I imagined handing over 2 sets of ‘data’ to a university department who would use some modern process (thermo-form blah) to create 2 models: one of Hutton’s contour lines of Schiehallion and another – same mountain – but current contours. The models would be neat, precise, scientific. But with Exhibition looming and no takers, I decided to have a crack myself. There were advantages:
- I could build on Perspex and – using the same scale as the map – would be able to sit the models atop it, also – at the Lit and Phil – illuminate from beneath.
- I like making stuff
I like handling materials, thinking with my hands. There were many lovely studio days spent deciding on materials (a heavy, cotton-rich paper), and processes: emphasising the vertical lines on Hutton’s and horizontal planes for the modern; slowly figuring which lines should appear: every 200ft for Hutton, 100m intervals for the OS.On the 4ft map every 100 feet is marked (and 50 in places), it is remarkable how much data those surveyors collected between 1774 and 76. However much the French were ahead of the British in theorising on contour lines they had no equivalent data set to match Hutton’s and thus did not possess the capability to make a map accurate enough to equal his. (I may be speaking too soon – I haven’t seen any of the French maps yet.)
Even the British Ordnance Survey of Schiehallion in 1862 (90 years later!) did not survey with the same thoroughness, the pole bearers marked only three ascents, from the northern flank spot heights appear sporadically at: 1850, 2229, 3109 and the summit, 3547ft. Slightly more numbers adorn a western ascent. While their equipment certainly had improved since Hutton’s day, they would have had neither the time-scale nor workforce for covering just one peak. There’s a lovely snippet in Nan Shepherd’s Living Mountain regarding those early OS men: “on Ben MacDhui… [are] the remains of the hut where the men who made the Ordnance Survey of the eighteen-sixties lived for the whole season – an old man has told me how down in the valley they used to watch a light glow now from one summit, now another, as the measurements were made and checked”.
What they made up for in accuracy was lost in detail; their first 6” map depicts the whole southern flank of Schiehallion as one vast swathe of apparent nothing.Image use courtesy of the National Library of Scotland Map Library