Saturday, 10 January 2015

New Year footpath mapping with Mappa Mercia near the Fauld Crater

My first countryside excursion of 2014 was to investigate a man-made hole. For 2015 I choose a different bigger hole which I've meant to visit for a long time: the Fauld Crater. What was different this year is that we made it an OpenStreetMap mapping and social event!

OSM Mappers near Fauld Gypsum Works
Mapping footpaths for OpenStreetMap near the Fauld Crater, East Staffordshire
I'd mentioned at our last pub meeting of the year that I fancied doing some footpath mapping between Christmas & the New Year. Coincidentally Rob Nickerson of Mappa Mercia asked if we were organising anything after Christmas. So the idea of 2 or 3 of us getting together grew to the notion of linking up with Mappa Mercia. So in the end the meeting had quite a diverse set of goals:
  • Do some mapping together
  • Walk and map unmapped footpaths
  • An excuse for a post-Christmas walk
  • Link up socially with Mappa Mercia
  • Initiate another type of OSM activity in the (East) Midlands

I used Doodle to find a date which suited as many people as possible. This worked very well. We had a pretty much even tally of folk from the East and West Midlands. So this led me to look in the area of East Staffordshire, pretty much equally accessible for all. I also needed to find somewhere with a supply of unmapped footpaths.

In the end the choice was really easy.

The Forest of Needwood

There is an area of higher ground between the valleys of the Trent and the Dove called the Forest of Needwood. This is farming country, but is less densely populated than surrounding areas, with a more rural feel. Comparing OSM for this area with the Public Rights of Way from rowmaps showed that OSM had very few mapped as rights of way, and furthermore many were not mapped at all.

Also in this area, there was an enormous explosion (possibly the largest non-nuclear explosion ever) in an armaments dump located in an old gypsum mine during WWII, which killed around 100 people and left a crater about 400 m in diameter (see bottom of post for more info). It turned out that a couple of other people interested in attending had, like me, never visited this site, So, in addition to footpaths, we could also visit somewhere for its intrinsic interest.

On the Day


Setting off on a wet January morning
Preparing to set off from the car park of the Cock Inn
The pub was largely destroyed by the explosion and re-built after the war.
Despite rotten weather in the morning, 8 of us met in the car park of the Cock Inn at Hanbury, and set off in the rain across sodden fields.

Quite early on I led us astray, although ultimately to good effect. OSM already had a path mapped to the crater which I planned to take. However not much of the local countryside had been mapped on the version on my Garmin, and the line of the path was somewhat inaccurate.  (In practice several people attending the meeting had added a lot of details in the few days beforehand). I therefore followed the obvious footpath signs and only realised I'd diverged from where we were meant to go when we descended an unpleasantly steep muddy path in a wood. Perhaps if the weather had been better I'd have checked things more carefully at each path junction.

Fauld Explosion: Gypsum Mine Memorial
Memorial to those killed at the gypsum mine, Fauld
It turned out the path we were on was not mapped at all: perhaps a sign that fairly comprehensive mapping is just as important for footpaths as it is for roads. It lead us through the wood and out into a bumpy field by the existing gypsum works at Fauld. We passed the first monument, to the workers killed by a flood following the destruction of a dam by the explosion, and eventually picked up a path leading to the crater at a complex junction of paths.

Fauld Crater Memorial
The memorial at the Fauld Crater
the stone is Italian granite
note the names of Italian PoWs who died at the bottom of the plaque.
From the works we climbed back up the hill, fortunately on well made tracks rather than slippery paths. The first sign of the crater was a danger sign just S of the works. The crater itself is impressive, even though these days it is filled by mature Larch trees in the Northern half, and scrub in the rest. On top of the hill it was wet and misty, so for a photo of the crater itself I've used a Geograph one.

Fauld crater - geograph.org.uk - 582307
The Fauld Crater, taken from near the Memorial
Source: David Stowell, Geograph via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA
By this time everyone was getting damp, and there was a strong consensus for heading to the pub to dry out and get lunch.I persuaded trigpoint to divert along one other missing footpath on the way back, so we had a reasonable haul of things to add to OSM. The pub had one room with a tiled floor so those of us without a change of footwear did not have to get cold as well as wet feet. Conversation was so wide ranging over lunch, particularly when brianboru joined us, that summarising it is an impossible task.

Ready for the Afternoon
Ready (?)  for the afternoon
Although it was expected that the weather would improve I was surprised at how much better things were when we left the pub. Fortunately most other folk fancied doing a little more mapping. In fact we tarried a bit too long in the village, so that walking to Draycott-in-the-Clay and back took until dusk.
Hanbury Church
St Weburgh's Church, Hanbury
One of the listed buildings which were mapped.
We split into several parties at this point, with SomeoneElse and dud1 aiming to nab more paths, whilst a larger group of us just did a simple circuit. If anything it was wetter underfoot.
Crossing a stile, Hanbury
Much better weather in the afternoon, but the muddy ground and stiles slowed us down a bit.
Most of the fields between the two villages are improved grassland (often mapped erroneously as landuse=meadow on OSM). This was fairly obvious because I did not see a single wildflower in these fields, and if they had been meadows I know that several species would have been obvious.

Draycott and scarp above valley of the Dove
Above Draycott-in-the-Clay, showing prominent scarp above valley of the Dove
Fields in foreground are improved grassland (used for pasture or silage)
Thanks to RobJN one can get an idea of which footpaths we mapped (others have been added since):


See full screen

Lots and lots of other things got mapped: buildings, woods, hedgerows, historic building status, addresses. Math1985, a fellow retail mapping enthusiast, also did most of the shops in Burton before getting his train back to Birmingham.

One aspect of this is that because we spend time mapping together there was a great opportunity to discuss the hows and whys of mapping as we went along. Furthermore because many features were seen by many mappers the experience demonstrated not the differences in mapping which feature so heavily in mailing lists, but the much more extensive uncontroversial common ground. Walking together meant that we did not maximise how much we mapped, but I hope that this might be outweighed by the benefits of sharing & collaborating.

What Next?


Needless to say I was delighted at how many people turned out at shortish notice.

The format of a morning mapping activity, a sociable lunch, and the opportunity of a further mapping activity in the afternoon worked well. Brianboru came for lunch, and did some mapping in the village afterwards, others left after lunch, and some of us continued because the weather was so much better.

The plan is to repeat the format this year, most likely on a quarterly basis. We'll try and vary the mapping theme, but also try to choose a place like Fauld which has intrinsic interest. A likely venue for the near future is the National Memorial Arboretum, where I can perhaps indulge my interest in mapping trees!

IMFull Moon, Hanbury at Dusk
Return to Hanbury at dusk.

All in all, it was great to start the new OpenStreetMap year off with something different. Our goal for the coming year is to build on this beginning. I hope more of you might join us.

Appendix: the Fauld Explosion

Fauld crater
Original RAF Surveillance photo of the site after the explosion
This is taken from the West, edges of woods can be matched to pre-WWII maps.
Source: via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

For those interested in learning a little more about the Fauld explosion, I've chosen some additional images and provide a guide to various links.

Normally, wikipedia would be a good starting point, and indeed most of the information there is quite reasonable. However, the size of the crater is completely wrong. It is was described as being three-quarters of a mile across and 120 m deep. This was fixed, but then reverted on the basis that there was no reliable source for the more accurate figures. (Subsequently corrected by a reader of this post).

Size of Fauld Crater according to wikipedia
Size of Fauld Crater according to Wikipedia
(aka, no original research)
Other excellent accounts from different perspectives are :
  • Geological Background.  Tony Waltham in the Mercian Geologist. This explains the underlying geology which accounts for the presence of gypsum mines. 
  • Tutbury Website. A local history site for the nearby town. Excellent aerial photo of the site taken recently.
  • Urban Explorers. There are a couple of fascinating accounts on UrbEx forums of visiting the site, some amazing pictures too (here, and here).
  • Recent Book. A local journalist, Mark Rowe, has published a full account of the explosion in the past year.

1 comment:

  1. Just a note to say malenki has been braver than me and has fixed the size of the crater in the wikipedia article.

    ReplyDelete