Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Guest Contributor - Phil Newby


I have approached a number of people to write articles, but if readers would like to contribute an article please contact me. The only two stipulations I make are that the article has to be hill related and that I don't end up in court through its publication! Otherwise the choice of subject matter is down to the Guest Contributor.

 Guest Contributor – Phil Newby

Phil Newby - Website host of Haroldstreet, one of the leading and innovative websites for hill baggers
I started www.haroldstreet.org.uk in January 2001 as a personal project to learn to build a website.  I focused it around my Christmas present for that year which was a basic GPS unit (intended to help me improve my navigation skills), and my ongoing interest in hill bagging and mountain walking in general.

At first, the site was very basic and little more than a collection of GPS files to download.  These included GPS waypoint files for Munros and Wainwrights, and GPS routes of walks that I had recorded while out in the field.  There was also a bit of a photo blog relating to my walking trips in Scotland & the Alps, wild flowers, and my passing thoughts on various bits of walking gear.  These still continue as an aside to the main site. 

Towards the end of 2002 I was approached by John Davis to host a file of GPS waypoints for the OS Triangulation Pillars he was compiling.  This same file went on to become a starting point for Teasel's wonderful trigpointing-UK website.

Over the years, I continued to add more and more lists of various hills from a wide range of web-based sources.  However, the effort of keeping these lists up to date, and cross referenced for accuracy & consistency became massively onerous.  The work increased exponentially in complexity with every new list added.  Eventually, I discovered the brilliant hills database maintained by Chris Crocker and team, and with their permission discarded all my own separate lists in favour of their far superior efforts and capacity for constantly improving the accuracy of the data.

Once I had reconfigured my site to use the Database of British & Irish Hills dataset to generate the GPS waypoint files dynamically, I converted the Trig-point data from John to work as part of my website's underlining database too.  I then connected many of the trig points to their nearest hill.  It was a bit of a revelation to discover that most trig points were not on recognised hills at all, and that many of those that were, were some distance from the true summit.  In the end, I settled on an arbitrary proximity of 200m for lumping a trig point and a hill summit as being the same "bagging entity". 

Haroldstreet home page with choices ranging from on-line tick lists to shared GPX files
The use of a database behind the website also opened up the possibility of adding Google mapping to all the pages.  This was a significant steep learning curve for my infantile website skills but also a very enjoyable challenge.  After this, I soon realised I could also use these hill lists as simple tick-lists to track my own hill bagging progress, and with just a bit more work it was easy to extend this functionality for any of the visitors to my site through a simple membership scheme.

Membership also provided opportunities for other people to share their GPS walking routes and waypoints with the virtual world, as well as record comments and photos against the hills, routes and trig points on the site.  This has made the site content much broader and more interesting than I could ever have achieved on my own.

A major coup for the website was when Phil Brady asked me to host his famous Ordnance Survey Frequently Asked Questions pages and his amazing OSGB Excel conversion spreadsheets.  These Excel routines convert latitude and longitude to and from OS references, compute bearings and ranges, compute variations from north, import and export GPX files, show data on Google Earth and convert postcodes.  These pages are held at www.haroldstreet.org.uk/osgb/.

More recently the site has again benefited from collaborations with Rob Woodall, Nick Wakelam and Bernie Hughes in adding some more hill lists. www.haroldstreet.org.uk hosted the Tumps (P30s) and the Synges earlier than the Database of British & Irish Hills, and more recently has added the Yeamens and Dewey Notables.  We are now looking at working on a new collaboration around the Lakes Minor Prominences (LaMPs) for the New Year.   

I'm also always open to adding a new hill list if anyone is motivated enough to do the work of getting me the data in a format that is similar to that used by the Database of British & Irish Hills and ideally cross-referenced to their existing hills.

www.haroldstreet.org.uk statistics for the year 2013:

·         more than 51,000 unique visitors/per annum 

·         more than 347,000 pages viewed/per annum 

·         more than 11,500 GPS Files downloaded/per annum 

·         more than 2000 members have registered (and successfully logged in)

·         more than 138,000 members' hill & trig point bagging ticks are recorded

·         more than 770 walking routes have been submitted by our members

The site will always remain a not for profit venture and relies on a small but consistent stream of donations, and some modest advertising revenue to pay for its ongoing internet hosting costs.

The site has benefited massively from every collaboration with the site users in its continuing evolution; whether this has been a member's feedback on a minor issue, a comment on a missing trig point, submission of each GPS route, or help compiling of an entire new list of hills for the site.  So my thanks go to every contributor and donor who has helped me make www.haroldstreet.org.uk what it is today.

The Welsh Marilyns page on Haroldstreet
When asked why he used Haroldstreet, Rob Woodall said "Haroldstreet has become a key hill bagging tool for me over the last year or so. I had been vaguely aware of it for years, but when a friend started using Haroldstreet as her primary trig bagging resource, I quickly discovered its merits - in my case mainly as a practical tool for use in parallel to the much more detailed and labour-intensive hill-bagging and TrigpointingUK sites. 

The first thing that struck me was how easy it is to tick things off, using either the list interface (for lists already completed) or the map interface for ongoing projects. I had all my several thousand logs ticked off within 2 or 3 evenings! The speed is largely because there is no date logging facility (users wanting to record their visit dates will need a parallel system for this).Then the ability of the main map page to zoom in to 1:25,000 OS mapping is a boon for planning purposes, as is the ability to switch to aerial photography to verify that the forest rides really are where the OS say they are, before doing battle with the sitka spruce! This is extended by easy linking to other related sites for even more detail, such as Geograph.org.uk for 1:10,000 mapping and photos. Another powerful feature is the SQL functionality. Many websites tend to do their data querying in the background. On Haroldstreet it is possible for a non-programmer like me to intuitively customise the URL to view / filter hills e.g. by height band and / or re-ascent, or to combine or contrast lists.

Another plus for me is that Phil as site owner is always open to new ideas and lists. It's fun and quite a privilege to be able to contribute to what is an excellent and very usable website."

1 comment:

Douglas Law said...

I totally agree with Rob's comments. This is a very useful user friendly site which helps you plan and then record your trig and hill-bagging.