Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Georeferencing: Ripley Springs

Ripley Springs exists as a name with multiple referents, and it seems to contain at least two parts: one 'urban' and one 'natural.'  It also seems to refer to the name of a person whom I have not been able to identify, but whose name would also seem to refer to Ripley Avenue in Egham, Surrey.  Ripley Springs as a label has been applied both to a suburb of Egham, and to a portion of forest, or copse, on the Royal Holloway University of London campus.  It is a marginal place-name that does not show up on many mapping sites I have checked, including Wikimapia, Geonames, Google Earth, OpenStreetMap (only the urban 'half' is referred to on OSM), and others.

Ripley means, according to the Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names, a strip-shaped wood or clearing (Old English 'ripel' + 'leah').  It does indeed contain both wood and clearing, as well as a pond at its top end.  The place-name Ripley Springs is mentioned several times in the RHUL master plan documents available online, mostly in terms of how (allegedly) underutilised the space is, especially in relation to other campus spaces.  From my vantage point, at the back of Queen's Building facing north, I can attest to how very utilised this space is by both wildlife and cats.  I have seen deer and fox frequenting Ripley Springs, and there is a cat that often comes through the forest to sit at the edge of the meadow beside Queen's, probably to hunt.

The campus plan suggests the inclusion of pathways around the back of Queen's Building that would both connect to the rest of campus, as well as lead pedestrians back to Egham if that is their intended destination. The legend I viewed showed potential pathways as 'medium' level usage (e.g. much lower than traffic levels seen in Canada Copse).  While I am sympathetic to increasing the usage of Ripley Springs (and perhaps it is a done deal, I don't know), there is something a bit more 'wild' about Ripley Springs that gives it an edge over Canada Copse, and perhaps that is its real value.  If we introduce people to Ripley Springs, the wildlife might be driven out, and it might also become a bit more of a 'managed' space.

However, this blog post is not a plea or a protest or a call to save Ripley Springs.  It is an observation upon a marginal place with a name that appears on many maps, but that appears not to really register in many of the more formal representations of place on the geoweb.  Again, this is why I like it, and part of me has always wanted to walk down through that forest, though what often stops me is the fact that I don't know whose back garden I will end up in.  Several of the trees I can see out my office window have brilliant colour reminiscent of the Canadian autumn, and a couple of the larger trees (oak I think) are quite majestic, framing parts of West London also visible (including Wembley).

As for the suburban iteration of Ripley Springs, its parts consist not only of Ripley and many other avenues, but the 'spring' aspect is repeated a couple of times, specifically in the road names Spring Rise and Spring Avenue.  So we have a forest, a clearing, and a residential area that are part of a small hydrological basin not far from the Thames.  It is an area whose natural side and image was one of the first I encountered upon arriving in the UK, and whose 'urban' side I walked through in order to get to my office.  The name came after I was already well acquainted with its referent.  Before the anchoring or attachment of name and referent in my mind, the forest and suburb were part of a vaguely defined, almost blurry sense of 'Egham-ness' or indeed 'English-ness,' undifferentiated.

Now I look out at that section of the world every day, framed perfectly by one 'wing' of Queen's building on the left, and by the Wembley area of London on the right.  In between is an unbroken line of trees.  For a whole year, a very tall construction crane rose above the forest during the time that a residence was being built over on London Road/Egham Hill.  Luckily the building only rose to the level of the tall cedar hedge fringing a parking lot beyond, and the pond on this side.  My line of trees remains unbroken.

Georeferencing: Canada Copse

As I'm reading Guattari's Schizoanalytic Cartographies, thinking how relevant so much of this book is to personal walking and mapping projects, and potentially to student geoweb writing and maps, I started to look around for some more material for my Georeferencing mini-series.  My gaze honed in upon the Royal Holloway campus itself and a couple of spatial anchors to the landscape of campus that I first noticed upon arriving here over 13 months ago.   These are Canada Copse and Ripley Springs, the subject of two blog posts, including this one.

Canada Copse refers to the large and somewhat centrally located grove of trees and vegetation that crowds towards Founder's Building, Bedford Library, and many other buildings on campus.  Within the Canada Copse is also the Jane Holloway Lecture Hall, which used to be a swimming pool.  Copse refers to 'coppice', a small wood grown for cutting, though I don't think there is much 'coppicing' going on in this area right now.  Coppice is both noun and verb, but copse is itself always, I believe, a noun.

On Geonames I ran a search for place-names including the term 'Canada.'  The single result for the UK is Canada Water station in London, a tube stop.  Canada Copse itself did not come up in the Geonames search.  I know there are other marginal names with Canada in them, such as the gate near Buckingham Palace that includes names from parts of Canada upon it, and that is as a whole, I think, referred to as 'Canada Gate.'  Canada seems to be associated with wilder or forested parts of England, and that would make sense.  We do, on the whole, have a reputation for having forests and so this is what is imprinted upon the popular British imagination when the word 'Canada' is uttered.

Upon entering 'Canada Copse' into the search bar in Google Earth, I was prompted right away with an already existing place-marker, allowing me to zoom into the campus imagery without delay.  The marker is really nothing more than a label, but its existence gives it more presence than, for example, Ripley Springs (another forested part of campus, and the subject of my next blog post).  In terms of presence, there is much more of a human presence in Canada Copse as well, with a well-established network of trails criss-crossing the forest, and well-known entry and exit points at strategic locations near Founder's and Windsor Buildings as well as The Hub.

Before arriving at Royal Holloway, I looked at photos of the campus online and was very impressed.  I joked with people after arriving that the campus 'in the flesh' is even more appealing and beautiful than its representation online, and that it would be easy to imagine the opposite scenario.  Thus one could imagine a campus selling itself as beautiful, with the reality being opposite to its representation.  For example an urban campus that advertises its trees selectively, while leaving out the grey concrete buildings that make up the majority of its material edifice (I don't have any specific urban campus in mind here).  Royal Holloway undoubtedly outstrips its own claims in terms of natural beauty.

I often take breaks from sitting in the office, from which I have great views of the allegedly underutilised Ripley Springs green space, to walk along the paved path from Queen's Building to the Campus Store where I pick up daily (subsidised) papers and snacks for the day.  The green interior of Canada Copse is always refreshing no matter what time of year.  As part of my orientation program upon arriving here we took a tour of the green spaces of campus with some of the groundskeepers who named tree species and described some of the histories of specific parts of the copse.  I just keep falling in love with this part of campus.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Georeferencing: Winnersh Triangle

Winnersh Triangle was another placename that just made my world as I used to wait on the train platform every morning in Isleworth. After Martins Heron, Bracknell, Wokingham, and Winnersh comes Winnersh Triangle, lilting along in its awkward way every day in the same order. While Martins Heron was almost idyllic in my mind (see previous post), Winnersh Triangle was just plain bizarre sounding.

There's something about the 'mushiness' of 'Winnersh' juxtaposed against the exactness and precision of 'Triangle' that is quite compelling for me. Also, a word like Winnersh would not appear in a North American placename, at least that is the way it seems to me when I'm waiting for the train in Isleworth (the latter with its weird (to my ears) enunciated 's').

The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Watts, 2004) has a listing for Winnersh but not Winnersh Triangle, because the latter is a train station, a 'place along the way' in between two other more primary places that gain a foothold in the scholarly listings simply by being included. Winnersh means 'ploughed field by the meadow' (Watts, 2004, page 686).  (wynn + ersc from Old English)

I did a search on Geonames to see how common the word 'triangle' is in place-names. World-wide, the word triangle appears in the GeoNames database 632 times, with multiple entries for places with names like 'Lac Triangle' in Quebec (which really does not look much like a triangle: irregular polygon would be more fitting). In the UK, the word triangle appears in the geonames database 3 times with: The Golden Triangle (a locality in Norfolk), Central Belt Lowland Triangle (an area in Scotland), and the railway station Winnersh Triangle.

Wikipedia notes the following about Winnersh Triangle: "Housing and then light industry followed the railway, and now Winnersh has two stations, Winnersh and Winnersh Triangle, the latter also being the name of the industrial estate that it serves. Modern Winnersh exists mostly as a sleeper town. Relentless housing development on all sides will soon see Winnersh exist as part of an urban continuum between Reading and London (citation needed)."

Winnersh Triangle then occupies a marginal or in-between position relative to both Winnersh itself, and to London/Reading.  This is part of its appeal for me.  A place with a name like this can only be marginal, to my mind, and can thus only be that much more attractive as a place to visit and study.

When you click on "Winnersh Triangle" in the GeoNames listing you are taken to an area that does indeed have three angles, a part of which does appear to be very industrial.  The edges of the 'triangle' are quite wobbly but smooth, almost as if the triangle is melting or slowly morphing into something else, perhaps a circle or an irregular polygon.  Winnersh 'proper' extends beyond the bounds of the triangle, but not that far.  

Have I visited Winnersh Triangle?  Yes, but only with my eyes from the window of the train.  This place is much more abstract in my mind than is Martins Heron, an observation directly attributable to the presence of the word triangle in the former, and the word heron in the latter.  But occurring as they did on the same string of place-names (and they are both legitimate placenames as evidenced by their listing on GeoNames, even though the Cambridge Dictionary does not list them, nor could it list every last named place in the topos of the UK), and the juxtapositions they placed in my mind (Martins Heron, Bracknell, Wokingham, Winnersh, Winnersh Triangle), by the time I managed to view these magical places in the flesh, my body was exceeding that visitation.  I was on my way to Reading, then Oxford with a return ticket to Egham the same day.