A mountaineer

A Mountaineer, Author, Traveller and Photographer explains why he wants a World of Metric Simplicity

Hamish Brown

Where but in muddle-along Britain would we have the situation where walkers and climbers come off the hill on which they have used metric maps all day – and jump into cars to follow mile signs to the local pub?

I’m old enough to have suffered the schoolboy miseries of learning the old imperial weights and measures and even pounds, shillings and pence. It only took a few trips abroad to realise the cumbersome nature of all this so I was delighted when our maps went metric. I didn’t have to swap systems every few months. But we seem to have fallen asleep between map and reality. The kilometre grid has been with us even before that, which makes judging distances in kilometres easy on the map yet books, newspapers, all manner of bumph and, above all else – to bamboozle most of the world – all our road signs are given in miles. Have we ever been given a reason by any of the governments over the last thirty years why they drew back at this last, logical, even simple, piece of metrication?

As an instructor, teaching navigation is made ridiculous for my beginners. Kids are schooled in metrics and then faced with a world of different measurements on the roadside or in shops. We have outdoor folk thinking in metres for heights yet having miles forced on them for distances. Other countries find this laughable; I find it embarrassing. What is education for but to equip kids for the practicalities of life yet they are having to unlearn metrics once out of school. Makes government not laughable but incompetent and illogical. But we know that anyway!

As a writer I am constantly having to waste time converting figures, as a trainer I’m all too aware of the possibility for error in outdoor activities. Not only efficiency but safety would be enhanced by completing this long-running muddle.

Climbing peaks in Switzerland, shopping in the souks of Morocco for expedition food, swotting logistics for travel in the Arctic, working in my darkroom, reading (and writing) guidebooks – I’m in a world of metric simplicity. Isn’t it time the government came into the new millennium and joined the real world? They would actually gain Brownie points if they did besides making for a safer world.

Hamish Brown MBE, D.Litt., FRSGS is a well-known and respected mountaineer, author, lecturer and photographer who has led expeditions all over the metric world in a lifetime of climbing metric mountains.

The one kilometre grid system was introduced to Ordnance Survey maps in 1940. Its National Grid system is a key feature for safe route finding.