My Favourite Map: For Life, Not Just For Christmas

© Norman Hadley

Give someone a map and you're passing on the gift of imagination, says Norman Hadley. Four decades after receiving a Lake District set - now torn and crackly, but still much loved - he has never stopped dreaming of the fells.

Outdoor Leisure 4 - The English Lakes North Western area 

When my family asked what I wanted for my fourteenth birthday, I was adamant: maps of the Lake District. I was too old for Airfix models but too young for grooming products, so maps were the perfect bridging gift, the gift of imagination. I could spend hours roaming the fells without leaving my bedroom, and owning them was as close as I could imagine to owning the land itself. In the seething hormonal maelstrom of turning fourteen, maps were the still centre of a turning world.

Sign of a sheet well-used...  © Norman Hadley
Sign of a sheet well-used...
© Norman Hadley

They bought me three of the four Outdoor Leisure maps of the Lakes. Until then, our family had got by on the Ordnance Survey's 1-inch-to-the-mile Tourist map. It's hard to convey what a revelation it was to go from 1-inch to 2½ (or 4cm to 1km in new money). Quantitatively, it was a big leap, yes, like an amp that goes up to eleven. Two-and-a-half times the linear scale is over six times as much information per unit area. But it was a transformative qualitative shift, too; the ability to pinpoint yourself at the junction of two dry-stone walls was revolutionary. The overlaps between sheets were a nice touch, so that you got to own that six square-kilometre rectangle containing the Helm Crag to Calf Crag ridge four times over.

There I go again, conflating representation and reality. Polish philosopher Alfred Korzybski warned, "the map is not the territory, the word is not the thing". The human mind is so adept at devising models, we tend to confuse them for the thing they represent. How often would I be fooled by this flat, dry facsimile, twenty-five thousand times smaller than the real thing? How many times would reality assert itself in exhausted thighs hauling up to the umpteenth summit, when it had been just inches on paper?

You really can't argue with a map that includes Buttermere  © Norman Hadley
You really can't argue with a map that includes Buttermere
© Norman Hadley

I still have that original set. They bear a 1982 copyright symbol, back when they were printed single sided and lamination was unheard-of.  Four decades on, they're sun-bleached, crackly-dry from multiple soakings, torn at every fold and sporadically scribbled on. Even the Sellotape holding them together has yellowed and embrittled like mummified skin. Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral is in far better nick.

The most treasured of the set is the Northwest sheet, which I received the following Christmas. In that brief gap, the northwestern corner was an unknown as richly imagined as any "here be dragons" annotation on a mediaeval manuscript. This is how it should be, isn't it? There are always hills a little further, a little harder to get to. That Alexander fella wept salt tears when there were no more lands to conquer, so we all need dreams. In any case, it was fitting that this was the last quadrant. Any fool knows that North is better than South, West is better than East, so Northwest is the best of all. That's true of Scotland, England and Wales individually, or Great Britain as a whole.

To this day, even though I've moved a hundred and fifty miles closer to the Lakes since childhood, and am vastly more mobile, Pillar, High Stile, and Steeple take that bit more effort to reach, and deliver that bit more reward. Buttermere and Borrowdale are two of the most exquisite valleys anywhere. And who could live without the bucolic loveliness of Lorton?

These places still hold special meaning for a middle-aged teenage boy, dreaming about what's over the horizon.

Pillar - here be dragons  © Norman Hadley
Pillar - here be dragons
© Norman Hadley

22 Apr

I'm still waiting for the full set of GB Landrangers that I asked for... I seem to remember I asked for a Petzl Zoom headtorch around the same age. Yes, the NW map is definitely the best one. Just don't tell everyone ;)

22 Apr

You should set up a GoFundMe, Mal - everyone loves a Good Cause. I remember frequenting my local bookshop as a youngster because they always stocked the full set of Landrangers. Long before Google Maps, it enthralled me that you could flit from Dungeness to Durness in seconds, all while standing in a shop in Lincoln.

(Happy days, jumpers for goalposts etc etc.)

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