Going Around In Great Circles

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

I’m sure many people know this, but a “great circle” is a circle that goes clear around the entire globe, and whose center is at the center of the globe. A “meridian”, on the other hand, is a great circle that passes through the poles. Lines of longitude are meridians, for example, while the Equator is a great circle. And the “Prime Meridian” is the line of longitude that goes through both poles .. and right through the Greenwich Observatory.

On the other side of the planet from where I am now, the Prime Meridian is called the “International Date Line”. Inter alia, it runs through the island of Taveuni. And I’ve stood there in Taveuni astride the Date Line, with one foot in yesterday and one foot in today.

So it was with great satisfaction that I was able to do the same on this half of the planet. The ladies went to Harrods, and as a good seaman should, I went instead to the Greenwich Observatory, where the measuring of time zones started. Here’s the “evidinks”, as Popeye would say:

prime meridian greenwich my feet

The Observatory is a fascinating place for a seaman like myself, filled with the history of how man learned to navigate the globe. It’s on one of the highest spots around London, at no less than 153 feet above sea level. Here’s a panorama of about 120° of the view, Millennium Dome on the right, downtown on the left, from the top of the hill, Greenwich Park in the foreground. Click on it (or any of the other pictures) to get the larger version:

IMG_1163

One of the more amazing displays at the Observatory was of the four marine chronometers built by one of my personal heroes, John Harrison. He’s my hero for a couple of reasons. First, because like me he was self-educated, although to a greater degree. Second, because over thirty years of patient experimentation he invented the first successful marine chronometer accurate enough to determine where you are on the planet. Each of his four designs represented years and years of work, each contained a host of new ideas, until finally it all came right. There’re photos of his chronometers here.

Now, I sailed the ocean before GPS, and I’m a reasonable good celestial navigator. The theory of celestial navigation is simple. Let’s use sunrise as an example. If you know the exact time the sun rises where you happen to be, then you know which line of longitude you are on. Easy as that (with the usual caveats, refraction, etc.) … but only if you know exactly, to the second, what time it is. And that was why lots of seamen died before John Harrison invented his chronometer … they didn’t know what time it was, so they didn’t know where they were.

Now, of course, I didn’t have any expensive marine chronometer when I sailed, few people did. But that didn’t matter, because the BBC broadcasts time signals, in the form of six beeps, every hour on the hour. So all I had to do was compare my cheap watch to the radio just before I took my sextant sights. Then when I took the sights, I marked the time from my watch. When I went to work out the sights, I corrected my watch time based on the BBC’s accurate time.

Having spent many and many a morning and evening in the middle of some ocean or other, waiting for the boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-beeeep of the BBC’s time signal, it was a great satisfaction to me to see the actual clock which had been used to produce that very time signal. Indeed. the entire trip through the observatory was in the nature of my homage to the brilliant Englishmen who had done so much to make my life’s oceanic travels possible. For example, back in the days before radio they needed to be able to pass an accurate time signal to anyone in the Thames. To do that, they mounted a big red ball that can slide up and down a pole, viz:

IMG_1162A few minutes before 1:00 they raised the ball up to the top of the mast, and then at exactly 1:00 they dropped the ball … and all of the navigators on vessels up and down the Thames could set their chronometers to the exact second. Simple, and brilliant.

While I was in Greenwich, I also went to the Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark. When I was a kid living on a cattle ranch, I dreamed of the ocean, and among other things, I put together a model of the Cutty Sark, with all of the spars and rigging and all. So it was almost a shock to see the real ship … it was a bit larger than I remembered it.

In the Maritime Museum, there is the most steampunk real actual vessel I ever saw, from memory called the “Miss England III”. It held the water speed record back a while ago. It’s made of riveted aluminum, and looks deliciously Victorian despite being built (again from memory) in the thirties.

IMG_1160Click on the picture, and enjoy the detail … it just needs a couple of very British maniacs with leather-rimmed goggles and it’s good to go.

So that was yesterday. Today was another lovely warm, even hot day. We went first to the Natural History Museum. It was good, but I wouldn’t rate it as great.

However, we went on from there to the Victoria and Albert Museum, and that museum was absolutely stupendous. Here’s the chandelier in the entry, how could you not like a museum with such an outrageous juxtaposition of the old and new? …

IMG_1167The building itself is astonishing, with immense high ceilings carried on steel arches down into stonework walls with delicate fretwork. And the contents, my goodness, the contents. The basic news is that they have everything from everywhere, and then some, and then a few dozen more. And then a couple more cases full, with (I’m sure) more in the basement. And there were surprises around every corner. For example, I’ve often wondered why it took so long for people to put wheels on suitcases … when I was a kid, hardly any suitcases had wheels. But to my surprise, I found out that it wasn’t a new idea at all …

IMG_1170So as a place to go on my (sadly) last day in London, the V&A Museum was simply superb. On the way out, I asked the guard if Vickie and Al ever came around to visit their most awesome museum, because I was hoping to thank them for their work. He coldly informed me that they were late. “How late?” I asked. He said Al had been late since about 1860, and she’d been late since 1901 … I figured if they were that late it wasn’t likely they’d show up today, so we left and went back to the flat. Can’t have everything in this life, I guess, and at least now the internet is back on in the flat.

Tomorrow we’re off to see Stonehenge et al., on Saturday we’ll be in Bath, and from there … who knows?

My thanks to all for their suggestions and good wishes. As mentioned, my phone is 074 4838 1774. I can’t say I’ll answer all the texts, but they are read and appreciated whether answered or not. We have no reservations north of Bath, so advice on (inexpensive) places to stay is always welcome. The dang money here seems to be made out of ice cream or something, a pound melts away awful fast …

Regards,

w.

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114 thoughts on “Going Around In Great Circles

  1. The part I still find boggling is how Harrison was treated by the establishment.

    After lengthy wrangling “Oh, I guess we’ll let you demonstrate your cheap trick… But if you can’t do it by Friday at 9-sharp we’ll consider it a failure!” … John arrives at designated site, doormen confiscate clock “Oh, we just need to examine it to make sure there are no tricks!” … John ushered into examination room and handed a box of parts. The parts of his clock. The one that took a couple years to assemble and tune. “You’ve got an hour or we’ve successfully proven you’re a fraud!”

  2. “A “meridian”, on the other hand, is a great circle that passes through the poles. Lines of longitude are meridians, for example, while the Equator is a great circle.”

    Ooh, quick rescue edit. I conclude that you’ve been enjoying some English ales, but not too many. The beer gets cheaper out of London, but can still melt the pounds away. Have fun!

  3. Although the equator IS a great circle, the other lines of latitude are NOT. However, ALL meridians ARE great circles.

  4. I love travelogues, and this is a good one. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

    I have read much about Mr Harrison’s chronometer. Took him about twenty years to build, and it won him the right to a sizeable fortune that Parliament had promised to anyone meeting their chronometer accuracy standards, which seemed almost impossible when the prize was first announced.

    But in the event, they welched. That was just too much money to pay to a commoner [IIRC it was around £20,000. That was when a pound was a full pound of sterling silver; ten tonnes of silver].

    So finally the king got involved, and told them to pay up. Anyway, it’s a good story, and you can find short versions of it with a simple search.

  5. The International Date line, is however NOT a half of a great circle.

    For some completely inexplicable reason, it is not any kind of plane curve; with all kinds of zigs and zags in it. Purely political; & idiotic too.

    I thought that you would also have to know your latitude, in order to know what time sunrise was.

    I have however stood with one foot on either side of the San Andreas Fault; near Parkfield California.

  6. There was a very well-loved comedy series in the UK called Only Fools and Horses that featured a couple of cockney likely lads and their adventures buying and selling and Del-boy’s favourite phrase was “next year we’ll be millionaires”.
    After many series the program came to an end with them finding an old watch that they’d bought in a job lot of junk years before. It was the fabled Harrison H6 chronometer and there is a lovely scene where they arrive late at the auction and hear bids of 700, 800 etc, and only realise after a few minutes that they’re referring to thousands of pounds and faint when it eventually sells for millions, so they end up as predicted.

    The episode is called Time on Our Hands – not available on Youtube unfortunately but maybe you can find a cheap DVD…

    Enjoy the UK…

  7. I also made a model of the Cutty Sark as a young’un.

    But I haven’t seen it since before the fire and restoration.
    I hear it is now elevated in plastic and can been from a molluscs viewpoint instead of from above the waterline.

    Is it worth popping down there or is it a mockery of our naval history as some bloggers have claimed?

  8. Willis, Visit York. You will never regret it. I was born there. It is most tourist friendly. You can visit the Minster and the VIkings exhibits, as well as walk around the bar walls. Enjoy fish and chips and hot sauage rolls.

  9. Willis, did you see the Blue Whale cast at the Natural History Museum – that kept me looking out of Bridge windows during my time at sea: I wanted to see ‘one of those’. I did, once!

  10. mkelly, you write “The mini series “Longitude” about Harrison is worth watching.”

    Yes and no. It is full of inaccuracies to make it more dramatic on television. I read a book, which I think was called “The Marine Chronometer”, which is far more accurate historically. While no-one actually won the Longitude Prize, Harrison got the full £20,000 he was entitled to.

  11. Harrison is a great hero of mine too, and those “ball clocks” are present all over the UK, even in the centre of Edinburgh – I hope you make it into North Britain on your travels…

  12. I will have a couple of days in London next month, which I planned months ago. The Plan: Stonehenge and Bath. Funny coincidence, no?

  13. “waiting for the boop-boop-boop-boop-boop-beeeep ….”
    __________________________________________

    That’s a great story, thank you Willis. I first learned a bit about celestial navigation in reading the story of Robin Lee Graham, who at 16 ventured from LA to Hawaii and then on to a circumnavigation in a ridiculously small sail boat. He navigated celestially and was very excited to make landfall in the Hawaiian Islands! With GPS and chart plotters, it’s less mysterious.

  14. Wherever you are going in the UK outside London, the Premier Inn chain of hotels offers reliable good value for money. And they are everywhere.

    I don’t know how far you intend to travel, but there are a couple of places that are well worth visiting.

    The first is Coalbookdale, the home of the famous Iron Bridge (and the town named after it). If you like the history of the industrial revolution in Britain, this has to be one of the best places – the iron bridge itself spanning the Severn, plus a host of museums within walking distance (or a short bus ride if you’d like to avoid climbing the hills). Coalbookdale still has the remains of Abraham Darby’s iron furnace where the first smelting with coke was done. There is also Blists Hill which has a re-creation of a Victorian town:

    http://www.ironbridge.org.uk/our-attractions/blists-hill-victorian-town

    The second place is Manchester – one place to see there is Quarry Bank Mill at Styal about 10 miles south of the city center – an original cotton mill where you can still see a lot of the machinery that was at the heart of the industrial revolution in its original setting.

    http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/quarry-bank-mill/

    If you journey up from Bristol to these places, I thoroughly recommend travelling up through the Welsh border country through places like Hereford, Ludlow and Shrewsbury. It is some of the best countryside in England – and the sampling the local cider is a must.

  15. After Bath I think you should go south to Salisbury and then Portsmouth to see the ships there. Both are too good to miss.

    About accommodation use this – http://www.wolseylodges.com/ – you will get the very best most personal English hospitality in the best houses at a reasonable price

  16. george e. smith says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    “I thought that you would also have to know your latitude, in order to know what time sunrise was.”

    The usual method of getting a Sun Sight position is to take a sight mid-morning with a guestimate (Ded. Reckoning) latitude to obtain longitude, then obtain an accurate latitude at local noon and correct your earlier longitude for latitude error and distance run – it’s surprisingly accurate. Some sick individuals like to use the Marc St. Hilaire method more usually associated with stellar sights but that’s just showing off :-)

    Enjoy your holiday Willis; I’m flying out to Turkey on Saturday, otherwise would have offered to introduce you to some fine Surrey ales.

  17. Willis:

    Several people have rightly advised you to sample local ciders.

    You being an American, the advice probably needs some explanation. People from the Americas and Oz think cider is a kind of lemonade. English cider is not like that at all. And the real West Country varieties (known as Scrumpy) are a nectar stronger than beer.

    You can get weaker forms of cider (e.g. Strongbow) in pubs all over the country, and they are better than what Americans think to be cider, but they are poor excuses for the real thing which you can only get in the West Country.

    Richard

  18. Maybe Willis could find out if there really is a hamlet named “Ugley” in Essex and one named “Nasty” in Hertfordshire. There’s a rumor that the Ugley Women’s Institute changed its name to the Women’s Institute of Ugley to avoid the jokes. So I’m curious about what the women’s institute in Nasty is named.

  19. John Harrison. He’s my hero for a couple of reasons.

    I’ll add another. He was David to Nevil Maskelyne’s Golliath.
    Harrison’s fight for the Longitude Prize was of a private citizen against the government paid Royal Astronomer insider, who sat as both judge on the Committee and competing contestant for the prize. A conflict of interest visible to all, yet lasted years.

    It reminds me of some climate science battles today.

  20. george e. smith says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    ….I thought that you would also have to know your latitude, in order to know what time sunrise was.

    That’s how you determine latitude. You observe the sunrise and note the time. Then you check the table of sunrise times for that date to determine your latitude.

  21. …from memory called the “Miss England III”

    It says “Miss Britain III” right on the side of the boat in the picture :-)

  22. Auto says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Willis, did you see the Blue Whale cast at the Natural History Museum – that kept me looking out of Bridge windows during my time at sea: I wanted to see ‘one of those’. I did, once!

    That was one of the better parts at the NHM, they have a blue whale suspended next to an elephant. (The elephant is on the floor) I’ve never seen a blue whale at sea, at least not to my knowledge.

    When I was a kid, though, there was a try-works (a rendering plant) on San Francisco Bay, and the whaling ships would bring them in and flense them and get the oil … it reeked something terrible, but I’d go anyways just to be astounded by the whales.

    w.

  23. We are just south of Bath in a gorgeous quintessential English country village with a splendid pub, if you need somewhere to kip and wanted to see stars in the night sky (clouds permitting of course!)
    We have friendly dogs and a super comfy bed. You would be very, very welcome. lilith.stuff at googlemail.com.

  24. Karl Maki says:
    September 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    …from memory called the “Miss England III”

    It says “Miss Britain III” right on the side of the boat in the picture :-)

    Dang you, memory!

    w.

  25. Glad you’re enjoying the old country, Willis.

    In Bath, try The Old Green Tree pub in Green Street if thirsty and if you can, obtain your cider from the award winning Roger Wilkins in Mudgley near Wedmore not too far from Bath in fact you could visit Wells Cathedral on the way.
    http://wilkinscider.com/ – beware the hospitality!

  26. Try phoning around and hire a canal barge for a couple of nights. Given that you get your accommodation included its good value. What I love best is that one minute you can be travelling through some of the prettiest countryside possible, the next you approach some buildings and then a quick walk down a passageway and you’re in the middle of a bustling market town. Given that canals were the main routes of old England, there is usually a 2-800 year old pub every mile. Anchor on the bank just out of earshot and stroll to the pub for good food. Max speed allowed is 4mph so a great break from driving.

  27. If you are going north from Bristol (or Bath if you choose to miss the slavery history, nice docks and SS Great Britain) then either way you will get to Cheltenham – my patch.

    I won’t be here (holiday in Bognor; I’m on even more of a budget than you as I always live in rip-off Britain).

    Cheltenham has good shopping, nice Regency architecture and the birthplace of Gustav Holst (dear and dull) and the gardens next to where Jenner did his work on curing Smallpox (free and interesting for 5 minutes).

    It is better than I make it sound (especially if you go to Gloucester first for the cathedral). It is worth a stop if you can afford the parking and the cost of womenfolk going up the posh shops in the Promenade and Montpellier.
    The parking is expensive but the women…

    Still, Cheltenham is worth a stop.

  28. TomL says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Wish I was there sharing your holiday – been a few years since I was there and your visit brings back fond memories. Your pic of “straddling the line” is probably good enough for government work but if you get back there be sure to look up the actual line (a bit to the east – measurements are more accurate nowdays) https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/earth-free/T9fyWCo4xzY

    Thanks, Tom. There is no “actual” meridian. There’s just whatever people agree on on a given day. The reason is that the world is a funny shape. Currently we approximate it with the WGS84 geoid. From a discussion here:

    It is true that a GPS receiver held over the Meridian Line at Greenwich will NOT read longitude (0,0). The WGS84 prime meridian is in fact 102.5 meters to the east of the 1884 Prime Meridian at Greenwich. WGS84 stands for “World Geodetic System 1984″ and is used by today’s GPS satellite Global Positioning System.

    The World’s Prime Meridian marked at Greenwich is the “Airy Meridian” which is aligned to the eye-piece of George Airy’s Transit Circle that had been in use since 1851. It was adopted by the international community in 1884 at a conference in Washington DC. It is no less than the fourth meridian marked at Greenwich. The other meridians are all to the west, marching down the Meridian Building, and were established by Flamsteed, Halley, and Bradley. It was therefore something of a tradition for Astronomers Royal to build new meridian walls (which they did to be able to continue observations while installing new instruments. The geography of the Observatory hill and courtyard really forced them progressively eastward).

    There was no “natural” or scientific reason for the Prime Meridian to be at Greenwich. It could have been placed at any location where a world-class observatory could refine position measurements. Agreement for Greenwich came from realisation that 70% of the world’s shipping was using Greenwich charts. (Mainly thanks to Maskelyne and the Nautical Almanac. After Harrison, chronometers had remained too expensive to become widespread very quickly). It didn’t hurt that the US Railroads had effectively standardised on the Greenwich meridian in 1883 when they adopted Dowd’s time zone system for their standard timetables. At the 1884 conference the delegate from France agreed not to oppose the adoption of Greenwich on the condition that Britain adopt the metric system. This the Government of Britain promised to do in 1884, and firmly plans to keep that promise when the time is right.

    After 1884 all was (more or less) harmony until 1954 when positional astronomy in Britain moved from Greenwich to Herstmonceux and the Airy Transit Circle was finally retired. By the 1950s international timekeeping was being regulated by the BIH (Bureau International de l’Heure). The world standard was then based on an average of observations from several observatories and the average reference meridian had probably already wandered around 8 meters from Airy. The move to Herstmonceux required ‘recalibration’ to be done and this added another 10 to 20 meters. Continental drift is also responsible for a bit of movement since 1884.

    With the advent of the GPS satellite system in the 1980s, accurate navigation could be done by any child using a hand-held computer with more compute power than existed in the entire world in 1954, and with access to 25 satellites in Earth orbit, each carrying two caesium atomic clocks. The system calculates position by receiving and comparing time signals from any three GPS satellites. It needs an internal “map” of the world in the form of a computer program. It wasn’t easy to create the computer map because the Earth isn’t a simple sphere. It has a complicated shape which required a technique called ‘best fit’ to develop the map based on an Earth geodetic model — WGS84. This doesn’t fit the Earth’s surface exactly everywhere but juggles the map shape to find the position where it fits best at the most places it can. Try as they might, the best fit they could get at Greenwich put the WGS84 meridian to the east of Airy by a tad under 102.5 meters.

    The picture at the top of the page is the “Airy Circle”. I didn’t realize the GPS Prime Meridian was that far off … go figure.

    w.

  29. Willis, as your vising Stonehenge can I suggest you also visit Salisbury for it is here (where I live) that you can see in close proximity many great historic monuments that have built as a result of benificial warm periods. As you now know, 7 miles to the north we have Stonehenge, now a world heritage site, built in the Minoan warm period. On the edge of Salisbury we have Old Sarum, which as well as being an iron-age hill fort and later a ‘rotten borough’ was occupied by the Romans in the Roman warm period. In the centre of Salisbury we have the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral, built in the Medieval warm period, it has the tallest church spire in England and houses the worlds oldest working clock. Finally in celebration of our modern warm period, in various inconvenient places, forming a great circling of the town, we have empty car parks which are regularly visted by empty buses, yes our wonderful Salisbury Park & Ride service.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Sarum

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salisbury_Cathedral

    http://www.wiltshire.gov.uk/parkingtransportandstreets/carparking/parkandride.htm

    Paul.

  30. Really glad you’re enjoying your visit to our backyard.

    I’m sure you have had many suggestions about things to do and there are literally dozens of places you could visit between the Old Smoke and Bath, but I’m sure you will find something to do!

    Stonehenge is great. Feel free to divest yourself of earthly vestments, get back to nature, and go full druid on our ass! (Did I spell that correctly for our US cousins?)

  31. Stephen Rasey writes “It reminds me of some climate science battles today.”

    I hope the analogy holds. Harrison’s chronometers became standard, and when the Board of Longtitude was eliminated in 1821, all they were doing was testing them. Maskelyne’s Lunar Distances only ever became a scientific curiosity, though I believe tables are still produced.

  32. TomB says:
    September 5, 2013 at 1:21 pm (replying to)

    george e. smith says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    ….I thought that you would also have to know your latitude, in order to know what time sunrise was.

    That’s how you determine latitude. You observe the sunrise and note the time. Then you check the table of sunrise times for that date to determine your latitude.

    No. The most accurate way – at ANY latitude and at ANY longitiude around the earth is to “assume” you know your time accurately, then begin taking sun angle elevations (using a sextent, octant (earlier – Middle Ages time) or quadrant – even earlier) just a little bit before what you think will become noon. Continue taking solar elevation angles for several minutes, recording each SEA and the local time: The SEA (solar elevation angles) will increase, stay steady for a minute or two, then begin decreasing. THAT timeof their maximum point is the actual local apparent noon, regardless of what your watch says or where you think it is. . Since you have written down the SEA angles every minute, the SEA at its highest point is your latitude at that time. If your watch (chronometer) is accurate, then you go back into the books and calculate your approximate latitude for the moment you were at local apparent noon based on the difference in hours, minutes and seconds from Greenwhich time at midnoght the previous night. From that, you can calculate your longitude by figuring 15 degrees per hour rotation rate of the earth.

    Now, the problem with all of this is that you need a clear sky, ability to see both the horizon AND the sun in your sextant, and all you have figured out is where you were when you were taking the SEA angles a few minutes ago. Where you are right now, is now a matter of educated guesses based on current speed and direction.

    But, with a good chronometer, an accurate map, and a place to wok and good skies and a few minutes with a good reference book, you could at least figure out where you were a few minutes ago. Maybe. And, at ship’s speeds of only few knots (nautical miles per hour), that usually “good enough.” Bit difficult for airplane navigation though. See Erheart, Amelia for how not to navigate lessons.

  33. Willis – if you are visiting Oxford on your travels, you might well like the Pitt Rivers museum. It is a kind of small, mad, quirky, tumbledown 19th century anrhropological museum.

    All the best.

  34. Christopher Wren’s beautiful building, designed ‘for the Observators’ habitation and a little for pompe’. St Vedast alias Foster and many other lovely churches too of course.

  35. There are some interesting British place names. It would be fun to your picture next to a sign at some of the following places:

    America, near Ely, Cambridgeshire.
    Barton in the Beans, west of Leicester.
    Booby Dingle, near Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire.
    Buttock, near Barley, Lancashire.
    Cockup Bottom, near Bassenthwaite, Cumbria.
    Crackpot, Swaledale, North Yorkshire.
    Crank, near St. Helens, Merseyside.
    Cuckoo’s Nest, near Chester.
    Dancing Dicks, near Hatfield Peverel, Essex.
    Gay Street, near Pulborough, Sussex.
    Golden Balls, near Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire.
    Great Snoring, near Walsingham, Norfolk.
    Horrid Hill, near Gillingham, Kent.
    Lickham Bottom, near Hemyock, Devon.
    Mousehole, near Penzance, Cornwall.
    Nasty, near Stevenage.
    Rotten Bottom, Tweeddale, Borders.
    Rows of Trees, near Wilmslow, Cheshire.
    Sandy Balls, near Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
    Scratchy Bottom, near Durdle Door, Dorset.
    Spital in the Street, north of Lincoln.
    Titty Ho, Raunds, Northamptonshire.
    Tongue of Gangsta, Mainland of Orkney.
    Ugley, near Bishop’s Stortford.
    Undy, near Caldicot, Monmouthshire.
    Wetwang, near Bridlington.
    Womenswold, south-east of Canterbury, Kent.
    World’s End, west of Birmingham, also near Newbury.

  36. dbstealey says: “I have read much about Mr Harrison’s chronometer. Took him about twenty years to build, and it won him the right to a sizeable fortune that Parliament had promised to anyone meeting their chronometer accuracy standards, which seemed almost impossible when the prize was first announced. But in the event, they welched. So finally the king got involved, and told them to pay up.”

    That was in the days that royalty was still good for something. The recent lot, not so much. Long live the Queen, however.

  37. Willis, you need to make your way up to the North of the country. East Lancashire, West and North Yorkshire. Pubs all over the place with good food and lodging. The Lake District alone would take weeks and then the solitude and beauty of Northumberland both with good beer.
    Enjoy.
    Daedalus
    PS Should you come anywhere near Huddersfield, an old market town and weavers and purveyors of the finest woven woolen cloths in the world; post here and I will tell you the best places to stay and visit.

  38. Jorgekafkazar

    Careful what you say about royalty. I came from the same village as Kate and they would have married in the same church as I was if some bigger church in London hadn’t nabbed them.
    Tonyb

  39. I notice none of your suggestions for after Bath include our heartlands!

    Come to the Midlands where, within an hours drive you can visit Warwick and Kenilworth Castles, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and newly refurbished Theatre, the Black Country Living Museum, about three different Canal heritage centres and any number of stately homes, not to mention the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham

  40. Paul Deacon says at September 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Willis – if you are visiting Oxford on your travels, you might well like the Pitt Rivers museum..

    Double recommend.
    And look at the Museum of Science down the road too.

  41. Longitude – A True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel is outstanding.

    And, yes, it DOES tell the truth of how the inept, corrupt, thieving and ego-centric “scientific consensus” by the “leading scientists of their time” denied everything he did in THEIR quest for THEIR glory and honor and reputations at the Royal Observatory and Board of Navigation.

  42. When in Bath, you MUST bathe like the Romans did in AD 100, Willis.

    Because, Bath has the only working original roman thermal bath left in the world!

  43. Only the British could build the fastest twin-engined bomber in the world from wood – DH 98 Mosquito – while building a speedy ship from Aluminum – Miss Britain III – and succeed, while everybody else in the world at that time was absolutely certain it had to be done vice versa.

    But, well: It was them who thought that the hull of a ship built of steel would be tougher than an iceberg, too – the HMS Titanic…

  44. Mike McMillan says:
    September 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm
    /////////////////////////////////////
    Sometimes, my English is full of stellar aberrations, too…

  45. RE: Premier Inn – it is true that the price is right. However … they make you pre pay, and … you even have to pay to talk to someone in customer service!

  46. Louis @ 2:21 pm:

    You’ve missed out Nether Wallop, Middle Wallop and Over Wallop!

    These amuse my Aussie friends, until I point out that they run to names like Wagga Wagga and Yallingup….Oh, and Woy Woy.

  47. mogamboguru at 2:52 pm
    Re: Titanic. I don’t know that’s fair.

    There was a deliberate decision by the maritime industry that the best way of keeping passengers safe was to make a ship with multiple watertight doors. To make the ship its own liftboat. We don’t give parachutes to airline passengers, do we?
    What seemed to doom Titanic may have been an optical illusion, on a moonless night. We don’t really know how big the iceberg was. Pack ice had halted many ships. What may have sunk Titanic was a large, flat berg. It is mass, not height, that is important.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Did-the-Titanic-Sink-Because-of-an-Optical-Illusion.html

    What sank Titanic was the disrespect for the surprises that nature can throw in your way. The captain asked too much from his lookouts in clear weather conditions seldom seen.

    Wiki: List of maritime Disasters Titanic is tied for 6th.

    May the memory of Titanic and her passengers live on to remind us all of the surprises nature may have in store for us. How many people has the memory of Titanic already saved?

  48. Cutty Sark models, oh man. Many, many moons ago now, my dad spent two or three years – I was in grammar school and don’t really remember – building a large Revell model of the Cutty Sark in exquisite detail, with different gauges of thread and yarn for the various stays and sheets and what all the rest of the various lines are called. Once completed, he placed it reverently on the fireplace mantel. It was truly beautiful. Sadly, within at most a couple months, I was pursued through the house by my mother who was wielding a long-handled broom. After cornering me by the fireplace, she took a swing at me with the broom, which I ducked in self-preservation. When Dad came home, his first glance at the model revealed a ship that looked like it had – barely – survived a full gale, partially dismasted, rigging in tatters, yards hanging at all kinds of angles, the bowsprit broken. He ws shocked, but recovered fairly quickly, coming home with a similar scale model of the USS Constitution – Old Ironsides – explaining to my mom that at least a frigate would be able to defend itself. True story.

  49. RACookPE1978 says:
    September 5, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Your description of the method of taking a noon sight is accurate but I think the most accurate way of determining longitude is as described in my previous post. The reason for the ‘longitude’ sight being taken mid morning is that it’s the best compromise between getting a good cross – the earlier you take it the nearer your position line is to north/south – and minimising the inaccuracies in the ded. reckoning run between the morning sight and noon sight – the later you take it the smaller the inaccuracy due to the difference between assumed and actual course/speed.
    I used to do this for a living and took hundreds. It’s remarkable how quickly the altitude ‘goes’ once the sun passes it’s Zenith and with practice you can pin the time of local apparent noon to within a couple of seconds. Re. the Air Navigation problem, most of us ‘cheated’ and bought Air Navigation tables for stellar sights. These are designed for speed and give you a suitable set of stars and a lot of pre-calculation based on your assumed (d.r.) position.

  50. Willis,

    Set in the floor of the Painted Hall at Greenwich is a plaque that states that on 15th June 1941, there came three citizens of the USA, the first of their countrymen to become sea officers in the Royal Navy.

    One of those three was Lt Cdr A. H. Cherry who wrote a book titled Yankee R.N.: Being The Story Of A Wall Street Banker Who Volunteered For Active Duty In The Royal Navy Before America Came Into The War.

    It’s a fine book. I’ve re-read it many times.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books/s?ie=UTF8&field-author=Commander%20A.H%20Cherry&page=1&rh=n%3A266239%2Cp_27%3ACommander%20A.H%20Cherry

    Best wishes,

    Perry

  51. Fascinating travelogue. Thank you! One, as noted in posts above, is stimulated to recall personal travel experiences of a quirky type: On an all-expense paid trip to the Orient (thanks, Uncle Sam), flew out of Honolulu mid-evening in a military DC-6, bound for Wake Island. Crossed the International Date Line at exactly midnight (well, have to admit, it may have been approximately, but the anecdote would fail). Left Honolulu on May 7, arrived Wake on May 9. Never saw a second of May 8, 1963 A tour in Korea foreshortened? Nah.

  52. george e. smith says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    The International Date line, is however NOT a half of a great circle.

    For some completely inexplicable reason, it is not any kind of plane curve; with all kinds of zigs and zags in it. Purely political; & idiotic too.

    Political but totally sensible to avoid splitting countries. Japan is sensible like that – its all on in one time zone – its central zone. If Australia and other countries could be that sensible.

  53. Daedalus says:
    September 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm
    PS Should you come anywhere near Huddersfield, an old market town and weavers and purveyors of the finest woven woolen cloths in the world; post here and I will tell you the best places to stay and visit.
    ———————————————————————–
    ….. one of which would, of course, be the Black Horse at Clifton (where I stay when I’m over frequently). The best pub food I know.

    The Norman Church at Hartshead (where the Bronte sister’s father was pastor before moving to Haworth), the former Kirklees Hall, complete with Robin Hood’s grave on the grounds, the dumb steeple, where the new Luddites gathered for their first attack on a mill, and I could go on …. all within an approximately 1.5 mile radius from the pub. Amazing place, amazing beer and beautiful countryside too, despite being in the middle of a triangle of two large cities and a very large town.

    I’m still recommending Avebury, Wiltshire highest on my list though, as I know Willis will be passing close to there.

  54. Jeff Condon says:
    September 5, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Willis,

    I just enjoyed the story.

    thanks.

    An author of a travelogue can’t ask for more than that.

    w.

  55. Stephen Rasey says:
    September 5, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    What sank Titanic was the disrespect for the surprises that nature can throw in your way. The captain asked too much from his lookouts in clear weather conditions seldom seen.

    Wiki: List of maritime Disasters Titanic is tied for 6th.

    May the memory of Titanic and her passengers live on to remind us all of the surprises nature may have in store for us. How many people has the memory of Titanic already saved?

    Thanks, Steven. The next disaster after Titanic on your list was the one that led the British Admiralty to propose the prize for the method of finding the longitude:

    The Scilly naval disaster of 1707 – On the night of 22 October 1707, a Royal Navy fleet on its way from Gibraltar to Portsmouth sailed through dangerous reefs west of the Isles of Scilly. Four ships (HMS Association, HMS Eagle, HMS Romney and HMS Firebrand) sank. The exact number of sailors killed is unknown. Statements vary between 1,400[9] and over 2,000.[10] It was later determined that the main cause of the disaster was the navigators’ inability to calculate their longitude accurately.

    Out of error comes improvement … at least they weren’t crippled by believing the science was settled.

    w.

  56. richardscourtney says:
    September 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm
    Willis:

    Several people have rightly advised you to sample local ciders.

    You being an American, the advice probably needs some explanation. People from the Americas and Oz think cider is a kind of lemonade. English cider is not like that at all. And the real West Country varieties (known as Scrumpy) are a nectar stronger than beer.

    You can get weaker forms of cider (e.g. Strongbow) in pubs all over the country, and they are better than what Americans think to be cider, but they are poor excuses for the real thing which you can only get in the West Country.

    Richard

    Americans recognize your cider as “applejack”. I live in New Jersey, home to one of the first, and until recently (per Wiki) only producer of applejack in the U.S., Lairds Farms. My brother worked there briefly, once upon a time. The traditional method of production was to place a jug of cider in the ground up to the shoulder of the vessel in late fall. During the late fall warmth the cider would ferment. Afterwards in winter a great deal of the water would freeze off, concentrating the applejack by freeze distillation. Laird’s doesn’t do it that way of course, but it’s fascinating to see how people learned to put Mother Nature to work on their behalf before we were (thankfully, in many cases) spoiled by technological advancements.

  57. Willis
    If you end up near York; don’t forget to visit WASHINGTON – don’t blink; you’ll miss it

    not the pale imitation I’m told they’ve built in the New World – but the real one !

    Just on the M1; not far South of the Angle of the North just South of Newcatle upon Tyne.

    Great article; but a pity you mised the 2nd best museum in London – the Science Museum. Ah well you saw the best – Grenwich !

    (Note to someone up thread – RMS Titanic – as in Royal Mail Ship; HMS – His/Her Majesty’s Ship; reserved for UK warships)

  58. One pre-chronometer time source that really impressed me were tables of the positions of Jupiter’s moons. They’re quite predictable (though you have to account for changes in the time for light to bounce from Jupiter to the observer) and good to adjust a lesser timepiece.

  59. Given that we’ve buried you in suggestions and your future course is indeterminate :

    Cheap and cheerful hotel chains – Travelodge, Premier Inn , Holiday inn Express can be web booked without too much fuss. They lack full hotel refinements, pay in advance, no room service, no charging meals etc to room, but clean good comfort and they don’t steal your towels. Usually close to our attached to a pub restaurant that won’t kill you either on price or with salmonella.

    http://Www.laterooms,com will give you fair price access to proper hotels. A country or small town hotel close to a target destination is often cheaper and better than a city hotel at the the destination. Don’t book a Brittania Hotel , sucks like a jet intake….

    many tourist information offices operate a book ahead service for family hotels and bed and breakfast establishments. You have to try the country bumpkin full Monty breakfast at least once.

    If you go north from Bath, try and get the womenfolk to agree to the RAF museum at Cosford http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/cosford/ it’s free. Try and get far enough north so that the turn east will get you to the National Rail Museum and the Jorvik centre at York and/or the Royal Armouries at Leeds .

    If you turn south, for Somerset and Devon, there’s the Fleet Air Arm museum at Yeovilton, Wookey hole, Forde Abbey where Downton Abbey is filmed, Sherborne Castle Where Walt Raleigh used to live, Morwhellam Quay mining museum, Beer Quarry which has been worked since Roman times (wear a thick jumper or coat, brass monkeys in there…) Exeter Cathedral, Maritime Museum, and underground passages. The cob at Lyme Regis where Meryl Streep stood in The French Lieutenants Woman. The Bovingdon Tank museum in Dorset is a mile away from the Monkey World Primate rescue centre if you want to look at heavy metal while the women go Gaga for lemurs and baby chimps.

    if you go west into Wales bear in mind that east-west movement is much easier than North-South. What looks like a trunk road on the map is often a goat track in reality…

  60. And SS is Steam Ship (for merchants).
    MV Motor Vessel (diesel powered).

    But USS is United States Ship. (US Navy, steam (whether nuke or boiler) or gas turbine powered or diesel.)

  61. Richard Lewis says:
    September 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    … One, as noted in posts above, is stimulated to recall personal travel experiences of a quirky type: On an all-expense paid trip to the Orient (thanks, Uncle Sam),… Left Honolulu on May 7, arrived Wake on May 9. Never saw a second of May 8, 1963 A tour in Korea foreshortened? Nah.

    On an all-expense paid trip to Brazil and Argentina in 1975 (thanks, Uncle Sam),… Left VACAPES (Virginia) Op area heading east to then go south towards Rio and southern Brazil. (Nice trip!) So as we headed east, we kept losing hours every day as we crossed each time zone. Being a kind and reasonable man, the XO took each lost hour out of the night shifts, and so everybody had an hour’s less sleep every day. (I figure if you went all the way around eastbound, you lost a day off of your required commissioning days?)

    SO, obviously, on the way, home we gained that hour back. And, the XO still being a kind and reasoning individual with everybody’s best interests at heart, gave us an extra hour every day just before lunch …. for cleanup and training.

  62. Fun article, Willis. I too have straddled that line on Taveuni (Garden Island of Fiji) while one of the locals thrilled us with a tale of Fijians whipping (and then, maybe, cooking) an invading flotilla of Tongans. Beautiful place then, I took my family there on a vacation. One of the attractions of the “resort” we stayed in was horseback riding, which my wife was interested in for our daughter. On the first day I called at the desk and asked about riding. Well, the place had just changed hands, the horses were nowhere to be found (dinner?), and so, onward to other things, like a 100-foot tropical waterfall and pool of incredibly clear cold water that one could imagine Dorothy Lamour swimming in; a little island just off shore with one of the most incredible reefs I’ve ever seen; the tiny little Indian man with a foot-pump Singer sewing machine who hemmed our new sulus (sarongs), and on and on. The smell of a coffee plantation – wonderful. Taveuni is a place to visit.

  63. Louis says:
    September 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm
    Maybe Willis could find out if there really is a hamlet named “Ugley” in Essex and one named “Nasty” in Hertfordshire. There’s a rumor that the Ugley Women’s Institute changed its name to the Women’s Institute of Ugley to avoid the jokes. So I’m curious about what the women’s institute in Nasty is named.

    Ugley is a decent sized place, maybe 1,000 people. I cycled to Ugley as a boy in the 60s, and there was indeed a sign on the village hall – Ugley Women’s Institute.

    Nasty is a very small place, only about 10 houses from memory. Too small to have a Women’s Institute.

  64. The book by Dava Sobel Longitude IS outstanding; so are her other works; worth checking out. Cheers from sunny and warm Sydney

  65. World’s End, west of Birmingham, also near Newbury.

    Seems have been a common place name at one time. There was a Worlds End marked on old maps a mile from where I grew up in Essex.

    This may be an instance where wikipedia is wrong. It describes the origin as, a whimsical name for an out of the way place. While I am sure these places were called Wold’s End, the edge of the wood, or where a path ended at the edge of a wood (the one near me was indeed at the edge of a large wood). And when the map makers came along speaking standard english of the time asked the illiterate locals the name of the place, the pronunciation of Wold sounded like ‘World’ to them and so it was written down.

  66. Fiji dateline mythbusters please help:

    I had the great pleasure of being there twice and heard a story about the dateline. Given that the English Methodist culture was in force there, sporting events and shops being open was a no no on Sundays. I did, however, hear a story of an enterprising shopkeeper who had a long shop straddling the dateline, with a door at each end. You can guess the rest. Is it true though, or an “urban” legend ?

    PS Willis, when you’re driving through Wiltshire, depending on how you go to Stonehenge, if you do take the A4 towards Silbury Hill and Avebury, you will go through Marlborough, which has the widest main street of any town in England, and as you zig zag out of there, you will pass Marlborough College which, almost unbelievably, has a small 4,400-year old Silbury Hill on its grounds. A little known fact.

    http://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/31/malborough-mound-wiltshire-silbury-neolithic

    (I hope you’re not banned from the Guardian website, ha ha ha)

    Silbury Hill itself will make you reach for your camera, as will Avebury, and West Kennet Long Barrow is right on that road too. Amazing stuff from warmer times. More satisfying than Stonehenge and, please do me a favor if you go there. Look and see if you observe any California poppies growing around any of the stones. I may have to consult with my lawyer before completing that story, heh heh heh.

  67. Mr. Tisdale
    Mr. Eschenbach

    I have my mother’s slide rule, from her days at NACA at Langley, Hampton, Virginia, as a part of their “computer system”…. I’m sorry there is no sextant in my family archive and memorabilia. Many many many thanks, Willis and Bob, for the education and enlightenment over the last ten years. Willis, I am following you across Britain with joy and longing…please slow down and enjoy yourself for all of us!

    Patrick

  68. So “Cutty Sark” isn’t just a cheap brand of hooch with a crude pic of a ship on the label? Looked as authentic as the pic of Captain Morgan on his spiced rum.

    From Willis Eschenbach on September 5, 2013 at 1:26 pm:

    I’ve never seen a blue whale at see…

    ‘I’ve never seen (item) at see’? Willis, you may just be too adept a world traveler, as you pick up colloquial local expressions far too easy. Is this like “I never heard a barking dog at listen that night”? Sure threw me first time I came across it. But they had to be listening before they could hear or not hear that dog, as you had to be “at see” (variation of “on the lookout”) to see or not see the whale.

    Please purge yourself of these quaint expressions when you return to “the colonies”. For when the time arises to break out the pitchforks and torches, it will be acceptable to bring a torch that burns propane, but not one using energy-efficient LEDs instead of an incandescent bulb, unless it emits a focused coherent beam that can ignite worthless sheepskins and incinerate fraudulent papers.

    Glad to know you’re having fun, and with your family to boot.

    [Reply: this somewhat dense moderator changed ‘see’ to ‘sea’, not understanding why it was written like that. Should have known that Willis doesn’t make misteakes like that… ~mod.]

  69. Annie says: “Louis @ 2:21 pm: You’ve missed out Nether Wallop, Middle Wallop and Over Wallop! These amuse my Aussie friends, until I point out that they run to names like Wagga Wagga and Yallingup….Oh, and Woy Woy.”

    But how do those compare with Walla Walla and Puyallup (in Washington)? Or WaaWaa (waʻawaʻa) in Hawaii?

  70. “””””…..mogamboguru says:

    September 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Only the British could build the fastest twin-engined bomber in the world from wood – DH 98 Mosquito – while building a speedy ship from Aluminum – Miss Britain III – and succeed, while everybody else in the world at that time was absolutely certain it had to be done vice versa……”””””

    Well don’t forget the hybrid wood and aluminum (wing bottom) glue laminated together twin engine DH103 Hornet; the fastest twin-engine (piston) fighter in the world. Also the only one with mirror image counter rotating Rolls Royce Merlin Engines (130, & 131).

    I talked with a retired US Navy pilot, who actually tested out the De Havilland Sea Hornet, for use with the US Navy. He told me it was the sweetest flying twin engine aero-plane he has ever flown.

  71. Willis,
    You’ve generated quite a bit of jealousy from some of us stuck a home while you take in the wonderful sites and historical marvels. Sounds fascinating and I hope to visit the same sites someday. Thanks for the excellent report.
    —–
    I second Evan’s recommendation of Dava Sobel’s book, “Longitude.” Well worth the read.

  72. Very pleased to see you are enjoying it here in the UK.

    You can also straddle the Greenwich meridian in Louth, Lincolnshire (outside a bakers shop in the centre of town) and Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire (on the promenade/seafront path as you walk past the boating lake to Humberstone). The last land fall, before it disappears into the sea on its way to the pole, is on the coast in East Yorkshire although I have never found it marked.

    My wife and I claimed a world record, from the Guinness Book Of Records, when, in 2001, it took us 46 hours and 10 minutes from straddling the Greenwich Meridian at Cleethorpes to straddling the Equator in Quito, Ecuador (careful here the real equator is 400 yards away from the official visitor park in a native village). Our claim was turned down because “…we don’t have a section for this and do not intend starting one”.

    Other places to visit in the North; Harewood house, near Leeds and why not take a trip on the Seattle-Carlisle railway. Can back up recommendation of Premier Inns; we always use them when wandering around the UK.

    Enjoy the rest of your holiday here.

  73. Bob Tisdale says:
    September 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Willis: I thought I was doing pretty good by still having my slide rule, but you had a sextant. Wish I had a sextant.

    I still have two, not sure why. One is my main, lovely, full-sized instrument that’s been across the Pacific with me. The other is a tiny “lifeboat sextant”, a cylinder about 3″ x 3″. Probably should go to a museum …

    I do miss my 6″ circular slide rule, though, a K&E.

    w.

  74. As an “ancient mariner” surely you should visit Staithes where the youthful James Cook first saw the sea and Whitby where he learned his seafaring skills. Both are on North Yorkshire’s coast and I recommend Hadley’s ( on the edge of the old town) for fish and chips.

  75. Just a small point of correction. The time ball at Greenwich drops at 12:00 GMT every day of the year. You saw it drop at 1pm because the UK is currently running its clocks on British Summer Time (BST) which is GMT+1.

  76. Greenwich is a wonderful place. Interesting bit of trivia – a captain who captured exactly the noon GMT signal was aid to be “on the ball”.

    Tom Swift

  77. Michael says:
    September 5, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Political but totally sensible to avoid splitting countries. Japan is sensible like that – its all on in one time zone – its central zone. If Australia and other countries could be that sensible.

    Try that in Canada, and in December the sun would set before noon in Newfoundland, and rise after noon in Vancouver. Dumb idea.

  78. Of course John Harrison was also screwed by petty government bureaucrats. They never paid him the vast prize money (£20,000 I seem to recall; in any case a fortune in the time) promised for a solution to the problem of longitude. Nothing changes, does it?

    I love Greenwich. As a Royal Naval officer I was fortunate enough to stay at the college, which was at the time a training establishment for RN engineers (and unbeknownst to me and most of Britain had a fully functioning nuclear reactor, to train engineers going to the submarine fleet!). This is the beautiful building just before the river in your photo. It is amazing inside too.

    Naval personnel also have free entry tot he National Maritime Museum, which is excellent. It would be better if they acknowledged the role of British naval forces in fighting slavery as well as her role in the slave trade, but you can expect all museums to have that sort of bias.

  79. P.S. Correction to my last, I should have said they never paid the whole money. They reluctantly and belatedly paid some of the prize to Harrison, but nowhere near all of it.

  80. Sorry you found the Natural History Museum a bore. I love the earth sciences side which is attached but separate. The Science Museum is very good and worth a visit, it is next door to the Natural History(Earth Sciences) Museum in Exhibition Road. Better than the V&A.
    the BBC still do the time signal but on the DBS transmissions they are 1-2 seconds late. Plays hell with accurate astro navigation in the air as I used to do using stars. By comparison the noon fix is easy.

    As a note all meridians pass through both poles not just the prime.

  81. If, as reccommended in a post above, you get to see York Minster, and, if you’re interested in clocks, take a peek at it’s astronomical clock designed by Dr Atkinson in 1944 (chief assistant at the Royal Observatory) – a fantastic piece of horological craftsmanship (Google: York Minster Astronomical Clock.).

  82. Thank you Willis for such fascinating descriptions of your travels in England.

    It is a privilege to accompany you, and your ladies, to places which us Brits we may be familiar with and to then read about them described through the eyes of such a perceptive visitor.

    Wheels on suitcases….

  83. Here’s the “evidinks”, as Popeye would say:

    Well, blows me down, ya barnacle-bitten landlubber. A-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga.

  84. HI Wills,
    Last year I spent a few days in the UK, my sole sojourn to northern hemisphere, and the only thing I wanted to see was Harrison’s clocks and the Greenwitch observatory. I grew up on the coast of Western Australia which is littered with hundreds of shipwrecks dating back to the 1500s involving countless loss of life. Most of these ships hit the WA reefs simply because they couldn’t accurately measure thier longitude. Travelling from Europe to the East Indies (Indonesia) they would round the African continent and stay south, picking up the trade winds . If they waited too long to turn north and approached the WA coast and reefs in a storm or at night the results were often pretty bad.
    Harrison’s chronometer (H4) solved the problem so elegantly. Simply keep one chronometer set to GMT (UTC) and one adjusted to local time via a mid day sextant reading of the sun and you knew exactly what your longitude was. The trick was the chronometer had to be incredibly accurate and impervious the motion of the ship. This invention changed the world. Ok I accept I’m a bit of a geek, but seriously I still feel incredibly blessed to have been able to visit the observatory and see the first three of Harrison’s clocks H1-H3 still running after nearly 300 years. Thanks for your article. Have a great day.

  85. george e. smith says:
    September 5, 2013 at 12:22 pm
    I thought that you would also have to know your latitude, in order to know what time sunrise was.
    ============
    you do, except perhaps at equinox.

    http://williams.best.vwh.net/sunrise_sunset_algorithm.htm

    7a. calculate the Sun’s local hour angle
    cosH = (cos(zenith) – (sinDec * sin(latitude))) / (cosDec * cos(latitude))
    if (cosH > 1)
    the sun never rises on this location (on the specified date)
    if (cosH < -1)
    the sun never sets on this location (on the specified date)

  86. Re GPS: of course there is now also the EU “Galileo” GPS system which will create its own new 0 degree (internal) reference line – but the errors are getting smaller!

    Interestingly, I believe Galileo was actually commissioned because the EU realised that they couldn’t tax citizens using the infrastructure of another state. EU states are keen to tax road use, using distance travelled meters fed from compulsory GPS receivers fitted in vehicles – introduction of such a system was announced by the then UK government in 2005. But, early on it was recognised that if the US switched off their DoD GPS – or threatened to do so – the road charging system would fail, and the Russian Glonass system was anyway a non-starter. That is what Galileo is really all about – and why the EU are pressing on with it regardless of cost (presently estimated at 3 billion euro, and rising of course …)

  87. Whilst in Bath visit the cheddar gorge for impressive views on Nature in acton. I suggest after Bath you visit Wales and Snowdonia national park. Hike the Miners track to the top of the second highest peak in UK (not difficult) Whilst there check out the Slate mines.Then for some change of scenery take a canal trip on the Lochs of Manchester/Wigan and sample Northern Beer.Check out the heart of industrial revolution. Then Lake District and Scotland for more hikes (assuming Indian Summer).

  88. I was intrigued to see that 22 countries voted in favour of the Greenwich Meridian, but that the French abstained. There were nuances of self-interest at international conferences long before the current G20 talks.

  89. Dear Willis,

    long time lurker at last prodded to post –
    If you find the Circus (it’s OK, no clowns) in Bath http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Circus,_Bath stand in the middle under the trees, stone provided for the purpose, and clap your your hands. Great echo.

    Also I am as other posters in suggesting Scotland, Western Highlands especially. Takes a while to get there but the scenery is stunning. The nearest thing to mountains we’ve got in the union :)
    And if you like a challenging drive then the Pass of the Cattle is a must with fabulous shellfish at the Applecross Inn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bealach_na_B%C3%A0,

    regards,
    Colin

  90. Richard Barraclough says:
    September 6, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I was intrigued to see that 22 countries voted in favour of the Greenwich Meridian, but that the French abstained. There were nuances of self-interest at international conferences long before the current G20 talks.

    Historically you will find that France used the Paris Meridian its own standard meridian for some time. It – the Paris Meridian – and the Antwerp Meridian were both competing standard meridians with Greenwich for some time, but the British were the nation where chronometers adequately accurate to use for navigation were invented and shortly thereafter had a major lead in the quality and number of navigation charts. The French according to wikipedia hung onto the Paris Meridian for navigation until the beginning of WWI. When you consider that SI was essentially French in origin, it is still a little surprising that England triumphed in that one regard.

  91. For a couple of scenic rail journeys, if I can suggest the Settle – Carlisle railway through the Yorkshire Dales (73 miles) and the Worth Valley Railway from Keighley to Howarth (“Bronte country”) where “The Railway Children” was filmed. Both railways have occasional steam trains.
    The National Media Museum in Bradford is also worth a visit, although Bradford City itself is a bit
    of an eyesore IMO.

  92. johnmarshall says:
    September 6, 2013 at 3:36 am

    As a note all meridians pass through both poles not just the prime.

    Thanks, John. See the second sentence of my post:

    A “meridian”, on the other hand, is a great circle that passes through the poles.

    Not sure why you think you have to re-state that …

    w.

  93. lorne50 says:
    September 6, 2013 at 11:59 am

    I ran down all the comments It was a CANUCK that came up with standard time. Because of the trains running a cross this great continent.

    Actually, the Canadian Stanford Fleming was the second man to come up with the idea, but the first to actually put it into practice. The idea was first proposed (and ignored) by an Italian named Quirico Filopanti. He published the idea in 1858, about twenty years before Fleming was able to get people to do it. There’s no evidence I can find that Fleming ever heard of Filopanti’s work …

    Funny how this planet operates …

    w.

  94. In some locations the visual time signal was a black ball, hence the name of the company running the Coho ferry between Port Angeles WA and Victoria BC/

  95. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/271319.stm

    “It’s a little known but interesting fact that the Greenwich Time Signal no longer gives Greenwich Mean Time,” said the NPL’s John Chambers. “Since 1972, all the time signals in the world have been based on atomic time.”

    This is far more regular than Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which drifts as the speed of the Earth’s rotation changes. Differences between the two mean that “leap seconds” occasionally need to be added to the time signal, by means of an extra pip. This keeps the two types of time roughly in step.

    This oddity is one of the reasons why the last pip is slightly longer than all the rest.

    “As a consequence of going over to atomic time, ever so occasionally we need a seven-pip time signal like there was at the end of December,” said John Chambers. “And if you have a seven-pip time signal, people are going to do a double take unless you lengthen the last pip.”

  96. Louis,

    Thanks for the funny place-names.

    “Tongue of Gangsta” could easily be a successful mini-series from the name alone.

    Thanks also to Willis, who as usual has provoked a fascinating and interesting series of comments on this thread. I love the fact that UK and US readers get together like this, comparing our unique and wonderful relationship. Many times [eg: Falklands], it’s us against the world!

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