Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The History of Welsh Hill Lists

The History of Welsh Hill Lists – Part 11

The Early Years

1954 – Ted Moss

Only two years later and Ted Moss updated his list again and so in 1954 the Rucksack Club Journal published a one page article entitled “More Welsh Two-thousands”.

The latest update was initiated by the publishing of the new Seventh Series Edition of the Ordnance Survey One-Inch map.  All the contours on the new map had been re-drawn.  This resulted in many changes.

Front cover to the 1954 Rucksack Club Journal

Eight new Welsh Two-Thousands were added to the list.  Two of these are of particular note – Pumlumon Fach, which Moss called Pumlumon Fach, N.W. Top and Allt Lwyd in the Brecon Beacons – both receiving their first ever listing.

Moss passes comment on the anomalies between the old Popular Edition One-Inch map and the new Seventh Series Edition; “The new map is no more consistent than the old one, for several prominent peaks have no contour rings on it.  Pen Helig, for instance, unmistakably a peak on the ground and with two contour rings on the old map, has none on the new,” and “Allt Lwyd had no contour ring on the popular edition but has two rings on the new map”.

The last update that Ted Moss produced for his Two-thousands

Study of the new maps showed that seventeen tops had lost their contour rings.    Moss decided not to list these and ends his article emphasizing that; “It is of course, convenient to use the map as a standard but the claims of many tops can really only be decided on the spot”.

Ted Moss had been a doyen of early hill list compilation.  This second update to his 1940 list proved to be the last.  It is also the last time Ted Moss will lead an active part in our story.  It is only fitting that the first person to have published a list to the 2,000 ft mountains of Wales, and the first known person to complete an ascent of all 612 of these mountains, should have the last word in this particular segment of Wales’s hill list story, as Moss’s experience gained and memories held come forth in his writing and quite eloquently sums up his feeling for these hills:

“To those who prefer the dull routine of well-remembered and too-often accomplished ascents, the peak-bagger is one who dashes soullessly from top to top and whose memory of the day can be summed-up in a tick on a list.  But to me collecting tops in a list provides a framework for widening experience in the fascination of fresh country, unknown hills, and other natural beauties.  The pursuit of two-thousands has taken me to many places I should otherwise never have visited; it has, in fact, taken me into some of the most God-forsaken spots in this country as well as to some of the most delectable”.

“After years spent in the wilderness one can return with renewed interest and appreciation to the choice beauties of the more popular places.  And when I am asked what I am going to do now that I have finished the two-thousands I reply that for the time being I am going to please myself what I do.  For in the later stages the game almost became my master.  The remaining tops were too often in my leisure thoughts as I calculated the map miles and feet of ascent, the most efficient grouping, the number that could be sandwiched into a week-end.  I almost felt guilty when I went rock-climbing.  But if I am pressed for an answer to the question my reply is that I am going to collect stamps with pictures of mountains on them!”

Next instalment due on the 30th November 2015

For the Preface please click {here}

For Part 1 please click {here}

For Part 2 please click {here}

For Part 3 please click {here}

For Part 4 please click {here}

For Part 5 please click {here}

For Part 6 please click {here}

For Part 7 please click {here}

For Part 8 please click {here}

For Part 9 please click {here}

For Part 10 please click {here}

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

G&J Surveys - British Mountaineering Council - Interview

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) has published an interview that Graham recently gave about the surveys that G&J Surveys have conducted over recent years.  The original article and a link to it on the BMC website appear below.

Moving mountains: meet the men who are rewriting the tick lists

The group use survey-grade GPS equipment to accurately find the height of mountains

Creag na Caillich was recently dropped from the list of Munro Tops after a small team of independent surveyors proved it to be under 3,000ft high. So who are G & J surveys, and why does their work matter to peak baggers?

If you’re working your way through the Munros, the Corbetts or any of the other seemingly endless mountain tick lists, then you’ll want to keep a close eye on the efforts of G & J Surveys. This small team of three friends - John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips - have dedicated the last few years to exploring the hills with a very particular aim in mind. Using survey-grade GPS equipment, they measure the height of hills with incredible accuracy, often playing havoc with the official checklists as they go. Remember when the Fisherfield Six became the Fisherfield Five? That was G & J surveys. More recently they proved that Creag na Caillich can’t in fact claim Munro Top status. So what motivates these three hill enthusiasts to go around measuring mountains? We caught up with Graham Jackson to find out.
Why is it that so many of the mountain heights recorded on Ordnance Survey maps are incorrect?

It isn’t that they aren’t correct; it’s just that there is some uncertainty in the measurement. The OS is charged with mapping the whole country at least once every five years, and that’s a huge task. They do it by flying a plane over the terrain they are mapping and photographing as they go. Then they turn the plane round and retake the images. When they feed two images taken from a different angle into a machine, that gives a 3D picture and from that you can measure height. That technique is accurate to plus or minus three metres, so if you’re a map user then it’s perfectly fit for purpose. It doesn’t matter if a mountain is shown on a map as 3,000ft high or 3,010ft high - you can still get to the top of it.

So why is accuracy suddenly more important?
It’s really down to hill lists. The majority of lists have some kind of criteria - so Munros, for example, are all 3,000ft or more. If you have a 915m height on a map then that hill will be classed as a Munro - but it might in fact be 918m or 912m. People with an interest in peak bagging want these lists to be accurate.

I hear you’re a peak bagger yourself - did that help spur your interest in measuring mountains?

Yes, the walking group I’ve been a member of since 1989 has been ticking off Munros since the early 1980s and that definitely got me thinking about it. Sometimes you’ll start to climb a list of hills and you get halfway through when the authors come out with revisions that they’ve taken from the maps. You end up thinking ‘there must be a better way than this’.

How did G & J Surveys get started?

Again, it was through our walking group. When you’re in a pub you start talking about things and inevitably the conversation will arrive at how it’s possible to know the highest point of a hill because they have so many humps and bumps on them. After one of these conversations back in 2006, John [Barnard] went away to research this some more and discovered we could work this out using an Abney level - basically a small spirit level. We got a little more into it and bought a surveyors’ level and staff, and then finally in 2008 John said that we could do with a survey-grade GPS and that’s when it all really got started.

Tell me a bit more about the technology you use to measure mountains - how accurate is it?

We use survey-grade GPS equipment that links into a network of OS base stations. The system is called differential GPS and you can get down to amazing levels of accuracy - literally a couple of centimeters. By the time you get to that point, you’re worrying about where the vegetation stops and the mountain begins. 

What do you count as your most important discoveries?

We reclassified two Munros - both of which unfortunately went down rather than up, so there are now 282 Munros rather than the original 284! The first was Sgurr nan Ceannaichean and the second was a hill called Beinn a’Chlaidheimh in the Fisherfield Forest. That last one meant that the famous Fisherfield Six became the Fisherfield Five.

The hill that made the greatest impact was probably Mynydd Graig Goch in Snowdonia, which had been listed as under 2,000ft and was actually just above - making it a new Welsh ‘mountain’. It was the time of the banking crisis, there was doom and gloom everywhere, and while everything in the world was going down here at least was something that was a bit of quirky good news.

Another significant one was back in 2010, when we discovered that Glyder Fawr was over 1,000m and therefore had to be added to the Welsh 1,000m challenge hill race.

What do peak baggers think of your work - do you get any grumpy compleaters who don’t like the fact that you’ve demoted one of their mountains?

A lot of people are really supportive of what we do - one chap called Alan Dawson has bought his own kit so that he can help out, and some guys in Ireland who we visited recently are starting to measure the hills over there. Others don’t believe that what we’re doing is as accurate as claimed, and of course some people take it badly when a hill that they have climbed is demoted - but that’s why it’s so important for those lists to be accurate, because a lot of people use them.

How ‘official’ is the work that you do?

We have a good working relationship with the Ordnance Survey and the SMC will take any changes we find provided that the OS verifies them. What happens when we measure a hill is that we submit our files to the OS, which processes them using their software and confirms the results for us. 

When you set off to survey a mountain that you think could be a candidate for promotion or demotion, is there a frisson of excitement there?

It is exciting! Both John and I studied chemistry at university and come from a background involving measurement, and having that background you’re always motivated to see if there’s something that can be done better and whether measurements will help. 

How much importance do you place on tick lists yourself?

I’ve done the Munros, the Corbetts and the Grahams, and I think that working your way through a tick list focuses the mind - if you don’t have a focus in view then you don’t tend to do as much. But are hill lists important to enjoying the uplands of Britain? Not really. The things that stick in my mind from being in the hills are individual moments…like walking in the Mamores and seeing a golden eagle gliding right by me, or being in the middle of Rannoch Moor on a remote Graham when a flock of snow buntings flew by. Things like that enrich the experience more than just meeting an objective.

But you’d still consider your efforts to make the lists more accurate important?

Personally, I think that if you’re going to have a list based on any criterion then it should be as accurate as it can be or it’s a pointless exercise. There is a lot of discussion about this sort of thing as well. One of the first hills that John and I first measured was Birks Fell in the Yorkshire Dales and there was so much controversy on forums and on social media about where the summit was. We went up there with a level and staff and found the highest point incredibly easily. Why pontificate about it when you can just go up there and measure it?

What peaks do you have in your sights next?

We usually get together in December and plan for the year ahead. In winter we choose objectives that are nearer and can be completed in a short day, so we might just keep our hand in by nipping into Wales and measuring a hill that’s borderline on the list of HUMPs. Our broader objectives are to finish some of the hills on the Munro/ Corbett and Corbett/ Graham borderlines, working with the SMC. There are some hills in Cumbria we want to do too, such as Illgill Head which is currently listed as 609m but could just make it over 2,000ft. Let’s put it this way - we’re certainly not short of challenges!

Please click {here} to see the original article published on the British Mountaineering Council website

Monday, 28 September 2015

Mapping Mountains – Summit Relocations – 200m Twmpau

Winllan Hill (SJ 217 214)  

There has been a Summit Relocation to the 200m Twmpau (thirty welsh metre prominences and upward) due to a survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000, with the following details being retrospective as the survey that resulted in this summit relocation was conducted over two days; on 28th / 29th  August 2015.

The first of this hill's two surveys was conducted in the company of Mark Trengove on the lower easterly hills of the Y Berwyn, above the small community of Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain which is situated just north-west of where the Afon Cain flows in to the Afon Efyrnwy (River Vyrnwy).

Prior to the survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000 the hill was listed with an estimated c 48m of drop based on the current Ordnance Survey summit spot height of 216m and an estimated bwlch height of c 168m.

There is good access to the summit of the hill with a number of public footpaths converging on its high point from a variety of directions, with its summit positioned beside a fence and under a large overhanging tree, with the high point only a few metres from where a public footpath crosses the field that it is situated in.

The name of the hill is Winllan Hill and prior to the survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000 the position of the summit was listed as that of its 216m spot height which is situated at SJ 21686 21409.  This position is placed on a slight rise which resembles part of an ancient earthen embankment associated with an old hill fort, and although there is evidence of these existing on neighbouring hills there is no evidence on current maps that one existed on Winllan Hill.

The position of the relocated summit is at SJ 21709 21460 and this is the top of a field with the high point situated under a large overhanging tree beside a fence that runs in an east – west direction over the summit.  This position is not given a spot height on current Ordnance Survey maps but the survey result produced with the Trimble gave it as 4.3m higher when compared to the position where the 216m spot height appears on current Ordnance Survey maps and approximately 50 metres northward from it.

The full details for the hill are:

Cardinal Hill:  Rhialgwm

Summit Height:  220.3m (converted to OSGM15)

Name:  Winllan Hill

OS 1:50,000 map:  126

Summit Grid Reference (New Position):  SJ 21709 21460
Drop:  c 52m

The Trimble GeoXH 6000 gathering data at the new summit position of Winllan Hill, with Mark (wearing blue top) standing on the old position of the summit in the left background of this photograph

For details on the survey that relocated the summit of this hill please click {here}

Myrddyn Phillips (August 2015)

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Y Berwyn

28.08.15  Winllan Hill (SJ 217 214)  

The contentment and good memories left after a walk can sometimes match the afterglow of colour when the sun sinks ever deeper into a darkened sky and delicate cloud banks enhance the radiant and subtly rich colour.

These feelings of afterglow are hard to quantify, but the essence of contentment and the pervading feelings of happiness from being out on the hill and the after effects must be associated with some form of euphoric experience, when mind and body meet as one in an environment that gives so much beauty to one’s life.

On our way to the summit of Winllan Hill

This hill experience can be found in so many varieties from the adrenalin rush of a scramble to the gentleness of watching the sun set.  Although vastly different they are intrinsically linked.

Part of this beauty is being on the hill in the evening when life slows and the land quietens, this experience and its enthralling aspect is relatively new for me as I am more an early morning hill person when the heat of the day dictates that height should be gained before it overbears the mind and the body.

Evening light on the high Berwyn

These evening walks have become part of my hill routine and they are due to meeting Mark Trengove, and over the last couple of years they have become part of my hill experience and ones that I look forward to immensely.

Sun setting on another day

Much of this is down to enjoying Mark’s company, and the refined dining and good grub associated with these evening walks.  But this enjoyment goes deeper as these evening walks can also mean the gentleness of colour when the sky blazes and glitters the view with a multitude of subtlety. 

Cloud banks at dusk

These beautiful and radiant colour washes only last for brief moments and they should be savoured and breathed in as their experience is one that quickly fades when the sun sinks out of view and the rich colour quickly dissipates to dusk and then darkness.

Gathering data from the summit of Winllan Hill

All too soon it is over, once there and glimpsed and then gone, hopefully to be experienced when another evening walk takes place.  But some of this joy is the not knowing part, will the sun and sky give its subtle and radiant show or will it ebb distant and disappear from view without its blast giving afterglow.

A partly shrouded silken moon over The Wrekin

This evening was one of those occasions when for a few minutes the sky shone and the cloud illuminated the colour with silvery sheen and gentle mauves dissipating itself against the darkened and silhouetted land.

And at the end of the day...........

Those few moments were rather magical and have lasted with me as I write this, as they have left a pleasant feeling of contentment when mind, body, sky and colour seemed to be one.

Survey Result:

Winllan Hill

Summit Height:  220.3m (average of six surveys and converted to OSGM15) (significant height revision)

Summit Grid Reference:  SJ 21709 21460 (summit relocation confirmed)

For further details please consult the Trimble survey spreadsheet click {here}

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Mapping Mountains – Significant Height Revisions – Y Pedwarau

Bryn Serth (SO 148 109)  

There has been a Significant Height Revision to a hill that is listed in the Y Pedwarau that was initiated by a survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000 and subsequently confirmed via LIDAR analysis conducted by Aled Williams, with these details being retrospective as the Trimble survey that resulted in this height revision was conducted on 12th August 2015.  The hill appeared in the listing of Y Pedwarau as a Pedwar with c 34m of drop and was reclassified to a 400m Sub-Pedwar due to the survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000. 

The criteria for Pedwar status is all Welsh hills at or above 400m and below 500m in height that have 30m minimum drop.  Whilst the criteria for 400m Sub-Pedwar status is all Welsh hills at or above 400m and below 500m in height that have 20m or more and below 30m of drop.

The name of the hill is Bryn Serth and it is situated in the hill range known as Cymoedd Gwent which is positioned in south Wales, and the survey was conducted during a walk in the company of Mark Trengove who had suggested visiting the hill.

Bryn Serth is situated on the northern outskirts of Tredegar at the head of the Cwm Sirhywi (Sirhowey Valley) and it can be easily accessed from a car park beside the busy A4047 which is positioned south-east of the summit.  This car park also gives access to the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones; these consist of four monoliths and are set against the landscape of Ebbw Vale, Tredegar and Rhymney which form the constituencies which Aneurin Bevan represented during his years in Westminster.

Prior to the survey with the Trimble GeoXH 6000 the hill was listed as a Pedwar with its summit height estimated as c 410m based on a small uppermost 410m ring contour that appears on the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger and 1:25,000 Explorer maps.  However, this point is not the high point of the hill as land approximately 100 metres further north was surveyed with the Trimble as being 2.0m higher than the position where the uppermost contour ring appears on the ground.

The two points surveyed with the Trimble GeoXH 6000 gave results that are significantly lower than current Ordnance Survey map data, these results are:

Northern summit:  403.927m (converted to OSGM15) at SO 14794 10908

Southern summit:  401.890m (converted to OSGM15) at SO 14782 10809

It is the southern summit where the small 410m ring contour appears on contemporary Ordnance Survey maps.

Since processing the data sets from this survey Aled has scrutinised on-line mapping and found that the Ordnance Survey Six-Inch map has a 1,327ft (404.47m) height on the area of the summit and a 1,242.5ft (378.71m) height on the area of the bwlch.  These Six-Inch map values give Bryn Serth a drop of 25.76m which is comparable to the result produced by the Trimble GeoXH 6000 and by LIDAR analysis.

Therefore, this hill’s new summit height is 404.0m and this was derived from LIDAR analysis, and thus is 6m lower than its previously estimated height of c 410m and its uppermost ring contour on Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 Landranger and 1:25,000 Explorer maps.

The full details for the hill are:

Group:  Cymoedd Gwent

Summit Height (New Height):  404.0m (LIDAR)

Name:  Bryn Serth

OS 1:50,000 map:  161

Summit Grid Reference:  SO 14807 10929 (LIDAR)

Drop:  25.8m (LIDAR)

Gathering data at the summit of Bryn Serth which resulted in this hill's significant height revision

Myrddyn Phillips and Aled Williams (September 2015)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Mapping Mountains – Trimble Surveys – Mynydd Epynt

18.08.15  Banc y Celyn (SO 047 464), only bwlch surveyed   

The critical bwlch of Banc y Celyn (SO 016 445)

For those people who enjoy aspects of hill data Banc y Celyn (summit at SO 047 464) is an interesting hill.  It has a 472m spot height given to its trig pillar which is based on the 472.440m height given to its adjoined flush bracket in the OS Trig Database.  The highest ground at the summit is approximately three metres from the base of the trig pillar but is not significantly higher than it.  If the flush bracket height is accurate the highest natural ground would be approximately 472.1m high.

The hill is listed as a Pedwar with a current drop of 100m based on its 472m summit height and a 372m spot height that appears on the area of this hill’s bwlch at SO 01621 44533.  But the hill is not listed as a Hump by Mark Jackson and is only given a drop value of 97m and therefore it is listed as a Sub-Hump.  This latter drop value is based on its 472m summit height and a 1,230ft (374.9m) height that appears on the area of this hill’s bwlch on the Ordnance Survey Six Inch map.

I had a brief email exchange with a member of the DoBIH editorial team about this hill and its 372m bwlch spot height and the 1,230ft Six Inch height, and we decided to agree to disagree, which in those days seemed to be the order of the day.  Ever since this email exchange I’d always wanted to visit the area of the bwlch and try and ascertain a height and position for the critical bwlch.  However, current maps suggest that the area of this hill’s bwlch is very close to that of the Military Firing Range, and if the bwlch is on this land it may prove problematic to survey.

As I drove north from Upper Chapel the evening was spreading out to night with the sun still radiating illuminated colour on the land but I hoped that this bwlch could be surveyed with the Trimble and that it did not lie in the land that is out of bounds for much of the year.  However, I knew that this land is out of bounds when the red flag flies and that on occasion the military turns a blind eye to evening forays when firing and training exercises have ended for the day.  I had already decided that if the bwlch lay on Military land and if the red flag was flying and / or exercises were taking place I would not venture any further, but if no flag was in evidence and if all was quiet I may have a potter about and see if the bwlch position could be Trimbled.

As I arrived at my spot I parked, grabbed all my gear and headed toward a fence, there was no red flag flying and no evidence that training exercises were taking place, there was also an open gate giving access onto the Military land.  It is debatable if I should have ventured onto this land but I once had the pleasure of accompanying a local farmer in his Landrover around these hills in the evening time when the military were packing up for the day and they waved us through, so I hoped that a late evening wander when all was quiet and the sun sinking ever deeper into the western horizon would be OK.

Sign on fence

Sign next to open gate beside track

This area of the bwlch is complicated by the addition of two intervening 380m ring contours that are plonked on it and resemble small islands adrift in a sea of 370m contour land.  This meant that three points would need to be Trimbled for an adequate comparison of height.  Two of these were positioned on the Military land and therefore needed a clandestine visit, with the easterly of the three positions being positioned beside the narrow lane that I had just driven on to get to my parking spot, I decided to leave this easterly option as the last one to survey.

As I walked through the fern and reed grass toward where the 372m spot height appears on the ground I was all too aware that at any minute a truck or soldier may appear over the horizon, as the open gate gave access on to a gravelled track that led up toward where I was now wandering.

I headed straight for the 372m spot heighted bwlch first, and as this is positioned between the two 380m ring contour islands I was sufficiently out of view to at least feel partly comfortable with where I now was.  I assessed the land which was not difficult as the low point of the hill to hill traverse was relatively easy to pinpoint, whereas the valley to valley traverse continued almost flat like for a number of metres, but happy with where I decided to place the Trimble I quickly set it up on top of my rucksack, measured a 0.43m offset between its internal antenna and the ground and hoped that the 0.1m accuracy level would be attained quickly, thankfully it was and as it quietly beeped away as each data point were collected I hid behind large clumps of reed grass and fern, occasionally sticking my head up to scour the land, thankfully all continued to be quiet.

Gathering data at the critical bwlch of Banc y Celyn where the 372m spot height appears on the ground

Once the allotted five minute data collection had ended I switched the equipment off and took a series of photos from different directions and quickly packed everything away, grabbed my rucksack and quietly moved around the intervening lump that constituents one of the 380m ring contours and walked up toward where the furthest westerly option of the three possible positions for this bwlch lay.

At the critical bwlch with the land to the north in the background

This westerly position was visually higher than where the 372m spot height appears on the ground but it still needed Trimbling.  Again I set the equipment up on my rucksack and this time measured a 0.44m offset between the Trimble’s internal antenna and the ground.  As it collected data I crept off and hid behind more fern and reed grass.  This second position was more in the open when compared to the first, but it now looked as if I would succeed in getting data sets from these two important points, I just hoped that a tank would not appear as my rucksack was positioned in the centre of vehicle tracks that crossed this part of the moor so large vehicles certainly came this way.

The second Trimble survey was on the most westerly of the three potential bwlch positions

Gathering data at the second of the three positions surveyed for the bwlch of Banc y Celyn

At the second and most westerly of the three positions surveyed with the land to the north in the background

Once five minutes of data were collected I quickly sneaked back up to the Trimble, turned it off, took a series of photos, packed everything away and headed quietly toward the open gate and safety – phew!!

All that remained was to get a data set from the easterly option for the position of the bwlch, I drove a couple of hundred metres toward this and parked the car and spent five minutes or so assessing the lay of land and decided where the Trimble should be placed.  This third option for the bwlch of Banc y Celyn is visually higher than the centrally positioned bwlch where the 372m spot height appears on the ground.  Once the Trimble had done its stuff I headed back to the car happy in the knowledge that all possibilities for the bwlch of Banc y Celyn had now been surveyed.

Gathering data from the most easterly and the third position surveyed for the bwlch of Banc y Celyn

Soaking up the last of the sun's rays

With the last of sixteen data sets complete it was time to head home

It had been a long day as I had set off from home at 7.40am and surveyed in fields full of Maize, visited two Pedwarau and two 300m Sub-Pedwarau and completed 16 surveys in all.  It was nearing 8.15 pm as I walked back to my car and as I got changed the sun sank behind a ridge off to my west, a fitting end to the day.         

Survey Result:

Banc y Celyn

Bwlch Height:  369.9m (converted to OSGM15)

Bwlch Grid Reference:  SO 01618 44530

Drop:  102m (Subhump reclassified to Hump)

Dominance:  21.61%

For further details please consult the Trimble survey spreadsheet click {here}