Thursday, 21 July 2016


 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.'  


Rachel said...

Yes, I agree entirely. Landmarks are no longer noted while heads are buried in Google Earth on small screens held in hand, or listening in the car for all guidance of where to turn next from the sat nav voice and maps are not consulted nor thought about.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

I read his book "The Old Ways" and loved it so thanks for pointing me to "The Wild Places". Finding our way is what life is all about. We are all travelling from A to B and sometimes we get lost.

Terra Hangen said...

I like that moon story you shared. I am a retired librarian and worked in a maps department and yes, I do love maps. For some reason your post reminds me of a delightful book, Ireland by Frank Delaney, about a traveling story teller. It mixes ancient Irish history with more modern stories.

Joanne Noragon said...

In the township, they still say "the old XYZ" house. Every house is known by its previous owner. Our new road superintendent sighs and asks for house numbers. The don't know, so the next several minutes are a game of how many houses past a house of a certain color, and so forth.

Sue said...

"Go up to the moon and turn left there" - brilliant! Love maps and always rather fancied having a world globe. I sometimes feel terribly ignorant about worldwide geography.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks for the compliment Terra Hangen.
I am lad you like the story about the moon everyone.

angryparsnip said...

I love maps, love reading them and I have even made some.
The last line, "Go up to the moon and turn left there". Perfect !

cheers, parsnip

Midlife Roadtripper said...

and his reply was 'go up to the moon and turn left there.'

I love that. Often people ask why I don't have lights leading from the house to the end of the dock. I often tell people to stand a moment after the get outside and close their eyes. Count to ten. Then, open and let the moon and stars be your guide.

I love maps. Everyone uses GPS, but I still have maps.

A Heron's View said...

When sitting as I do now and for the last two years in the front passenger seat being the navigator. I have the OS map on my legs studiously giving directions to the driver,
there are though times when I get bored, discard the map and use my intuition which never fails us.
Thankfully we don't have a Sat Nav so there is no annoying voice telling us where to go and it would probably only get fecked out of the window anyway.

Note to Weaver 'feck' means throw :-)

Gwil W said...

"Go up to the moon and turn left there"

Real Welsh wisdom. Can vouch for it.

The native Australians have what I believe they call song lines. They'd pass on directions through the outback in words of songs handed down through the generations.

Barbara Womack said...

I loved your moon story! When we first moved here, it was so hard to find places as the directions given were not unlike your farmer's. Oddly, I find myself doing the same thing years later.
I had never heard of the Bayeux Tapestry, so I looked it up. Amazing!

Heather said...

I have several of Jan Messent's books and have met her a couple of times at Frances Pickering's late summer workshops. I hope she will be at the next one in September - she is such a lovely person and her work is stunning.
I have a copy of The Wild Places and enjoyed reading it - it is probably time to read it again.
There is something magical about maps, especially the Ordnance Survey ones. I love to read the names of remote villages and farms. It is sad to think that road maps might be made obsolete with the increasing use of Sat Nav.
Wonderful story of the old man's 'helpful' directions!

jinxxxygirl said...

LOL! Thats almost like saying 'second star to the right and straight on til morning' :) We haven't used a paper map in years and years we know use the map on our phone and i use the old paper maps we have for my artwork.... :) Hugs! deb

Wilma said...

I love maps and enjoy looking at ancient maps especially. Will definitely check out the book you mentioned. I have also spent hours using Google earth to explore the world, too.

Mac n' Janet said...

That's a wonderful direction, turn left at the moon. I find maps fascinating too and globes. People are so dependent on their SAT NAVs and smart watches that maps are in danger of becoming extinct, too bad.

Frances said...

Weaver, I'll join the queue of folks who've been praising that final sentence.

Walking home from a concert under last night's almost full moon, I kept encouraging my fellow pedestrians to have a look at the beautiful moon, ringed by a bit of haze. Just about all of them ignored me. Their loss.

I love old maps and the entire thought of how they were created when only birds flew above ground or seas.

Macfarlane's books are so good..

Heat wave on its way here. I foresee lots of time spent indoors near a fan, or a quick trip to a favorite museum and its ac.


Cro Magnon said...

The bicycle was responsible for broadening horizons. Young men no longer had to marry their cousins, but could find a wife from quite a wide area. It also caused the decline of the 'village idiot'.

Librarian said...

The Bayeux Tapestry is fascinating, isn't it! I once read a novel about how it was created and how working on it might have enriched and changed the lives of the women and girls.
I love maps! I used to draw up my own maps for islands, countries and towns I created in my mind. Not driving helps with knowing the landmarks of an area rather well, because I don't rush past them at high speed.
Thank you for this great post, a lot to think about!

Linda Metcalf said...

Same atlas and going to the encyclopedias to read all about it. I look up on Google Earth also. My olden age learning :)

Acornmoon said...

Hi Pat, I do hope the outcome looks rosy for the farmer's shoulder. I would love to see the Bayeux tapestry, this year maybe!
I am delighted to tell you that you have won my giveaway. If you let me know your postal address I can send it to you, please email me

The Weaver of Grass said...

What an interesting variety of replies - and how much I have learned from them. Thank you all for contributing - I wish I could think of such a topic every day.