The Buddon Brook flows through the village where I grew up. It begins to the South West of the village, as runoff from the Swithland Reservoir. Under Meeting Street, the Buddon Brook joins the Poultney and the two flow under the main road, through a bridge by the Quorn cross.

Contains Ordnance Survey data (c) Crown copyright and database right [2011]

Quorndon, from the Ordnance Survey's "OS OpenData"

The Buddon was originally used as a power source for the Wright’s Mills, which still exist — though they are no longer water-powered, and some of the old buildings have been redeveloped as new flats.

Where the road crossed the Buddon, the bridge has circular cutouts as spillovers for floodwater. The river dives underground, ducking the new development and emerging beyond, hugging the side of the Stafford Orchard and tracing the path of the back wall of the mill. Under School Lane and into the River Soar, inside the grounds of the Quorn Country Hotel, the Buddon also feeds into the Grand Union Canal (or is it a river here?) at Barrow On Soar.

Locating the confluence of the Buddon and Soar feels like an exercise in suburban infiltration. Down Leicester Road, left through the gates of the hotel, scurry though the car park with your collar up and your hat drawn low. Go at dusk. Over the flood dyke and around the deserted benches, into a previously-mysterious land on the wrong side of the river.

On Soar Lane, a small triangle of grass beyond the flood wall is locally known as the ‘only common land in the village’ although the truthfulness of this is not clear. Quorn sits in the flood plain of the Soar Valley and until defences were built in the 1980s, the village regularly flooded. When the waters were particularly high it was said to be possible to travel the mile or so to Barrow by boat, without straying too close to the river proper. However on occasion the waters still rise enough to flood the village. I remember walking to school and finding a canal narrowboat wedged vertically against the bridge at Barrow. Years later, I once had to wade through flood waters to get to the pub by the crossroads in Quorn, though inside it was business as usual.

Living in a flood-prone area seems almost normal when growning up, until — now older and with some perspective — you take a step back, realising the bigger picture. Some photos of the floods in 2007 can be found here, and an archive of record photographs and news clippings here.

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Past Nightingale Vale there is a crossroads. Nightingale Place, Herbert Road and Sandy Hill Road come together and I when I get off the train at Woolwich, I climb Sandy Hill and pass the spot. For the past few weeks, there’s been a hint of woodsmoke in the air at the corner, a sign of Autumn and, for me, a reminder of my childhood home outside of London.

Smokey Corner, Eltham SE18

There are a few other places that spring to mind. It’s often at crossroads, or junctions, when I pause and notice a specific smell associated with that place. The intersection of Balls Pond Road and Kingsland Road – close to my old house in Hackney – is one. I never figured out what the scent there was. Distinctive, unique but confusing. Perhaps something to do with the cafes and restaurants nearby.

A few months back, I mentioned to a friend that I planned to create a map based on on non-visual cues close to my house. In fact, I’d like to create a smellscape map, plotting unique points associated with smell across the city. Home, work, commute, social; I want to see how the scents of London represent my experiences.

The Whiff of Uncertainty: Donut Smellscape, by Esther Wu [via MappingWeirdStuff

It wouldn’t be dissimilar to Esther Wu’s The Whiff of Uncertainty, but spatially wider, and not just focused on Donuts. And a little like The Nose Knows (pictured above), but looking at intense memories of all kinds, not just intensely bad smells. I picked up Wu and Spencer’s maps via Mapping Weird Stuff which is worth a read for the title alone (!) but looks to be a collection of interesting spatial experience-scapes.

Walking around the city, we use landmarks as signposts, as wayfinding devices. San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid offers a unique spire, visible from many neighbourhoods. In this way it visually unifies otherwise seperate districts.

The tallest building in the city by the bay peeks out from between apartment blocks on Russian Hill; looms over North Beach; frames itself inland from the Embarcadero. I took took these photographs to explore the perspectives and viewpoints of the (perhaps) most prominent landmark in the North-West of San Francisco.

From Old Street to Foulness by bicycle — more rain, this time somewhat dispiriting — a military greeting — tea and cupcakes — tension among the locals — the submerged broomway — the return to London by train.

 Essex? It’s all flat and boring, furry dice, anti-social behaviour and slogging out to Epping with traffic roaring past you to get to the lanes, the Range Rover murders, boy racers, Ford ‘Crappis’ and self-made Cockneys done good, The Only Way is…

…isn’t it?

Nope. Essex can also be remote, beautiful, eerie and surprisingly friendly. It’s a county with lots of sparsely populated, unspoilt countryside, wild and remote coast and lovely lanes. But it has a dark side. Private companies finding new ways to kill people, dying nuclear power stations, smugglers… it’s all there.

The second ride in Pete’s micro-series of two, this ride was a civilian expedition to a military site. We left Old Street and forged a path through the wet and stormy Essex lanes to Foulness Island, a MoD site currently run by defence contractors Qinetic.

Foulness Island is in fact one of a number of islands which are owned by the MoD. The islands have been inhabited since at least Roman times. The Romans used Foulness for the production of salt which they subsequently transported to market on the mainland.

In recent years the MoD built bridges linking the islands to the mainland. This has undoubtedly proven useful for the permanents residents, but they generally distrust the military and resent the intrusion into what they have considered as their farming land through many generations.

Locals maintain a heritage centre which presents their image of the Island’s history. Perhaps most interesting is the legacy access route. The so-called Broomway is a tidal causeway which runs parrallel to the islands and eventually joins the mainland to the South. While the majority of the seabed in the area is made up of highly compressible silt, the Broomway is underlain by a narrow band of a more geologically substantial material. Historically, ground improvement techniques such as timber mini-piles have been employed to form stable paths out to the Broomway. The locals are in the process of carbon dating recovered timber fragments.

It is arguable that Foulness Island is today a populated area thanks to the efforts of the MoD in building roads and bridges. However, since the farmers cannot own their land freehold, an undercurrent of resentment was obvious.

At low tide the Broomway can still be walked, much like the legacy causeway at Lindisfarne. Advance permission is required for any access to the islands.

From Old Street to Bradwell by bicycle — a thunderstorm on a busy road — unearthing Britain’s legacy reactor — onward by bicycle to the coast — the oldest church in Britain — the return to London by train.

 

Exploration of hidden corners of Essex, with thanks to Pete Biggs:

Essex? It’s all flat and boring, furry dice, anti-social behaviour and slogging out to Epping with traffic roaring past you to get to the lanes, the Range Rover murders, boy racers, Ford ‘Crappis’ and self-made Cockneys done good, The Only Way is…

…isn’t it?

Nope. Essex can also be remote, beautiful, eerie and surprisingly friendly. It’s a county with lots of sparsely populated, unspoilt countryside, wild and remote coast and lovely lanes. But it has a dark side. Private companies finding new ways to kill people, dying nuclear power stations, smugglers… it’s all there.

 

The idea was that Essex was mis-represented in the common perception; ignored, or – worse – belittled. It was with little respect for the stereotypical imagery that we set off to explore the lesser-known corners of the East. A 70-mile ride, from Old Street to Bradwell-on-Sea, to see the Bradwell Magnox reactor and the Chapel of St Peter Ad Murum.

We arrived, damp but expectant at a piece of Britain’s legacy nuclear power infrastructure. Bradwell reactor is currently being decommissioned.

The decommissioning of a nuclear plant is a complex and interesting procedure. The disposal of radioactive waste is an important consideration during the lifespan of such a plant, but with the design life of reactors of the order of 50 years, the end-of-life of such a structure presents challenges: how to dismantle the structure; how to dispose of the – possibly contaminated – material; and how to ensure that the site can be redeveloped in an environmentally safe manner.

The Magnox type reactors, of which Britain built several, are arguably best-known for their inherent safety issues. In the wake of the recent meltdown event at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, and with France pushing ahead with EDF’s construction of new pressurised water reactors while Germany shies away from Nuclear power entirely, the field of energy generation is as exciting a field of debate and technological innovation as it perhaps has ever been.

A comparison of old technologies also raises interesting questions. This bicycle is as old as the plant and it has been given a new lease of life with upgraded modern components. A key question at the end of the design life of a nuclear reactor is whether to decommission it or refit it for further use. The decision is guided by many factors including the sophistication of the reactor technology, the condition of its containment structure and the political climate of the time.

We rolled onward toward the coast to reach the simple masonry structure of the Chapel of St Peter Ad Murum, allegedly the oldest church in Britain. The basic rectangular plan of the structure was ornamented by the scars of a multitude of structural alterations over the centuries. It was not always such a basic form.

The chapel has recently undergone a restoration, in which the timber elements were repaired or replaced and the masonry made good where necessary. The result is a simple shell of a structure which nevertheless manages to illustrate its history through materials and form. The isolated, wind-swept location was well-complemented by this soulful structure, which itself serves as a fine illustration of buildings as living, developing entities.

(Some maps of my own will appear once I’m able to upload photos and use my scanner).

Introducing the idea at Slate with a call for submissions.

The results.

I also found some more article on Slate that caught my eye (they were linked after the maps article, so perhaps there are many more interesthing things awating my discovery on the site) such as this one on signs. I find many signs confusing- I particularly dislike intersections without street name signs, or buildings without street numbers displayed. I’ve not been to Penn Station but I might go check it out to see if it is really as confusing as suggested in this article. Maybe it won’t seem so bad given that I’ve been forewarned. When I’m back in London I may see whether or not I agree with this. I think all the Slate articles were written by Julia Turner, so I should look for her archived material.