Subtle Maps

Subtle Maps

It’s too easy to think of blogging as singing in the shower in an empty house, but every now and again you pull back the curtain and find you have an audience. Gulp! Yesterday was one such day when, for some reason, my stats went wild. I also received a message from people I never knew about, the parents of Justin Howes, who left a comment on a post I made a couple of years ago, saying that today is eleven years since his premature death.

All death, all grief is hard to bear, but how much harder it must be to grieve for your child than to grieve for a parent. The death of a parent is in the natural order of things, something that can rarely take us by surprise. But of a child, even — especially — when he is a grown man, it must be so hard.

I was therefore reading through my post ‘Goodbye to the Press‘ and realised I’d made a mistake in saying we’d gone to Kidderminster to see Justin. Of course, it was Kettering and I was muddling my K’s. Then I realised that anywhere that begins with K seems remote to me: Keele, Keighley, Kent. It was the middle of the night, of course, that hour when I lie prone fit only to wonder about things, and I was wondering, does anywhere in Oxfordshire begin with K? Cumnor, Cowley, Cutteslowe, Cotswolds, the list went on and I do believe I drifted off, but not before I’d wondered why this should be, that Oxonians prefer hard C to K, and whether — now, here’s a thought — whether there is an invisible map of England related to such linguistic differences in place names? I expect there is, and someone has already done it, but in the deep hours it was toe-wriggling delight to think of my felt-hatted and smocked predecessors (not ancestors — they were elsewhere) burring and drawling, telling the children what places were called, and suffering some kind of aversion to K.

There may not be such a map, yet, but what I did happen upon and only yesterday, when googling about looking for something to explain the geology of Shropshire (as you do), was the government’s very new project, Natural England’s Character Map.

The idea was to divide England up into areas of habitat rather than geo-political divisions (usually created to massage voting patterns, I have to say). How sensible! How wonderful! How wise! Mind you, it took me a while to find where I live, for in this plan ‘Oxfordshire’ is designated ‘The Upper Thames Clay Vales’. Of course, silly me …

The description: … a broad belt of open, gently undulating lowland farmland on predominantly Jurassic and Cretaceous clays. Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site falls within the NCA, along with around 5,000 ha of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and smaller areas of the Chilterns AONB and the Cotswolds AONB. Two of its Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) are designated for their lowland meadow vegetation communities, while Little Wittenham SAChas one of the most studied great crested newt populations in the UK. There are contrasting landscapes, including enclosed pastures of the claylands with wet valleys, mixed farming, hedges, hedge trees and field trees and more settled, open, arable lands. Mature field oaks give a parkland feel in many places.

The project was only completed two years ago. Perhaps it’s taking time to filter into national consciousness, or perhaps I’ve just been out of the loop. Anyway, I embrace you, Natural England Character Maps.


Welcome to Upper Thames Clay Vales – a K-free zone