I expect most of you who think of Ordnance Survey maps think they are useful, interesting perhaps, good historical documents or colourful enough to stick on a wall! Others of you who are about to read this blog may even think they are boring!
But have you ever thought about the people who made them, the map makers who went out and about risking life and limb in the process? No? Well read on.
I ghost wrote the memoirs of an Ordnance Surveyor (The Ramblings of a Twenty Five Inch Man) over the last couple of years, and in it I describe the amazing encounters, mishaps and adventures the young surveyor had back in the 70's and 80's in Southampton, Wales and Shropshire.. These were the days before the digitisation and technology that nowadays goes into map making. Back then every surveyor had to walk every inch of their map checking, amending and re-drawing features. This was where the danger and the near tragic consequences came in - certainly for this hapless hero! Surveyors always worked on their own. It was not OS policy to send two men out on a job, it was too costly! Health and safety regulations hardly existed and mobiles hadn't been invented. These three things together coupled with the terrain the map makers had to cover were then the perfect conditions for accidents or near accidents to happen.
Even so there are many hilarious tales our surveyor tells - unwittingly being stalked by a panther in a wood on the welsh borders, trailed and 'mugged' by the SAS and encounters with Russian spies. This was just for starters! Then come the tales of being shot at, shelled on an artillery ground, held prisoner by a madman with a machete and nearly dying of hypothermia on the Brecon Beacons. Then there are the tales of the characters and animals that are encountered along the way. Dinner of stew cooked in a cauldron in the welsh hills with the old shepherds and their dogs, milking a goat for a cup of tea in a remote farmhouse and being attacked by hundreds of geese in a farmyard! There was the giant of a man with an axe swirling around his head, many, many shotgun stories and the sixty foot well that beckoned a watery grave.
No, life for an Ordnance Surveyor back in those days was never easy and that was before the strict deadlines that had to be adhered to and the vast areas to be covered regardless of the weather or terrain. An array of old cars that always had some problem or other didn't help matters as did working away from home all week on 'detached duty' as it was called. The Ordnance Survey had a long affiliation to the Royal Engineers and the long haired hapless hero of these surveying tales was somewhat of a fish out of water but none-the-less always took a pride in his job.
Set against a background of 'The Good Life' in a country cottage with his wife these stories just begged to be told.
And what happened to The Twenty Five Inch Man? - I married him!
Country and Border Life has done a wonderful illustrated article this month (May 2012) on The Ramblings of a Twenty Five Inch Man and if you would like to read the stories for yourself you can find them at: