Random Conversation

I’ve done some work with Jimmy to help with a project he’s been working on since he retired – the Berrynarbor Newsletter.

While we were away on our traditional “lads weekend” in 2022, we spent an afternoon walking along Hurst Spit. We were down in Dorset and it was a beautiful morning. Freezing cold, but with bright sunshine and virtually no wind. We really are very good at doing this, because pretty much every year we’ve done a lads weekend we’ve had sparklingly good weather on the Saturday. The exception was in 2019 in the Brecon Beacons. When we were there the weather was rougher than a roofer’s glove all weekend. We walked up Pen y Fan in fog (and with snow on the ground), and as a result we couldn’t see diddly from the top. But I digress, as I often do. The point of this is that when we walked along Hurst Spit it was a lovely day.

A part of the walk was spent talking to Jimmy about the Berrynarbor website. He mentioned one particular aspect I thought I might be able to help with. It’s interesting to me to be able to apply some of the skills and techniques I use for geocaching to a different environment.

Jimmy’s mum (Judie) has been the editor of a local newsletter in their village since forever. Well, not quite that long, but for 33 years and 200 editions up to October 2022. That’s a lot of editing. She decided to stop working on it a while back, for various reasons, and the result was that the continued production of a printed version has now ceased. Over the last year or so, Jimmy has been helping her by creating an online archive of the work that she’d compiled into all those editions.

The Job at Hand

The newsletter was originally released in print only, and because of that, there is a significant risk that it all would be lost at some point. Printed copies degenerate eventually, even if you look after them well. And because it’s a local newsletter, it’s unlikely it would attract the attention of any institution that specializes in preserving printed media. So what can you do?

Well, what Jimmy has been doing is digitizing every issue to create an online archive. This has been, by his own admission, a labour of love, but the process has resulted in something which really is unique.

Why unique? Retained print media normally covers the big stuff. In the same way that when you’re taught history at school you’re taught the big stuff. Well, when I was a kid we were taught the big stuff anyway. Kings and queens, governments, wars, politics, religion, empire. Changes at a global geopolitical level. And, in more recent years, international sports, soap operas, celebrities and the social history of books, film and music, because in today’s world, those things are as much a part of our collective history as anything else.

History on a Local Scale

Everything at a (shall we say) lower level than that is essentially the preserve of archaeologists and of Baldrick. He’s spent much of his post-Blackadder years extrapolating a smashed bit of pottery and half a shoe into a complex description of village life in medieval rural England.

What I mean is that there is very little written (or at least, very little that has survived) about the actual lives of the ordinary person. The age of social media means there’s now much more available, but then there can be too much of a (cough) good thing. Most of that content is, with the very greatest of respect, like a never-ending safari in the Dunning-Kruger National Park.

What’s in the Berrynarbor Newsletter then?

So back in Berrynarbor, the newsletter is a 33-year long record of comings and goings at a very local level. It’s an expression of a local community.

Apart from the editor, it’s had many regular contributors. They have given their time to write articles or provide artwork to enrich the content through much of that time.

The newsletter has lots of regular features about local history, people, events, and diary-style descriptions of people’s travels. It’s basically a one-off. It’s full of various forms of lovingly-written content that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. For instance, one contributor (Tom Bartlett) provided a collection of postcards with images taken in and around the village, or that were mailed locally. Along with each postcard, he added some notes about the content and provenance of the card – where the images were captured, who published or created them, when they were mailed, and so on. Another contributor (Paul Swailes) created custom artwork for many of the articles based on a brief provided by Judie. Many of these were done by the artist physically visiting locations described in the article and creating artwork to match both the theme and the location.

Other regular articles include a series of local walks (by Sue H) and, by way of balance, recipes for cakes and other sweet things (by Wendy Applegate).

How Does it Work?

Jimmy has been working through all of these editions to bring the content online. That will preserve it, but as part of the process it’s also being enriched.

As the originals were done in printed media, and weren’t done by professional print shops, there was a lot of effort involved in bringing it online. He processed the text using character-recognition technology, but this can tend to be a bit flakey, so it’s all been proof-read (“old skool”) by Judie to ensure the content is as it was originally published.

In addition, most of the artwork was only available from the original print copy. So they’ve put loads of effort into sourcing decent-quality copies of all the images and then scanning those so that the online version contains better images than the printed original.

So What am I Doing?

As well as polishing up the content that was originally in the printed versions, moving online gives the opportunity to enrich the content with new things that were not previously there. And this is where my own particular niche skills offered something which might be of use.

One of the regular features in the newsletter is the series of local walks. These were written by a single contributor (Sue H) from the perspective of the experience of engaging in the walk (the weather, the nature, the changing landscape, and so on). However, while we were walking along Hurst Spit (remember the start of this post?) I mused that it would be possible to make some useful additions which could be done with tools that I play with most days.

I suggested it might look richer if each walk was accompanied by a map of the walking route, and, for the technologically minded, a downloadable GPX file of that route. This would enhance the original content by displaying (especially for non-locals) the exact routes that the original author took. I am working on that from the perspective of what I personally would want if I was going to attempt the walk. The key features I’d want to know are:

  • Where should I park?
  • How long is the walk?
  • How hilly is it?

The experiences of each walk are beautifully described in the articles already. There was no need to rework any of that. However, we felt the walks could be made more immediately accessible by adding those three things.

How do I do that?

Some of the articles don’t contain a detailed description of the actual walking route. However, most have enough to figure out where to start from and describe key locations you would visit. That means that with a decent map it’s possible to capture a route. It might not be the exact route the author originally took, but generally enough to pass each of the places mentioned.

I already use tools that are capable of doing what we needed. The main one I’ve used is Memory-Map. I use this for geocaching to plan walking routes and set up what I need onto my handheld-GPS device. You can read other posts in this “techie” part of this site to explain why I use a handheld. But anyway, in Memory-Map I have access to a full UK copy of the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 “Explorer” maps . These have been fully calibrated to GPS coordinates. They are still raster maps rather than vector maps, but at the scale required here (and for geocaching) they are more than adequate.

What this allows me to do is two things:

  • Draw a “route” onto the map which superimposes a set of directions onto the underlying map
  • Output that route to a GPX file containing the exact GPS coordinates of points on the route

Multiple apps are available that will allow you to upload a GPX file and then navigate your way around it. These cover most types of devices from Android, Apple and Garmin. It’s a very convenient way of publishing a route. The GPX file means also that the route is not specifically tied to the OS maps in Memory-Map. It just uses GPS coordinates and will therefore overlay onto whatever base map the app supports.

The Way In

To create an extra dimension, and an alternate way of accessing (this) content in the newsletter, Jimmy and me figured out how to add a base map to the newsletter site by using free tools from Leaflet Maps. They provide a well-documented JavaScript-based library for adding maps and markers into your website. They allow multiple different base map layers and styles for markers, and a host of other cunning things, so it seemed a good way to go. I used a leaflet-based WordPress plugin to buld the geocaching find maps that I add to my blog posts.

If you look at the local walks section of the newsletter you can see how Jimmy has used a single map to provide a means of access to the individual walk articles. It looks a bit busy on the macro-scale, but there’s a lot of content in the newsletters. You can zoom in and out to your heart’s content though.


So I’m very happy to be a small cog in a somewhat larger wheel. The job of preparing the walking routes is maybe only 10% done at the time of writing this post. But now Jimmy has the original content ready, the addition of walking routes can be progressive. Hopefully that means we’re not subject to any time constraints. He’s done it in such a way that the content is displayed from a database. That means I can progressively add rows to that database. Jimmy can then upload those without having to do any more work on the presentation. That bit is already done, and I like the way it looks. Hopefully Jimmy and Judie like it too.

Follow some of the links on this page to see what Jimmy has been doing. All of the things I’ve personally helped with are in the local walks section.