‘Pages of the Sea’ at Saunton


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After attending the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice service in my local church, I was pleased to be able to join hundreds of other people in the sunshine at Saunton Sands to celebrate this landmark event in a rather different way.

Saunton had been chosen as one of thirty two beaches in the United Kingdom to host a “Pages of the Sea” event, as organised by film-maker Danny Boyle. At each location, sand artists worked hard to produce giant images of selected individuals who had lost their lives in World War One. At Saunton, the soldier selected was Captain Ralph Cumine-Robson of the Royal Engineers. Robson was an old Etonian who was killed in action on December 23rd, 1914 near Neuve Chapelle in France. He was just 26 years old.

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Photograph: P Berry

A helicopter hovered overhead for a while to record the giant portrait before it disappeared. As the tide slowly creeped in, the giant image was gradually consumed – while the gathered crowd took a moment to say a collective goodbye. The ephemeral nature of the sand art cleverly represented the mortality of the lost soldier, as well of course, our own.


Photograph: Laura Farmer


Photo: P Berry

As the waves approached, the crowd was joined by groups of drummers who approached from different directions and met together at the image. As they paused for a moment, a poem written by Carol Duffy especially for the ‘Pages’ events was read aloud:






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During the event, visitors were invited to use stencils to etch out their own life-size images in the sand, forming long lines to represent soldiers lost in conflict.


Children were invited to paint their own ‘Remembrance Pebble’ to return to the beach:


Photo; Plymouth Herald

The afternoon event proved to be a great success – a unique addition to all the other celebrations held across the country.

At other beaches, images of other soldiers were constructed – before being lost to the incoming tide:

Photographs; Pages of the Sea


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Personalising a Visit to the War Graves of World War One

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Tyne Cot (Image: P Berry)

When I retired from teaching three years ago, I put together a modest ‘bucket list’ of events to attend and places to visit. That list included a trip to France and Belgium to pay my respects to the Commonwealth cemeteries commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the various battles of the First World War. With this year marking the centenary of the end of World War One, it seemed like the most appropriate time to make this pilgrimage.

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Arrras Memorial (Image P Berry)

With only limited time available, I concentrated on exploring the battlefields of the Somme and Passchendale, and the cemeteries and memorials in that same area. One lasting impression was the wonderful condition of the cemeteries – beautifully tended garden areas, and spotlessly white gravestones in unreal perfect alignments.

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Image: Thiepval Museum

The sheer scale of the loss of life in this part of the war is particularly difficult to comprehend. The huge numbers represented in the larger cemeteries are mind-blowing in their own right, but what is also remarkable is the number and variety of the memorials and cemeteries that seem to be found in almost every town and village.

In the short time I was there, I visited cemeteries dedicated to different countries, individual regiments, and even animals who perished in the different conflicts. The most impressive of the larger memorials included the Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, the Arras Memorial to the Missing, the Thiepval Memorial, and the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

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Tyne Cot (Image: P Berry)

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Arras (Image: P Berry)

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Thiepval (Image: P Berry)

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Vimy Ridge (Image: P Berry)

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Image: P Berry

The Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ypres in Belgium is the largest Commonwealth war burial cemetery in the world – greatly enlarged after the Armistice. There are 11,965 burials here, of which 8,369 are unnamed, and the stone wall surrounding the cemetery is known as the Memorial to the Missing. All UK troops missing in battles in the Ypres Salient are commemorated at the Tyne Cot Memorial and the Menin Gate Memorial. When the Menin Gate Memorial was completed, it was found not to be large enough to contain all the names of the missing as originally planned, so an arbitrary cut-off date of 15th August, 1917 was set – and the names of those troops missing after this were inscribed on the Tyne Cot Memorial. The names of 33,783 soldiers of UK forces are listed here, along with a further 1,176 New Zealanders. The cemetery gets its name from the Tyne Cot or Tyne Cottage, so called by troops from the Northumberland Fusiliers when describing a barn that stood on the road from Passchendaele to Broodseinde.

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Image: P Berry

The Arras Memorial to the Missing (France) commemorates nearly 35,000 soldiers from the UK, South Africa and New Zealand with no known grave. Most were killed in the Battle of Arras from April 9th to May 16th, 1917.


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Image: P Berry

The 45 metre high Thiepval Memorial (France), overlooks the Somme River, and commemorates more than 72,000 men from British and South African forces who died in the Somme before March 20th, 1918 and have no known grave. Most of them died in the Somme offensive of 1916. The monumental arch was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens, and nearby is an excellent new visitors’ centre containing a really well laid-out museum.

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Image: P Berry

The Vimy Ridge Memorial overlooks the Douai Plain in France, 10 km north of Arras. It is Canada’s largest overseas memorial, commemorating more than 11,000 soldiers killed during World War One and with no known grave. Most of them perished in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.





From the other cemeteries that caught my attention, the following stood out in particular:

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Images here are from the UEFA Christmas Truce Memorial, the Tank Corps Memorial, the Welsh National Memorial, the War Animals Memorial, the Langemark German Cemetery (and Blacksmith’s Peace Memorial), the Australian Cobbers Memorial, and the Canadian Caribou Memorial.

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Image: P Berry

The UEFA sponsored Christmas Truce Memorial is an iron sculpture consisting of  a football sitting on top of a shattered shell buried in the mud of a Flanders battlefield. It is surrounded by dozens of footballs left as tributes by visitors. It marks the 1914 Christmas Day when Allies and Germans laid down their arms for a kick-about in nomansland – which Germany won 3-2!

Tank Memorial Pozieres b

Image: P Berry


The granite obelisk of the Tank Corps Memorial at Pozieres was located here as it was near the location where tanks first went into action with the British Army as a new, surprise weapon in their conflict with the Germans. The boundary fence around the obelisk is made from 10 upright 6 pounder tank gun barrels with tank driving chains connecting them.



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Image: P Berry

The Welsh National Memorial Park at Langemark, north of Ypres, consists of an imposing red dragon statue standing on a stone plinth. It commemorates the service of men and women from Wales and also non-Welsh soldiers serving in Welsh Regiments who fought in the Great War.


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Image: P Berry

The War Animal Memorial at Pozieres pays tribute to the several million animals who lost their lives in the First World War, including horses, ponies, dogs and pigeons.



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Image: P Berry

The German War Cemetery at Langemark near Ypres contains the graves of more than 44,000 soldiers. The bronze sculpture of four mourning soldiers by Emil Krieger has an impressive impact, as has a room of oak panels listing names of hundreds of soldiers lost with no known graves.


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Image: P Berry

Next to the entrance to the German Cemetery is the impressive Peace Monument created by blacksmiths during a week long event held in Ypres. It stands 7 metres tall, and evokes a single giant poppy surrounded by a field of smaller handcrafted steel poppies at its base.



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Image: P Berry

The Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel on the Somme Battlefield has as its centerpiece the Caribou Memorial. This animal is the emblem of the Newfoundland regiment, and the statue stands on high ground located just behind the July 1916 Front Line, marking the place where the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland regiment began its advance on that fateful day. Bronze plaques at the base of the Memorial list 814 names of Newfoundlanders missing from World War One land and sea battles with no graves.

Cobbers Memorial Fromelles IV

Image: P Berry

The Australian Memorial Park contains the Cobber’s Sculpture, commemorating Australian troops killed during the nearby Battle of Fromelle on July 19th and 2oth, 1916. This was the first attack to have taken place by Australian Forces in the Great War. The sculpture itself is based on the story of 2nd Lieutenant Simon Fraser, known to be one of many Australian soldiers who bravely went out over 3 days and nights into the battlefield to rescue wounded comrades.

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Island of Ireland Peace Tower (Image: P Berry)

As my wife hails from Belfast, she was particularly interested in visiting the Island of Ireland Peace Tower and the Ulster Tower. The Peace Tower is sited in Messines near Ypres (Belgium), and is a memorial to the soldiers of Ireland of all political and religious beliefs who died or were wounded or missing in the Great War.

The Ulster Tower is found just north east of Thiepval, and is also known as Helen’s Tower as it is a copy of a tower of the same name in County Down, Northern Ireland. It is a memorial dedicated to the men of the 36th Ulster Division, and is sited very close to the Schwaben Redoubt which this division attacked on July 1st, 1916. A memorial plaque in the surrounding gardens commemorates the nine Victoria Crosses won by soldiers of the 36th Division in World War One.

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Helen’s tower (Image: P Berry)

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Trenches at the Passchendaele Museum (Image: P Berry)

The Passchendale Museum at Zonnebeke left a lasting impression. Commemorating the Battle of Passchendaele (the 3rd Battle of Ypres) where over 100 days, almost half a million soldiers were killed for just 8 kilometres gain of ground. The museum is an excellent modern interpretation centre, and includes a recreation of an area of trenches and underground dug-outs.


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Menin Gate (Image: P Berry)





One other highlight of the trip was visiting the Menin Gate in Ypres. After a brief stroll around the town to get a taste of the interesting history and architecture to be found, it was time to go to the Memorial to the Missing at the Gate itself. Here, are recorded the names of over 54,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient before 16th August, 1917 and whose graves are unknown. Ypres occupied an important strategic position during World War One, as it stood on the path of the German’s sweep across Belgium called for in the Schlieffen Plan – and the taking of the channel ports in order to disrupt supply lines. Five major battles were fought around the town. The Menin Gate is sited at the eastern exit from the town and marks the starting point of one of the main routes to the Front Line. At 8.00 pm every evening, a short but emotional ceremony is held to remember the missing, and includes a bugle playing the Last Post. This ceremony has been carried out virtually without interruption since 1928.

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Menin Gate (Image: P Berry)

However, if I were pressed to single out one location in the trip that will feature strongest in my memory, it would have to be the Ring of Remembrance that stands in the grounds of the Notre Dame de Lorette International Memorial near Arras. Inaugurated on November 11th, 2014 – it has been created as a vast ellipse of steel plaques containing the names of 579,606 soldiers who fell during World War One in Nord-Pas de Calais. The list of names makes no distinction of nationality, gender, rank or religion. On the steel plaques, I managed to find the name of a relation of mine – Frank Berry – who fell at the Battle of Bourlon Wood, a little further to the south of the area I was exploring.

Ring of Remembrance Notre Dame De Lorette a


South Molton War Memorial

To make some sense of the crazy numbers of war dead, I tried to personalise my experience by making some connections to individuals who lost their lives on the battlefields.

In my home town of South Molton in Devon, we have a modest memorial to 46 soldiers who died in the First World War. By using the excellent Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site, I was able to locate seven of these who were commemorated on memorials I was planning to visit. At Thiepval, I found the record for Private William Burnett, Private Harry Sampson, and Private Ronald Warner. At the Menin Gate, I found a record of Corporal Thomas Willmetts, and at the Passchendaele New British Cemetery there is record of Able Seaman John Bowden. Also found at Tyne Cot was record of Private Charles Taylor, and at Arras, record of Acting Corporal John Bater. Many of them were from the Devonshire regiment, but it surprised me to find how many had, for different reasons, signed up with Regiments based in other parts of Britain. The average age of death was also quite shocking.

The images above show on the left, Private W H Sampson commemorated at Thiepval, and on the right, Private Charles Taylor’s record on the Tyne Cot Memorial – both from my home town of South Molton (Image: P Berry)


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Tyne Cot (Image: P Berry)

While at Tyne Cot, I was also able to search for the record of the Great Grandfather of friend and fellow geographer Alan Parkinson (aka @GeoBlogs). Alan wrote about Private (Godfrey) Harrison Parkinson in one of his blogs, outlining how he served in the Hampshire regiment, and died at Passchendaele just two weeks before the Canadian troops finally took the village and the offensive came to an end. He was awarded the Military Medal for his sacrifice.





In my pre-trip research, I also came across a number of particular individuals that helped to focus the scale of the killing into something that was easier to understand. For instance, at the Essex Farm Cemetery near Ypres, there are over 1,100 burials – including a grave dedicated to Valentine Joe Strudwick, who was one of the youngest fatalities in the British Army during World War One. He served in the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, and died on January 14th, 1916 at the age of just fifteen.

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Grave of Valentine Strudwick, Essex Farm Cemetery (Image: P Berry)

Also in the Essex Farm Cemetery is a monument commemorating the famous poem ‘In Flanders Field’ written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Medical Corps in May of 1915:


thumbnailI was so pleased to be able to find record of Frank Berry at the Ring of Remembrance, and also happy to have visited the Welsh Memorial – as he actually enlisted with the 17th Battalion Welsh Regiment, despite coming from north Devon. He is not registered on the South Molton War Memorial, but listed on a memorial plaque in Knowstone church – a village close to my home town, and where he was brought up before the war. Frank Berry died on 25th November, 1917 – the 3rd day of the Battle of Bourlon Wood, aged just 25 years old. He joined the 17th Battalion – which was also known as the 1st Glamorgan Bantams – as it was able to take soldiers that were too short to be taken by their local regiment. He is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial at Louveral.

I always think it is nice when visiting a place, to leave a good reason for possibly returning one day, and so I am already planning a return visit to explore the Bourlon Wood Battlefield and try to find out more about Frank, and the circumstances surrounding his contribution to the war effort.


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Back To Iceland Again


Taking to the waters at the snout of the Solheimajokull glacier.  Photo: P Berry

For many people, October is a month of falling leaves and Halloween- but for me it also marks the start of a new season of visits to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor on behalf of Rayburn Tours.

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Road to Thingvellir. Photo: P Berry

This year, Iceland experienced its wettest summer for twenty five years, and October weather is typically unpredictable. On the first full day of my trip escorting Paulet High School, we started out from our hostel at the foot of the famous Eyjafjallajokull volcano in full sunshine. However, by the time we were on our way to the Thingvellir National Park in the afternoon, slushy snow was beginning to fall.


The snowfall was sufficiently disruptive for the main routes in and out of Reykjavik to be closed for four hours – the first road closure of the season. Iceland is so well set up to manage winter travel conditions that a fleet of snow ploughs soon cleared the roads to make them safe for travel. The authorities were perhaps a little over-cautious when closing the road so early in the season, but as vehicles had yet to switch to studded winter tyres, and with so many inexperienced tourist drivers in low-spec hire cars on the roads, the potential for accidents must have deemed to be too great.

People often ask me if I ever get fed up with frequent re-visits to the same locations. Well, honestly -how could anyone ever get bored with sights like this?

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Gulfoss. Photo: P Berry

I really enjoy watching how some of the landmarks change with the seasons. An ever-changing colour palette and the different atmospheres created by a wide range of weather conditions paint a different portrait at each place each time I visit.

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Dyrholeay from Reynishverfi Beach. Photo: P Berry

I have also been curious over the years to monitor Iceland’s response to the exponential growth of tourist numbers. Between 2010 and 2015, visitor numbers rose by 264%, and in 2017, the total number of tourists rose to over 2 million for the first time.

I have seen a range of new tourist facilities gradually evolve at a number of the most popular sites, as the country strives to develop an infrastructure that is capable of catering for the growing number of visitors. The threat of ‘Disneyfication’ in a land packed with wild natural attractions is very real, and in some places the balance between the provision of services and spoiling the very beauty that people have come to see is very tricky to reconcile.

DSCN2858I wonder what the future holds for Geysir -one of Iceland’s most popular attractions on the classic ‘Golden Circle’ route? Plans for a brand-new network of boardwalks are now close to reality, while plans for a brand new tourist village potentially threaten the integrity of the location.


Meanwhile, the new upmarket hotel next to the coach Park (the ‘New Geysir Hotel’) is scheduled to be fully open early next year. I have watched this building grow from empty site to steel skeleton to its present day tasteful frontage, and cannot fail to be impressed by the end result.

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New hotel at Geysir. Photo: P Berry

There has been talk of a recent slowing-down of visitor numbers, and a suggestion that maximum numbers, or ‘Peak Puffin’, has now been reached. Maybe this will ease the pressure on the need for new facilities and services, and allow Iceland’s infrastructure to develop at its own pace to meet the needs of the tourist industry.

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The new ‘Lava Show’ – Vik. Photo: P Berry


Each new trip seems to unearth a fresh visitor attraction on the island. This time, it was the new ‘Lava Show’ that has opened in Vik. This attraction claims to be the only show in the world where you can feel the heat from actual flowing lava in a safe environment.


This is how it is advertised:

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Image: Lava Show

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‘Lava Show’ theatre – Vik. Photo: P Berry

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Hot, running lava – made before your eyes. Photo: P Berry

Check out more information at:  https://www.icelandiclavashow.com/

I look forward to taking a group of students here in the near future to enjoy this original and exciting exhibit.

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So, bring on the next trip – more sights of Iceland to enjoy, both old and new.

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Exmoor Dark Skies Festival


We are getting close now to this year’s Dark Skies Festival on Exmoor, which runs from Saturday 20th October to Sunday 4th November. There are 40 events taking place at different venues across Exmoor, ranging from stargazing talks to night time adventures.


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Programme at a glance:

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Full programme downloadable here:


If anyone wants to join in with the planned events, I highly recommend they book early – as last year, the majority of events were oversubscribed.

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Human Development Index Update

ScreenHunter_10 Sep. 27 22.08The latest human development index data has been recently released by the Human Development Report Office, and geography teachers would be wise to consult this to freshen up the figures they use in their classrooms. The report on the new data gives a clear overview of the state of development across the world, and looks in detail at development indicators across multiple dimensions for every nation.

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The report lists six key findings from the 2018 analysis:
1) The world has made impressive progress in human development
2) Quality, not quantity of human development, is important, and it reveals large deficits
3) Progress is not linear or guaranteed
4) Disparities between and within countries continue to stifle progress
5) Gender gaps in early years are closing, but inequalities persist in adulthood
6) Environmental degradation puts human development gains at risk

The full report including the new data can be downloaded from the following web site:


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Update to Population Web Links


Back in April of this year I wrote the first in a series of blogs drawing together useful web sites for the geography classroom. The link is below:


I began with the theme of population’, and since then have discovered a couple of new sites to add to my list.

First is the ‘World Population Project’ by the World Data Lab, which can be found at:


This site has a current world population clock ticking over as the top banner, with new additions saying hello in their own specific languages.

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The main part of the site asks the question “What’s my place in the world population?’ and “How long will I live?” and after you have entered your date of birth, gender and country of birth, the site produces an interesting graphic placing you in a wider context. By altering the entry details, it is possible to study the position of different age groups and genders from other parts of the world.

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The second site contains an excellent opportunity to download a map of the world where sizes of countries are determined by population:


It is interesting to compare this cartogram with a standard geographical map we are more familiar with. Small countries with a high population density increase in size in this cartogram relative to the traditional view, and this is clearly demonstrated by focussing on places like Bangladesh, Taiwan or the Netherlands. Consequently, large countries with a small population shrink in size, such as Canada, Australia and Russia.


I have left this idea of an index of web sites dormant for a few months, but intend to return to it soon. Look out for the second compilation which will cover web sites for the theme of ‘Weather and Climate”. Ultimately, I would like to put them all together into an e-book for teachers to use. All new suggestions gratefully accepted!

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Life Size Cut-Outs for the Classroom



Life-size cardboard cut-out – http://www.partyrama.co.uk

When I was teaching, I always loved to make use of ‘little assistants’ in my classroom. These ranged from giant inflatable toys to glove puppets like Agnes the Pig who used to run the lessons on Friday afternoons. I explained how these were used in my lessons in a ‘Teachmeet’ presentation at the GA Conference back in 2015, and this is outlined in the following blog entry:


While browsing the web recently, I came across these web sites selling life-size cardboard cut-out figures. I know if I was still working, I would not be able to resist adding a few of these to my gang of classroom ‘helpers’.

These are the sites I explored:



After searching through what was available on the sites, these would probably have been my first choices:












IMG_4469There are also lots of inspirational role model female characters to choose from. How about a life-size figure of Jodi Whittaker, the new Dr Who to watch over your lessons?




IMG_4464There is plenty on offer for other subject areas as well. English Departments might want to explore Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings characters, while PE teachers might want to invest in some inspirational sport heroes and heroines. I also thought the soldiers from different World Wars would help focus student attention in the History classroom.


I particularly liked some of the figures that included cut-out face spaces for students to use. Photographs of ‘Geographer of the Week’ or competition winners would be a useful motivational tool:




I would probably also be tempted by some of the face masks available on the sites, such as:


On the ‘partyrama’ web site I found some large foil ‘star’ stickers that could be customised. I thought this would make a super-cool ‘’Walk of Fame’ in the classroom or corridor like the one in Hollywood – only this time for famous geographers or ‘star’ students:


Getting carried away now, but how about using the customise service? If only I’d known, I could have had a personal life-size cut-out made up to leave in my classroom for posterity when I retired. Maybe not then, but I do think I might have explored the possibility of creating some ‘famous geographers’ cut-outs. How cool would it be to have a corridor and classroom containing life size figures of Francis Drake, Captain James Cook, Ptolemy, and the like?

I know not everyone would be comfortable with my teaching style, but maybe there is something here for you? If you had a free gift voucher to buy just one cut-out – which one would it be and why?

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