“Give me a map and I’m magic!”
I have been enthralled by maps ever since I found it was the way to spend hours not doing chores or homework but sprawling on the carpet helping my Dad to plan a route from here to there, there to here or here to here by way of there. Maps in those days were proper maps; gargantuan pieces of papers that only the most gifted could fold and unfold properly and only the most intelligent could decipher.
When the headmaster of my Comprehensive School declared that the Geography ‘O’ level class was full and that I would have to do Scripture instead, I staged a classroom sit-in as a protest. Faced by an overweight, spotty, pubescent female with an expression which all the women in my family have mastered (‘The Lalic Look’), Mr Kelly yielded saying he would take one more pupil but I would have to sit on the end of someone else’s desk and share their map. Sharing was not a concept that had reached my Comprehensive school but my elbows became formidable weapons and two years later, enticed by the prospect of drawing maps with lots of colouring in of rivers, roads and settlements, I moved on to do ‘A’ level Geography. Quite why, instead of going on to study Geography at University, I ended up getting a degree in Textile Art, is too long a story for me to go into here. Suffice to say that in my 20s, when most of my friends were out dancing, drinking or on a man-hunt, I had joined a group of geriatric ramblers and was often to be found locating comfort stops on hillsides for my weak-bladdered companions.
I waited until my parents went on a 3 week holiday abroad to take up the sport of Orienteering (they wouldn’t have coped with the thought of their girl, lost, alone, racing around forests and moors looking for little red and white flags. I had a car sticker which said ‘Give me a map and I’m magic’. It wasn’t true; I was rubbish at the sport apart from one season when the stars aligned and through a happy accident (ie no-one else competing in the same class, age group and events), I became Welsh Champion on points in my age group on an Orange course.
When orienteering came to an end (as it had to after a particularly dramatic fall which splatted my right knee, skinned my hands and put my teeth on the road to an early demise) I went back to wandering the lanes and countryside on Shank’s Pony. I wrote little travel guides for people who would probably never visit the places I saw, adding landscape history, folklore and local anecdotes to the written maps I was creating for them.
Twenty years later and the first task on the MA course I’m doing at Hereford College of Arts was to create a board of 50 images and words that would apparently give me an idea of where I wanted my studies to go. It was easier said than done but eventually I have found my way to maps.
So far, you may think, so good. Well, no. It turns out that everyone has a different idea of what a map actually is. Let’s face it: when it comes to having a navigable map or an accurate representation of physical geography, the OS has got in covered but there are other sorts of maps. Polynesian Islanders make maps of their coastline out of sticks, native Americans inscribed stone maps on sacred rock outcrops and the Inuits of Polar regions used to carve forms of local islands on pieces of wood. The more research I did, the more distractions I found. I loved the way in which Saul Steinberg drew maps from his office window and I came to realise that lots of people use the word ‘map’ in a way I didn’t even begin to recognise. I was interested in ‘trig.points’ as part of my project but needed to play with different ways of making maps.
I decided that the way to proceed was to define what I meant by a map (a representation of place in time) and then to create one based on a walked (or run) route to or from a trig point. That left me with one last decision to make before I started making maps – what technique to use. Hereford had offered me more opportunities to expand my skills than I ever thought possible: I’ve done lino-cutting (fun),
calligraphy(more fun), poetry (sublime), sketching (yes!), ink-making (lovely),
paper-making (messy but enjoyable), paperclay (hated the feeling under my nails), photography (frustrating) and various software programmes (a definite no to all of them). Eventually, I whittled it down to doing what I’ve been doing for the last 30 years or so – Textile Art with bits and pieces of all the above as I feel appropriate.
Last week, in the most glorious spring weather that Wales has delivered in years, I hopped on the number 2C bus from Swansea to Caswell Bay in the South Gower, resplendent in its well-deserved claim to be the first place ever to be awarded an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) designation.
My target for the day was to walk to the the trig point at High Pennard so from Caswell Bay, I took the high tide route of the Wales Coast Path and heading up the narrow, winding lane until a footpath took me down hill over meadows and through wildflower carpeted woodland rich with the scent of ramsons (wild garlic). Pwll Du is a National Trust site with a couple of white washed cottages huddled into a corner of Pwll Du Bay. That there was only a dirt track and no car park contributed to the atmosphere of utter peace and tranquility. I passed other walkers, with or without dogs, but apart from the exchange of greetings and hopes that the good weather would last more than a few days, I was alone on the way. Here and there I stopped to take photographs or rattle off a speedy sketch.
The Wales Coast Path is justly famous for the beauty and quality of the path. Someone had obviously thought about the needs of walkers to simply pause and be in the landscape because there were plenty of places where you could do just that. Having been brought up reading the antics of the Famous Five, I am now unable to go anywhere without a picnic so once I had located the trig point at High Pennard (S2093), I settled down to eat my sandwiches and drink in the views across the Irish Sea. The tide was on its way out so I returned to Caswell on the low tide route which followed the cliff edge before plunging down onto the sands of Caswell beach itself.ed with an OS map, my sketches, photographs and the memories of my walk, I began formulating my map. First though I logged my visit on the website which caters for trig spotting nerds like me and reading down the comments of other visitors to the area, found that in 1760, an Admiralty tender called the Caesar, which was carrying pressganged men to Bristol, was wrecked on the cliffs below High Pennard. More than 68 men died and were buried at the nearby spit of land called ‘Graves End’.
That’s the sort of the anecdote which the OS – for all of the accuracy – can’t put on one of their maps. My maps are all about inviting people to share what it was like for me to be in that particular place at that particular time. Photographs help you to see what it was like, sketches (I think) are better at conveying the experience but to be part of my experience, you need to know what it was about the walk that I remember most.
It was the colours.