Taking a walk on the Meridian line

The Meridian Line millstone
The Meridian Line millstone
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By award-winning blogger Trish Burgess

Most tourists, when they visit the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, pose for the obligatory shot of their feet planted firmly either side of the meridian line. If they have their smartphone with them, however, they will be puzzled by the fact that 0 degrees longitude is actually about 102 metres further east.

Maybe I should mark it in some way in my own garden, in the vain hope that in years to come the line will continue to move east and line up with my garage

Last month the reason for the shift in the line was finally explained. It’s something to do with the deflection in the natural direction of gravity, our Earth not being perfectly spherical and different methods of determining coordinates. To be honest, it’s all too technical for me to understand but it has become apparent because our GPS system is far more accurate than earlier telescopic methods.

Living in Holbeach, I have no need to travel to London to straddle the Prime Meridian. I can do this on a daily basis, just walking a few yards from my house. There is an old millstone, which was erected in 1959 to mark the spot at the top of Wignal’s Gate where it joins the Spalding Road (B1515). All around the area, street names reflect the significance of the location: Meridian Walk, Greenwich Avenue and John Harrison Way, remembering the famous Yorkshire-born but Lincolnshire-bred scientist whose invention of the marine chronometer solved the problem of establishing longitude for ships at sea.

At the time of the Millennium celebrations, there was renewed interest in the Prime Meridian: Millennium clocks counted down the time and trees were planted as part of an ambitious but doomed project, the Millennium Tree Line. In Holbeach itself, I remember attending the lighting of the beacon at midnight on 31 December 1999.

I rather like the fact that I live so very close to the Prime Meridian. Maybe I should mark it in some way in my own garden, in the vain hope that in years to come the line will continue to move east and line up with my garage. Though, as it’s probably only moving 2.5cm a year, I think I may have a long wait.

While I’m waiting maybe I should travel south from Holbeach and visit other towns along the line. Michael Palin followed the 30 degree longitudinal line in Pole to Pole but has anyone has tackled the 0 degree line? Holbeach is already twinned with Mondement in France but perhaps it would like a ‘Meridian Mate’ as well as a twin town. In France there would be a number of possibilities in Normandy, Aquitaine and the Pyrenees. In Spain, the line goes through the Costa Blanca, north and south of Valencia, just sweeping to the east of Benidorm: any takers for that civic trip?

A hop across the Mediterranean takes me through Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana before the line reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Its final marker is the Meridian Rock, a few metres off the Ghanaian coast at Halcrow Beach. Holbeach and Halcrow Beach - perfect meridian partners, don’t you think?

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