Life offers too many distractions. Even before God invented the Internet as a cunning device to distract writers from ever actually putting pen to paper, He had created maps and railway timetables. Marcel Proust used the later to good effect as a way of inducing sleep and also, it is said, as a stimulus to creativity. He once described the French railway timetable as “the most intoxicating romance in the lover’s library.” No surprise, perhaps, that there was never a Mrs Proust upon whom Marcel might inflict a late-evening litany of departure and arrival times.
In truth, while we share Proust’s affection for railway timetables, if really pushed we would have to say that a good Ordnance Survey map probably has the edge over the average timetable. The maps produced by Britain’s national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, are simply wonderful. And there is perhaps no finer way of whiling away a winter evening — or even a summer one — than in perusing a map or two. Thus it was that, despite pressing projects not yet started and others only half done, we happened one day recently to spend a happy few hours looking at a map of the Trossachs area of Scotland (Landranger Sheet 57 for those who like to keep tabs on these things).
As these things go, the area covered by Landranger Sheet 57 is unexceptional. It maps the upper part of the Forth Valley, including the river’s source in lovely Loch Ard. There are two Munros to satisfy peak baggers: mighty Ben Vorlich and the only slightly-lessmighty Stùc a’ Chroin, the very name of which seems calculated to deter those inclined to attempt an ascent. The name translates as ‘dangerous peak’. Perhaps the cartographers thought they would look a little foolish if, instead of the Gaelic Stùc a’ Chroin, they merely wrote the legend ‘dangerous peak’ on their map. Stùc a’ Chroin sounds deliciously exotic. Dangerous peak just sounds naff.
The map also captures a nice slice of Scottish history, sweeping from Bannockburn in the south-east of the sheet all the way to Rob Roy’s grave on the map’s northern margins. Being a map produced by Englishmen, it includes the dates of battles (even those where the English were defeated, such as the clash at Bannockburn in 1314) and neglects to mention that Rob Roy was probably better known in the glens by his Gaelic name: Raibeart Ruadh.