No need for a map

There wasn’t really a need to put the name of the Italian restaurant into Google Maps. It is in Ilchester and it would be possible to drive to Ilchester from here on a dark, foggy night with the headlights turned off: Field Road, Culver Hill, Fir Pits, Tengore, Long Sutton, Catsgore, Red Post, Ilchester. The journey is one that was made many times.

Oddly, before the advent of digital technology, Ilchester might have been reached in a variety of ways. Different routes may have been taken to Long Sutton, or Long Sutton may have been avoided in favour of travelling via Somerton. Routes were learned and remembered and journeys were a matter of inclination.

There was a road atlas in the house, it was some years old, but that presented no problems, towns and villages did not change position; only the arrival of the M5 motorway prompted a the purchase of new maps for Somerset and Devon. There was the annual AA members’ handbook, but its maps lacked the detail required for our rural road network.

It is hard to remember occasions when there was a need to use a road map. The atlas would be taken on family holidays to Devon and Cornwall, not to find the way to the destination, I could still drive to Westward Ho! or to Saint Ives without needing directions, but to be able to visit places on wet days (never a good idea, the entire visitor population of Devon and Cornwall would have had a similar idea).

Looking back forty or fifty years, it is hard to remember a time when routes were learned, they seemed always to be known, as if topographical knowledge was something that could be passed on in the blood.

Perhaps the ways to places were learned by sheer familiarity. A child of seven or eight years of age watching through the window of a slow moving car would have noted every feature of the route because watching out of the window was all there was to do on such journeys. Perhaps the speed of the car made a difference as well, the estimated time of a journey would always be calculated using a speed of thirty miles per hour, and even that was faster than was possible on roads used by agricultural traffic. Moving slowly meant time to take in everything along the way.

Google Maps has the potential to undermine a whole world of experience.

 

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