O Level Geography for walkers

Walking, Yorkshire

This time 54 years ago – more or less – I was sitting my O Level in Geography. Among other things, we studied the economic geography of England, interpreting Ordnance Survey maps, and a little elementary geology.

The Pennine Way near Gargrave.

Our walk the other day would have made an excellent field trip.  We were over in West Yorkshire, and our route from Gargrave took in sections of the Pennine Way, and quite a stretch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

A section of an OS map showing the area round Gargrave (from the BBC website).

Map-reading wasn’t our problem, because John and Pat were competently leading us onwards.  The hills weren’t a problem, because the slopes were relatively gentle.  They were the drumlins which are a feature of the area.

We’re walking over drumlins. The Pennines are over there in the distance.

O Level question: What are drumlins?  Drumlins are elongated hills of glacial deposits. They can be 1 km long and 500 metres wide, often occurring in groups. They would have been part of the debris that was carried along and then accumulated under an ancient glacier. The long axis of the drumlin indicates the direction in which the glacier was moving. The drumlin would have been deposited when the glacier became overloaded with sediment.

Here are drumlins. Drumlins as farmland.

We walked through fields of cows, fields of sheep, and through woodland, emerging at lunchtime on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

O Level question: What is the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and why was it built?  The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a canal in Northern England, linking the cities of Leeds and Liverpool. Over a distance of 127 miles, it crosses the Pennines, and includes 91 locks on the main line.  It was built from 1770, and allowed  textiles to be sent from the woollen towns of Yorkshire for export from Liverpool.  Liverpool also required coal to fuel its manufacturing and shipping industries.

Our first view of the Leeds and Liverpool canal at East Marton.

What an industrial thoroughfare it was then.  Busy, dirty barges and narrow boats piled with goods moved between Yorkshire and Lancashire, where now there are only bucolic scenes and holidaymakers enjoying tranquil holidays slowly wending their way along the canal.

We watched as boats rose or descended through one, two, three, four, five, six locks to reach a different level of the canal.  We marvelled at a section of our route along the canal towpath.  We, and the canal itself, were travelling along a viaduct, and far below us were fields and a river.  I couldn’t organise photographic proof. Soon after, we were back in Gargrave.

So there we have it.  If only I’d done that walk when I was 16.  I would hardly have had to do any geography revision at all.

The canal towpath. No longer a scene of industry and commerce.

36 thoughts on “O Level Geography for walkers

  1. Fascinating walk and post. When I took my son to football match supporting his beloved Oxford United across the North of England I gave him geography lessons as we went with some history throw in, from Stockport, to Nottingham, to Mansfied and up as far as Darlington. Getting children out and about and seeing for themselves really brings everything to life.

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  2. What a joy (fantasy) for today’s Geography exam markers to read your responses! I was totally bored at school by most subjects especially History and Geography. I think we had one field trip to the limestone pavements somewhere. My schoolgirl brain was just in a thick non-academic fog most of the time. Odd really! Thanks for reminding me that I now really love Geography!

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    1. History and Geography, along with English, were my favourite subjects. Maths lessons presented the opportunity to catch up with the gossip or read a book hidden under the desk.

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  3. Thanks for the beautifully presented geography/history lesson – so it didn’t seem like a “lesson” at all. I think many us were schooled in such a way that lessons were seldom enjoyable – unlike your lovely multi-dimensional post with gorgeous photos.

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      1. Teachers definitely do make all the difference, and great that you were lucky. That luck shines through in your lovely post. I dropped Geography after my first year of high school partly because the geography teacher hit my hands with a cane because I wrote the wrong Monsoon wind on a map! (Not forgotten!) And the style of teaching History in those days was to present model answer essays to learn more or less “off by heart”. Oh dear. Can’t say I survived unscathed, but I survived. Thank goodness for the English teacher and the library though for preserving a modicum of my sanity (as well as my dad who, as an academic with an anti-establishment streak, supported my loathing of school and most teachers).

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  4. Oh Margaret, all the stuff I’m learning by following your blog…. it’s wonderful and I’m deeply thankful to have found you a little while ago on Susan’s blog!!!! I’m def not a walker but I’m totally in love with all things water and nature in general, so count me in to await you at the end of your trips in a cozy pub 🙂 Thank you for creating such joy in me!

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    1. Sometimes, the pub or tea-shop-with-naughty-cakes is the best bit. Thank you! No walking today, definitely. It’s chucking it down.


      1. Oh I’m so sorry, I did the same with my first year uni exam, actually walked out because my brain felt like it would explode if I didn’t, and it was my best and favourite subject too that I knew I would get high marks in. I was able to do the resit but, not a nice feeling, so well done for sticking it out and passing 👏🏻

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  5. Love that picture of the drumlins … you do live in a beautiful county. I once did a canal boat trip on the Leeds to Liverpool … the (ex-)men got macho about the lock keys, it snowed (at Easter) and I caught tonsillitis. Very interesting stretch of canal though.

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  6. I love this post! I was always happiest when studying maps and geology but I got so bored with economics! Imports and exports – Yuk! Wonderful photos, especially those drumlins!

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    1. I agree. I love maps and geology too. And what economic geography from the day that I can remember is woefully outdated. The coalfields of England? Perhaps not.

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  7. This is how education should be done–let it be real and let it make sense, via the senses! Walk it, see it, smell it! It’s beautiful countryside–I like the gentle drumlins and I’ve always been fascinated by locks, since I saw Erie Canal locks as a youngster.

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  8. interesting post… it’s relatively flat where I live, but there are rolling hills Up North by the lake we frequent in the summer… we’re a bit further south latitude from where you are but the glacier’s edge reached us and smoothed the land depositing rich fertile soil. I passed an early cemetery in my travels this past week and thought of you… the cemetery dated to 1845 when our area was settled… your area bustling with activity at that time. By the way, that geography class would have been fun to sit through and I agree there is nothing more interesting than getting out and experiencing geography.

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  9. Drumlins! I knew nothing of drumlins until reading your post. But then, I’m Canadian and I don’t believe such geography exists in our country. ??

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