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.

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