Sunday, 21 October 2012

Walking the Landscape and Mapping Springs

Well, we all need Wikipedia, sometimes, I suppose, when we move out of our comfort zones, as I do today when I begin to muse upon our spring-quest and its depiction by map. The font of all knowledge says that “A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes. Many maps are static two-dimensional, geometrically accurate,” or almost accurate, “representations of three-dimensional space, while others are dynamic or interactive, even three-dimensional.” The article then goes on to speak of scale, ratio, projection etc. and the usual distinction between “political” and “physical” maps.
Why did I look this up today, the 29th August 2012? Well, partly because it’s pouring down again and I can’t face getting soaked again, but also because of a splendid article in the Guardian which touches upon our spring-quest. Oliver Burkeman wrote about Google Earth - “inspired by zooming satellite images in TV war reports” - and how Google continually adds new data to its maps (“in June it was 2,000 miles of canal towpaths…in July it was bike lanes”). This constant process could, of course, add data from the movement of individuals…No wonder “cartographic historian”, Jerry Brotton  thinks that the switch to digital mapping is an even “more profound change” than the Renaissance manuscript to print revolution.
Now, seemingly surreal invention is at one’s fingertips: Alice in Wonderland one to one scale is possible, as are cartographic mash-ups, as is the seeming impossibility of getting lost. One of the most ubiquitous sights of recent years is the traveller consulting a smartphone and resolutely, if mutely, going on their way. No more “Excuse me. I’m lost. Could you help me find…” Burkeman points out, however, that “In a world of GPS-enabled smartphones” whilst you are consulting a map, Google and Apple are mapping you. Martin Dodge from Manchester University says that products that might appear to be “innocent and neutral” are actually “vacuuming up all sorts of behavioural and attitudinal data.”
The article concludes with cartography curator, Lucy Fellowes’ famous statement that “Every map is someone’s way of getting you to look at the world his or her way” and the implications of viewing the world through the lens of Californian capitalism rather than through Alice’s Looking Glass: a world of mercenary, Gradgrindian logic, no matter how cool the employees dress. So this is where we come in with the spring-quest.
Our map making will reclaim Lewis Carroll from Google and we will walk hand in hand with History, Philosophy, Geology, Literature, Logic, Mythology and Pyschogeography. We may not go down the rabbit-hole but we will certainly peer into the depths of our springs and map the genius loci of Stroud and the Five Valleys. Our maps will be collaborative, shared and Blakean in their envisioning of the fusion of Space and Time, past, present and future. Who knows? We might even meet the Green Man. And s/he might even tell us how to name unnamed springs and so change Google Earth. As the Paris Situationists used to say: “Underneath the pavements, the beach!”

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Genius Loci of Stroud: Springs

If you are looking for the genius loci of Stroud, it has to involve water, and as water moves and flows in a constant reinvention of itself, it is a fitting initial symbol of Stroud and the Valleys. To understand the effect of water around us, locally, we have to have some basic understanding of our local geology: we can slice open our scarp to reveal the layers of rock and time, stretching from the heights of Minchinhampton down to the River Severn. I thank the Stroud Museum for giving me this sort of Ladybird understanding, with their excellent displays; I have had minimal interest in or understanding of geology before, but I do recommend a visit to Stroud Museum, if you are geologically illiterate, like me.
So, what did I discover? Well, on the top, we have Great OoLitic Limestone; dropping down to Rodborough, we find Fullers Earth Clay; then we drop down to Lower Inferior Oolite Limestone; then Cotswold Sands; then Upper Lias Clays (we are now at Stinchcombe, King’s Stanley and Wotton under Edge); we then get to the Maristone Platform and the Severn and Lower Lias Clays.
The springs that occur where limestone meets clay attracted early settlement, with wells subsequently dug away from the spring-line. This combination of rocks and clays has produced the history that will later follow, after our spring-line wander lust, in other ways too. The steep valleys caused by erosion have produced the fast flowing streams and the consequent cloth trade, with their quaint hill-climbing patterns of settlement. It is true to say, therefore, that our first search for our genius loci should involve some walking or cycling around the spring-line, writing and photographing the springs as we go. As Robert Macfarlane said in “The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot”, “This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done - was only possible – while on foot.” It will be the same for us – although we might well bike as well as walk, but just like Macfarlane, we might well have Edward Thomas and Flann O’Brien as company too.
Or, just like Rob Young, in “Electric Eden”, we might hear Caliban reminding us to
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.”
It would be good to declaim this by a spring’s harmonies when out walking, and then cup spring water in one’s hands, reminding ourselves, like Rob Young, of Blake, once more:
“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
And if the walk to a spring, once named or featured on an OS map reveals nothing of its issue, then we could speak two lines from John Clare:
“There once were springs, where daisies’ silver studs
Like sheets of snow on every pasture spread;”