Watching Countryfile with my mum last week was a revelation, who would have thought that in 1774 scientists using a mountain in Perthshire – in an attempt to ‘weigh the world’ – would inadvertently invent contour lines. On Arran, James Hutton is famous for ‘unconformities’; I first thought it was him tracking and tracing on Schiehallion Mountain. After many days blissfully conflating 2 Huttons, I have realised it was Newcastle born Charles Hutton who is responsible for the invention.I was tracing and scaling contour lines in my first draft model islands; an early idea was to use the boundaries of the NTS on Arran to create a coastline thus cutting the Estate adrift from its surroundings. One polyethylene foam model was inverted and anchored in the water with a lump of granite; weighting with a material more closely equated with up-thrust.Whilst it looked ‘interesting’, the symbolism associated with isolating and ‘sinking’ the Estate was too negative to pursue.
Since the programme I have discovered a great book by Edwin Danson ‘Weighing the World’ in which he describes Charles Hutton’s invention:
He constructed a map on stout paper 4 feet square… After some cogitation he thought of interpolating unit heights between the spot heights and “connecting together by a faint line all the points which were of the same relative altitude”. “These calculations” wrote Hutton in something of an understatement “were naturally and unavoidably long and tedious”.
Thus were “the great lines” born.