Would Your Students Spot Missing Countries On A World Map?

I always liked using an ‘upside down’ world map in the classroom – like this one available from www.hemamaps.com

Upsidedown Map Of The World--Optimized

It challenges pupils’ perceptions – while at the same time maintaining accuracy of a good world map.

However, I came across an interesting article on the BBC web site recently that described how people from New Zealand have become unhappy about being left off of many versions of the world map.

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Watch the video on the web site to see how if members of the public are able to spot the problem. How well do you think your students would fare?


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Sink Holes Around The World

I came across an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper recently – looking at some of the enormous sink holes that have opened up around the world:


The photos included here would make great mystery lesson starters, like this one from Guatamala City, where the rains from tropical storm Agatha combined with an erupting volcano and leakage from sewer pipes created a giant sink hole in the centre of the city in 2010:

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How Much Of The UK IS Built On?

The BBC published a fascinating web article last week that should be of interest to geographers. It was titled ‘How Much Of Your Area Is Built On?’, and allows you to find out exactly how the land is used in your local authority area. Access the web site here:


 The data has been synthesised from satellite images and detailed maps and identifies land that falls into four different categories – farmland, natural areas, built on areas and urban green areas. You can check how individual areas compare to data for the whole of the UK:

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The UK data shows that half of the land area is farmland (fields, orchards etc), just over a third might be termed natural or semi-natural (moors, heathland, natural grassland etc), a little under 6% is built on (roads, buildings, airports, quarries etc) and 2.5% is green urban (parks, gardens, golf courses, sports pitches etc).

 In addition, you can make comparisons between different parts of the UK. For instance, here is a comparison between my own rural area of north Devon and an urban area from the north west region:

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The local authorities with the highest proportion of farmland are the Isles of Scilly (96%) and Mid Suffolk (95%), while the council area with the greatest quantity of “natural” landscape is Highland (91%). The City of London has the highest amount of land that is built on (98%) and the local authority with the greatest proportion of green urban is Richmond upon Thames (58%).

 The web page introduced me to a new phrase – ‘continuous urban fabric’ (CUF), which describes one of the classifications that applies to areas where 80-100% of the land surface is built on. Up to a fifth might be gardens or small parks, but the vast majority is built on. The City of London is the local authority with the highest proportion of CUF in the country – 98%.

Before you begin to examine the data in any detail, you may want to test yourself by considering answers to the following questions about UK land use. Answers can be found in the blog link found on the web site

Q1) What percentage of the UK is considered ‘continuous urban fabric’?

Q2) What percentage of the UK is considered ‘discontinuous urban fabric’?

Q3) Which local authority has the greatest amount of land devoted to golf? How much?

Q4) How much of the Lake District is lakes?

Q5) What percentage of the UK is made up of peat bogs?

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Iceland in October – With Plenty of New Things To See




I had the pleasure of the company of staff and students from Northampton School for Boys, and throughout our week we were blessed with really pleasant autumn weather, as well as some great views of the Northern Lights.

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Ljosafoss HEP Station




The week’s programme covered some of the standard locations for a school trip in the south west, including: the Reykjanes peninsula; the south coast bonanza mix of waterfalls, volcanoes, glaciers and coastal scenery; the ‘Golden Circle’ of Geysir, Gulfoss, Thingvellir and Kerio; and a visit to Reykjavik. In addition, one day was organised around a theme of renewable energy, and included visits to Hellisheidi geothermal power station, Hveragerdi town, and Ljojafoss HEP station.

 I have visited Iceland on behalf of Rayburn Tours a number of times now, but each trip often manages to include something new for me. On this trip, I enjoyed my first view of a ‘new’ waterfall – Gluggafoss, or ‘Windows Falls’.






Upper tier of Gluggafoss

Gluggafoss (also called Merkjarfoss) is located around 10 miles past Hvollsvollur, on the way to Stora Dimon. It consists of 2 tiers, forming a total drop of 53 metres. Three natural arches (the ‘windows’) span the face of the waterfall, and up until 1947 the only part of the falls that was visible was between these arches. Following the Hekla eruption of 1947, over 20 cm of ash was deposited into the Merkja river above the falls, and as it washed down river it clogged up the tunnel where the waterfall was once hidden, forcing the water to by-pass the arches. It took the river around 50 years to erode this volcanic debris and return it to its present formation.



Hveragerdi Stone Museum

Another ‘first’ for me was a visit to the recently opened Stone Museum in Hveragerdi. Sited in an extension to the petrol station, this family-run venture proved a real hit with the students. It includes a really interesting and well-presented collection of Icelandic rock samples, and the young owner gives a really engaging 45 minute talk about the collection. A huge chunk of petrified tree trunk attracted a great deal of interest – and proved how Iceland was once upon a time densely forested.


Petrified Tree – Hveragerdi Stone Museum

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New Tales From Iceland Exhibition

On the last day of the trip, I had an opportunity to take a look at another new attraction – the ‘Tales From Iceland’ exhibition that opened in Reykjavik a couple of months ago. This is a walk-through video presentation next to the new Hlemmur Food Market, and only 5 minutes away from Hallgrimskirkja.

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14 Giant Video Screens!

It consists of 14 high quality large video screens playing short, punchy films about many different aspects of Iceland. I was impressed with the content and quality of the films, and feel it could be a useful part of an itinerary for groups staying in or visiting the city. It would be particularly appropriate at the beginning of a trip (or possibly at the end).

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Northern Lights on the edge of Selfoss

Any views of the Northern Lights provide special moments on a trip, but the two nights of excellent displays we enjoyed proved to be a real highlight of the week. Our first experience provided us with over an hour of dancing and rolling green light displays viewed in the dark sky on the edge of Selfoss town. On the next night, we only had to open the front door of our hostel to see the show repeated.

One striking feature of this trip was the many tourist-related developments that had taken place since my last visit back in June. Back in July, I wrote a lengthy blog about the growth of tourism in Iceland, and suggested that the country was approaching an important potential tipping point.


 One of the main problems Iceland has had to face is providing sufficient infrastructure to keep pace with the growing number of visitors, and in the space of only four months or so since my last visit, Iceland seems to have responded rapidly to the recent tourism boom


New Car Park at Seljalandfoss

At Seljalandfoss – a massively popular and easily accessible waterfall on the south coast route has now installed parking charges for the first time. Each coach arriving full of school parties or organised trip visitors is now handed a 3000 Krona ticket – the equivalent of around £20. Parking wardens were patrolling the area, and large new parking areas had been constructed to cope with the increased demand for parking spaces.

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New Proposals For Geysir

There were numerous changes to spot on the Golden Circle route. At Thingvellir, construction of the new visitor centre was well under way, while the new hotel at Geysir approaches completion. Large display boards at the entrance to the hot springs area advertise the future development plans for one of the country’s leading natural attractions.

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New Visitor Centre at Gulfoss Under Construction


At Gulfoss, the new steps connecting the upper and lower viewing platforms are now in use, and a large extension to the visitor centre has started to emerge from the basalt lava field. At Kerio, wooden walkways now pretty well surround the entire crater rim, while a new access path has appeared around the crater lake.



New Path Around Crater Lake at Kerio


New Store and Café at Vik

Further along the south coast at the tiny service centre village of Vik, the settlement seems to have doubled in size with new holiday homes and hotels under construction in every available space. A massive new Café and outdoor clothing store has also come into being right next to the existing factory shop.

 Reykjavik is offering a range of new features and attractions like the new food market at Hlemmur Square and the ‘Tales From Iceland’ exhibition mentioned earlier. The new luxury apartment development overlooking the old harbour is in full swing, while the new hotel next to the Harpa grows a little each time I visit.

 I have noticed so many changes since June, I can’t really comprehend what I might find when I return to Iceland for my next trip. I have read recently of possible plans for a train link from the ever-expanding airport at Keflavik to the capital, as well as a proposal for a brand new airport in south Iceland.

 Iceland is certainly moving quickly to add to its tourist infrastructure, but it is interesting to note that since I wrote the ‘tipping point’ article back in July, it has become apparent that the rate of tourism growth has begun to decline. Following a number of years that have seen growth rates of between 20 and 40%, it seems likely that in 2018 the rate of growth will drop to a much more manageable 8%, and in the future fall further to even below the historic average of around 5% growth. Pressures from visitor numbers seem likely to continue to be an issue in the south west of the country – where most of the people live, and where most of the tourists still visit – but as growth in the total number of visitors begins to even out and with more of the country opening up to tourism to ‘spread the load’, perhaps Iceland has a better chance of coping with the demands of improved services and infrastructure. However, as the landscape begins to change in response to the continual demands of tourism, will Iceland be able to preserve the wilderness and natural beauty that still makes this magical island such a special place?

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Chasing Geography Textbooks In A Camper Van

Camper VanLast month saw the arrival of a new addition to the family – a shiny new(ish) VW camper van. After many years of overseas travel – including a wide range of visits to all seven continents – it was always my intention that on retirement more time would be dedicated to exploring parts of the UK in greater detail. A variety of different locations already form a lengthy list of places to visit in the future, and as an underlying theme, I intend to search out a number of special places that I used as textbook case studies or examples to illustrate my lessons over a thirty five year teaching career.

The purchase of the van was always completed with the intention of getting on the road when the weather improves sometime next spring, but we couldn’t resist making a start over the autumn and winter. I had for a while been looking forward to visiting Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose Museum and HMS Victory, so decided to combine this with a visit to my first textbook location – Hurst Castle spit in Hampshire. When teaching about coastal geography and coastal processes, I often used Hurst Castle as an example of a shingle spit, and for many years I made reference to this textbook photograph:


 TextbookFor many, many years in my teaching career I was not able to enjoy the luxury of digital technology – simply because it had not yet been invented! Indeed, I remember fondly the first arrival of a video player in my school, and walking my whole class to a dedicated room at the far end of the building to enjoy this exciting new replacement for my old museum-service film reels. Textbooks made a much more important contribution to lessons in those days, and the image of Hurst Castle came from a textbook titled ‘Investigating Physical Geography’ by Neville Grenyer. Maybe the more mature geographers will still remember this publication?

7A852A43-9DAF-4CF0-A7F9-A5EE2F7C5AA8The spit here is actually a classic hook-shaped shingle bank formed from flint pebbles eroded from the cliffs to the west. It extends for a mile and a half from the town of Milford-On-Sea, and it’s end is only three quarters of a mile from the Isle of Wight. The spit has been declining in volume since the 1940s when coastal protection works in Christchurch Bay began to interrupt the flow of shingle along the coast. In 1989 the spit became so weak that it was in danger of being permanently breached, and a stabilisation scheme was put into place between 1996-7 which rebuilt the spit with dredged shingle, as well as adding revetment protection from Norwegian larvikite boulders at the end of the spit near to the castle.




Image created by Photo Mapo app

Hurst Castle itself is situated at the seaward end of the spit and is in a perfect location to defend the western approach to the Solent. It was originally built by Henry VIII as one of a chain of coastal fortresses and was completed in 1544. It is open to the public and managed by English Heritage.



Hurst Castle – Image created using PhotoLab app



Image created by Photo Mapo app


I still have a small library of textbooks that I used throughout my teaching, and I will spend the winter revisiting their pages to hopefully  rekindle some warm memories of work in the classroom, as well as planning some routes for the coming year to explore some of the key geography sites of the UK.

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Dark Skies Celebration On Exmoor


Exciting times ahead in my area this half term, as the Exmoor National Park ‘Dark Skies’ Festival is launched.

In 2011, a large part of Exmoor National Park (EPNA) became Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.  It is official world recognition that Exmoor’s night sky is among the darkest in the world.

A really full programme has been organised:

FRIDAY 20th OCTOBER: Festival Launch & Astronomy Talk (Winsford); Glow Stick Night Swim (Bossington); Guided Night Walk (Exford)

SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER: Children’s Event (Porlock); Dusk Safari (Exford); Astro Party (Wimbleball); Stargazing Walk (Exford); Guided Night Walk (Exford)

SUNDAY 22nd OCTOBER: Meteors Over Dunkery Walk (Dunkery Beacon); Dusk Safari (Exford); Film Show (Dulverton)

MONDAY 23rd OCTOBER: Planetarium (Lynton); Stargazing Adventure (Lynton); Guided Walk (Exford); Planetarium (Dulverton); Star Safari (Dulverton)


TUESDAY 24th OCTOBER: Night Navigation (Goat Hill); Dusk Safari (Barle Valley); Family Fright Night (Dunster Castle)

WEDNESDAY 25th OCTOBER: Big Adventure Day (Webbers Post); Stargazing Adventure (Webbers Post); Glow Stick Night Swim (Pinkery Pond)

THURSDAY 26th OCTOBER: Dusk Safari (Exford); Starry Night Farm Visit (Withypool); Family Fright Night (Dunster Castle); Children’s Night Ride (Minehead)

FRIDAY 27th OCTOBER: Stargazing Walk (Nutcombe);

SATURDAY 28th OCTOBER: Planetarium (Dunster); Journey Through Space (Bampton); Dusk Safari (Barle Valley); Star Gazing Supper (Exford)

Many of the events have been fully booked – and some are under threat due to the approaching winter storms.

Full programme: Dark-Skies-Festival-programme-web-version

Check details at: https://www.channeladventure.co.uk/exmoor-dark-skies-festival



















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Come On Aileen – First UK Storm Of The Season

The recent hurricane activity in the USA and the Caribbean has provided geography teachers with some really interesting materials to work with in their classrooms, but perhaps now it time to look at weather conditions a bit nearer to home.

Last week, the Met Office released their updated list of storm names for 2017–18 – and yesterday the first named storm of the season – ‘Aileen’ – was officially recognised.


 The full list of names for the coming season is as follows:


 The 2017-18 list starts this time with a female name, alternating in gender from ‘Angus’ who led the way last year. Research has suggested that greater awareness and prompter response actions result from personalising storms with people’s names. A storm is given official recognition when an amber or red warning is issued by the Met Office’s National Severe Weather Warning Service (see map above), and the names for this year have once again been compiled from suggestions submitted by the general public. As in previous years, letters Q,U, X, Y and Z have not been used to comply with international storm naming conventions

I wonder how far down the new list we will need to go in 2017-18? Last winter, we only worked our way through five named storms – from Angus to Ewan. In the previous year (2015-16), just eleven storms were named. This year we have 21 to get through – do the weather people know something that we don’t

There has been some speculation that Storm Aileen might be the result of the severe weather conditions in the Caribbean and the US – but this is not the case. Our storm system originated well to the north in the Atlantic Ocean, independent of the current Caribbean hurricanes.

Tropical storms have their own naming systems, and the 2017 list is covered on this excellent graphic from the ‘mapsoftheworld’ web site:


 Full article: https://www.mapsofworld.com/answers/disasters/how-are-hurricanes-named/


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