The Guardian: “Scottish mountaineering charities have criticised Google for suggesting routes up Ben Nevis and other mountains they say are ‘potentially fatal’ and direct people over a cliff.” Google Maps’s issue with Ben Nevis is that it routes to a parking lot nearest the summit, then more or less straight-lines it from there; as a dotted line it’s meant to indicate a route very imprecisely, but it also corresponds to a higher-difficulty ascent route that could land even experienced hikers in trouble. Not meant to be taken by people who don’t know what they’re doing—the people who might have no clue that it’s a bad idea to use Google Maps for mountain hiking, for example.
To be clear, I think this one’s on Google. A lot of people trust online maps implicitly because they have poor navigation skills and have a hard time overruling what the directions tell them: this is why people keep driving into rivers and onto tracks. It’s a design failure not to account for this in every circumstance.
Artist and writer Andrew Barr is crowdfunding for what he is calling “the first major Scottish atlas for over 100 years”: a hand-drawn, hardcover Atlas of Scotland:
Produced as a visually striking hardback book, combining text with illustrated maps, the Atlas will shed new light on Scotland’s size and resources, its cultural and political history, as well as its long standing as one of the ancient kingdoms of Europe and the richness of its international connections.
As satellite images replace traditional paper atlases, modern technology leaves us with an incomplete picture of the nation. By returning to map-making in pen and ink, and by retelling the story of Scotland’s history and culture, this Atlas aims to delve deeper into the fabric of the land and reveal one of the world’s oldest nations in a whole new light.
Very much a nationalist project—and a personal project as well, which is not how atlases are usually done nowadays, hand-drawn or not. The atlas is projected to ship in October 2021. [History Scotland]
In Scotland: Defending the Nation (Birlinn, 4 October), Carolyn Anderson and Christopher Fleet “explore the extraordinarily rich legacy of Scottish military mapping, including fortification plans, reconnaissance mapping, battle plans, plans of military roads and routeways, tactical maps, plans of mines, enemy maps showing targets, as well as plans showing the construction of defences. In addition to plans, elevations and views, they also discuss unrealised proposals and projected schemes. Most of the maps—some of them reproduced in book form for the first time—are visually striking and attractive, and all have been selected for the particular stories they tell about both attacking and defending the country.”
I hadn’t realized that Tavish Scott’s amendment preventing Scottish maps from displaying Shetland in an inset map actually passed. Section 17 of the Scottish Parliament’s Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 requires maps of Scotland produced by Scottish public institutions to display Shetland “in a manner that accurately and proportionately represents their geographical location in relation to the rest of Scotland.” The Act passed the Scottish Parliament last May and received Royal Assent in July. Now that the provision in question has come into force, the media, which always likes a weird map story, is seized of the issue all over again: there were news stories last week from BBC News, CBC Radio’s As It Happens, and NPR.
Basically, Shetlanders are delighted and cartographers are horrified: maps of Scotland will perforce be less detailed to accomodate all the empty ocean. In practice I suspect little will change: a loophole in paragraph 17(2)(b) enables a public authority to sidestep the requirement if they can justify it. I imagine that justification will be coming up a lot in maps that people actually use, leaving only illustrative and symbolic maps affected by the law. And, of course, private mapmakers and mapmakers not under the purview of the Scottish government (which I imagine includes the Ordnance Survey) will not be affected by this law.
Meanwhile, Maps Mania’s Keir Clarke gives us Unboxing the Shetlands, a tool to place mainland Scotland in an inset map instead.
If the purpose here is to point to the route less travelled, well and good, but I suspect the effect will be rather like what happens when a travel guide raves about an out-of-the-way, hidden gem of a restaurant.
The Great Polish Map of Scotland, a giant concrete relief map 50 metres by 40 metres in size, was the brainchild of Jan Tomasik, a hotelier and former Polish Army soldier who was stationed in Scotland during the Second World War. He envisioned the map as a monument to Scotland’s hospitality to the visiting Polish soldiers. The map, designed and built by visiting academics from Kraków’s Jagiellonian University, was completed in 1979; it stands on the grounds of Barony Castle Hotel in Eddleston, which Tomasik had bought in 1968.
The hotel closed in 1985 (for a while), and the map began to deteriorate. In 2010 a campaign began to restore the map, which proved successful: the restored version of the map, complete with water surrounding the Scottish land mass, was unveiled to the public last Thursday, in the presence of the Scottish culture secretary and Polish diplomats.
The kerfuffle about Shetland being relegated to inset maps (Ed Parsons has taken to calling this “Insetgate”) is not quite done. Kenneth Field shares his thoughts in a post titled “In Praise of Insets,” in which he calls Scottish politician Tavish Scott’s proposal to ban the use of inset maps to portray Shetland as “utter nonsense” and goes on to defend their use more generally.
Insets are not just used to move geographically awkward places. They are commonly used to create larger scale versions of the map for smaller, yet more densely populated places. Often they are positioned over sparsely populated land to use space wisely. I’m guessing Scott would have an objection to an inset that, to his mind, would exaggerate the geographical importance of Glasgow compared to Shetland. Yet … in population terms it’s a place of massively greater importance so one could argue it deserves greater relative visual prominence on the map. Many maps are about people, not geography.
It is plainly not: it is a cartographic compromise. And there are always implications to a compromise. To include the Northern Isles in their actual geographical location, separated from the mainland by almost 100 miles of water, would reduce the scale at which the country can be displayed by around 40%.
That means Scotland’s smaller Council Areas (e.g. Dundee) effectively disappear, reduced from any kind of area to an insignificant point, or major features such as the Firths of Tay and Forth lost under text-labels for Dundee and Edinburgh. We are left having to put the Central Belt in a zoom-box because of the loss of detail in areas where most people live, or having to use two sheets of paper rather than one for maps of Scotland. […]
The circumstance of Shetland-in-a-box (and indeed Orkney-in-a-box-too) is a feature of maps intended to display our entire country with a reasonable level of detail.
Shetland’s representative to the Scottish Parliament has moved an amendment to proposed legislation that would require public authorities to portray Shetland “accurately and proportionately” in Scottish maps: BBC News, iNews, The Scotsman. Because Shetland is so far to the northeast of the island of Great Britain, it’s usually shown in an inset map; this move would, it seems, prohibit this, and presumably require Scottish maps to show vast tracts of ocean (as above). [NLS Maps]
A new post-Brexit map of the European Union shows Scotland as an EU member separate and independent from a rump “United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” which is coloured like other non-EU members. Commissioned by Interkart and produced by XYZ Maps, the 119 × 84 cm wall map costs £24/40€. Interkart, XYZ Maps. [WMS]
The Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Playground Map Project has been around since 2011; its aim is to provide a painted six-by-eight-metre world map to every school in Scotland that has playground space for one. [NLS Maps]