The Mountain's Silhouette

Hiking and backpacking in the mountains of Scotland

A Few Thoughts on Geograph and Wild Camping

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I’m sure that many people know of, use and maybe even contribute to the Geograph Britain and Ireland website. The aim of the project is to “collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland”. This very simple premise is producing an incredibly useful resource and I have found the Geograph site oftentimes as invaluable for trip planning as a topographical map or aerial photography. This post aims to introduce those of you who aren’t familiar with it to the site and some ways you might find Geograph useful when planning trips.

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Though the site might appear overwhelming at first, thanks to a robust search feature getting to the right information is generally straight forward. If you have an an Ordnance Survey grid reference you can type this in directly to Geograph and view photos taken of “features” within that square kilometre. As well as going to specific squares you can also search for features or place names which works well for rivers and hills. Features can be almost anything: from the land itself, through rivers and lakes, to buildings or gates. This can be a valuable tool to look for recent photos of remote bridges or bothies, or to look at the conditions of paths, but for me one of the best uses has been checking out the suitability of an area for wild camping.

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On my most recent trip across the Grampian Mountains I was looking to camp on the Corbett Beinn Mheadhonach. The Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map reveals a good saddle of land between the main summit and the northern top. Using Geograph I put in the grid reference and was able to see immediately that the area wasn’t a complete mess of bog, or a boulder field, and so felt pretty confident about finding a suitable pitch.

I’ve done the same when looking at camping in a glen besides a river to check for dryish land or up on summit ridges to check that the terrain has some flatness to it. Geograph probably won’t guide you to the exact site you’ll pitch your tent (after all, half the fun is rolling about in the heather trying to find the least lumpy spot) but it may give you some confidence that you will find somewhere in that locality.

Of course, the site is only as good as the uploaded photos. If you are browsing around and notice an empty or under-photographed square on your route then maybe make a note to take a photo of that area for the site whilst you are passing through. I wouldn’t expect people to give up that super secret camp site or bothy that they’ve been returning to for years, but even general views of areas can be very helpful for trip planning. I’ve recently uploaded my first photos to the site - adding to three squares that were without photos.

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Note also that Geograph operates under a Creative Commons license; everything on the site can be reused as long as it is attributed and the other conditions of the licensing are observed. If you are a photographer this means you must release your photo under that license (though the copyright of course remains yours). This does mean that Geograph photos can quite often turn up in Wikipedia articles.

Finally, whilst Geograph have been sponsored by the Ordanance Survey up until now, it looks like that deal will be ending soon and so to continue running and developing the site Geograph are considering different ways of raising funds, from subscriptions to advertising and more. They have a very detailed survey to get some insight from users and visitors on how they might want to see funding working so if you have an interest in the project it would be worth taking a few minutes to fill it in.