Geograph Blog ::

One year, one hectad, 100 tpoints

By Vieve Forward

A mishap with a pistachio nut leading to an astronomical dental bill meant that I was prevented from using some of my savings spending Christmas on the Marlborough Downs and Cotswolds topping up my geograph tpoint score. Instead, on limited petrol and no budget for tea and cakes, and approaching the anniversary of my joining geograph, I resolved to finish my first hectad and nudge my tpoint score up to 100. As the hectad in question was centred on Swindon, and rain was forecast for the duration, I foresaw dull greyness as being my lot. However, now that I have achieved both of my goals, and am waiting for that pleasing red square to complete itself in my profile, I can say that geographing worked its magic again, and each grid square accomplished was, as usual, an adventure.
When I first joined geograph on exactly a year ago, I was so excited by my new hobby that I wrote a blog in my head extolling its virtues. I never wrote it in reality at the time because I thought it would be presumptuous and I thought my initial enthusiasm would die pretty quickly. But the enthusiasm is still there intact, even after a fortnight photographing Swindon in the rain, so I think I can safely say Iím here to stay, and can now put that blog online.
I discovered geograph through my brother, Tristan Forward LinkExternal link who has been a member for some years, and who must have told me at some point about this peculiar website where you enter a photograph for every grid square. After Christmas 2011, I was experiencing the usual post-Christmas anti-climax: I had spent every day out somewhere different since 21st December in an effort to avoid the Christmas blues, and had thoroughly enjoyed myself, and taken a few photos, though not as many as I wished I had once I discovered geograph. Having tracked down the website, I very tentatively uploaded my first ever photograph SU1470 : Sheep on Fyfield Down by Vieve Forward.
My reaction when this photograph appeared as a geograph was more than just a warm glow; it was more like astonishment. This reaction has toned down somewhat since! In the first two months of 2012, I uploaded a huge number of photos, and couldnít wait for the summer, when I vowed I would be out at least once a week, walking in my beloved downs and wolds. The rain soon put paid to that idea. Instead, any dry day was devoted to battling with the weeds on my allotment, a battle I lost: I have now got a smaller allotment, which should allow more time for geographing this year!
What was it that I loved so much about geograph? Well, as a hobby it seemed to take all my interests and wrap them up in one perfect package: my love of walking and exploring the countryside, my interest in archaeology and local history, my enjoyment of photography, and my fascination with maps. Ever since I was about ten, I have enjoyed poring over Ordnance Survey maps. The names of the places are so evocative: as a child, I wrote stories set in places named on maps, and I even used to make up OS maps, drawing imaginary landscapes with all the correct symbols and contour lines. A friend of the family named Carey had the whole of one wall of a room in his cottage covered with OS maps pasted edge to edge. As kids we explored the immediate neighbourhood, but it was Carey who introduced me to going further afield and walking using maps.
I guess I owe most though to my long-time friend, Steve, who bought me a pair of walking boots for Christmas in about 1988. We spent many pleasant days walking together in the Cotswolds and discovering the joys of isolated tea rooms which appeared just when you most needed them. We slavishly followed the written walking guides of Harry Hargreaves, and I think it was only after Steve moved to Devon that I eventually plucked up the courage to create my own walks, using just the OS maps alone. I have never looked back.
Even then I was a keen photographer, and took photos of Steve eating strawberries in Burford, or standing on top of Liddington Hill, or lying on a log near Bincknoll Castle. I was into black and white photography then. I had taken short courses in practical and documentary photography and had a Pentax K1000 and developed and printed the photos myself. Meanwhile, Steve took colour photos with his chunky old Zenit.
My first digital camera was given me as a gift. I forget the make, and can only remember that I had to hold the lens cover open when using it, and that the pictures nearly all came out khaki. I bought my current camera with a grant I was given while studying art at college. It is a Fujifilm Finepix F50fd. Iíd been resisting going over completely to digital, but when I got this camera, it was a huge improvement on the last and opened up vast vistas of possibilities. Since then, however, although I still love its compact size Ė handy for hiding in the pocket when people appear and start looking at one suspiciously Ė I envy, oh so envy, those of you with decent, grown-up cameras. The dentistís bill has knocked that dream on the head for at least six months, so I will have to make do with what Iíve got.
Nonetheless, despite my lack of a good camera, much to my delight and surprise I succeeded in getting shortlisted for the PotY a few times SU2576 : Timber roof inside New Barn, near Aldbourne by Vieve Forward SU2171 : Barn on byway to Woodlands Farm by Vieve Forward SU2691 : Avenue of poplars, D'Arcy Dalton Way, near Watchfield by Vieve Forward SP5106 : Butcher's boy, Covered Market, Oxford by Vieve Forward, though Iíd never have known about it if Stefan Czapski hadnít contacted me the first time it happened. I got into a panic earlier this year when I thought something had gone drastically wrong with my camera, when all it turned out to be was a thumbprint on the lens. I had been accustomed to cleaning the lens of my Pentax religiously before every use, but somehow it never occurred to me to do the same with the digital! On this occasion, I started a discussion on geograph to ask for advice, and was impressed by how helpful and nice fellow geographers were, especially when I confessed to my idiocy. Their guidance in the beginning was invaluable, and Tuppenceís ability to spot a spelling mistake is preternatural. However, I did get into trouble sometimes for not knowing how geograph works, and made rather acerbic suggestions for changes which were duly forwarded to individuals who reacted accordingly.
My interest in local history was developed originally by my father, Colin Busby Forward, and then by Carey and Steve. If there are two things I wish my dad had stayed alive long enough to enjoy, one is the cheap seats at the Royal Opera House, and the other is digital cameras. He must have taken hundreds of colour photographs in his time, and paid a fortune getting them developed and printed. He loved architecture, and tirelessly sketched any building from Malmesbury Abbey to the local barns, as well as every bridge over the rivers that ran round the town. He also recorded the demolition of the Linolite factory, which was housed in the old Luce Mill, and collected discarded debris which was stored in our outside toilet until my brother got rid of it. As for Carey, he was on the local Civic Trust during the 1960s when many wonderful old buildings were being demolished. I remember him taking us for a walk to see Estcourt House LinkExternal link just before it was demolished in 1964. Much later, Steve took me to see all the secret places of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, such as Salts Hole, LinkExternal link many of which I photographed. One day I might find the negatives and put them on geograph. He was also keen on ancient sites, and we spent many a damp day wandering across misty Cornish moors or Welsh coastal paths trying to find dolmens or standing stones.
All this culminated in my taking a degree in Archaeology. Starting out with a love of the prehistoric sites on the Marlborough Downs, I eventually read for an MA in the European Neolithic under Alasdair Whittle at Cardiff University. By that time, though I had got too far from the source of my interest and was analysing the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in the Paris basin. Geograph has brought me back in contact with the subjects of my original enthusiasm. And although I did not originally share my fatherís love of architecture, thanks to geograph I have become far more interested and sharper-eyed. Now I can spot a listed building a mile off, and my brakes squeal as I screech to a halt. The language of architecture is still fairly obscure to me, but at least now I can identify a catslide roof, and know the difference between rubble and ashlar.
Railways I have always loved, being old enough to pre-date the Beeching cuts. We played near railways as a child, hiding in the Malmesbury tunnel until the steam train came along, an act of childish bravado unthinkable today. I still dream of Malmesbury Station, which closed in 1963. LinkExternal link Living in Swindon, you canít help but feel proud of its railway past and want to do your best to record it SU1789 : Disused GWR Highworth branch line by Vieve Forward. But what came as a surprise to me was falling in love with canals. This happened when I set out from Lechlade one day to bag some tpoints, and ended up discovering the derelict double lock at Dudgrove SU1998 : Derelict lock gate, Thames and Severn Canal by Vieve Forward. I had no idea from the map that it was there and only found it by accident. I was not supposed to be there Ė it is far from any public footpath Ė so it felt as though I had discovered a secret place that no-one else knew about, and that it was my duty to record before it disappeared completely. There is always that tension with geograph between keeping your favourite places secret or putting them on record. However, I think I can safely say that most of the places I have been to, Brian Robert Marshall, aka Mr Blue Sky LinkExternal link has been there before. So far, I have only managed to beat him to it a few times! SU1496 : Oatlands Bridge, Thames and Severn Canal, near Kempsford by Vieve Forward
So, as I said, every grid square is an adventure, some more than others. Some involve battling through hedges and brambles, paddling through floods, almost getting mown down by passing cars SU1182 : Accident risk warning sign, Wharf Road by Vieve Forward, being told off by security guards, trudging through miles of snow (those are the best!) SU2270 : Lane above Sound Bottom by Vieve Forward, trespassing with your heart in your mouth in case you are caught before youíve got that precious photo. Iíve even taken on jobs delivering directories, in order to gain access to places I wouldnít normally see ST9387 : Footbridge over former GWR Malmesbury branch line, Baskerville by Vieve Forward, and believe me, thatís hard work. Other grid squares might be far more easy and pleasant to tick off, involving activities like going out for a walk with an old friend ST3307 : Forton House, Forton by Vieve Forward, attending a charity fair in a stately home ST3505 : Charity Summer Fair, Forde Abbey by Vieve Forward or a car boot sale SO9524 : Sunrise at the car boot sale, Cheltenham race course by Vieve Forward, going Christmas shopping SP5106 : Venison, Covered Market, Oxford by Vieve Forward, or simply wandering round your home town noticing things youíve never noticed before SU1585 : Old caravans in Edwards Amusement Depot, Ferndale Road, Swindon by Vieve Forward.
Some people write the minimum description, but I love to research my subject, even if only for five or ten minutes. I would love to spend more time on each photograph, but as someone who commonly comes home with over a hundred frames to choose from, I have to restrain myself or Iíd never get the work done. For me, though, a title and description have to be factual. The title must contain the basic facts Ė where and what it is, street name, town, etc. The description elaborates on this and should give more facts, and if possible reliable references. This is what I was trained to do, though I know that others prefer to be much more relaxed and personal, and sometimes I myself veer towards the political SU1485 : The "Triangle" by Hab Oakus, Howse Garden, off Northern Road, Swindon by Vieve Forward or the poetic.
The people I donít understand are geographers who are so set on getting high up in the leaderboards that they just drive along a motorway, snapping out of the window as they go. Each to their own, but unless you are disabled, and canít physically get out of the car, I recommend that you do: you will discover a whole other world out there. Having decided to finish my first hectad by 2nd January meant that I was dashing here and there like a fury, and risking life and limb parking in less than ideal spots, and I didnít enjoy that aspect of it at all Ė it felt like cheating, and Iíve no desire to do it again. It will definitely be back to the walking boots for me on my next geograph outing.
So, was finishing my first hectad fun? Fun probably isnít the best word, though Iíll say this about it: Iíd recommend it as a cure for anyoneís Christmas blues. Yes, I had fun: fun doing something as utterly loopy as walking though tipping rain and getting soaked to the skin just to nab another couple of grid squares or another tpoint, SU1181 : Traffic on Hay Lane by Vieve Forward fun running like mad to be somewhere more picturesque for your Christmas or New Yearís midday photo SU1483 : Alley between The Mall and Goddard Avenue, Swindon by Vieve Forward, fun poking gentle fun at peoplesí pretentions. SU1682 : Houses in Carlton Gate, Broome Manor by Vieve Forward I even thought it was funny nearly getting sucked into the Thames gravels during the floods, SU1695 : Waterlogged field between Castle Eaton and Hannington Wick by Vieve Forward though this may have been the laughter of relief. Itís certainly not everyoneís idea of fun, but then we geographers are a rather odd bunch.
Finally, Iíd just like to say that if anyone knocks Swindon in future, I suggest they look at some of the pictures of it on geograph, e.g. SU1780 : Thatched cottages, Hodson by Vieve Forward. Besides which, Swindon is situated slap bang between two of the most beautiful bits of England imaginable: the Cotswolds and the Marlborough Downs. We are so fortunate in Britain because every place, no matter how unpromising, yields hidden treasures. I used to dream of travelling far and wide, and even spent three summers cycling through France, but now I realise that Britain has so much beauty and history and interest that there is never any need to go even much more than thirty miles away.

Thu, 3 Jan 2013 at 20:51
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