18-Feb-2007 -- Two geographers meeting in the UK, and where do they meet? In a field of Swiss chard, of course. A confluence proved to be quite a fitting site to chat with someone I have a great deal of respect for, David Lambert, Chief Executive Officer of the Geographical Association . I was in England to help teach a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and GPS workshop at the University of Cambridge. David and I had set up our meeting several weeks before I travelled across the Pond.
David picked me up in Cambridge and we set off into the Fens, discussing All Things Geography and Education. The Fens have been described by David Bellamy, who may be Britain’s favourite botanist, as “a natural manscape.” In other words, the land has been altered by humans over many centuries. Once covered in water, people drained the area and turned it into some of the most fertile farmland in Great Britain. Its flat terrain and black soil both reminded me of the Red River Valley, North Dakota.
We passed the ancient cathedral at Ely and once on the A1101, I was surprised to find the road closed due to flooding of the Bedford River. I could barely see the other shore; this was larger than any flood I had ever seen. Apparently, it was commonplace here. We backtracked and drove on some wonderful back roads to reach Wisbech, but that added to our time a bit.
I had seriously underestimated the time it would require us to trek to Boston on these "long and winding roads." I was becoming concerned that David would be late for his evening meeting. Nevertheless, we pressed onward, reached Boston, passed the beautiful city hall tower, and drove north on the A16. After David deftly perched his car on the side of the road, just north of the drainage canal, we crossed the busy highway. We walked east-northeast along the footpath that bordered the northern edge of the canal, named the Cowbridge Drain.
We immediately spotted two signs of a mild winter--white snowdrop flowers, and thousands of medium-sized gnats. Three of these gnats posed in the photograph of David and I at the confluence. After 10 minutes, we reached the Prime Meridian, always a great thrill for me. We then climbed the embankment and stood at the edge of a field that appeared to be planted in swiss chard. This plant is related to the beet but is grown for its leaves. As the plants were doing quite well, and as we were less than 40 meters from the confluence, we saw no reason to tread upon these living things. I was amazed to see these plants growing so well in mid-February, at a time when my own neighborhood was still buried under a meter of snow.
This was the third time I had stood on the Prime Meridian, after trips to 52 N 0 in 2003 and 51 N 0 in 2004 with Gordon Spence. This was the first time I had stood on 53 North, making it my northernmost confluence in the world! This was my 5th confluence in the United Kingdom.
The confluence thus lies on level ground near the southern edge of the field. We took a movie and photographs, enjoying the sunshine and mild weather, and feeling quite centered. Due to our time constraints, we spent only 10 minutes at the site. We saw no animals and few birds. A person hiked past us on the footpath below, followed 5 minutes later by another person on an all-terrain vehicle on the other side of the canal. After scampering down the embankment back into the gnat swarms, we hiked out the way we came. We emerged back on the other side of the A16 unharmed, and then drove back to Cambridge via a more expedient route, through Peterborough.
This adventure is yet another example of geography bringing people together!