Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
Wednesday, 17th January, 2007
On the day last month when my friend Martin and I tested out my four Walks around Horbury I got new insight into the way Horbury's St Peter's church relates to the landscape. Every couple of hours, after walking another 3 or 4 mile circuit we found ourselves returning to the church from a different direction. We'd go down into the valley or off towards the next ridge then wind back into the town through the old streets and ginnels. Ginnel is the usual word for a footpath between houses in this part of the world. Sometimes they're 'snickets'.
The 18th century church is a striking classical design by John Carr (1723-1807). Horbury has plenty of attractive old houses and pubs, a few dating back to medieval times but for visual impact the church is unrivalled. On our rounds that day it was the still centre and the rest of the built environment went by in a bit of a blur.
I can't help thinking of it as the Georgian equivalent of a space shuttle. It stands on a much older site; saxon burials have been found nearby.
'You're so sceptically agnostic that you're almost atheist,' said presenter Tony Robinson to Professor Mick Aston (right), on Sunday's edition of Channel 4's Time Team, 'yet you've spent your life excavating sites like this.'
They were excavating a keeill (a small chapel) on the Isle of Mann. The six burials that the team uncovered included 'the stunningly well-preserved remains of a woman, including a knot of plaited hair' dating from c. 590 AD (reconstruction by Victor Ambrus, left) and a stone inscribed with Ogham script (below, right). Ogham experts identified it as 11th-century Gaelic and translated references to 'corner', '50' and 'group', 'gang', 'throng' or possibly 'throng of warriors'.
Aston replied that he is drawn by the energy and activity that always surround religious sites, even though, he admits, he doesn't understand the impulse that led to them being there.
Despite all the high tech gadgets and the teams of excavators, the programme regularly emphasises that to understand an archaeological site you need to walk the country around it. The keeill, for instance, stood inside the circular ditch of a much earlier Bronze-age site which would have been a prominent ridge-top landmark in its time. In today's often cluttered landscapes it's sometimes difficult to spot the way a site fits into its surroundings.
The photographs are from the Time Team website.
Here's St Peter's church, marked by the white cross, on its hill top setting at the centre of Horbury, as seen on Memory-Map.
Memory-Map is a programme for planning walks and cycle routes. My friend David Stubbs, one half of a Solway Dory canoe building team, uses it to plan canoeing expeditions on the west coast of Scotland.
The version that I've gone for includes Getmapping aerial photographs which makes it a unique way to get to know the lie of the land. It's easy to adjust the vertical scale, as I have here, and change the lighting to emphasise particular features.
My CD of the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map for West Yorkshire arrived today. With this version, you can specify your own selection of up to 2,500 km from the OS Explorer map, which neatly covers the county.
You can display the map itself as 3D model of the landscape then swivel around, change view point and zoom in and out to spot features and relationships that you wouldn't easily see on a regular map.
I remember occasionally making 3D contour maps out of cardboard or expanded polystyrene ceiling tiles to give myself a feel for an area I was exploring. This is so much more versatile and accurate: I feel that it's what computers were made for.
You can mark a route on the map then switch to 3D to see a fly-through of it.
'Watch out!' warns the manual, 'If you suffer from motion sickness, you might need one of those bags from the seat pocket in front of you!