When we first began visiting James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough some years ago, we consulted our AA Road Map book to work out the best way to get there. I don't suppose there is a household with a car in the whole country who haven't also got a road map. We take maps foregranted. I also have a World Atlas (I am fascinated by Geography) and if I read about a city or a country (particularly in Africa or in the Balkans area) and I just can't mentally place where it is - out comes the Atlas, which I keep by my chair.
I was thinking about this yesterday in the hospital. In the main corridor of James Cook Hospital is a copy of the last eight feet of the Bayeux Tapestry. This was beautifully embroidered in laid thread work by Jan Messent for Madeira Threads. I never tire of looking at it.
Roughly speaking The Bayeux Tapestry is 'the story' of the Norman Invasion of England, and the Battle of Hastings in 1066 - told for a population who, largely, couldn't read a written version. It was only with the invention of various scientific instruments in the Sixteenth Century that our more sophisticated grid maps became widely available. Before that time maps were largely Story Maps - maps where the local population told of the events which happened there; these were passed on from generation to generation and modified or extended by future happenings. Remnants of Story Maps still exist in the countryside.
If I asked the Farmer for example 'How do I get to Finghall from here?', he would probably say 'turn left at Parson's Barn (which incidentally has not existed in his life time) and just keep going.
MacFarlane tells a wonderful story about how, in 1826 in the Arctic, a British Naval Officer met an Inuit Hunting group. They couldn't of course speak the same language but the officer did wish to know where he was exactly and the Inuit sensed this. And, to quote MacFarlane, the Inuit 'created a map on the beach, using sticks and pebbles'.
These days, when our journeys are calculated down to the last mile (and the cost of petrol is calculated!) are we in danger of losing our wonder about the land and our beautiful countryside? MacFarlane suggests this to be the case. Do you agree?
If you haven't already done so, do read the book:
'The Wild Places' by Robert MacFarlane (pub Granta, price £8.99) - or at the very least dip into it - because it is fascinating.
**Two points have occurred to me during the day as I have been around on various travels. The first is that, of course, the population these days is constantly on the move, whereas in the days before the sixteenth century folk married from within their own village or at the very most the village next door - nobody travelled very far, so that Story Maps would be the easier option anyway.
The other is a memory from many years ago. When my son was a teenager we used to go on holiday - a gang of us (remember P if you are reading this!) to the same cottage on a farm in the village of Verwig, near Cardigan in Wales. There was a story there, told with amusement, of an old man who had not travelled much further than Cardigan throughout his life. On fine evenings he used to stand at his front gate to watch the world go by - this is a very isolated country area. One evening a couple in a car stopped and asked him the way to somewhere further up the coast. There happened to be a full moon which was low in the sky - and his reply was 'go up to the moon and turn left there.'