow Wet Liars would have been better, how can you judge these things), and the Plaza of Broken Moons. (Wouldn’t you just love to know how someone broke a moon, yet alone more than one!). As for Slippery Back, Squeezebelly Alley, and Madam’s Gardens, the least said the better, probably.
One lovely thing to come out of the publication of this map was it ended up being sold in the non-fiction section, much to the author’s surprise. Apparently it counted as it was a “real map”. The fact it was of an imaginary place was neither here nor there!
I love the blending of fact and fiction and Wincanton in Somerset is actually twinned with Ankh-Morpork and some of its streets have Discworld names, including Peach Pie Street and Treacle Mine Road. (If a map reflected the characteristics of the roads on it, the Discworld Mapp (yes two p’s!), would be rather sticky and calorific but yummy).
As for children’s fiction, maps feature in works by Enid Blyton and J.K.Rowling to name but two. I also can’t imagine any pirate fiction without a map coming into it somewhere! After all, how else would you find your way to Treasure Island?
Maps – Do they have to be on paper?
Maps are usually on paper but one discovery for me which came from the medieval weekends I visited a couple of years ago was the concept of maps on scarves! On the way back from the recent Fryern Funtasia, Janet and I ended up chatting with David Overton of Splash Maps.
Splash Maps produced a wearable map for The Great Ships Trail. The idea of wearable, waterproof maps is a sound one given the downside to paper is it is anything but waterproof and when it’s teeming down, and you’re trying to find your way, the last thing you need is a soggy map! Is it just me or did the standard fold up maps never quite go back into their folds properly, especially if you were trying to put them back into position in a hurry?
The Big Fight – Maps -v- Sat Navs!
Maps come into their own when I’m in Scotland as our sat nav has tried to send us down a road with a ford crossing it. Where’s the problem there, you ask? The ford turned out to be a deep river!
We remain convinced our sat nav is out to get us. It may be useful for knowing which lane to be in when wanting a particular junction off a motorway but out in the open country where there are lots of intriguing smaller roads, we’ve learned not to trust the thing.
So whenever we are happily exploring Scotland’s fantastic landscape, it tends to be me with a book of maps helping us to only go down the smaller roads we’re happy about! Incidentally I understand that being able to use a sat nav “properly” is part of the driving test now. I kind of understand this but it also reminds me of one of my late mother’s sayings “you shouldn’t need a law for common sense”!
Technology is wonderful and a great aid but, like fire, it is a great servant but a rotten master. My sister is a lorry driver and has a specific sat nav for lorries, the idea being that this avoids the roads trucks really shouldn’t go down, but I understand not every lorry driver has this. I suspect this is due to cost but I’d see having one as compulsory. There are too many stories of lorries getting stuck somewhere (not that we’d have this issue here in Chandler’s Ford). Mind, they wouldn’t want to get stuck in Treacle Mind Road, would they?
Wherever you may be heading on holidays this year, I hope the weather proves fine for you and that you take a decent map in an appropriate form for you! And if you come across a map reading “Here be Dragons”, I just wouldn’t go there if I were you. Well, you never know…
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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