2 Sep 2013

Bird's-eye views.

I constantly use Google Earth, Krak, Grundkort Fyn and other free mapping and aerial photography websites to see where I've been on my trike and where I really ought to go. My GPS logger draws and saves my routes in great detail so I wouldn't be without it now. I had two different GPS loggers but the sealed-in battery died on one of them. Thanks to the Internet I can always search online later for all the interesting things and places I passed or missed along the way.

Krak is an incredibly useful commercial "free" mapping service. Relying on subtle advertising and drawing my potential routes between chosen place names. It lists every turn, distance to be travelled, with all the road names and provides accurate overall distances and likely elapsed times.(By car!) Free to use and fully printable. It has filters to avoid motorways and ferries and allows multiple insertions of chosen place names on the route. With some very amusing errors possible if you choose badly from the drop down suggestion lists as you type badly! Duplication of village names is quite commonplace in Denmark.

Here is a link to a shortest route suggestion on Krak across the north of the island of Fyn:
Note the row of appearance change controls at the top of the map and filter options on the left.
(In Danish, of course)


Back click to return to the blog.

Google Earth is indispensable but do not fool yourself that it provides remotely up to date or even remotely sharp aerial images. A course screen has been deliberately applied to the so-called "Satellite" views. Which are often so dark and fuzzy over much of Denmark that they might as well not bother. Presumably this is to protect public privacy and/or to try and sell premium services. Luckily they are no longer alone in providing these useful services. So one imagines the desire to improve or further expand their Street View coverage of minor roads is now very low on their list of commercial priorities.

No doubt everybody has seen Google Earth and Street View so there is really no need to show examples of their services here. I wish Street View would work on all the yellow marked roads but there seems to be a massive backlog awaiting updating in Denmark. No doubt the privacy backlash from their illegal, rogue activities has put a severe damper on any updating in some parts of Europe. The cost to their bottom line from lost advertising opportunities must literally run into many billions! Don't get me started on the NSA/Snowdon fiasco! I'm paranoid enough already! ;ΓΈ)))

Meanwhile Grundkort Fyn's overhead aerial imagery is updated annually. Grundkort Fyn is owned by the "county" councils of Fyn and used in their daily activities in planning, taxing and regulation of the island. Their generosity in providing the service to the public offers a powerful and useful tool to every citizen.

Their aerial imagery is now so good you can see the colour of your car changing over the years and detail down to the fixing screws on barn roofs  in some cases. It is fascinating to click backwards and forwards through the years in succession to see how trees grew and disappeared. Their impact on the appearance of the landscape is impossible to ignore.

Lately the image quality has been improving steadily with each year's new release. Ironically some of the aerial imagery  from the 1970s-80s is very poor indeed! Grey cotton wool collages would be a good description. Nevertheless, Grundkort Fyn provides a huge range of free services to measure and display on top of the maps and its excellent aerial imagery. Including property boundaries and very clear elevation markings. All available at a click of the mouse and as easily removable again for clarity. Cross referencing to ownership, property values and highly detailed descriptions are only ever a  mouse click away.

Unfortunately I can't show images or even link to GrundkortFyn's excellent  imagery because it requires a Java download to one's own local PC to view it. Direct links to saved HTML webpages revert to maps rather than the high resolution imagery I had hoped to show. I could take a photo of my monitor screen but it doesn't do justice to the remarkable detail visible on the ground. All GrundkortFyn's maps and aerial images are plan views. i.e. Seen from vertically overhead.

Living in Denmark gives me generous access to all these free services. Including, much to our recent delight, a vast series of aerial photographs going back to well before the war in some cases. While it is interesting to see your own house in plan view over the decades, aerial pictures taken from an angle are infinitely more interesting! Add the historical element, going back for well over half a century, and you can follow the development of your own area. As it gains and loses buildings, railways, once common road furniture, roads, bypasses and motorways.

The sense of nostalgia for former times is absolutely incredible! They capture and gently hold a moment in time like nothing else. Small but recognisable figures looking up (and even waving) at the aeroplane. Seen from neat gardens and vast, perfectly arranged, vegetable plots in a landscape almost totally devoid of cars. This is as near as it gets to a true, virtual time machine. Visually, the 1950s seem to have been a comfortable high point in rural Denmark. Everything looks so incredibly neat and well to-do compared with the latest images of dreary untidiness, sprawling undergrowth, massive agricultural machinery damage, messy parking amid countless unsold and unkempt rural homes!

A view of a thatched cluster of farmhouses from 1955 on Fyns Hoved.
[Fyn's Head is a distinctive promontory at the top right NE of Fyn]
Image downloaded, rotated and cropped from: "Danmark Set Fra Luften."
"Denmark seen from the air."
A service of Det Kongelig Bibliotek.
The Danish Royal and Copenhagen University Libraries.

The biggest surprise is how many homes and farms were thatched until relatively recently. Then came the arrival of Eternit, corrugated, asbestos cement roofing sheets and its (almost) universal replacement of thatch. It provided a fairly lightweight, fairly inexpensive roof without the need for major roof reinforcement or modification. Usually the original roof timbers in the round could be retained. It just required a new set of roofing battens to match the exact new spacing needs of the Eternit fixing screws.

Moreover the new sheeting was much quieter in heavy rain and wind and longer lasting than thinner materials like corrugated iron. The farmers had been so busy draining the equally corrugated landscape that many of the marshes, [moser] typically found in place names, had long lost their last reeds. Eternit must have arrived in the nick of time for many properties. Thatching today is an incredibly expensive way of roofing one's home despite the reeds being imported from Eastern Europe. There are still quite a number of thatchers advertising their services.

Imagine discovering that not so very long ago one's present house was half the size, with gently sloping thatched hips and a central chimney! The garden a carefully laid out series of neatly planted, vegetable patches. One can spend many happy hours searching among these aerial images for different views of rather grander, local farmhouses. All in the hope of catching another glimpse of one's own little abode nestling softly amongst its ever changing trees and hedges somewhere in the background.

Unless you live in Denmark you will have no idea how many farms were and are still crammed into the landscape. Though many former farmhouses are now homes of character and no longer active as centres of agricultural production. The familiar squares of barns and outhouses set around enclosed yards are still very familiar in the villages and fields everywhere you go. Each farm yard offers shelter from the wind and weather,  privacy and all offer a real sense of mystery to the outsider.

I often catch glimpses of rural history through the entrances which pierce the many roadside barns. Sadly these low and narrow portals are often inadequate for the huge, modern tractors and their equally large machinery. So many active farmyards have lost one side of the square and ended up open to the road. The pressure for change has often meant that former farms are no longer remotely viable. The huge steel sheds and galvanised silos are a clear indicator of their time on the modern landscape. The ranges of machinery scattered amongst the buildings a clear sign of present activity.

Regardless of age, these aerial pictures are mostly of excellent quality and are published for free viewing online by the Danish Royal Library. Enlargement of images to full screen and the downloading and saving of the images is also allowed. I have posted a resized, random example above. Originally the pictures were taken by speculative, commercial flying services. They took aerial pictures of farms and houses in the hope of selling them for a profit. No doubt this need drove the pilots and operators to provide a high quality product.

I remember a similar system in the UK but the vendors were so incredibly greedy that most home owners must have have been put off! Literally hundreds of pounds for quite a small framed picture. In Denmark aerial images of farm buildings must have been rather more affordable and more popular. I often see them in flea markets and charity shops. Presumably the original buildings have changed hands, the family owners have died, or the buildings have even been demolished. Without a clear identity label they are usually impossible to reunite with their original location. Particularly with the far greater mobility of modern life.

Out of curiosity I have just tried to find a free, online, aerial image service in the UK. However, the similar sounding names seem unable to show a searchable countrywide map, or aerial plan view, with clear marker blobs. Where multiple images are available from the countless digitized images of the entire country. The ease with which one can find exactly the right location (in the Danish example) really ought to be a guide to anyone planning a similar service elsewhere.

A column of thumbnails and descriptions pops up automatically on the left side of the screen to show the images available in the selected geographical area on the screen. These images disappear as the ground area being covered is narrowed. Making it incredibly easy to exclude anything irrelevant to the local search. Zoom out again and a new set of images and blobs on the ground image are presented. A superbly friendly application of an amazing public service built from a unique resource. Now made freely available to all! Well done to all concerned!

What a way to inspire the young into understanding their own history. Every village with its own school, dairy, timber yard or carpentry workshop, butcher, cobbler, farmer's supplies and local greengrocery shop. (Often at the very least) Now most smaller villages are just empty dormitories totally devoid of local services. Children might as well not exist as far as the street scene is concerned these days. Blank shop windows stare out across the empty rural roads. Or blink to the thunder of speeding juggernauts. Endlessly dreaming of lost times never likely to return. The car and the supermarket chains have an awful lot to answer for!

If anyone had told me that all these online services would be possible, as I struggled with the awful keyboard of a Sinclair ZX81 in front of a tiny B&W TV, I would never have believed it! I can still remember the thrill of making letters appear on a TV screen where one had been a passive slave to monopoly broadcast TV for years. [Image of typical ZX81 set-up borrowed from Wiki]

They do say that the science of tomorrow is indistinguishable from magic. Those of us from the just-postwar generation have certainly seen our share of magic in our lifetimes. The near future of AI, genetic engineering, 3D printing, advanced materials and mass robotics promises to be even stranger. Provided we can survive the massive changes and challenges which society now faces.

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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