I love old maps. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the lure of a seemingly quieter time, an expanse of fields and greenery. I’m fascinated by comparing old and new maps, to see what’s changed, names of roads hinting at old structures and pathways.
Luckily our local second-hand bookshop always has a great pile of maps and local history leaflets and booklets and I can’t go in without a few of them finding their way into my possession – I try not to visit often!
There’s just something about maps – obviously the old book/map smell and feel, but something more, something magical about looking at that record of human existence in a place, of how the land rises and falls and how we ride along with it. Sometimes changing the face of that land, sometimes the land reclaiming those once wild spaces back, footprints fading back to earth. It’s all there, in folded paper, in contour lines, funny symbols and dotted pathways.
I have an old cardboard box where I keep maps and other interesting ephemera. It’s a treat on a rainy afternoon to reach up to the high shelf, grab the box and pick out anything that catches my eye. I have a few favourites – the old material Ordnance Survey map of the Peak District, with the map separated and individually glued into place. A pamphlet on the M62, full of interesting titbits with which to gleefully regale your travelling companions as you whizz along at 70mph, Scammonden Dam blurring past the windows. Waterproof tracking guides to stick in a pocket when venturing for a snowy walk, following the pid-pad of footprints that are usually invisible.
I lose myself in layers of time, tracing fingers over footpaths that fade into fields, hedges that turn into housing estate boundaries. We were given an old map of our area as a housewarming gift, that had a tantalising ‘x’ in biro. Needless to say, an adventure was afoot.
We navigated only by the old map, travelling in a time-bubble of 70 years ago. Watching present-day people driving by, it really felt as if we were time travellers. We were only occasionally surprised by the odd new dual carriageway or dead end that had appeared in the intervening decades. We grumbled at these intruders, turned around, and carried on on the old roads. What would be at the ‘x’?
Eventually we arrived at an inconspicuous corner, populated with a few trees and surrounded by farmland. Would there be riches, buried just below the surface? Archaeological artefacts? Did something important happen here, many years ago? As the car doors clunked shut behind us, we stood in the silence and looked around.
We’d come entirely unprepared, and scuffed around under the trees for a while with our feet, avoiding crisp packets and pop bottles. This area was decidedly unromantic, and we felt very much back in the present day the more we scrabbled around. Suddenly, a glint caught our eyes… could this be it?
Parting the long grass, half concealed in mud, we pulled out a thick, clear glass bottle, possibly an old milk or pop bottle with ‘Laws’ on the side. What a treasure! The map spoke true to us, there was indeed buried treasure at the ‘x’! Full of joy, we headed homewards, again on the old roads, our find safely nestled in the footwell. It is now used as a candle holder, along with other old bottles – I love the look of the melted wax as it builds up over the years. It is as much a treasure now as when we found it.
I’d fully recommend navigating via old maps. I find it takes me away from the present day, back to a time without motorways, which only occasionally pop up to surprise you where you least expect it. It’s even more of a treat when navigating to a point of interest that is now decidedly built up, but still exists in the ‘real world’, as it were. It’s like finding a treasure all over again. And of course, finding an old map with an ‘x’ on it fuels anyone’s imagination, and treasure can be anything you want it to be. Put your own ‘x’s. Find your own treasure! Or, hide some beforehand and take the family.
I find having a box of maps brings immense joy. Similarly-minded people will pop round for a cup of tea and find the same delight leafing through a collection of maps. Annotated maps are even better – our Iceland map is full of campsite reviews, exciting iceberg finds and locations where the showers are free – it brings back great memories to spend a nice half hour or so reliving our road trip round Route 1. Another of my favourite maps is one I got as a present a few years ago – a map of the rude place names in the UK which always leaves me in fits of giggles every time I look at it. I have added a picture below for your viewing pleasure. I think Bell End is my fave! Although Cockstubbles is a close second.
I love this box of interesting things. Spending a few quiet moments leafing through is one of life’s joys, especially as you can then go outside and actually find yourself in the places you’ve just looked at. Planning adventures to interesting looking places and features, finding out what used to be built down the road, or just wandering from map to map following a road. Picking up a pamphlet of local history or something interesting about nature and settling down with a brew and a biscuit. A box of interesting things is a must. What would you put in yours?
I have a penchant for interesting things in old tins. There’s something fascinating about the possibilities that could be contained within, the individuality, the tetris-like placement of items. The myriad of options. Any number of small things could find their home in that familiar, pocket-sized container.
In a recent issue of Ernest Journal, writer Tanya Shadrick shared her ‘concentrates of place‘, beautiful memories nestled in old tobacco tins. As a fan of making treasure to remind me of places, reading about her tins enthralled me. The possibilities an old cigarette tin has are endless and always intriguing.
I’m happy to have my own old tin, snuffled from eBay, a gold Nosegay tobacco tin in which I keep my tiny emergency kit for when I am wandering about on the moors. Said kit has slightly expanded out of the tin, but joyously, a teeny little IKEA bag does the job of carrying the expanded items just fine.
I am by no means a long distance walker, but enjoy an morning or afternoon’s plod accompanied by my thoughts, ideally in driving rain, damp drizzle or gusting wind, when most other people are sensibly indoors and the only people you meet are people just as enthusiastic and daft as you, raindrops dripping from their noses, exchanging eye rolls and grins and that unspoken wildness just below the surface.
Up on the moors, there are dips and holes and bogs and a myriad of places to fall into, off and through. With this in mind, I put together a little kit, just in case on day one of these hazards creeps up on me and catches me unawares. These days I never get so far as to be miles from civilisation, but having a little backup just in case puts me at ease. Plus, I get to put things in a tin, which is always the real reason for doing anything.
This is my current mini emergency kit all packed up:
The mini IKEA bag gives me an immense amount of joy, honestly. The perfect size to pop in your adventure rucksack.
In addition to my two containers, I also take two clips that came with my walking poles – they just look useful in case I need to hang any soggy socks off a nearby branch. There’s a tin of Vaseline – in addition to helping chapped anything, it can also be spread onto cotton rounds to help them burn slower if you need to start a fire. And of course, no walk is complete without Kendal Mint Cake (a quick mint-flavoured rabbit hole has led me to discover no less than 4 mint cake brands, although the packaging of Romney’s is tip top. They also do tins! Huzzah).
The ‘thing in the bag’ is a knitted mat (I spun the wool, terribly, then used my knitting skills – also terrible – to make this rectangle. The good thing about both those things is that the wool is very thick and the knitting is very tight. Happily, this makes a comfy, warm sitting pad!) Popped in a carrier bag, it is a smug way to sit on rocks/grass/damp ground and not get a numb bum.
Unpacked, my mini kit looks like this:
In addition to the items I talked about, my mini emergency kit has a couple of first aid bits – gauze bandage, cleansing wipe, paracetamol. The moors are damp and mossy, sphagnum moss makes a great poultice. The aforementioned cotton pads for if ever I needed to start a fire (absolutely banned on the moors, for good reason) and a small fire steel. Practically, I have some paracord and a Swiss Card containing a small knife, tweezers, pen, screwdriver, bottle opener and file. I used to have one with a magnifying glass and scissors, but stupidly forgot and left it in my hand luggage on the way to Iceland one year. You can guess the rest.
Lastly, I take a bit of paper with emergency details on – who I am, who to contact, car reg & description, any meds/health conditions. In summer, I’d add Factor 50 (ginger) and insect repellent if I’m about around dusk.
Of course, I always take a bottle of water, usually a quick lunch or snack and some fruit/nuts. I charge my phone before I go and if I’m going to be a while I take a battery pack and lead. App-wise, I have What3Words (also useful for marking interesting places) and a first aid app, and use the free version of OutdoorActive as my map and route tracker – it works on GPS too if there’s no reception.
For me, this is an easy way to make sure I have something useful on me if I encounter a calamity on a boggy adventure, and means I can help myself a little whilst I wait to be rescued. It also satisfies my ‘things in old tins’ penchant.
Do you have a mini emergency kit (or large emergency kit) you take with you on walks, no matter how long they are? Of course, longer adventures require different essentials. I’m interested to know what you class as essential for your adventures. Also if you love keeping things in tins, or is it just me…
Our house was built in 1860, not so old by UK standards, but old enough to have that feeling of solidity. When I place my hand on the stone walls I can feel a sense that these walls have seen time passing, and I wonder at the occupants that came before us. Luckily, we inherited the deeds of the house, back through history, old titles scratched in ornate, beautiful, illegible script on pages as big as a broadsheet. Over time the two cottages became one, roads disappeared under crazy paving, wartime vegetables were grown. Cloth from the mills dried on tenters next to the back garden boundary.
140 years is an age to a human yet such a short time to this house, and I hope in another 140 years it is still standing, in some form. This little piece of land, of which we are fleeting custodians, runs deeper than I can imagine. Beneath couch grass, worms, rubble and sand lie deeper secrets. To think in layers of earth is to travel through time.
Down the inevitable internet rabbit hole, I chanced upon the most wonderful ‘you definitely need an entire afternoon for this’ website from the British Geological Survey. The Geology of Britain map is absolutely fascinating – and there is a collection of other things to find out about too – groundwater levels, soil types, you name it. There have even been some tiny earthquakes nearby. I love a map, and this is next level mapping.
I found out our garden lies pretty much exactly on a border of Millstone Grit and Guiseley Grit – both formed around 320 million years ago. Sipping tea, I sat and thought about this little piece of land and the story it could tell. I had seen some local fossils of giant palm leaves, dated from around the same time, growing in a river delta somewhere near the equator. Of course, I had to find out where this river delta once existed.
I forget, sometimes, how amazing the internet can be. A quick search brought me to Dinosaur Pictures’ amazing site, where I entered my town in the search bar and watched as the globe spun back over millions of years (also, the main site is full of dinosaurs which, if you’re a dino-lover like me, is always a bonus). There was the UK, half submerged in a shallow, warm sea. The river delta must have run into the sea just where my house lies today. I imagine giant fronds, oxygen-rich air, who-knows-what living our their unknown lives.
I love this. To stand outside barefoot, toes frozen by the winter frosts, on this land that is so, so old. A tiny human existence, fleeting, barely a spark in this timeline. Yet here I am, existing, a small part of the story of this place. I am overwhelmed by time, the enormity of it, the shortness of life, but in awe that somehow I am here, with senses and a brain that can comprehend some of it, at least. What an experience this life is. I wonder, in another 320 million years, where this land will be, what ocean will cover it? Where will the molecules be that were once part of me? What life will exist, if any? In the midst of such thoughts, I smile, and I feel very lucky that I have placed my footprints, however transient, on even the smallest piece of this earth.