A family birthday celebration in Derbyshire and roads closed due to snow dictated our route over the Staffordshire Moorlands and into Derbyshire via Leek and Ashbourne. Driving over in the late afternoon just as the sun was dipping below the horizon and finding a layby just after sunset and where sheep were feeding was a good opportunity for some photos. The return journey was in the dark.
Author of The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr, on where automation is taking us and the effect our increasing reliance on digital maps may be having on our minds. For a chance to win the Think Smarter reading list, sign up to the newsletter by 31st January.
Sat nav devices and digital maps may make our lives easier, but they also steal something important from us.
For ages, human beings have been inventing tools to reduce the strain of travel. History is, among other things, a record of the discovery of ingenious new ways to ease our passage through our environs, to make it possible to cross greater and more daunting distances without getting lost, roughed up, or eaten. Simple maps and trail markers came first, then star maps and nautical charts, then instruments like astrolabes, compasses, and sextants. Lighthouses were erected along shorelines, buoys set in coastal waters. Roads…
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I picked up a book today ‘Grand Canyon Country’ written by the Superintendent of the National Park and published in 1935. It is fascinating to compare the description of the area then with it as we found it in 2013 on our short visit. A lovely feature of the book is the cartograph by Ruth Taylor White inside the covers ‘on which is pictured whimsically and fancifully some things that Dudes expect to see and then again, some other things they don’t’.
I certainly plan to return one day and see the North Rim and take a mule trip down the Kaibab Trail with an overnight stop at Phantom Ranch – described in 1935 and still something you can do. We did drive through the Painted Desert in 2013 but other nearby places to visit are Zion National Park and the Petrified Forest which will have to wait for the next trip.
I had a meeting to attend in the city which is only 12 miles away. I usually leave in plenty of time and arrive early so that I can park and be ready. However, this was not to be. Only a few miles down the road, I joined a barely moving line of traffic and spent one and a half hours crawling due to roadworks and an accident. Traffic announcements on the radio started to warn about it far too late to take any alternative route. The next track on the radio was, most appropriately, Chris Rhea’s ‘Road to Hell’. When I finally reached my destination, I was too late for the meeting and there was no room in the car park anyway. So, I gave up and popped into a shop to buy a birthday present and a garage to fill up with diesel only to have my debit card declined for some unknown reason. All before 10am. The day can only get better! I did have a smile on the way back as a huge truck lumbered past a Reliant Robin to overtake it. Not a car we see on road very often these days.
I love the beach in winter. Quieter and winter storms have often thrown up interesting things for beachcombers. One year we found dozens of starfishes on a beach after a storm. We have the choice of seven beaches between Edinburgh and North Berwick but James’s choice today was Gullane Bents. In winter, the dog can run free and she enjoyed running around, rolling, sniffing and encountering other dogs.
Sea Buckthorn was planted on this coast in the 1970s to try and stabilise the dunes. It is not native to this coast and has become a bit of a pest which now has to be controlled but also provides some shelter for wildlife.
I found some more sea glass to add to my collection and spotted these fabulous rock strata which will surely inspire some art later.
Inevitably it was soon time to head back down south to work but great snow scenes enlivened the route. In the Pentlands, lots of sledging was happening under the winter sun and hill sheep were scraping holes in the snow to find grass. Many a possible photograph passed by which I would have stopped for if we’d had the time. Here are a couple through the windscreen at Beattock on the M74 and Shap on the M6.
I have just picked up a book which has been in my ‘to read’ pile for a little while. It was published in 2012: ‘The Great Divide: History and Human Nature in the Old World and the New’ by Peter Watson. Picking it up this evening, I had not got further than the second page of the Author’s Note when I had a question. He starts by describing the criticism surrounding an exhibition about the Aztec ruler Montezuma (or Moctezuma) at the British Museum in 2009. He continues ‘………After all, there is no getting away from the fact that it was the Europeans who sailed westward and ‘discovered’ the Americas and not the other way round….’. Is this true? It took me straight back to a trip we made to Tenerife in 2008. Not content with lying on the beaches, we were exploring the area and came across some interesting constructions which closely resembled Central American step pyramids. We learnt that Thor Heyerdahl had retired to Tenerife and was very interested in these structures and the possibility that the Mayans or other central American people had crossed the Atlantic and built them. I have also read about early Chinese exploration and the probability that they crossed the Pacific and discovered the Americas long before Columbus. I understand that there is also a theory that the Vikings may had discovered the Atlantic American coast long before Columbus. It will be interesting to see how Watson (if he does) deals with this in his book. He seems to want to focus on the differences.
As an alternative to the usual motorway route home we decided to take the A7 and A6. The A7 is billed as the historic tourist route to Scotland but we were heading south under clear blue skies. Further on we could see snow on the eastern and northern flanks of some of the Southern Uplands. By this time the sky was overcast and headlights were on. I enjoyed passing through the towns we usually fly past and spotting signs to places which I would like to explore at some point. This route is also a historic one for my family so here is a photograph of my great grandfather en route from Derbyshire to Scotland in September 1952, standing beside his Brough Superior at Shap.