Monday, 26 December 2016

Benchmarking the History of St Thomas

On 23 December I took myself off for a windy and wet walk around St Thomas, Exeter.  I had an excellent leaflet I'd picked up from the local library and set off to explore.  However, never being one to miss an opportunity, I also downloaded a list of the local benchmarks to enhance my exploration of the area.

The first one was an easy find as I often see it - at the end of Cotfield Street (just off Water Lane).
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The second mark was on the railway bridge crossing Alphington Road just north of St Thomas railway station. I've looked for this dozens of times but this time I was armed with the Ordnance Survey listing and realised I was looking on the wrong corner.
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You can just see it in the centre of this picture: just slightly off centre to the top and right.   And I now know why I hadn't chanced on this. It's on the side of the tunnel opposite to the pedestrian walkway. I had to take a shot from across the road or chance getting squished by local traffic.

My third benchmark (and I hadn't even started the history trail yet) was on the school wall in Union Street.
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And, ta dah! Another one in the same road.
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This is on 46 Union Street. I sometimes wonder if it's a bit creepy taking a photo of someone's front door but it's all in the name of geomatics so that's OK then.

I eventually started the trail and explored up and down Cowick Street.  I saw the broad gauge railway sleepers leaning against the GWRSA, Great Western Railway's social club.  Brunel's rails were re-laid to standard gauge in 1892.  I discovered that there are 62 arches between St Thomas and Exeter St Davids stations.  No luck finding the benchmark on the railway bridge over Cowick Street.  I think it was removed during the public convenience installation.

I hadn't realised that the local Polish delicatessen, Maya, is the old County Prison for Debtors.   And that the archway of the local garage, Cowick Street Motors, was the entrance to it.

I ambled up Cowick Street failing to find another listed benchmark.  The Age Concern building used to be the local fire station.  It's funny what you see when you look up above a modern shop sign to read the carved stonework above.

I walked into St Thomas church grounds and found the memorial to Grace Darling.  Hardly a local event but it must have had a connection with someone in St Thomas.
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And, as expected, there was a nice old benchmark on the church (nail in this one).
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I walked up as far west as the St Thomas National School which, in its day, housed 300 children taught by just 3(!) teachers. Then through St Thomas Pleasure Ground back into Buller Road. This building used to be the pumping station for the St Thomas Water Works.
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At the end of Buller Road, just before you turn into Okehampton Road, there is a mark scratched into the wall marking the height level of the flooding on 26 October 1960.
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You can see how high it is. 'Ruth-nose-level' is the official, chartered survey, measured height.
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The trail wound past the Emmanuel Parish Church, the River Exe (path closed sadly) ending at the eastern edge of Cowick Street. In the pavement is a brass ram's head commemorating a runaway tram accident in 1917.  What a wonderfully interesting walk.

Later that evening, never one to be off duty, I found another benchmark in a local cut-through.
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And the next day discovered a beautifully mosaicked building in Tin Lane.
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And then I discovered my seventh benchmark for this blog, on the hall in Cowick Street.
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Sadly I couldn't find my last quest, the one at 21 Cowick Road. Again, there is only so long I think I can linger outside someone's door before looking just a little too weird.


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Sheffield Measures and Watery Finds

I was up in Sheffield last month.  I will frequent this city much during the next 5 years as one of my daughters has just started at Sheffield University.  This was my third trip there: the first consisting of hugging and dropping her, the second of hugging and doing a Sainsbury's shop with her (I paid naturally) and this one third where we'd matured onto exploration (give or take a parental food bill I still paid). Anyway,  I had the advantage of arriving whilst she was still in lectures so set off to explore.
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I wound my way through some lovely parts of historic Sheffield, past numerous fountains, the Winter Gardens etc when I arrived at the Peace Gardens to bag my prize.
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Lovely huh?
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One of things Riona wanted to do was to 'find water' when I was up. Being an Exeter child she was missing this so I was tasked to organise something. I discovered a wonderful watery world of canal and rivers, in particular the Blue Loop. We started canal side down at Victoria Quays.
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The Sheffield and Tinsley Canal autumnal style.
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Yay - water!
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Once we left the canal we looped back via the River Don and came across the Five Weirs Walk.
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This is a lovely walk with interesting artefacts carved out of wood dotted along the path. Sadly some of it was closed and we had a 1km road stretch which was a bit meh. But it means we have to go back ;-)
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Burton Weir.
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And just as we were heading back into the city, look what I found?
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Sunday, 30 October 2016

The Language of GIS

I have recently started an MSc in Geographic Information System (GIS) with UNIGIS. It seemed a great idea at the time and I'm enjoying studying a subject I actually enjoy. I'd forgotten how much fun learning could be.

The looming essay deadline is a little less fun.  My lounge carpet is covered with GIS papers ranging from the simple "What is GIS and What is Not?" to "Geographic information science as a multidisplinary and multiparadigmatic field" to the slightly more head-scratching "Modelling accessibility using space-time prism concepts within geographic information systems".  I'd always considered myself quite intellectually capable but words such as epistemologies and disjunctive are new to me.

My head is full of 'spatiotemporal', 'object orientated', 'space-time composites'  and my new favourite,  neogeography.  I've also come across the interesting concept of 'feminism in GIS' which I think I'll explore and blog another day.  I've come across definition upon definition of GIS.  Notwithstanding the question "does the S in GIS stand for System or Science?" I've come across Critical GIS (CGIS),  Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) and Participatory GIS (PGIS).

There is a lot to get your head around but it's not going to hurt.  Just make my brain have a decent work out.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Travel Log: Lesotho

I recently travelled to South Africa on business and had the fortune to journey to both Lesotho and Swaziland whilst doing this.

All in we drove over 2500km starting/finishing in Johannesburg.
2500km
Clarens is an attractive town the Free State.
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It is full of craft shops, cafes and relics from the past.
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We drove through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park twice - stopping there the first time.
2016-09- 28 Golden Gate National Park 5.43.14
The rocks turn gloriously gold at sunset (just use your imagination).
2016-09-28 Golden Gate Park
Not a shabby place to pause and work.
2016-09- 28 Golden Gate National Park 4.53.39
After business in Pietermaritzburg, in which we didn't linger, we overnighted at Himeville and then drove up the wonderful Sani Pass into Lesotho.

My first border crossing of the trip. Many more to come.
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The going got tougher as we ascended.
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And the views got more spectacular.
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You are only allowed entry to the Sani Pass if you're in a 4x4 or on a motorbike (non pillion).    However we did also see someone jogging up it and I'm sure it'd be a wonderful mountain bike route too.
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It's a popular tourist outing: a run (in a 4x4) up the Sani Pass and back with lunch at the top.
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At the top of Africa ... pub wise at any rate.
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The view from the balcony shows a series of white cairns which Martin's team surveyed in some years ago. They mark the South African/Lesothon border. You can make out one in the left/mid distance side of the image.
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After tea and soup at the Mountain Lodge we headed on into Lesotho. Lesthon humour.
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Martin's team surveyed this road a few years ago. It was the first time he'd driven it since it had been tarmaced so I took lots of photos to show our surveyors in Swaziland. It was the first time our Swazi surveyors had woken up in their tents, thought it was a tad nippy, then had to dig themselves out of the snowdrift.
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The Chinese bequeathed their rock crushing equipment to Lesotho when they finished road construction. Saves having to dismantle it...
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The Sotho population live in these high mountains, tending sheep, cattle, goats and surviving on what they can. I saw few plants and I suspect most of their crops have to be frost hardy. The topsoil is only centimetres deep.
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There has obviously been investment in some areas such as these solar panels.
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Once the Chinese road had finished, we were onto dirt track for the majority of our journey.
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Dry, desolate with zero road signage. We sort of followed our nose and hoped we were heading the right way.
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Maps are rare, our sat nav was pretty hopeless (it had no differentiation between "A" roads and village tracks) so occasionally we found an English speaker who'd point us onwards.
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Parts of the road had inclines of 20% and were strewn with rocks. And this was the A road.
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Ice!
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Occasionally we'd follow a set of survey markers ready for the next upgrade of the road.  Here we were 9600m to the next road junction.
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Satellite dishes appeared further down the valley.
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As did the ubiquitous tin-shod drop toilets which adorn the hillside villages.
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After hours of bumping and jostling our way over the rocks, zigzagging our way up and down valleys, we spied tarmac. Yay! Sadly it was short-lived and only covered the bridge span.
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We met the Orange River. This is the lowest Martin has ever seen it which reflects the longest drought that southern Africa has had for 35 years.
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Great views as the sun set that evening.
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When we left Lesotho we took the quick route out - tarmac roads towards the northeast and the capital, Maseru. Look - smooth - straight.
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And wonderful views as the plains stretched out before us.
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Still plenty of z bends.
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Martin stopped to show me an armco culvert: part of my ongoing survey education.
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Travellers too.
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And then we hit lampposts. Not literally of course.
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Maseru has a nicely labelled roundabout.
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At a quick coffee stop I found Lesothon cake?
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And then it was through the border back into South Africa. This is the no-mans-(no womans?)-land.
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We drove over 12 hours across the north of Lesotho and through KwaZulu Natal province.
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We eventually entered Swaziland at Golela then drove with the setting sun up towards Vuvulane.
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A few days business in Swaziland passed smoothly, give or take my eternal frustration at gaining reliable access to the internet.  We did manage some chilli shopping though.
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Our route back to Johannesburg took us to this wonderful service station.
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You don't get this on the M5.