Uncharted territory

Rex Walford was impressed by the inventiveness of entrants to this year's Young Geographer of the Year competition

"A map is worth a thousand words", the old saying goes. If so, we were dealing with several million words as we judged the 2006 Young Geographer of the Year competition at the Royal Geographical Society, London, in late April. Nearly 3,000 entrants responded to the challenge to Make a Map.

The large table in the Council Room was covered with brilliant and beautiful A-3 sized maps as the judges moved round it and evaluated a final selection of entries. They had cascaded in from all over Britain. Some were fact-filled, some relied on flair; they ranged from the simple to the sophisticated, from the fantastical to the futuristic The competition proved particularly popular with the two younger age-groups in the competition (12 and under, and 13 to 15). Why, we judges wondered, were entries from sixth-formers relatively thin on the ground this time? Was it perhaps that, unlike previous years when essay questions were set, this year's topic (Make a Map) seemed less relevant to A-levels and so received less support from both teachers and students? If so, a great opportunity was missed. Memo to examiners: GCSEs and A-levels should make sure that map-making is seen as important as map-reading.

It proved difficult to choose winners because the content was so gloriously wide, as were as the differences in style. How to balance, for example in the Junior Class, Lois Brewer's (Penglais School, Aberystwyth) neat computer-generated map of Dive Sites in the Caribbean (full of clever logos) against Kathleen Greene's (St George's College, Surrey) intensely personal, hand-crafted map of My Worst Nightmare? Fionna Macmillan offered a bleak and comprehensive world map called Aids - Know the Facts whereas Rachel McNally (also Watford Grammar School for Girls, Hertfordshire) worked on a selective domestic canvas, painstakingly mapping the relationship of dropped litter and litter-bins in Croxley Green. Entries in this class ranged from straightforward maps of England drawn by six-year-old entrants to several which purported to be Wallace and Gromit's Guide to British Cheese. The Journey of a Jumper (encompassing a plea for Fair Trade practices) jostled with a splendidly esoteric map which charted the London locations of Monty Python sketches.

As expected, there were plenty of mythical and treasure island maps; an original slant on this theme came from Lucy Wood, (Wispers School for Girls, Surrey) whose map of Westminster Abbey revealed that her relative, the late Canon Edward Carpenter, had spent a lifetime searching for a supposed Lost Treasure of Henry VIII which was buried there.

In the end the attractive and effective cartographic skills of Jake Hewitt of The Hall School, Hampstead, won the premier award in the junior class.

His map of The Battle of Camden Town, September 10th, 2201, complete with "escape routes" superimposed on accurate topography, had clear romantic, military and Chestertonian overtones, imaginatively evoking echoes of The Napoleon of Notting Hill, a famous London story from an earlier age.

The winners of both the intermediate and senior categories were young cartographers who charted their own personal view of the world, though the judges were not unduly indulgent to this form of map-making. Rachel Tuckett (winner of the 13-15 category) from King Edward VI Fiveways School, Birmingham, produced an excellent map which used transformations of orthodox topology to illustrate My World. Tina Thorburn, from Wellington School, Somerset, the winner of the senior category, used a more traditional base, but produced a map (The World as... Know It) which was a moving personal testament (with comments strung like beads along her travel routes), as well as a work of striking colour and beauty.

Other notable intermediate entries which demonstrated some of the virtues the judges were seeking (elegance, communicability, originality) included from Haberdashers' Aske's Girls' School Elstree, Imogen Ali's Guide to the Thermal Wonderland at Rotorua Wai-O-Tapu (sadly, without a scale, and so marred in "fitness for purpose"): from Westholme School, Blackburn, Mrinalini Dey's Ram's Journeys in the Hindu Legend of Ramayan (a multicultural equivalent of a traditional standby in RE the missionary journeys of St Paul); and from Lincoln Minster School , Lizzi Hewitt's scientifically informative Energy Delivery Charge Map of a Water Molecule.

Personal reading and interests featured in many of the entries. Narnia, and Willie Wonka's chocolate factory were recurring topics among the maps based on fiction. Mythical islands were sometimes shaped like guitars, and numerous imaginary lands or towns given fashionable names and splattered with in-jokes; the spread of Starbucks and Macdonalds around the world were duly charted.

In the senior category, the appropriately spartan but precise cartography of Lyndsey Fox (The Minster School, Southwell) mapping The World Foreseen by G Orwell in 1984 caught the eye, as did, for opposite reasons, the encyclopedic portfolio of Jeremy Brown (Heathside School, Surrey) portraying Millennium Projects in Britain. Sometimes the enthusiasms that gave rise to map ideas outran the skills to present them, but overall one could scarcely fail to be heartened by the way in which entrants in all three classes seized the opportunity to use geography's distinctive language so creatively.

They showed us conclusively that words aren't everything and that we would all be much the poorer in a world without maps.

* The Young Geographer of the Year competition is organised by Geographical magazine with the Royal Geographical Society and sponsored by The TES. The judges are Judith Mansell, education officer at the RGS, Rex Walford, fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, Mary Cruickshank, assistant editor, TES Teacher, and Kevin Dunne, marketing manager, Geographical.

The winning entries will appear on The TES website: www.tes.co.ukyounggeographer2006


Senior Geographer of the Year (16-18): Tina Thorburn, Wellington School, Somerset (top right).

Runners up: Tara Morris, Bishop's Castle Community College,Shropshire; Lyndsey Fox, The Minster School, Nottinghamshire.

Young Geographer of the Year (13-15): Rachel Tuckett, King Edward VI Five Ways School, Birmingham (centre right).

Runners up: Imogen Ali,Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls, Hertfordshire; Inge Hertzog, St George's College, Surrey.

Junior geographer of the Year (12 and under): Jake Hewitt, The Hall School, north London (bottom right).

Runners up: Natalie Cheung, Brentwood School, Essex, Victoria Woodhouse, Watford Grammar school for Girls, Hertfordshire.

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