Sunday, 28 September 2014

Discover Where You Live by Cath Dyson

Using a map and compass…

To put together the walks and cycles in ‘Discover where you live’ in the Community Index over the last few months I have used maps, both paper and online.

Ordnance Survey produces the best maps in the world. Fact! For the rural explorer in particular the 1:25,000 really are the best with 4cm to 1 kilometre. To explore Chorlton, the Transpennine Trail to Stockport, Fallowfield Loop and much more get ‘OS Explorer 277 Manchester & Salford’. However when researching  the walks for Community Index I also used Open Source mapping ‘Open Street Map’ which for the densely packed urban and suburban environments can be (though I hate to say it) more useful than the OS map. It is available on desktop, see https://www.openstreetmap.org  and on the iPhone / iPad, download the app Go Map!! And of course the wonderful Google Maps, Street view and Google Earth are fantastic free digital mapping tools as well as the OS Get a Map Digital Services.
People may think that using a map and compass and navigating in general is only for when you are in remote locations. However maps can really help you get to know your local area much more intimately.
Many of us stick to the same familiar routes whether driving, walking or cycling, and feel we know Chorlton, the Meadows, and the area around us well enough. Maps, even of a place as familiar to us as Chorlton Meadows can reveal nooks, crannies, short cuts and paths which can easily be missed if you aren’t looking for them. When researching the event ‘Map reading on the Meadows’ I ran as part of Chorlton Arts Festival earlier this year I ‘discovered’ a pond I hadn’t known was there, and I have lived, walked, run and cycled on the Meadows for many years.

Just from looking at the map square containing Chorlton Ees I know it is flat rough grassland and deciduous woodland dotted by five ponds. You can cycle through this nature reserve on a route which is part of the National Cycle Network. It includes part of a long distance walking route and has a stream with steep sides. There are lots of tracks criss-crossing the Ees but very few rights of way except for on the river bank.
Maps embody so much information about the world around us. From maps you can understand the history of a landscape, its current uses, facilities and features. Engaging with a map, reading its symbols and interpreting the information crammed into every kilometre square gives us a greater appreciation of the world around us and it can pique a curiosity to find out more.

So what does the map tell us about Chorlton Ees? I have already said there are few rights of way. Rights of way are green lines on the map and are key to any walker. They tell you where you can walk. Rights of way are enshrined in law and in many cases reflect historic and sometimes ancient routes. Short green dashed lines are footpaths, boots only; long green dashed lines are bridleways for boots, hooves and wheels.
On the Meadows instead of footpaths there are tracks (black dashed lines) which indicate there is a track on the ground but not necessarily a legal right of way for the public. There are also routes suitable for cyclists marked by a string of orange circles, this tells me this is not a historic route, otherwise it would be a bridleway.

The lack of footpaths and bridleways tells me that this land hasn’t historically been accessed by people on foot, by cart or more recently by bike. Why would this be? David Bishop of Friends of Chorlton Meadows (http://friendsofchorltonmeadows.blogspot.co.uk/) gives us a very big clue, ‘From the late 19th century until the late 1970s agriculture was gradually displaced from the Mersey Valley and what was deposited on the ees was not “rich mud” but the growing city’s effluent in the form of sewage works and rubbish dumps.’ Who would need or want to walk through that?! Knowing this it makes much more sense why there is a dearth of historic routes across the Ees.
Using a map and compass gives you the tools to be your own (urban) adventurer and explorer, to know where you are and get you where you want to be.  It is like learning a new language, allowing you to create your own routes and giving you the key to a new way of understanding and interacting with your environment, local or not. I find it fun to walk paths some created recently, many created by centuries of use and it is empowering to get around under your own steam, using your own two legs and some basic map and compass skills to get from A to B whether you are in town or country.

So get yourself a map and explore the wonderful suburban countryside on our doorstep. If you would like to join me at the next free navigation walk ‘Map Reading on the Meadows’ Sunday 12th October 2014 11am book a place on http://mapandcompass.wix.com/mapandcompassm or email me mapandcompassOL21@gmail.com or text me on 07411 165058.

Cath Dyson, September 2014

Cath Dyson co-organises navigation walks and training, see http://mapandcompass.wix.com/mapandcompass. She is writing a book to be published by Sigma Press, ‘Navigate your Way Around… the South Pennines’