When we read about one man’s challenge to visit every map-square in Scotland – based on old Ordnance Survey maps – we just had to find out more. Here, Bill Taylor tells us about how to got started and what happened along the way.
The words of the Johnny Cash song were not exactly ringing in my ears when, in 1989, a conversation with my friend Paddy sowed the seeds of what is possibly a unique claim. I’ve been everywhere…well in Scotland at least.
Paddy had just finished off the Munroes and the Corbetts and was wondering what challenge lay ahead. He had never been to Orkney or Shetland and I thought he should go to some of the bits of Scotland that were not blessed with notable hills. He was singularly unimpressed, but it got me thinking. How would you determine if you had been everywhere in Scotland? I recalled a map in a former student flat 15 years before – the entire ¼ inch coverage for Scotland – that may hold a clue.
Time to get the old blue maps out. The answer was right in front of me as these maps were clearly overlain by the network of 10 km grid squares. Was this the answer? Divide the country into a grid! Done already! Check how many had been visited so far (as of 1989)…c 75%. Why not visit the rest?
But wait a minute…..am I going to have to visit uninhabited rocks like Sula Sgeir and Rockall? Let’s be realistic…this needs some rules. My game, my rules. So each square with inhabited land or attached to inhabited land (at MHWS) had to be visited. No flying over or sailing through but some kind of contact with the ground…car, bus, train or on foot. Now purists may scoff at this, but it’s my game…so scoff if you wish! And how many are there I hear you cry? Well, using my criteria there are 1080.
Through the 90s, when work and family allowed, visits were made down obscure B and C class roads; walks to remote headlands were undertaken and detours made when I should have been taking a more direct route. By the early 00s I had just over 100 left.
By Christmas 2011 I had 36 left and my sister Lesley suggested I finish them before my 60th at the end of July. A lull in work made this possible and for 4 months I had some great visits to obscure and remote bits of this fine country. 6 days in Shetland in the April gales brought a haul of 16 including Fair Isle (4) and Foula (2)…one of the highlights of the whole adventure. I had deliberately left one near to home in Easter Ross to be my last square, but as with all long running sagas there had to be a sting in the tail!
Ordnance Survey helped with a query about a square off the south end of Islay. Was there any land in NR 33 that fitted my rules…yes 40 x 10m, so this had to be visited! My good friend Colin caught the bug and diligently challenged me about many an obscure square. This revealed one on the west of Lewis which I had missed, so this became my second last…but it wasn’t over yet…a final check found a wee bit of a beach on the Ayrshire coast near Irvine and 2 days before the last one a 460-mile round trip was necessary to complete the real 2nd last. A bunch of friends and family came from all over to be with me and to celebrate at the Last Square Party.
Was it worth it? Absolutely! Do it again? Probably not! What it did do was make me realise what an incredibly diverse country Scotland is for its size and how accessible it is. Could this be done in England, Wales or Ireland with different access legislation…who knows, but it would need lots of permission. Have I been everywhere? No, but how else would you decide..1 km squares? Now that would be crazy.
All images reproduced courtesy of Bill Taylor.