Before me is a ‘recipe’ book, there are lists: kit you will need for your surveying expedition, equipment, relative merits of contouring and hill sketching, ditto Clinometer or Aneroid Barometer. Of the Water Level Sir Charles Close continues: “The sight vane on a staff is to be adjusted to the height of the water bottles, and the staff man sent on with it some 400 or 500 feet, or to any change in the direction of the contour; the level man aligns him right or left until the vane is on a level with the top of the coloured water in the bottles. A picket may now be driven in by the staff man…”
The instructions have the air of infallibility. I imagine him with us, red-faced and bellowing, as last Saturday we followed a little path from Highgreen Manor onto open moorland which coincidently follows the 250metre contour line.
Visualising the passage of that imaginary line across the moor is surprisingly difficult. The uneven lay of the land: the hummocks and divots suggest a line that should curl and loop all over the place, and it certainly would if we measured 10cm intervals rather than 10metre.
The lovely group I am with inspect a badger set or get lost in conversation rather than follow my wind-stolen yelled instructions. Our ‘levellers’ at least are in loose agreement of the direction the contour takes, and it’s interesting to note it seems to slip ‘up hill’, higher than most of us have anticipated.
“In contouring round a hill an excellent check is obtained by closing on the start point” says Sir C. But what if at each circumnavigation you are shy or overshot from your start point as ours surely would have had we continued? Sir Charles doesn’t say because in his world there is order and exactitude and the process will not begin ‘slipping’ like the slow spiral peeling of an apple.