Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pennine Trig Points: Part Two

On the 4th June 1962 a certain Mr E.A.P. Joyce of the Ordnance Survey was taking measurements from the trig point on Thorny Gayle, a modest hill of only 290m height that is situated in the rolling countryside of Stainmore in the North Pennines. These were the final observations in a project that had been ongoing for 27 years. When Joyce packed up and left Thorny Gayle the retriangulation of Great Britain was complete.

Having looked at the beginnings of this project in my previous blog I am now going to look at the mixed fortunes of trig points in the Pennines since 1962 and what purpose, if any, they serve today.

Technology of course has moved on a great deal in the intervening years and today the Ordnance Survey carries out most of its measurements using GPS (Global Positioning System). For practical purposes the vast majority of trig points are now obsolete. The Ordnance Survey does however maintain a 'passive' networks of stations which include 184 trig points of which 10 are in the Pennines. From south to north these are: Merryton Low, Harland Edge, Crow Knowl, Winter Hill, Ilkley Moor, Ward's Stone (East), Great Whernside, Whernside, Cross Fell and Sighty Crag. With the exception of Crow Knowl all the above trig points were amongst the original 300 'primary' trig points.

Stood by the trig point on Great Whernside - one of the original primary trig points this is one of the few to be maintained by the Ordnance Survey as part of the 'passive' network
The fate of the remaining 6,000 plus trig points has been mixed to say the least. Exposure to the more extreme elements our hills have to offer, including the danger of being hit by lightning, has left many in a fairly pitiable state of repair.

The trig point on the Cheviot has not aged well
Some trig points have become victim of the very ground they were originally situated on. This is particularly the case where trig points were situated in an especially peaty area. Trig points on Black Hill in the Dark Peak and The Cheviot needed to be rebuilt on stone plinths as they were in danger of sliding into the surrounding ooze. Peat erosion at other trig points, such as on Darnbrook Fell in the Dales and Hawthornthwaite Fell in the Bowland hills, has resulted in them now standing precariously on their now exposed foundations.

The trig point on Black Hill was rebuilt on a stone plinth to stop it from succumbing to the surrounding peat bog
In some places the surrounding countryside has changed so much that even if someone wanted to use certain trig points for taking measurements it would be practically impossible. A good example of this is the trig point that sits above Caley Crags to the east of Otley Chevin. When it was built it would have been possible to see some of the surrounding trig points in Lower Wharfedale. Today the trig point sits rather forlornly in a plantation with nothing in the vicinity but trees.

The trig point in Caley Deer Park now sits in a plantation and has views of nothing but the surrounding trees
While it is not surprising that nature and the elements have sometimes had an adverse effect on various trig points less understandable is the damage wreaked by actual people. I've been to several hills and mountains where the trig point is no longer to be found, or at least not in one piece. The first time I came across this was on Pen-y-Fan, the highest of the Brecon Beacons in Wales. One of the first 'missing' trigs in the Pennines was Parson's Pulpit between Malham and Littondale which stopped being marked on the OS maps some time ago.

Standing at the site of the missing trig point on Parson's Pulpit
I've not yet come across a reason why the trig point was removed. Possibly it was by a local landowner who wished to disuade 'trig baggers' from visiting the area. To actually remove a trig point must take some effort and clearly for some people the act of destruction rather than removal is enough. This seems to be the case on Meldon Hill where the broken sections of the trig point can still be found on the summit. What a pointless act. Do people really think they can put people off walking up a hill by smashing a harmless bit of concrete? Just looking at the picture below makes me feel quite angry.

Even more astonishing is that it is not just vandals or private landowners who have removed trig points. It may come as a surprise to some that the Yorkshire Dales National Park authority have also done so. There used to be a trig point on Addlebrough, a shapely hill in Wensleydale. Ostensibly to protect a nearby cup and ring marked stone the YDNP decided to dismantle Addlebrough's trig point and use the pieces to construct a cairn about 30m away. The logic behind this quite defeats me especially as, at the same time, they created a permissive path to the summit thus encoraging visitors!!

Thankfully it is not all doom and gloom for trig points. They are a welcome sight to many walkers who have toiled up steep slopes to the summit of a hill and in poor weather they are a extremely useful landmark. It is not surprising therefore that many people see them as national monuments to be loved and cherished. Individuals or local walking groups have even taken it upon themselves to maintain certain trig points. I recently visited the trig point on Broadstone Hill attached to which was a plaque commemorating the resiting of the trig point by a Saddleworth fell runners club in 1998, a few months after it had been knocked down by vandals.

The plaque on the Broadstone Hill trig point following its restoration in 1998 by a local fell runners group in Saddleworth
If, while walking in the hills, you come across a trig point adorned in a bright white coat of paint then the chances are that this trig point has its own, self-designated, guardian angel. Caught in the right light these white trigs really can be seen from miles away. To carry a paint and brush on to the hills requires some dedication and indeed there is a thriving community of trig enthusiasts both on the hills and online. One of my favourie websites is, an online community of over 3,700 trig enthusiasts who log each visit they make to a trig point and upload photos of the trig points themselves. The site provides all sorts of fascinting data and is a real goldmine of information. The lengths some people go to visit a trig point, especially those that are in private land, can be quite entertaining. Some of these people are not even walkers but get in the car and go on trig bagging expeditions.

The brilliant white trig point on The Calf in the Howgill Fells
While some people may think such a pastime is a bit foolish and even a bit geeky (and here they may be right) it is ultimately these kinds of people who will ensure that the vast majority of trig points survive and for this they must be applauded. Personally though I think that some sort of governmental protection needs to be put in place to stop any more trig points from being wilfully damaged or removed. Perhaps at the same time they can pass a law stopping people from painting trig points anything other than white because quite honestly the trig point on Longridge Fell made me feel sick just looking at it. What were they thinking of!!!

Whoever thought painting the trig point on Longridge Fell this shade of yellow was a good idea needs to think again

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pennine Trig Points: Part One

Anyone who goes walking in the hills and mountains of the UK will be familiar with the stones or concrete built pillars commonly referred to as trig points. Quite simply I love trig points and for some time I've wanted to post a blog about them. As I started to write this it quickly became apparent that it would be far too long so I've split it up into two. This blog which provides some background and history and a forthcoming post which will look at the mixed fortunes of trig points today.

Standing by the trig point on Simon's Seat - one of my favourite viewpoints in the Yorkshire Dales
Also known as triangulation stations or OS columns the first trig points were erected by the Ordnance Survey in 1935 as part of a long term project to re-map Britain. Overseeing the project, and the man credited with the design on the pillars was Martin Hotine CMG CBE (1898-1968), the head of the Trigonometrical and Levelling Division of the Ordnance Survey.

The trig point on Ingleborough - surely one of the most visited trig points in the UK
The trig points were usually situated on the highest ground in a particular area and the idea was that in clear weather it would be possible to see at least two other trig points from any one trig point. By sitting a theodolite on the top of the pillar it was thus possible to take careful measurements of the angles between the lines-of-sight of the other trig points. This process called 'triangulation' enabled the Ordnance Survey to construct a highly accurate measurement system that covered the entire country. The OS Landranger and Explorer maps we use today are a direct result of this project.

The trig point on Cross Fell, the highest trig point in the Pennines and still used as a passive station today
While many trig points are to be found marking the summit of a hill or mountain it was more important to the surveyors when selecting a spot that the trig point would be visible from at least two other trig points. This is why in some upland areas, particularly the Dark Peak area of the Peak District and the North Pennines, trig points are often found not on the wide flat summits but near the edge of steeper gradients. A classic example of this is the vast Kinder plateau where not one but three trig points have been sited at strategic points though not one of them is close to the actual summit of the mountain.

The trig point on Kinder Low, one of three trig points on the Kinder plateau
There were initally 300 'primary' trig points constructed across the country which over the next 30 odd years were supplemented by over 6,000 more. Over the 300 primary trig points a total of 18 were sited in the Pennines. From south to north these are as follows; Merryton Low, Harland Edge, Kinder Scout (North), Margery Hill, Black Hill, Winter Hill, Boulsworth Hill, Ilkley Moor, Ward's Stone (East), Great Whernside, Whernside, Water Crag, Cross Fell, Collier Law, Cold Fell, Sighty Crag, Tosson Hill and The Cheviot.

The trig point on Boulsworth Hill - one of the 300 primary trig points erected in the UK
I have often wondered what it must have been like for the people whose job it was to site and erect the pillars. For a start the Ordnance Survey must have initially had to negotiate access with local landowners. Presumably the succes or otherwise of these negotiations had a major impact on the actual positioning of certain trig points.

The trig point on Wolfhole Crag - one of the more remote trig points in the Pennines
While many trig points, particularly the lower level ones, are easy to access there are also some that were situated in particularly remote and hard to access areas. Remember this was in the days before the general public had access to much of our upland areas and there wasn't the network of paths and tracks that we enjoy today. Even today there are plenty of trig points that can only be reached by a long pathless march over rough terrain. Think what it must have been like to not only get to the projected site but to also carry the tools and materials for actually building the pillars.

Standing by the trig point on Fendrith Hill in the North Pennines - many of the trig points in the North Pennines can only be reached by a long march across pathless and often rough terrain
On the other hand what a wonderful task it must have been!! Maybe I'm just being a romantic but surely being out on the hills everyday building trig points beats working in an office. I'm certain that the OS surveyors must have had a fair few adventures along the way too, both in dealing with the elements and the local population. Were it not for the fact that many of those responsible for building the first trig points are now long since dead I imagine one could compile quite an entertaining book of anecdotes about their adventures.

The trig point on Windy Gyle is situated on an ancient burial cairn and is probably my favourite viewpoint in the Cheviot hills
In my next blog I'll look at trig points in the 21st century.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Reminiscences of 2004

Somewhat belatedly I've just finished adding to the site all my walks in 2004. I've still got another 35 walks that I did in the Yorkshire Dales in 2005 to add and then finally the site will be completely up to date.

One of the things I've most enjoyed about putting my website together has been the chance to re-live my hillwalking experiences from the last six years and these walks from 2004, the year it all started for me, have been no exception. Initially I began walking as a means to an end - the end being the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge walk. Our first walk was around Malham in March 2004 we then visited each of the Three Peaks individually to train for the big event.

Climbing up Gordale Scar on my first adventure in the Dales
After visiting Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough we then started to explore the other major summits of the Dales such as Great Shunner Fell, High Seat, Buckden Pike and Great Whernside. By the time we completed the Three Peaks Challenge in September of that year we had not only decided to visit all the 2000ft summits in the Dales but had actually been to most of them. In doing so a whole new world opened up for us.

On the top of Ingleborough - the last summit on the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge
I first began making written notes of my walks in 2005. At the same time I retrospectively wrote up my thoughts on my walks from the previous year. Reading them now it brings back to me that sense of wonder and discovery that got me hooked so completely. When amending this initial text for my website I have actually had to water down the many superlatives I used when describing the things I had seen on these early walks. Features that may seem commonplace to me now were incredible at the time. For example, the tarns of the Dales cannot compete with their Lakeland counterparts but I'll always hold a special place in my heart for the tarns on Widdale Fell, the first upland tarns (excluding Malham Tarn) that I'd encountered.

Little Widdale Tarn

There are two things that strike me most about that first year of hill walking. Firstly, it is amazing how we stuck to it in the face of what was a fairly wretched year in terms of weather. On roughly half of the walks we encountered either hill fog, strong winds, heavy rain or more usually all three together. Nowadays poor weather can really put me off especially now that photography is such an important element for me. Back then though it was almost as if we relished it. That can be the only explanation for the quite frankly barmy decision to walk to High Pike Hill and back from High Seat in quite dreadful weather just to bag a summit which does not even qualify as a Nuttall.

Matt tries to measure the wind speed on Archy Styrigg

The other striking thing about that first year of walking was how quickly and willingly we forsook the public rights of way. Bearing in mind this was the year
before the CRoW Act came into force in the Dales we often took routes on what is now access land so that we could visit the tops of hills such as Great Knoutberry Hill, High Seat and Lovely Seat. While some of the routes came from books such as Brian Smailes 'Yorkshire Dales Top Ten' we often created the routes on our own without recourse to a walking guide. A few years later when I actually read John and Anne Nuttalls 'Mountains of England and Wales' I felt a quiet sense of satisfaction to see that some of their routes matched the ones we had come up with independently on our own.

Sat on the top of Lovely Seat
Our choice of routes combined with the fairly awful weather ensured that we quickly became adept at map reading. We also became acquainted with Pennine bogs which, again due to the weather, were particularly bad that year. Particular stand outs in this regard were Abbotside Common, parts of Fountains Fell and Birks Fell and almost the whole of Buckden Pike and Nine Standards Rigg.

Buckden Pike was a particularly wet place in 2004
The problem for me now is that having relived these walks I really want to revisit hills such as Gragareth, Great Coum, Swarth Fell and Rogan's Seat - summits that I have not been to since that inaugural walking season. I had been planning on making a sustained attempt at completing the Nuttall tops in the North Pennines as well as trying to get to the Peak District more often. It looks like those plans may be changing.