Map Addict

I have been reading Mike Parker’s Map Addict and it is very inspiring (and surprisingly funny) in its consideration of the wonderful world of maps, and – in particular – Ordnance Survey maps. Amongst lively discussions on the politics and history of mapping, Parker’s prose rhapsodically celebrates the speculative journeys afforded by maps, and the imaginary travels one may take across landscapes whilst browsing the contour lines, church symbols and little wooded areas represented on them. I am a willing audience for such rhapsodies, since my own love affair with maps began with a similar fashion – in fact with one of the maps that was crucial to Parker’s own obsession – when I purchased my first map, the OS Landranger series number 189: Ashford and Romney Marsh, and scoured it for evidence of sheep-related lore in Sussex and Kent.

Lately I am most obsessed with 4 specific maps; the OS explorer maps that relate specifically to the areas in which I spend most of my life.

OS 159 – Reading, Wokingham and Pangbourne
OS 158 – Newbury and Hungerford
OS 170 – Abingdon, Wantage and the Vale of the White Horse
OS 171 – Chiltern Hills West

I have a large art project planned which will use some of these maps in particular, but in the meantime I am practising at not getting lost, and experimenting with making different kinds of journeys. Yesterday I drove to Ashampstead to seek out places with spooky sounding names and in the vain hopes of finding myself some decent ascents. Grim Ditch, Tomb Farm, Hanging Holies and Hook End were just too great to resist in the run up to Halloween and Mutton Copse, Pinfold Lane and Stitchens Green spoke immediately to me of residual sheep-farming and textile-related activities. So I parked my car in a carpark at Ashampstead Common and struck out towards Pyke Hill with a basket, lest I should come across any tempting berries and set off, determined to get some hill-miles underfoot.

Ashampstead Common is managed woodland, containing a fine mix of both newly planted and established native trees.

I took a wrong turn at some point and ended up in a freshly ploughed and very flinty field.

However I was soon back on track and striking out across the fields of Child’s Court Farm, towards Pinfold Lane and the picturesque village of Ashampstead.

Walking through woodland alone is a slightly eerie experience for me and I get easily disorientated or frightened when listening through my Edirol, making recordings. The Edirol amplifies sounds like a sonic microscope so that the shuffle of a nervous pheasant, the movements of a small bird and even the sound of my own footsteps echoing back to me in unfamiliar ways from the tall trunks of trees can be very unnerving. There are few open views along much of the walk I did yesterday; most of it was conducted at the edge of fields or through long, dense avenues of trees and this made me aware of the superior role that sound plays in alerting us to danger when visibility is poor or reduced.

In fact I think the only thing more nervous than me in Ashampstead yesterday was the pheasants. Walking near this curiously planted patch of field, I inadvertently startled about 6 of the birds who screeched and flurried their way across the sky in a thunderously inelegant fashion.

There were so many pathways and byways marked that I became thoroughly confused, but when I reached this sign I knew I had managed to adhere to the correct route and I wondered how the track had gotten its pretty name.

Travelling out of Ashampstead village I was thrilled to find a number of Walnut trees, their delicious bounty already beginning to drop in some places and split open to reveal the treasures within.

I am not sure if these kinds of walnuts can be used for the dyeing of wool; I have read much on the excellent dyeing properties of the Black Walnut Tree but I am not sure whether or not this is different from the regular variety of Walnut Tree, or how I would be able to identify one variety of nuts from another.

Walking out of Ashampstead I saw this modest hill rising up towards Hartridge Farm. The lure of a possible trig point at 151m on the map tempted me to go up it but I did not wish to disturb the cornfield in which I think the trig-point stands, so I contented myself with gathering elderberries and blackberries at its edge instead.

A roaring sound greeted me when I entered woodland again at Bowler’s Copse, which revealed itself to be caused by a large combine harvester at work in the adjacent fields. The descent down White Hill was very pretty, although I am not certain my photo has captured this.

Walking to Quick’s Green I spotted these magnificent beasts. The photo does not capture the scale of these animals but I was very glad there was a fence between myself and them.

Finally I reached my car again by way of the bafflingly titled Sodom’s Lane, and drove to the Oxford Bluestockings meeting, where some work on the Mansweater and a hearty Ploughmans provided the perfect end to a good day’s walking.

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