Richard's diary

Recent diary entries

Burton-on-Trent complete

Posted by Richard on 29 September 2009 in English (English)

Hoorah for small down-at-heel Midlands towns, for every street in Burton-on-Trent should now be mapped.

Bob Coates has done large chunks east of the Trent (Winshill etc.); Paul Sladen made a whirlwind visit by narrowboat and coloured in the town centre and thereabouts very attractively; and I've done a whole bunch of very exciting housing estates west of the Trent, plus a load of other stuff. There's probably the odd bit missing but nothing particularly significant that I can spot.

Doubtless there's lots of landuse one could add, service drives into industrial premises, POIs (well, "interest" might be stretching it - this is Burton after all) and even postboxes for those who like that sort of thing. I'm not particularly struck on making a huge effort to do that in the absence of aerial imagery, but will probably colour in a few bits now and then - principally residential and industrial areas, I guess - in a kind of slow, incremental way.

Location: Shobnall, East Staffordshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom

Well, really

Posted by Richard on 24 September 2009 in English (English)

Vote for the Data Liberation Front to tackle aerial imagery

Posted by Richard on 11 September 2009 in English (English)

Google has a really enlightened guy called the Data Liberation Front. His role is to make it easy for people to get their data out of Google - rather than it being locked in.

Usually, people are locked in by the lack of an export feature, or an obscure file format. In mapping, people are locked in by licences.

In Google Maps' case, you can create your own work by tracing over aerial imagery. But you can't use this work elsewhere, because of the licences and terms of use. (The phrase "derived work" usually crops up around now.)

Google could fix this by saying that tracing from their imagery is ok - just like Yahoo have done. On my blog, I looked into the legalities of this and concluded there's nothing in law stopping them from doing so. It's entirely their decision.

So - please vote for the Data Liberation Front to fix this! Click here, sign in with a Google Account, and tick the box. And tell your friends.

National Cycle Network map for Garmin GPS

Posted by Richard on 5 July 2009 in English (English)

I've been playing with mkgmap over the last week, with the aim of creating a Garmin map of the National Cycle Network from OSM data. It's effectively a new version of the one I did the other year, but with better styling (via a .TYP file), contours, and so on.

NCN mapping on OSM is coming on in leaps and bounds this year, not least due to Gregory Williams' Three Corners Cycle Ride. So I figured this was a great opportunity to make it available for GPS, and so tackle the familiar "now which way do I go here...?" problem. The screenshot above would have helped Gregory find his way out of Gloucester. :)

You can now download a prerelease version (UK-only, 240Mb file):

The installation procedure is the same as any such map: connect your Garmin via USB, go into Mass Storage Mode (Setup->Interface), open the Garmin folder (creating one at the top level if there's not one already) and copy gmapsupp.img in.

I'd very much like to hear comments on what could be improved, in particular with the styling, and the choice of what's rendered at each zoom level. I've not as yet paid a lot of attention to POIs and would particularly welcome suggestions and comments on that. (I think I might remove the bus-stops before NAPTAN drowns us all.)

Routing is enabled but does not consistently choose the quiet routes I'd like it to. If anyone knows how to make it suck less, let me know; t�he eTrex's routing algorithm is famously impenetrable. Caveat emptor. Source will be available when I get round to uploading it to svn.

Regional and Local routes are both rendered in the same blue. I'm anticipating the abolition of Regional Routes in favour of three-digit National Routes. ;) The National Byway is shown in brown (let joy be unconfined).

Many thanks to Andy Gates for his Garmin cycling map, which has been a great inspiration and especially helpful in figuring out what goes where; and also for having the generosity to release the source. Several of the icons and some colouring are taken from his work. Thanks to the Scottish Mountaineering Club for the contour files. Thanks to Andy Allan whose fault all this open cycle mapping is, and yes, you're right, taking a photo of an eTrex screen is a PITA. And thanks, of course, to Steve Radcliffe and the mkgmap community for a superb, ever-improving program - for example, shield support has just been added, which really lifts the appearance of the map - and for being consistently helpful.

Update: The source is now in svn here, and full instructions are on the wiki.

Lousy street names of the week

Posted by Richard on 17 June 2009 in English (English)

Cycling round yet another Burton housing estate last night, I was amused to find a cul-de-sac called Deferrers Croft. It's clearly meant to be named after De Ferrers, some local hero or other. Unfortunately the lack of a space on the street sign makes it look like a street dedicated to procrastinators.

This was topped, however, by the next cul-de-sac along: Telmah Close. Hamlet backwards. Ugh, just ugh.

Location: Stretton, East Staffordshire, Staffordshire, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom

xybot - just stop it

Posted by Richard on 7 May 2009 in English (English)

Unfortunately xybot isn't sentient, because otherwise, in the words of General Dreedle, we could take him out and shoot him.

xybot has not announced his presence on talk-gb, yet 'he' has taken it on himself, without consultation, to change "denomination=Church of England" to "denomination=church_of_england" here (and doubtless elsewhere). This similarly. Nor has he announced himself on talk-ie, yet this.

And what, pray, is this all about? User xybot, but created_by=Potlatch 0.11b? The bot knows how to work Potlatch? Blimey.

It is so, so tempting to write a xyrevertbot. If you see an automated user called General Dreedle you'll know I've succumbed.

Lon Las Cymru complete

Posted by Richard on 2 May 2009 in English (English)

National Cycle Network route 8, aka Lon Las Cymru, is now completely mapped on OSM.

This was the first long-distance NCN ride I ever did, from Cardiff to Holyhead. But at the time I only had a little 1500-point yellow eTrex, which would have run out of puff after about a day... so I didn't get a track. One of my main reasons for rectifying the New Popular Edition properly was so I could use it in Potlatch to trace this route from memory!

Since then, I've cycled a few bits again (notably the Taff Trail), benefited from others' GPS tracks on the same route, and walked/driven a few bits when in the vicinity, too. The other weekend, when in North Wales, I took the chance to walk the one remaining lacuna, the housing-estate route through Llanfairpwyngwyngylletc.

NCN 8 isn't just one route, though: it has "braids", or alternative routes. One is for the section from Machynlleth to Dolgellau, the other from Dolgellau to Porthmadog. When I first cycled it, I'd followed the mostly on-road routes (it was the first outing for my Ridgeback and I wasn't too confident about its off-road capabilities), via Corris and Harlech respectively. But the other week, Anna and I decided to tackle the other braids.

Holy cow they're good - but tough. Machynlleth to Dolgellau follows some lovely winding minor roads for a while, then takes the "Black Road" over the hill to the Mawddach estuary. This is exactly as foreboding as it sounds. It's a long, steep slog up to the top, where the tarmac gives out. From there it's a very exhilarating but rough descent, which was some serious stress on the brake blocks. Fortunately there's an outstanding bike shop in Dolgellau (not the posh-looking one, but the one in an old garage) which reinstated my stopping power and, better still, unbent my back wheel.

From Dolgellau, after another minor road interlude, NCN 8 goes into the mountain bike heartland of Coed-y-Brenin. For a long while it's forest tracks with MTB routes on them, all very pleasant and quite innocuous - there's even a cafe-cum-bike shop. Ok so far.

Then you start to leave the mountain bikers behind, and the track gets steeper, and rougher... and rougher. And eventually becomes what is technically known as "rough as fuck". Until then there'd only been two places on the NCN where I'd had to dismount, due to steepness (Aberllefenni on the other NCN 8 braid, and the hill out of Princes Risborough on NCN 57), but this one was definitely dismount-due-to-complete-lack-of-surface. As you can imagine we were starting to think "is this the right way?".

Turns out this is Sarn Helen, an allegedly Roman road allegedly running the length of Wales (no-one seems quite sure), and clearly no maintenance has been done on it since Roman times. Actually, though, it was great. After a bit of pushing and a picnic at the top (remind me never to buy a Spar sandwich again, they're even rougher than the track was), we got back on the saddle and really started to enjoy it. (That's the diary entry position, if you want to take a look.) The surface really picked up for the descent, happily, and it was a cracking ride down onto a little minor road to Trawsfynydd - which is a surprisingly attractive village, despite the presence of knackered old Soviet-style nuclear power station.

And we were going the right way, too. The signs at both ends confirmed it. So I've mapped what the signs say - and not the other route, which is shown on pretty much every NCN map I've seen (including the Sustrans website), but which definitely isn't where you're signposted. I note that the official Lon Las Cymru map has just, this week, been republished so it'll be interesting to see what that shows.

�So it's all on there. But I haven't bothered putting most of these braids in a relation, because it turns out that, in due course, they're going to be renumbered NCN 82 as part of Sustrans' plan to remove duplicate braids on the NCN. (Quite a sensible renumbering, as it'll eventually make NCN 82 a really stunning long-distance route up the west of Wales, from Pembrokeshire to Bangor.)

Location: Sarn Helen, Bronaber, Gwynedd, Wales, LL41 4UY, United Kingdom

Hoorah for the mystery cyclist

Posted by Richard on 19 February 2009 in English (English)

Cyclists love OSM (and OSM loves cyclists).

An anonymous happy cyclist has uploaded their tracks of National Cycle Route 8, Lon Las Cymru - the Welsh national route from Cardiff to Holyhead. I cycled this a few years back, but without GPS (I only had a yellow eTrex at the time, and the memory would have filled up too quickly), so had mapped what I could remember from NPE - in fact, wanting to do this was the initial reason I added NPE to Potlatch. Over time I've been refining it whenever I've revisited an area (Brecon last weekend, Cardiff a month or two ago) but there were still some gaps.

The mystery cyclist's GPS track has meant that it's now almost entirely complete. Only a small bit in Llanfairpwyngwyngyll (etc.) remains to be done, plus two alternative braids which we might cycle this Easter.

Thank you mystery cyclist, whoever you are.


Posted by Richard on 7 February 2009 in English (English)

We went to see the ducks, and flamingoes, and ducks, and long-tailed tits, and ducks, at Slimbridge, where there are some ducks, last weekend. It seemed a shame not to have the GPS switched on while walking around, really. So I've made a start at mapping the place.

All the twitchers were very excited about some big white lump of a bird that was sitting on a hillock. It looked a bit pissed off to me. Maybe it was the Venezuelan grumbling bird.

Slimbridge does have a rather splendid observation tower that permits the mapper to photograph the near vicinity. Consequently the bit near the tower is better mapped than the rest...

Anyone feel like rendering leisure=bird_hide?

Location: Slimbridge, Stroud, Gloucestershire, South West England, England, United Kingdom

NCN 4 complete

Posted by Richard on 7 January 2009 in English (English)

Last weekend Anna and I finished cycling (in stages) from London to Fishguard on National Cycle Route 4.

The two bits we'd not covered were Swansea-Carmarthen, and Pontypridd to Newport. Very different from each other: Swansea-Carmarthen was almost entirely flat and traffic-free until the final miles, with 21km of glorious, wide 'Millennium Coastal Park', a peaceful railway path, and some judicious connections including a landmark new bridge.

Pontypridd-Newport was a more typical NCN mix. A railway path was followed by a bit of ducking and diving around housing estates to end up at Caerphilly Castle; a bit more housing estate led to some lovely new winding riverside paths, a railway line on the side of a valley (excellent views), and finally a typical NCN selection of country lanes. Oh, and a really annoying gap in the route at Newport, which we didn't know about until having tried (and failed) for about 1hr30 to find where the route had gone.

So NCN 4 is now pretty much complete on OSM - the first long-distance route to be so. Newport is obviously a lacuna; there's a 100-metre or so gap in Carmarthen, too, where the route seems a little imperfect awaiting a new section for Connect2; and there's a short gap in Pontypridd, too. On bits that others have mapped, a couple of streets are missing near Greenwich, and there's a tiny break in North Bristol. But none of these are more than very short gaps. More useful is that several 'braids' of NCN 4 are fully mapped, offering attractive alternative routes: the most significant is the North Wiltshire Rivers Route, a mostly traffic-free detour with some superb cycling along the Ridgeway.

So you can now use OSM as your free guide to cycling all the way from London to West Wales. Enjoy!

(And I took the opportunity to map the missing section of NCN 8, Lon Las Cymru, into Cardiff. Both this and the Pennine Cycleway, NCN 68, are also approaching OSM completeness.)

Location: Bryncenydd, Caerphilly, Wales, CF83, United Kingdom

Plotting a route (from relations) on an OSM map

Posted by Richard on 14 December 2008 in English (English)

We have lots and lots of lovely relations in the OSM database these days (as well as some fairly nasty ones) but they're not always shown on the map of your choice.

So I've just knocked up a very little bit of code to take a route relation, and plot it on a map using OpenLayers. Code here, example here.

Even better than the real thing

Posted by Richard on 23 November 2008 in English (English)

Yesterday we were in Melton Mowbray, and we thought we'd drive back via the Wreake Valley, partly because it's lovely, partly because I used to live in Rearsby and haven't seen the place in years.

I was slightly surprised to find that the road along the west side of the valley has been designated, and fully signed, as NCN 48 (the promising-sounding Fosse2 project) - so our old house now has an NCN route past it. (The next place we lived is about half a mile from NCN 63; then the next is about a mile from the National Byway; and our boat is moored a few hundred yards from NCN 54, too. Just need to get that route through Charlbury...)

I was even more surprised to return home, check on the (usually very comprehensive) Sustrans website, and find that the route is still marked as "proposed" there. So in one small way, OSM's NCN mapping is now more up-to-date than the official one!

Location: Rearsby, Charnwood, Leicestershire, East Midlands, England, United Kingdom

The C2C

Posted by Richard on 7 October 2008 in English (English)

For some time the C2C, Sustrans' most famous route, has been the most obvious omission from OpenCycleMap. Many of the long distance routes are now either complete or getting there - the Pennine Cycleway, Lon Las Cymru, the West Country Way, NCN 1, NCN 4 - but the C2C has remained only sporadically mapped.

When I tried to cycle the C2C the other year, I, er, fell off and mashed my face up. Other people are more competent than me and one chap has kindly allowed us to use his GPX tracklog.

So I've uploaded it and am working to map it with the help of NPE and existing, partly-tagged roads (ahem "only map places you've been" splutter). If you too are better at not falling off than I am, and have cycled the C2C, do join in.

Location: Whinlatter Pass, Allerdale, Cumbria, North West England, England, CA13 9UE, United Kingdom

Across the Cotswolds

Posted by Richard on 15 September 2008 in English (English)

Cycled from Charlbury to Cheltenham yesterday, having plotted an interesting-looking route on an OS map which turned out to be interesting in several ways - not least the passability (or otherwise) of several "tracks" which were in fact varying levels of quagmire. I'm trying to identify an NCN standard route from Charlbury to the other side of the Cotswolds. This wasn't it - well, not in its western sections, at least.

Despite that, I got to the outskirts of Cheltenham in sufficient time to be able to detour to Gloucester (and back) along NCN41, mostly unmapped until now, which turned out to be one of those uninspiring routes pieced together from housing estate roads and cut-throughs.

Location: Shurdington, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, South West England, England, United Kingdom

The River Palouse

Posted by Richard on 9 September 2008 in English (English)

One of the most enjoyable OSM distractions is mapping utterly random bits of America, courtesy of Yahoo! imagery (which you all know about) and what is possibly Potlatch's best secret - OpenTopoMap, public domain US cartography.

The streets are all there already, of course, courtesy of TIGER. But rivers, tracks, disused railways and so on can all be added from Yahoo and OpenTopoMap, greatly enriching the map and providing a fun form of virtual tourism.

I've just enjoyed a virtual visit to the town of Potlatch, Idaho, and started tracing the River Palouse.

Location: State Highway 6, Potlatch, Latah County, Idaho, 83857, United States of America

No longer a test diary post

Posted by Richard on 21 August 2008 in English (English)

This post used to say 'test post thing', but now it says 'you can edit your diary entries now'. :)

Location: Charlbury, West Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire, South East, England, United Kingdom


Posted by Richard on 3 July 2008 in English (English)

Astonishing progress on the cycle map recently - I see route 41 has arrived east of Warwick, a bunch of stuff around the South Coast, some new routes in Scotland, loads of regional routes in Cheshire, and no doubt a load more I've not spotted. I've added NCN52 north of Nuneaton and the proposed route of NCN46 between Ledbury and Hereford. Good weather + long evenings = cycle mapping, clearly.

Location: Market Bosworth, Hinckley and Bosworth, Leicestershire, East Midlands, England, United Kingdom

NCN6 and NCN52

Posted by Richard on 26 June 2008 in English (English)

Took advantage of the wonderful weather and long evenings by going for a ride from Burton out to Ashby, Coalville and Loughborough - taking in as much of NCN52 and NCN6 as I could.

NCN52 is now done from the village of Heather to its northern terminus. NCN6 now has a continuous route from Foxton (near Market Harborough), through Leicester, Loughborough, and Derby, to Nottingham- bar a few hundred yards in Blaby (southern Leicester). Some lovely cycling, too - though the route through Coalville is definitely incomplete: a lonely Sustrans milepost stands in the town centre by an impressive bridge over a (barely used) railway, but there's no signposted route either side!

Location: Ravenstone with Snibstone, North West Leicestershire, Leicestershire, East Midlands, England, United Kingdom


Posted by Richard on 22 June 2008 in English (English) round to mapping the footpath around the back of our house.

It's not like we've lived here for eight years, and I've been involved in OSM for three-and-a-half, or anything like that.

Location: Charlbury, West Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire, South East, England, United Kingdom

Happy birthday Potlatch

Posted by Richard on 19 May 2008 in English (English)

One year old yesterday... seems like at least ten. Your mileage may vary whether this is a cause for celebration or commiseration, but I've enjoyed writing it, so far!