Ever realise that you’ve inadvertently got a new hobby? That, somewhere along the line, you’ve become mildly obsessed with something? Looking through my social media pics recently, I discerned a trend that I was completely unaware of.
Yes, I’ve become a trig bagger!
Triangulation pillars, trigs, were built by the Ordnance Survey from the mid 1930’s as a network of accurately known positions creating a National Grid which form the basis of their maps. Several hundred ‘fundamental benchmarks’ where built originally in the quest to survey the shape of Great Britain but these were supplemented by thousands more over the following decades. Trigs are 4″ tall concrete pillars on which a surveying tool called a theodolite could be mounted to calculate accurate angles between pairs of nearby pillars; triangulation. They stand on the highest summit in a given area and though largely redundant, some are still in active use providing positional information for GPS technology.
Well, that’s the gist that I got from Googling. You really don’t want to see my search history!
As my running has taken me increasingly off road, I have stumbled, aimed for and actively sought out these little towers. Why? Well, er, because they’re at the top of the hill and as you turn your trainers to the trails that’s generally where you seem to end UP! There’s the ritual of ‘touching the trig,’ self-congratulation as you reach the summit and of course, a trig selfie is a must for the Instagram/Facebook profile.
Some trigs are obvious. A well-trod tourist path takes the bagger straight to them, some so popular that on a busy bank holiday you have to queue for your look-I-made-it snap. Some are concealed; a snowy ascent of Whernside and a shouty marital ‘dispute’ after we ran past the trig hiding behind the gap in the wall, (which was obscured by drift.) Shivering in shorts and discussing the merits of looping back for the money shot (me) versus getting down of the mountain without hypothermia (him.) Some you discover by chance when you’ve made a balls up of your nav whilst others are blatantly on private property and you have to scale a barbed wire fence to get to them. (*Not endorsed by the author.)
Anyway, it turns out that in some sectors having an encyclopedic knowledge of these little mapping monuments carries a lot of kudos. People post photos of trigs and challenge others to guess the location, the more sneaky angling the camera to capture the less recognised viewpoint, cryptic clues bandied. There are websites and forums dedicated to this stuff, sites where you can log your finds and converse with like-minded, er, ‘baggers.’ I’ve not been trig bagging long enough to hold my own in these types of conversation yet and can only stand back and marvel at the geekery.
And then there’s the purists. Because what should a trig look like? Pure white, glistening in the sunshine apparently. Vandalism is abhorrent, (obviously unacceptable to scrawl Rara woz ere! on one.) I’ve heard tell of people carrying a sample pot of white emulsion up a hill to restore a trig to it’s former glory, but where does vandalism become art and is there such a thing as trig art? Personally, I went a-hunting as soon as I found out about this coloured one in my neck of the woods but it’s definitely a controversial subject amongst trig baggers.
Trig bagging is a wonderfully British, eccentric past time. I’ve tried to join the real nutcases and headstand aside one but I’m not fearless enough, My bags are still relatively local and no match for the serious collector but more and more, as my off road running becomes more ranging, I find myself poring over my OS map, eyes scanning for little triangles. Apparently, originally from each trig you could see 2 others. This is less likely now as many are hidden by foliage etc, but as I stand on a summit and soak up the view I find myself surveying the horizon contemplating where to run next…
…to bag another trig.