Satnavs, maps, and Studley Royal

I was once driving someone somewhere, and they were so persistent that I should use their satnav, that notwithstanding my knowing the way, I did. We came to a t-junction where I knew I had to turn left, the sat nav said ‘turn right’, so I did, and then followed the rest of its instructions exactly, ending up in a doctor’s surgery car park in a small cul-de-sac (where the satnav suggested I ‘do a u-turn’).

I don’t like satnavs (my spell-check suggests ‘Satan’ as one alternative) and I don’t like the sort of maps you get on them or on the internet, like Tele Atlas or Google Maps: anywhere outside towns show up as big empty spaces with nothing in them. Use them and you’d think the country’s empty, a vast blank desert devoid of interest apart from strips of tarmac. I was looking at a location in deepest Caithness the other day – on the Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map one particular 1km square shows the remains of 3 brochs and 1 chapel; 1 standing stone; 1 cairn; what looks like it’s probably a fermtoun; a Big Hoose; a burn in a little steep-sided valley it has cut for itself; a well; a lochan; a campsite; and the A882 crossing the burn on a new bridge, bypassing the old bridge. Tele Atlas on Multimap shows an orange line – the A-road passing through – and nothing much else at all.

I have usually managed road navigation quite well in the past with just a good road atlas – one with a scale of 3 inches to the mile (or more) is usually more than adequate, preferably one that’s based on Ordnance Survey mapping. Memorizing the route beforehand, and then (I know this is not at all a good idea) keeping the atlas on the passenger seat, a quick glance giving my location and where next. Until this year.

In March I went to Paul Sandby: Picturing Britain at the Royal Academy, an exhibition of his mainly topographical paintings. There was an amazing military map of part of the Inverness Road in the Highlands – it must have been several metres long, the mountainous relief was shown by hachures and watercolour shading in a grand spread, the place-names were written in a neat but tiny eighteenth-century hand. I discovered, to my dismay, that I had trouble seeing the broad picture when I stood back, and couldn’t read the writing close-to, even whilst squinting. Now armed with both reading and distance glasses, wearing the latter I can no longer use a map at all when driving.

my satnav

Note the map with full and varied countryside, and that I seem to be speeding

So, two days ago, and very much against my better judgement, I bought a satnav, and used it yesterday to successfully navigate my way round Leeds (although it didn’t like the A58(M) going through a tunnel and panicked: ‘Turn left, turn right, recalculate!’ it cried). It was very useful in navigating an unknown city, it beeps if I exceed the speed limit by more than 10%, tells me when I am approaching a speed camera, and it got me to where I needed to be, but I won’t be using it as a rule, I’m going to invest in a more up-to-date road atlas as the one I have is short of a few new bypasses and some pages are falling out, and I will use the machine as a last resort.

My daughter is leaving her student accommodation for the summer – she has been in a spacious room in a fine Victorian terrace in a Leeds cobbled street, but dangerous kitchenshe and her many appurtenances are coming home for a few weeks. I think I’ll just about be able to squeeze all her chattels into the back of our Vauxhall Zafira – and it will be a squeeze. The one thing I don’t think she’ll miss about this house is the kitchen – there’s a pile of other peoples’ washing-up in the corner, some of which predates Christmas. Reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s Dangerous Kitchen.

After driving here yestStudley Royal "Surprise View"erday, today was a rest day, and we spent it at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water gardens. Most of the day was overcast and really quite chilly, but it’s an impressive place and still made a good day out, we spent five and a half hours there, and still didn’t get to see the church, the deer park, or the Seven Bridges Walk. It’s deserving of its World Heritage status, apparently inspired by Versailles and Chatsworth, a Georgian garden with classical statuary and a number of follies, the remains of the Cistercian abbey being the largest. It will be even nicer when they have refilled the large lake at the bottom which is currently emptied for maintenance.

I visited once before in the 1980s, when it hadn’t been in the National Trust’s possession for very long, and really cannot remember what it looked like, but imagine it wAislabie coat of armsas somewhat overgrown prior to the restoration as it was not at all recognisable.

What was interesting to see was the family coat of arms on a gate – headed by a devil, what’s the significance of that?

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