I’ve entered numerous sportives over the last five years but the Brompton World Championship on Saturday was my first competitive bike race….
Brompton championships have taken place every year since 2006, previously being held at Blenheim Palace and at Goodwood. The 2016 race, the 11th edition was held in London as part of the Prudential RideLondon weekend.
As with every year there is a strict dress code of a collared shirt, neck tie and jacket – absolutely no visible sportswear or lycra is permitted. As an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion entering a World Championship it seemed only right that I should have something OS related on me, but the no lycra rule meant I couldn’t wear my OS cycling jersey. Sue, my partner, came to the rescue by making me a fabulous tie out of a Snowdon Splashmap with the summit at the centre of the tie. To add to the authenticity, I took the splashmap to the summit of Snowdon on my climb the weekend before.
The race itself was eight laps of St James Park, starting with a Le Mans style start in the middle of the Mall. Your Brompton must be fully folded and placed on the opposite side of the Mall in race number order.
The race, of 550 riders, started in four waves. I was in the third wave, which started 20 seconds behind the fastest riders. Just before the the klaxon sounded for our wave everyone started slowly creeping across the Mall, then it sounded and everyone was off running to their Bromptons.
Once on the other side it was a mad scramble to unfold the Bromptons, the quicker you do it the more places you can make up. It wasn’t the fastest time I’ve unfolded my Brompton but I was away and racing just after those around me.
I went off fast on the first lap, in fact it turned out to be my fastest lap of the race at 3 minutes 38 seconds (not including the 1 min 10 seconds to unfold the bike and cross the start line), probably too fast but I made up a lot of places.
The following view is from my handlebars, whilst it’s the entire race I have speeded up the footage after the first lap, keep an eye out for the riders dressed as WW1 Army Soldiers saluting the Queen/Buckingham Palace
I was lapped after 4.5 miles of racing, although I have to say that the group that lapped me did include ex-professional riders including David Millar and Michael Hutchinson. As a result of being lapped I crossed the finish line having completed 7 laps (9.55 miles) in a time of 29 minutes and 59 seconds, averaging 19mph.
That put me in 185th place in the mens race (322 finishers) and 209th overall (420 finishers) – My goal was to finish higher than my starting position of 366, so I was extremely happy with my time. Also there’s not many amateur cyclists that can say they have raced alongside David Millar (ok, participated in the same race as….)
I’ve been to the top of Snowdon twice before, once in the early 80s and again in 2002. On both of those occasions it was a gentle trundle up the mountainside courtesy of the Snowdon Mountain Railway, into the clouds that were shrouding the higher slopes. For the briefest moment in 2002, whilst at the summit, the wind cleared the clouds revealing fantastic views over Llyn Llydaw and out to the east. In that moment I took this photo, seconds later I was back in the clouds.
I used that photo as wallpaper on my work computer for months afterwards, so many people that saw it would ask if I had walked up? Each time I would make some wry remark “me, walk up a mountain?” and then say no I went on the train. I might as well have just downloaded the photo. I’m rather embarrassed about that fact now and it’s time to put it right. I want to be able to say once and for all, yes I have walked up Snowdon!
So with the help of my fellow Ordnance Survey Champions and especially Jason Rawles, our Adventure Guide, a plan was hatched to summit Snowdon by foot on Sunday 24th July. Please take a look at Jason’s blog at what was involved and what you need to consider before tackling a mountain yourself, there is a lot more to it than just putting on a pair of walking boots.
You could say the weather wasn’t at it’s best last Sunday, after a week of high temperatures and cloudless skies, I awoke to the sound of rain. With the poor weather and visibility Jason selected the Pyg Track from Pen-Y-Pass as the best route for us.
Whilst I didn’t get to see the views this time, what I did see was far better. My ability and strength, post heart attack, to be able to climb a mountain, physically, literally and metaphorically. Thank you to everyone involved in helping me reach this personal achievement.
“Yes, I’ve walked up Snowdon!”
If you’ve had a set back, for what ever reason, never give up on your dreams and aspirations. If you put your mind to it you can over come these obstacles and climb your own metaphoric mountain – you just need to #GetOutside, start off slowly and take it easy, you never know where the path will lead you.
As for seeing the views from Snowdon, I will just have to return…
Back in February I went behind the scenes at Ordnance Survey with Dom Turnor, a Field Surveyor at OS, to find out how the master map of Great Britain is updated. During the day I discovered that there are areas that cannot easily be surveyed on the ground, this can be for a variety of reasons including the size/nature of the site, access restrictions or the safety of the surveyor. In these situations the changes can be surveyed using aerial photography. Ordnance Survey have had a dedicated Flying Unit since 1966. OS used aerial photography prior to this and had operators of it’s own, however it was shared with the Royal Air Force and other government departments.
I met up with Air Camera Operator and Field Surveyor Roger Nock at East Midlands Airport to find out more about the Flying Unit and how they capture the aerial imagery required to update the master map.
Ordnance Survey have several planes, each equipped with a large format digital aerial camera system by Vexcel Imaging. This is a state of the art UltraCam digital camera, consisting of eight lenses and 196 megapixels.
The camera/sensor unit is mounted behind the camera operators seat with the airborne computing unit, removable data storage and interface panel to the operators left. The pilot has a secondary display screen which can be mounted to the instrument panel whilst imagery is being captured.
Mounted in front of the camera operator is a forward looking scope for a detailed view of the area and terrain ahead of the aircraft.
The flying season is between late February and early November and is very much dependent on the weather, air traffic control and permission to enter areas of restricted airspace.
Not only do they have to factor in the infamous UK weather, our airspace is also one of the busiest in the Europe, if not the world, especially in the South East with the shear volume of arrivals and departures into the main London airports. In 2014, London Heathrow handled 73.4 million passengers during 470,695 aircraft movements, an average of 1290 flights a day (data from LHR Airports Ltd).
Everything needs to be in place for a flight to take place. The weather needs to be favourable, rain and clouds in the target area will cast shadows on the imagery or completely obscure the ground. Permissions from multiple air traffic controllers along the flightpath and permissions to enter restricted flight areas need to be obtained, the pilots total flying hours that day also needs to be considered, not just total flown so far but the planned flying hours for the sortie need to be taken into consideration and of course the serviceability of the aircraft itself. However, before any of this can take place the flight needs to be planned, which starts with a request for a target to be flown. These can come from various sources including, field surveyors, OS HQ etc.
One target request that needed planning whilst I was visiting was for the Glaslyn river estuary in North Wales, this estuary is predominately sand banks and needs to be accurately surveyed in order to update the master map. As you can imagine this task just isn’t feasible for a ground field surveyor to undertake.
With the target site identified, the air camera operator checks the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) airspace charts for the location and any flying restrictions/hazardous areas. The majority of North Wales is free airspace, however there a few restricted areas with an RAF airfield on Anglesey and some of the valleys being used for low level fast jet training. In our case the Glaslyn estuary is in the free airspace, so there are no restrictions or additional permissions required.
Aerial imagery is captured by flying at a set speed and altitude in a straight line with a photo being taken approximately every 3 seconds (depending on speed).
Having entered certain details into the computer, such as Camera Type, Ground Sample Distance (GSD is the distance between the pixels on the image measured on the ground eg. in an image with a one metre GSD, adjacent pixels image locations are 1 metre apart on the ground).
The operator can then draw the flying strips onto the target area, these appear as black rectangles with the blue centre line being the flightpath of the aircraft and the red dots indicate the location an image will be captured. In order to obtain the best quality survey the images are overlapped, generally by 30%. Additional strips are added until the target area is completely covered as shown in the screenshot below.
Whilst the location of each photo is captured with GPS it is good practice to include several map features in the imagery, such as a main road or village centre, so that the newly acquired imagery can be aligned with existing map data. The original target area is the black outlined polygon just visible under the main rectangles.
In order to fully survey the estuary OS will need to fly five lines capturing a total of 144 images, with each line being flown at 5,800 feet and 175 knots. This relatively small target area will take approximately 30 to 35 minutes to survey when you add in the time it takes to turn the plane at the end of each line. In this example the altitude of each line remains constant as the terrain is flat, in more hilly areas the altitude of each line needs to be adjusted in line with the terrain so that the GSD remains constant as well. An additional element for this sortie is that it must be flown at low tide thereby adding to the complex of scheduling it.
The weather had been poor in the morning of my visit and just when it was looking like we wouldn’t get to fly at all, there was a break in the weather over South Wales and we would be able to fly a sortie. The selected target in Aberporth was a single line which would take five minutes to survey at an altitude of 5800 feet. During the week the area is restricted airspace and even though it was a Saturday permission would still be required to fly in the area.
Our pilot for the day Liam Watt had called ahead and with permission granted, the surveying systems setup and configured we took to the skies over East Midlands and set course for Cardigan.
The outbound flight took us out towards Ironbridge, south of the Wrekin and then over the Shropshire Hills and the Welsh Marches.
We had to be extra vigilant in this area by keeping an eye out for gliders, due to the number of clubs in the area and the weather was perfect for the gliders to soar on the thermals, their small size makes them difficult to see.
As we approached the target area, I heard Liam say to Roger over the intercom “cloud on the line”, this potentially meant we would have to abort the sortie and return to East Midlands without any images. Fortunately as we turned for the line it was in fact clear and Roger started capturing the imagery.
From the co-pilots seat I watched Liam’s secondary screen on the instrument panel in front of me. The images below shows: Top Left – approaching the line. Right – flying the line. Bottom Left – Line complete and turning back for East Midlands.
Roger was happy with the images he captured and with the survey complete we turned for the return flight over the Welsh Marches and the Shropshire Hills back to East Midlands airport.
Having landed and taxied back to the hanger, the last remaining tasks are to remove the data storage units from the aircraft and copy the imagery from the aircraft systems onto the servers where they will be sent to OS in Southampton for processing and updates to the master map will be made.
I would like to thank Ordnance Survey and especially Roger and Liam for giving me access to the Flying Unit for what was a fantastic experience and truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The adventure began at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich Park. I had arrived an hour early, having cycled there from a local hotel that I had stayed at the night before. I wasn’t expecting the view from the start, as I reached a statue at the end of a tree lined avenue the view opened up to a one hundred and eighty degree panorama of the park and London beyond, topped off with the skyscrapers of Central London and Canary Wharf on the horizon – I’d only just arrived and the views were fantastic!
Other riders started to arrive and soon a small group had started to form around the benches opposite a van selling coffee. I was a little worried as I entered by myself and therefore would not know anyone, I needn’t have worried as everyone was extremely friendly. Introductions were being made along with the normal questions in this type of scenario, such as have you travelled far to get here etc?
The record distance travelled goes to Milton, he had flown into London the day before from Brisbane, Australia just for this ride and another rider had come from America. It was turning out to be a truly international event before a pedal had even been turned. With the introductions, registration and rider briefing complete it was time for the official group photo in front of the iconic Canary Wharf skyline before heading off on stage one and the ferry at Newhaven.
Stage 1 – London to Newhaven (58 miles / 93 km)
With the riders all assembled we set off for Paris, I started my Garmin at 3:29 pm (UK time) making the goal for the Eiffel Tower 4:29pm (French Time).
The busy streets of London were soon replaced with quiet country lanes as we made our way out of the capital towards Orpington, by chance the route passed my sister-in-law’s mother’s house and they had very kindly made a banner for me, encouraging me up the first main climb of the day.
After Westerham, the route climbed up onto the High Weald skirting Five Hundred Acre Wood, the scenery and views across East Sussex were stunning.
I had hired a small GPS tracker for the ride from Open Tracking, this was sending my current position to a website every ninety seconds and displaying it on a map of the route for family and friends to track my progress. For UK based events Open Tracking use the detailed 1:25000 Ordnance Survey mapping, however as my event left the UK I had to use an alternative mapping partner.
Pumping Marvellous, the heart charity I was cycling in aid of, had also tweeted the tracking link to it’s followers before the start and was tweeting updates along the way, each one was appearing as a notification on my bar mounted Garmin. This was providing me with an excellent source of encouragement, knowing that others were following and supporting me along the way.
By this stage I had been cycling with a group of seven other similar paced riders and we were making steady progress towards our final stop of the evening. The sun was getting low in the sky, as it dipped behind the clouds and the horizon to leave us for the night we were rewarded with a fantastic sunset, unfortunately the photo below does not do it justice.
We arrived in Newhaven at 8:11pm, having covered the 58 miles at an average speed of 13.5 mph with 3,570 feet of climbing, to be rewarded with a two course meal and the opportunity for drinks in a local hotel before riding to the ferry at 9:30pm. Whilst waiting to board the ferry I got talking to a couple of French cyclists who were on their return leg having cycled from Paris to London, on mountain bikes and mainly off road by the sounds of it – Chapeau!
If you have read my blog before you will know that, at the age of 38, I suffered a myocardial infarction (MI, better known as a heart attack). It was caused by a combination of bad habits – a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, smoking and a general lack of exercise. That was five years ago and I have come along way since that hospital bed in Scotland, completely turning my life around by taking up cycling and running.
I don’t want anybody to have to go through what I did on the fateful day in April 2011. Through my involvement with the Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Campaign, I’ve been sharing my story to encourage others to become active, whilst offering hope and inspiration to other heart failure patients that there is a future after such life changing events.
To mark the 5th anniversary of my MI and raise awareness of Heart Failure I’ve set myself a few challenges for April and May: –
I’ll be in my bright orange OS GetOutside kit for all four rides, do please say hello if you see me!
The main event is London to Paris, I leave Greenwich at 4pm on Saturday 30th and need to arrive at the Eiffel Tower before 4pm on the Sunday (70 miles to Newhaven for the four hour night ferry crossing to Dieppe and then 120 miles to Paris).
Whilst awareness of Heart Disease/Failure and getting people more active is my main driving force, I would like to raise much needed funds for Pumping Marvellous, a heart charity that represents the needs of nearly one million heart failure patients and just as importantly the patients families, at the same time.
If you would like to help the fight against heart failure – 20% of the adult population in the UK will be touched by heart failure and heart disease at sometime in their life – please donate to Pumping Marvellous by visiting my Just Giving page www.justgiving.com/coeurcycliste
It’s a practice that has taken place for over a century, people across Great Britain have grabbed Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, unfolded them and then scanned across the beloved grid squares searching out the familiar symbols we all learnt in school – roads, rivers, woods, churches, youth hostels, trig points, train stations, parking, contour lines etc.
All of this detail is vital to help you plan your next adventure and to navigate on the day – Where are you going to park? What feature are you going to take a bearing off? Where might you stop for a spot of lunch?
Have you ever stopped to think about how all this detail gets onto the map in the first place and more importantly how does it get updated? I spent a day and a half with Dom Turnor, a Surveyor with the OS, finding out how the master map of Great Britain is updated and how often. I make no apologies for the length of this post as I believe it is deserved given the subject matter and the privileged access given to me by OS.
Dom is one of approximately 250 field surveyors across the country and is responsible for the Malvern District, which is part of the Wales and West Central region. His district is long and thin from the county borders of Worcestershire and Shropshire in the north, down to Cheltenham in the south, as highlighted in the image below.
Due to the size and shape of the District, Dom plans his work into economic packages, saving time, fuel and the environment. I joined him for this planning on Monday afternoon at his home office where he explained the systems, processes and different types of surveying tasks he undertakes on a daily basis.
You may be surprised to learn that OS make approximately 10,000 changes to the master map every day and aim to capture all major change within 6 months of it happening. Each of these changes start as a field customer order which are generated from numerous sources such as HM Land Registry, Local Councils, Surveyors, OS HQ, third party suppliers etc. Whilst there are multiple categories for these orders the majority will fall into one of four categories: –
Prestige sites – Sporting venues, Large shopping centres.
Land Registry – Survey requisitions for boundaries and land access
Total Revision – Changes such as construction works, house building
Derived Products – The symbols identifying locations and services
The field customer orders are downloaded on a regular basis to the surveyors computer and then “taken-up” to show that a surveyor is assigned to the order. As I would be spending the following day with Dom, he had selected a range of orders from the various categories, with the exception of the Prestige Sites as these are generally complex by nature. For example the redevelopment of the racecourse in Cheltenham took several full days to survey.
Our customer orders for the following day were: –
Land Registry – boundary survey between two private properties requested by HM Land Registry so that the deeds to the properties could be updated.
Total Revision – a new Sainsbury’s Local supermarket has recently been built and opened in Malvern. The store and surrounding area needs to be surveyed and added to the master map.
Land Registry – query over the precise location and boundaries of an electric sub station in Malvern.
Total Revision – several new housing estates and notifications of potential building works in the Malvern area. These would be initial visits to ascertain the stage of the building works, if any.
Derived Products – a selection of locations and services that we would check were still there as we were passing them.
I met Dom on the Tuesday morning and after a few admin tasks we set off for the first land registry job, as it relates to private property I won’t go into much detail, albeit to say that we met the land owners, surveyed the fence line and boundary identified in the request, along with several photographs from requested viewpoints.
With the land registry job complete, we headed off for the new Sainsbury’s Local in Buttercup Walk, Malvern.
I was surprised and delighted when Dom said that he would let me survey the store! As you can see from the photo above, the store is essentially a rectangular box, with a car park, several fences and landscaped areas.
With the wide open space this is an ideal area to use GPS, the Global Positioning System – a network of satellites in a precise orbit constantly transmitting signals to Earth. Essentially a GPS receiver compares the time a signal was transmitted by a satellite with the time it is received, it is this time difference between the signals that tells the GPS receiver how far away the satellite is. Once the receiver picks up more than three signals it can start to triangulate its position, the more satellites it picks up the more precise the location will be. The OS has a beginners guide to GPS if you would like more detail.
Most of us are probably familiar with GPS receivers and have used one in some form or another, with receivers in sat navs, smartphones, activity tracking devices and handheld navigation devices. These devices are generally accurate to within 5 to 10 metres 95% of the time. Whilst this level of accuracy is sufficient for consumer use, it is not precise enough for detailed mapping. Therefore, each OS Surveyor has a state of the art Leica GS15 GPS receiver, mounted on a 1.8 metre pole and connected to the surveyors laptop via bluetooth and to the cellular phone network.
With the equipment setup and connected Dom handed it over to me, I planted the GPS pole on the first corner of the car park, ensured it was level, waited for it to acquire the satellites (we managed to receive signals from 14 satellites), I watched the accuracy/quality of the signal improve to 0.01 (I believe that means an accuracy of 1cm!) and clicked on measure. A dot appeared at our location on the map, we moved on to the next corner, waited for the accuracy to be less than 0.10, click another dot, then a line appeared joining the dots, move to the next corner, click, another dot, and so on until we had the complete outline of the car park. Next came the curved kerbs of the entrance to the car park, selecting the curved line tool I measured several points around the kerbs. Next up was the fencing and footpaths around the site. With all the landscaping and ground work complete it was time to survey and plot the buildings location.
To get an accurate location with GPS the receiver needs a clear view of the sky, up until this point we were getting very accurate measurements, as we went closer to the walls of the building the accuracy dropped to an unacceptable level. Therefore to obtain the locations of each corner, we measured a point along the line of each wall, as close as possible with an acceptable accuracy level. When you have six of these measurements (two at each of three corners) you can join the survey points with lines (the same as plotting the kerb line of the car park), these lines will intersect at each of the four corners giving you the outline of the building. At this point we had a complete plan of the area made up of multiple polygons on the map.
The next stage is to attribute each of these polygons to define what it actually is, this does not need to be done on site. As it was approaching midday, we decided on an early working lunch somewhere in the warm.
With a steak and stilton baguette in hand and a warming mug of coffee, we fired up the laptop and started to attribute the polygons we had plotted. This is where detail is important, for example a path isn’t the same as a pavement (a pavement is on the side of the road, whereas a path goes through an open area), next is the surface sealed or unsealed? likewise a verge can only be used for the side of a public road and not the edge of a car park. The last attribute to assign is to set the Sainsbury’s building as a functional site (retail) and add the road number to it. The number on the building must be aligned to the road it is on. The image below shows the final result of our survey.
Having eaten and warmed up, with went off in search of the Old Hollow electrical sub station. The sub station is located up a small dirt track surrounded by tall trees, we attempted to get a GPS location, but as expected the accuracy was out by over three metres due to the trees. Without GPS it was back to the trusty tape measure, line of sight and measuring from other features already plotted on the map.
Next on our list were several sites that have been marked for new construction works. There were no signs of any work on any of these three sites. However, this isn’t unusual as planning permission can be granted but the developers do not necessarily start immediately. Although we did locate two new housing estates being built in Welland. It is important to keep on top of these sites, especially new housing estates as it is quicker and easier to survey a buildings foundation with accurate GPS signals before the walls are built.
Last on the list were several Derived Products, these are the familiar symbols across the map, we didn’t get the opportunity to check many of these as surveying the sub station took longer than expected. A viewpoint, such as the Worcestershire Beacon on top of the Malvern Hills, is extremely unlikely to change. However, items such as telephone boxes are being decommissioned and removed on a regular basis. Although most are removed they are also being re-roled for other purposes, such as housing defibrillators or in the case of one in Malvern, a library/book exchange. Therefore just driving past a telephone box isn’t enough to check that it is still in use.
Having finished the field surveying, we returned to Dom’s house to fill out the paperwork for the land registry surveys, upload our changes to the main OS servers in Southampton and submit the completed field customers orders and paperwork.
I’m now going to be checking the online OS Maps and iPhone OS Maps app daily looking for these changes to appear. I can now officially say “I’ve put Sainsbury’s on the map”
I can’t thank Dom and the Ordnance Survey enough for showing me a peek behind the scenes, there is so much more detail that I could have added but I wanted to keep it to an overview of the day. I hope that this post gives you an insight into the role of a OS Surveyor and that you found it as informative and enjoyable as I have researching it and writing it.
I am now wishing that I asked to do this for work experience back at school and a pursued a full time career as a Surveyor…
In the words of John Lennon “another year over and a new one just begun, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear… war is over.” That war may be over, but my war against heart disease is just beginning…
This year will be my fifth since my myocardial infarction (heart attack), the memories of that day are still so vivid that it seems like only yesterday, yet I have come so far in those five years.
So much so, that I am going to celebrate with a year of challenges, honouring my #GetOutside pledge to Ordnance Survey and raising funds for Pumping Marvellous (my chosen heart charity). Hopefully, inspiring others to get off the sofa and make a difference along the way.
My current challenges:-
All Year – 366 Day RunStreak, I’m running at least one mile everyday, I started this RunStreak on the 1st November, it’s day 64 with 118 miles of running.
I am excited, proud and amazed to be able to announce that I’ve been chosen as an Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion and have this fantastic opportunity to be able to inspire others to get outside and become fit and active.
A new day, endless possibilities…
… let’s make 2016 a year to remember by getting outside and active.