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hidden places

New book sheds light on secret places

Published on: 18 December 2017

Even in an age of GPS and smartphones there is a multitude of secret places in the world, often in the most surprising of locations, a Newcastle University academic has discovered.

Obscure and ‘unruly’ places

In his new book, ‘Beyond the Map’ Professor Alastair Bonnett takes us on a journey around the world, presenting intriguing stories of obscure and ‘unruly’ places – many of which are hidden in plain sight in the middle of major cities.

Others don’t feature on maps due to their physical remoteness or because they are so new they’ve not yet been charted, such as the 534 islands recently found hiding off the Philippines.  

“It’s often said that the world is shrinking, and in an age of Google Earth and Street View it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the dark corners of the world have gone,” says Professor Bonnett. “But if anything, geography is getting stranger. New islands are rising up, while others are disappearing and borders are continually being re-drawn as previously familiar territories fragment.

“The stories in this book show us that there are still lots of unusual places that challenge us to re-evaluate how we perceive the world.”

Among the places he visits is Les Minquiers, a group of islands south of Jersey and the location of the most southerly buildings in the British Isles. At high tide, the whole lot almost vanishes – only nine islets remain visible, the largest of which is only 100 metres long by 15 metres wide.

Their status has long been disputed and as recently as 1994 the islands were ‘invaded’ by the French. After 13 years of talks between France and Britain to resolve the matter once and for all, a new agreement came into force on 1 January 2004.

Professor Bonnett also takes us to the world’s smallest country, sandwiched between Hermes and Jimmy Choo in the middle of Rome’s most fashionable street. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta has diplomatic relations with more than 100 countries and is a permanent observer at the United Nations. It even has its own passport and an army, which operates as a distinct medical unit within the Italian Army, yet as a sovereign state its land mass is a mere 64,583 square feet.  

Newcastle central motorway

Off the map

A follow up to the critically acclaimed ‘Off the Map’, the book also covers some of the unusual and unseen places to be found in Professor Bonnett’s home city of Newcastle. Among them the Skywalks – part of the post-war utopian vision to make a ‘city in the sky’ that would separate pedestrians from the traffic.

The scheme was never finished, and now largely redundant the remaining skywalks are rarely used. Despite originally being envisaged as key access routes, the skywalks are literally off the map since none of the remnants feature on the A – Z of Newcastle, Professor Bonnett points out.

He also returns to the traffic island in the ‘triangle of land’ between Newcastle’s A167M and A1058 (pictured) that he first encountered in ‘Off the Map’. This time, he enlists a colleague to help him carry out some guerrilla gardening by planting wild strawberries in the middle of the concrete no man’s land.

Professor Bonnett adds: “As we’ve become more mobile, many of us have lost our connection with a place. There is a nostalgia and yearning for places that have been lost or have disappeared but also bewilderment and unease at the fleeting, transient nature of many spaces around us.

“Each of these extraordinary places tells us something about the shifting nature of place and our relationship with the world around us. Towns and cities are becoming increasingly generic landscapes - but we need ‘real’ places where people can be rooted and have a historic connection.”

Beyond the Map is published by Aurum Press and is available now. 


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