This week we have a guest blog from Peter Naldrett. Peter is a geography teacher and writer living on the edges of the Peak District National Park. He is the author of the Trigpoint Walks series of books and recently wrote the The Dog Walkers’ Guide To Derbyshire and the Peak District. Currently writing two more walking books in the Peak, Peter also writes for Countryman Magazine, reviews music for two regional newspapers and has co-authored geography textbooks for Oxford University Press. You can find out more on Twitter @peternaldrett or visit www.peter-naldrett.co.uk.
There are over 6,000 of them scattered around Great Britain and many ramblers have had their photograph taken with one after scaling a hill on a country walk. To some they are just mysterious pillars made out of concrete, but to those in the know the triangulation pillar is at the heart of the modern maps we all take for granted when we head off out on a hike today. Back in the 1930s and 1940s when most of the triangulation pillars were carted to the top of hills and constructed by teams of Ordnance Survey mapping enthusiasts, a cartographical revolution was taking place. These pillars were constructed atop hills with a formidable view and the metal screw and frame at the top allowed a theodolite to be fixed in place, meaning surveyors could measure surrounding landscape features in relation to other triangulation pillars they could see. It’s a complicated, technical process, and a very physical one when compared to today’s armchair map searches, but the long and short of it is that the surveyors of the triangulation pillar era ushered in the more detailed maps with contours that most presume have been crafted with satellite images. Not so; it was all down to the sweat and hard graft of a dedicated bunch during the first half of the twentieth century.
Today, triangulation pillars are not used in an official capacity. Some have disappeared completely, making way for housing estates or new farm buildings. Others have fallen into disrepair and have started to crumble in the wild elements. Sadly, there is the odd one that has been vandalised as well. But for the countryside walker, armed with an OS Explorer Map and flask of hot chocolate, there is an even greater use for these trigs: a picnic site. How many of us have reached the high point of a Peak District or Lake District walk, touched the trig with a sense of wonderful achievement and admired the fantastic 360 degree view before sitting down on a nearby rock and tucking in to a cheese and pickle sandwich? While many hikers do not know the secret history of trigs in contributing to the OS Landranger Map, there is one thing we can all agree on: these historic pillars are wonderful places to rest, take a pic, enjoy the view, meet fellow travellers and share stories about the weather or routes taken to the summit.
For me, the distribution of triangulation pillars directly correlates with the places most worthy of a walk. They are spread around the country in an even fashion, not concentrating on National Parks, and are uniquely at the highest points of the local landscapes, providing an amazing way to see the scenery. When I decided to write my first walking book as a guide to the highest hills in the Peak District, I chose the pillars as my theme. It had never been done before, it provided people with a challenge and, to put it frankly, the walks had to be pretty good to wind up at such wonderful places as Kinder Scout, Mam Tor, Shining Tor, Black Hill and Stanage Edge. And so Trigpoint Walks in the Peak District was published, and now it is split into the Dark Peak, White Peak and National Park Fringe. There is also a book covering Pembrokeshire National Park, and maybe more areas will follow. The more people that get to experience the fantastic locations of the Ordnance Survey triangulation pillars, the better.