Author Topic: An unusual backpacking trip  (Read 2123 times)

Hugh Westacott

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An unusual backpacking trip
« on: April 12, 2013, 10:02:47 AM »
I’m very interested in the history of walking for pleasure in Great Britain so I was delighted when I was approached by Diana Jones who is writing a biography of Walker Miles, the pen-name of Edward Seyfang Taylor (1854-1909). He wrote a series of extremely detailed footpath guides covering Kent, Surrey and Sussex that were enormously popular and some of which remained in print until 1939. The working title of her book is Walker Miles; the Wainwright of the South. There were very few footpath guides until Miles set to work and he virtually invented the genre.

I collect old footpath guides and have four of his titles in my library so we agreed that I should walk one of his circular Surrey routes from Holmwood Station via Leith Hill and write a chapter comparing his description with mine. I found it surprisingly easy to plot his route onto the Explorer map and to my surprise found that all the paths he described are still marked on the map as public rights of way. The only exceptions are where building development has required his route to be diverted. Apart from the urban development and the metalling of roads, the landscape is little changed except for the removal of hedges to enlarge fields, and the felling of some woodland. Leith Hill is an outcrop of greensand which is unsuitable for agriculture.

I’ve been puzzling over how Miles discovered his routes. I have copies of the Cassini reprints of the 1:63360 Ordnance Survey Old Series based on the survey of 1813-1819 which does not show footpaths, and also the Revised New Series surveyed 1897-1909 which shows only a few. It has been suggested that he may have used the six-inch to the mile maps which show footpaths, but I can’s see how he could have used them to plan a 12-mile route let alone one of his 50-mile walks. I calculate that he would have needed some fifty sheets to cover all the walks he describes.

So how did he do it without a map that depicted footpaths? I suspect that it was a combination of factors. Walking was popular during the Victorian era and there were many walking clubs so it is likely that their walks were recorded. Also, footpaths were essential to allow country folk to go about their business and were much better used, and therefore obvious on the ground, than many of today’s rights of way. Agriculture was labour intensive and it is likely that there was plenty of opportunity to ask the way of the many farm labourers and foresters working in the fields and woods. I can remember my father doing this when as a family we explored the countryside before WW2. It’s interesting to note that on my two-day backpacking trip I encountered not one person working on the land. Another possibility is that he might have hired a lad from the village to show him the way. When I was evacuated to Devon during the flying bomb scare of 1944 all the village lads knew the paths for miles around from such pastimes as bird-nesting for eggs, mushrooming, scrumping, and making camps.

I decided to backpack his route because I had little idea of how long the expedition would take but in the event I camped wild and was able to enjoy another full day of walking.

Hugh

captain paranoia

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2013, 12:36:06 PM »
I suspect, like you, that he simply followed the existing, well-established paths he found, or asked local advice.  He may then have made his own map, or annotated an existing map, or simply made a mental map of what paths connected what points.

Hugh Westacott

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2013, 01:46:38 PM »
Thanks for your, as usual, helpful comments, CP!

I agree that it is very likely that Walker Miles marked the approximate line of his routes on the One-Inch map. He gives precise instructions on which path to follow whenever he comes to a junction of paths. Thus, over time, he would be able to construct a network of routes. I do the same on my Explorer maps.

He published sketch maps showing the location of railway stations in most of his guidebooks but he also published omnibus editions which included folding paper maps with a scale of approximately three quarters of an inch to the mile.

Miles would know which areas were scenically interesting because the 1:63360 Old Series used hachures to show relief, and the Revised New Series employed a combination of hachures, spot heights and contours at 100-foot intervals.

Diana Jones has persuaded the editors of the on-line Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to include an entry for Walker Miles. It will appear next month.

Hugh

captain paranoia

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2013, 02:26:47 PM »
I wasn't sure my comments were that helpful... really just saying what I think I might have done...

I'd not heard of him or his books before; they sound interesting.  I might have to try to find some of the Surrey books; my sort of area.  Or mention them to my map-collecting friend who will hunt them down on eBay...

Hugh Westacott

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2013, 04:03:10 PM »
<really just saying what I think I might have done...>
That is why your comments were helpful, CP!

The guidebooks are tiny measuring only 10.5 x 13.5 cm and my paperback copies are very fragile. The omnibus editions are the same size but are hardbacks and thus more durable. Another good source for this kind of material is https://www.abebooks.co.uk

When researching in the British Library for material for my book The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Walking & Backpacking, I traced 37 titles in Miles's Field Path Rambles series. He must have been a most engaging man - everybody’s favourite uncle. He wrote a footpath guide in verse and, believe it or not, a work entitled Off your Bike! which was intended to convert cyclists to walking. He loved puns and the execrable photos that appear in his books are attributed to such unlikely people as Kaye Merabois (camera boys), Plato Glass (plate of glass) and Phil Minerol (film in a roll).

He was known to his contemporaries variously as the 'Chief Pathfinder', the 'Great Pathfinder' and occasionally as the 'Prince of Pathfinders'.

Hugh

Callum

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2013, 08:37:58 AM »
An insight to finding local trails in the 19th century was presented last night on BBC’s excellent series ‘Coast’. Nick Crane, the show’s host, had always wanted to ascend the Cioch in the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye and he talked about the two climbers who first conquered this summit John Norman Collie FRS and John Mackenzie.

Collie was an eminent English scientist, living and working in London, who some years earlier had visited Skye and met Mackenzie. Mackenzie was born at Sconser on the Isle of Skye and earned his living as a ghillie, taking sporting men into the hills for shooting deer. At this time there were no maps of the hills in Skye and Mackenzie became Collie’s guide for footpaths leading to the great ridge. They climbed together and became great friends.

Lyle Brotherton

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2013, 10:24:31 AM »
Caught it too Cal, what a terrific series. Presenters without bleached teeth and who have never appeared on Strictly Come Dancing or in Hello magazine, thoughtful content and just stunning photography.

Like Nick, The Cuillins are very special to me too; I think I have posted before about my winter trip with my son, also disembarking onto the ridge in an RAF SAR helicopter, so many stories for the most challenging ridge in GB.
“Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance” - Plato

Pete McK

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2013, 01:17:28 PM »
Watched it on iplayer, great TV, good recommendation Cal. If we did not want to before we most certainly do now - visit the Cuillins!!!

adi

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2013, 12:02:20 PM »
Back in Miles day foot paths were still a major link in the communication system of this country helping to move people and livestock around. So I think it would have been relatively easy to find routes that were not on maps and then to document them as a booming leisure activity. 
"We do not belong to those who only get their thought from books, or at the prompting of books - it is our custom to think in the open air, walking, leaping, climbing or dancing, of lonesome mountains by preference, or close to the sea, where even the paths become thoughtful." Friedrich Nietzsche

Pete McK

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2013, 09:43:59 AM »
Where we live there are dozens of ancient drovers paths, marked by standing stones set at regular intervals.

Callum

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2013, 09:19:00 AM »
Pete, I have an old booklet that details the drovers paths in the Lakes. I could loan it to you, as I know that you and Emma are always keen to find new paths.

Pete McK

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Re: An unusual backpacking trip
« Reply #11 on: May 06, 2013, 09:56:12 AM »
Thx Cal :) I have PM'd you.