Country diary: old maps reveal folds in time

Looking at a map is travelling of a strange sort. A way of getting outside, without going outside. Of exploring while still. Where you can visualise the roll and tumble of land, and its vertical space, on something entirely flat. Where the tiniest twitch of gaze can leap miles. And decades.

On the National Library of Scotland’s website you can time travel through maps. Go back, and back, and civilisation falls off these sheets like loosened scales. From a screen of pixels, shades of paper and shifts in typeface immediately evoke the smell and scratch of a mapmaker’s tools, separated from you by nothing but a dozen decades or so.

I wanted to see how long a wood outside my town, one I’d always thought striking, has been there. A 1905 map shows it, and also that it was once a quarry. I print the map to go and look.

The wood is castle-like, moated by a wide belt of grass and surrounded on all horizons by houses. And the things not on any map: traffic noise, the glow of a petrol station sign. And birds. The wood is saturated with bird sound, and the thickety noise of unseen life. I see little of it: crows, like apostrophes in the canopy; a young rabbit fleeing through sharp undergrowth.

Inside, it is dense and close, resplendent with growth unchecked. Purple buds stud the ground with colour. It’s hilly, steeply so: dug out, and reclaimed. Pathways through it suggest humans – trees bent into arches, firepits, one odd little hovel. Someone’s home? The hard lines of a phone mast mingle with the branch-scrabble above. A landscape shaped by people, left to nature, but still peopled. I stand still, and close my eyes. Time is gone, and all I hear is the birds.

Country Diary on 25 March 2020 by Simon Ingram CD SI 3

Home, but first a detour through a residential close, to see the site of something on the old map: a hospital for infectious diseases, complete with the oddly specific “smallpox huts”. I wonder if the people inside these houses know. Not so long ago, that might have seemed archaic and alien.

Times do change. But though disconnected, sometimes they bend together and touch unexpectedly, like an untidy fold in a map.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Enter Your Information Below To Receive Free Trading Ideas, Latest News, And Articles.

Please Enter Your Email Address:

Your information is secure and your privacy is protected. By opting in you agree to receive emails from us and our affiliates. Remember that you can opt-out any time, we hate spam too!


Mathias Cormann wants to be a chameleon on climate change when we’ve got a bin fire instead of a plan | Katharine Murphy

The window for attaining net zero emissions by 2050 and holding temperature increases to safe levels is "rapidly closing". Evidence is mounting that the...

10 years of the British Wildlife Photography awards – in pictures

Coast and marine highly commended (2018): Ta Da! (Grey seal, Halichoerus grypus) by Kirsty Andrews, Northumberland Photograph: Kirsty Andrews/British Wildlife Photography Awards Animal behaviour highly commended...

Country diary: sleeping spoonbills refuse to be disturbed

Clouds rise above the line of tall trees and stretch out to sea. Below my feet, a muddy channel of water runs from a...

Country diary: crickets in the bushes, staring eyes in the water

Today seems to be the day of the gatekeepers. Dozens of the bright, coppery-brown butterflies are fluttering around, rising above the lush green grasses...

Hong Kong’s terracotta tile army marches to the rescue for coral

Scientists are using 3D-printed hexagons to create artificial reefs after a super-typhoon brought devastationIn 2018, a super-typhoon destroyed 80% of the corals in Hoi...