13 March 2009

Quirky stuff on maps - 1

I spend a lot of time looking at maps while cycling, usually trying to find out where I've gone wrong. I don't need a satnav to take me the wrong way down a one-way lane and across a stream with no bridge; I can do that myself with an OS map.

And when I notice quirky stuff, I always want to cycle there. Maybe it's a place with a funny name like Wetwang. Or a strange geological phenomenon like the sandy tendril of Spurn Point four miles out at sea. Or the fact that the (arbitrary and much hated) county of Humberside had two villages called Wold Newton, one at its northernmost end, the other at its southernmost - inconvenient if you cycled to the wrong one.

Or maybe it's just, well, quirky. Here's four odd things I've noticed while browsing the map, lost:

1. The Two Great Tothams
(Make sure it’s the OS map view being displayed, not the road map.) Two separate villages in Essex, both called Great Totham, right next to each other. The result of some ancient factional split? Do they have a Real Great Totham and a Continuity Great Totham?

I cycled there to see what it was like, and sure enough, each village is signposted separately and identically. OS Landranger 168 is your map.

(Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.)

2. Two Goose Greens
More doppelgangers in rural Essex. Just a few kilometres from the twin Great Tothams is a pair of Goose Greens. (?Geese Green.) Find a village called Tendring; the first GG is a kilometre north, the second two kilometres or so north of that. With confusion like this, it's a wonder we ever got the Falklands back. OS Landranger 168 again.

3. An aerial river
Near Littleport in Cambridgeshire is this odd snake of contours (again, select the OS map view). They're the course of an old river whose banks were maintained as the land on either side slowly drained and sank, resulting in the river being higher than surrounding land. OS 143.

4. The only British place-name with an X
Only one place-name in England, as far as I can see, contains an upper-case X. The trick is that it's a Roman numeral, in Ruyton-XI-Towns, a 12th-century compilation-album of a place near Shrewsbury.

Obviously maps don't always correspond on the ground with what you see on paper in front of you. I was once obsessed with a round street in the middle of waste land I'd spotted on a map of London that appeared to be unconnected to the rest of the network. A secret military ring road? Eventually I realised it was the 'O' of 'LONDON'.

More suggestions welcome. More funny stuff coming up, including the point furthest from a road, the centroid of England, and Ordnance Survey maps' blankest square...


  1. cambridgeshire has several villages all called Green End.

  2. Hi Eleanor.

    Gazetteer.co.uk lists quite a few Green Ends. According to its lists, Cambridgeshire has two, Yorkshire three, and Hertfordshire four. Bedfordshire is awash with them: five Green Ends in all.

    You can use the four-digit grid refs they give to bring up a Multimap or Google map via the handy www.nearby.org.uk.

    Most of them seem to be bits-of-villages rather than separate villages. There are two distinct Green Ends quite near each other west of Bedford (TL1063 and TL1252).

  3. There are lots of places with a lower-case X, of course. I tried to find the shortest and found Bax, Box, Dux, Nox, Rix and Wix.

    With four letters I found Brax, Brox, Brux, Drax, Flex, Knox, Plex and Toux

    ...and with five letters Dulax, Ibrox, Rivox, Taxal and Troax

    Of longer names containing an "x", I was attracted to Quilquox in Aberdeenshire, as well as the aging radicals at Poll Tax, Dyfed

    And of course Up Exe which sounds like what happens when you pay slavish attention to the Satnav in Devon.

  4. Fine work, sir!

    Dulax, Ibrox, Rivox, Taxal and Troax? That's a whole medicine cabinet of tranquillisers! (Or perh. laxatives.)

    Quilquox has to be one of those extinct marsupials, finished up for dinner by Capt Cook's lot.

  5. Given that this a cycling blog, I thought I would investigate which numbered route of the National Cycle Network takes you through the most interestingly-named places.

    I nominate NCR 1. My favourite place name on this route in London is Mudchute, well-known for its city farm and DLR station. For some reason it isn't shown on the OS map so here it is on OpenCycleMap (the thick red line going north-south is NCR 1).

    However if you follow it a few miles further north the places get even more interesting.

    One particular section sounds particularly appealing, starting at Quoyloo. From there you ride north through Knowes of Yonbell, Skorn, Stara, breezy Windbreck, Harpsquoy, Skidge (I'm reminded of that Rowan Atkinson school roll-call sketch) to Oxtro, though if you prefer you can avoid busy Oxtro and follow the alternative route of NCR 1 via Mount Misery, which offers views over Point of Snusan.

    The two routes rejoin and you continue through Feaval and Hillquoy to Knowles of Lingo. Abune-the-hill is on your right.

    Then turn left and follow the road round the lake to
    Crismo, Costa and Clook.

    Continue down the gentle hill to Wateries and Burgar before arriving in Stenso.

    A short rest, then onwards through Quoys to Pulkitto, where we turn left onto a minor road and NCR 1 continues through Quoyblackie and Queenamuckle to Gorseness.

    (Here a short excusion is possible to South Aittit and the Bay of Hinderayre. The best way to return to NCR 1 is via the most cheerful place in the United Kingdom, Appietown.)

  6. Clearly you're as busy at work today as I am, Nigel! Many thanks for that.

    It's so good I've elevated it to a new post of its own.