Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2007/25 posted by hidden europe on

It was a talented Scottish cartographer, John Bartholomew, whose cartographic skills gave so much character to The Times Atlas of the World. Over more than one hundred years, successive editions of the atlas have been used by governments, businesses and academics - and, of course, by ordinary folk like us who relish nothing more, on a winter evening, than to engage in a little armchair travel.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

It was a talented Scottish cartographer, John Bartholomew, whose cartographic skills gave so much character to The Times Atlas of the World. Over more than one hundred years, successive editions of the atlas have been used by governments, businesses and academics - and, of course, by ordinary folk like us who relish nothing more, on a winter evening, than to engage in a little armchair travel.

Cartographers have great power and the Europe of the modern editions of the atlas is somehow a more concrete place than ever it seemed in the early editions a century ago. Subtle shading has been replaced by precise hypsometric tints. The atlas adeptly codifies and catalogues places across Europe, and each successive edition of the benchmark volume leaves ever less to the imagination. Until now. For today the twelfth edition of the atlas is published, and we see it contains an intriguing innovation. Consult the revised map of the Cologne area and you will see, just west of the Rhineland city, the village of Etzweiler. Underneath the village name on the map is the single word 'abandoned'. Images of ivy-clad Gothic ruins spring to mind. It is wonderful to see that cartographic realism is tempered by a hint of the sublime. Whatever happened, we wonder, to Etzweiler?

choppy waters

Europe's seas and lakes are littered with good intentions. One of the most intriguing of aborted ferry projects was the attempt to create a new seasonal passenger ferry link between Gairloch in western Scotland and the Isle of Skye. Evidently a route aimed at those diehard romantics who couldn't bring themselves to drive over the bridge to the Hebridean island. A new boat, the Spirit of Skye, was built in 2004 for the service. The ferry was a flop, and floundered amid recriminations about the suitability of the vessel for use on open seas. Evidently, the Spirit of Skye wasn't really that great at dealing with waves.

So the Spirit of Skye was quietly removed from Scotland's Atlantic coast to the much more placid waters of Loch Ness, where she has given good service cruising the length of the inland loch. No longer though, for the Spirit of Skye's summer season was abruptly terminated last month when the ship's owners realised that they could make a mint by selling the boat to a mining company in Kazakhstan. Evidently the mining moguls are anxious to have a suitable vessel to ferry the country's president around when he visits a mining complex in a few weeks time. We've checked out our atlas, and Kazakhstan happily seems very landlocked, so there's little chance of the presidential entourage encountering choppy waters. But that will be little comfort to passengers waiting this month at piers along the shores of Loch Ness for a boat that will never come.

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.