Field behind Hill Barn, near the Gom’s Hole public footpath, in the valley beneath the hamlet of Clapton-on-the-Hill. About 4km outside the village of Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire.
Dan Q (as a retrohash on the same date but 19 years later, on 2021-02-19)
On the second anniversary of the death of my father, a man who loved to get out into the world and get lost, I undertook my first geohashing expedition. As this seemed to be a good way to remember him I decided to repeat the experience on this, the ninth anniversary of his death, but the actual hashpoints for the day didn’t look interesting… so I opted to make my way to what would have been my nearest hashpoint on the day he died.
The weather looked horrible and the COVID lockdown (and working from home in general in recent years) has put me out of practice at cycling, so I thought a 40-50 mile round trip through the rolling hills of the Cotswolds was just the thing. This may have been a mistake, as my aching legs were able to testify for several days.
Cycling through Witney, over the hills behind Burford, and then across the Windrush valley and into Gloucestershire was a long, arduous, and damp journey, but what really got me was the wind picking up in the afternoon and giving me a headwind to fight against all the way back home.
Near the hashpoint I was able to lock my bike up at the junction between Sherbourne Street and Bourton Hill – a place shown on my map as “Gom’s Hole” which sounds exactly like what a D&D dungeon master would have a goblin would name his bar. From there I followed the footpath towards Farringdon. As the hashpoint drew closer I began to suspect that it would be unreachable: tall walls, fences, and hedges stood on both sides of the (flooded) footpath, but at the last minute they gave way to wide meadows. I turned off the path and crossed a dyke to the hashpoint, where I had a great view of hares and deer in the valley below. Minutes later, the owner of Hill Barn came over with her dog and asked what I was doing around the back of her land and why I was taking pictures, so I explained that I’d strayed from the footpath (true) because my GPS had told me too (technically true) but I was heading back down to what I could see was the path, now (true, if misleading).
She continued to watch me all the way back to my bike, so I changed my plans (which had been to eat a sandwich lunch and drink a pint of Guinness: my dad’s beer of choice) near the hashpoint and instead I cycled away to a nearby layby to have my lunch.
After a 48.3 mile round trip I got back home aching and exhausted, but pleased to have made it to this damp hashpoint.
But even when I’ve not been ‘hashing, it occurs to me that I’ve been tracking my location a lot. Three mechanisms in particular dominate:
Google’s somewhat-invasive monitoring of my phones’ locations (which can be exported via Google Takeout)
My personal GPSr logs (I carry the device moderately often, and it provides excellent precision)
The personal μlogger server I’ve been running for the last few years (it’s like Google’s system, but – y’know – self-hosted, tweakable, and less-creepy)
If I could mine all of that data, I might be able to answer the question… have I ever have accidentally visited a geohashpoint?
Let’s find out.
Data mining my own movements
To begin with, I needed to get all of my data into μLogger. The Android app syncs to it automatically and uploading from my GPSr was simple. The data from Google Takeout was a little harder.
I found a setting in Google Takeout to export past location data in KML, rather than JSON, format. KML is understood by GPSBabel which can convert it into GPX. I can “cut up” the resulting GPX file using a little grep-fu (relevant xkcd?) to get month-long files and import them into μLogger. Easy!
Well.. μLogger’s web interface sometimes times-out if you upload enormous files like a whole month of Google Takeout logs. So instead I wrote a Nokogiri script to convert the GPX into SQL to inject directly into μLogger’s database.
Next, I got a set of hashpoint offsets. I only had personal positional data going back to around 2010, so I didn’t need to accommodate for the pre-2008 absence of the 30W time zone rule. I’ve had only one trip to the Southern hemisphere in that period, and I checked that manually. A little rounding and grouping in SQL gave me each graticule I’d been in on every date. Unsurprisingly, I spend most of my time in the 51 -1 graticule. Adding (or subtracting, for the Western hemisphere) the offset provided the coordinates for each graticule that I visited for the date that I was in that graticule. Nice.
The correct way to find the proximity of my positions to each geohashpoint is, of course, to use WGS84. That’s an easy thing to do if you’re using a database that supports it. My database… doesn’t. So I just used Pythagoras’ theorem to find positions I’d visited that were within 0.15° of a that day’s hashpoint.
Using Pythagoras for geopositional geometry is, of course, wrong. Why? Because the physical length of a “degree” varies dependent on latitude, and – more importantly – a degree of latitude is not the same distance as a degree of longitude. The ratio varies by latitude: only an idealised equatorial graticule would be square!
But for this case, I don’t care: the data’s going to be fuzzy and require some interpretation anyway. Not least because Google’s positioning has the tendency to, for example, spot a passing train’s WiFi and assume I’ve briefly teleported to Euston Station, which is apparently where Google thinks that hotspot “lives”.
I assumed that my algorithm would detect all of my actual geohash finds, and yes: all of these appeared as-expected in my results. This was a good confirmation that my approach worked.
And, crucially: about a dozen additional candidate points showed up in my search. Most of these – listed at the end of this post – were 50m+ away from the hashpoint and involved me driving or cycling past on a nearby road… but one hashpoint stuck out.
Hashing by accident
In August 2015 we took a trip up to Edinburgh to see a play of Ruth‘s brother Robin‘s. I don’t remember much about the play because I was on keeping-the-toddler-entertained duty and so had to excuse myself pretty early on. After the play we drove South, dropping Tom off at Lanark station.
We exited Lanark via the Hyndford Bridge… which is – according to the map – tantalisingly-close to the 2015-08-22 55 -3 hashpoint: only about 23 metres away!
That doesn’t feel quite close enough to justify retroactively claiming the geohash, tempting though it would be to use it as a vehicle to my easy geohash ribbon. Google doesn’t provide error bars for their exported location data so I can’t draw a circle of uncertainty, but it seems unlikely that I passed through this very close hashpoint.
Pity. But a fun exercise. This was the nearest of my near misses, but plenty more turned up in my search, too:
2013-09-28 54 -2 (9,000m)
Near a campsite on the River Eden. I drove past on the M6 with Ruth on the way to Loch Lomond for a mini-break to celebrate our sixth anniversary. I was never more than 9,000 metres from the hashpoint, but Google clearly had a moment when it couldn’t get good satellite signal and tries to trilaterate my position from cell masts and coincidentally guessed, for a few seconds, that I was much closer. There are a few such erroneous points in my data but they’re pretty obvious and easy to spot, so my manual filtering process caught them.
2019-09-13 52 -0 (719m)
A600, near Cardington Airstrip, south of Bedford. I drove past on the A421 on my way to Three Rings‘ “GDPR Camp”, which was more fun than it sounds, I promise.
2014-03-29 53 -1 (630m)
Spen Farm, near Bramham Interchange on the A1(M). I drove past while heading to the Nightline Association Conference to talk about Three Rings. Curiously, I came much closer to the hashpoint the previous week when I drove a neighbouring road on my way to York for my friend Matt’s wedding.
2020-05-06 51 -1 (346m)
Inside Kidlington Police Station! Short of getting arrested, I can’t imagine how I’d easily have gotten to this one, but it’s moot anyway because I didn’t try! I’d taken the day off work to help with child-wrangling (as our normal childcare provisions had been scrambled by COVID-19), and at some point during the day we took a walk and came somewhat near to the hashpoint.
2016-02-05 51 -1 (340m)
Garden of a house on The Moors, Kidlington. I drove past (twice) on my way to and from the kids’ old nursery. Bonus fact: the house directly opposite the one whose garden contained the hashpoint is a house that I looked at buying (and visited), once, but didn’t think it was worth the asking price.
2017-08-30 51 -1 (318m)
St. Frieswide Farm, between Oxford and Kidlington. I cycled past on Banbury Road twice – once on my way to and once on my way from work.
2015-01-25 51 -1 (314m)
Templar Road, Cutteslowe, Oxford. I’ve cycled and driven along this road many times, but on the day in question the closest I came was cycling past on nearby Banbury Road while on the way to work.
2018-01-28 51 -1 (198m)
Stratfield Brake, Kidlington. I took our youngest by bike trailer this morning to his Monkey Music class: normally at this point in history Ruth would have been the one to take him, but she had a work-related event that she couldn’t miss in the morning. I cycled right by the entrance to this nature reserve: it could have been an ideal location for a geohash!
2014-01-24 51 -1 (114m)
On the Marston Cyclepath. I used to cycle along this route on the way to and from work most days back when I lived in Marston, but by 2014 I lived in Kidlington and so I’d only cycle past the end of it. So it was that I cycled past the Linacre College of the path, around 114m away from the hashpoint, on this day.
2015-06-10 51 -1 (112m)
Meadow near Peartree Interchange, Oxford. I stopped at the filling station on the opposite side of the roundabout, presumably to refuel a car.
2020-02-27 51 -1 (70m)
This was a genuine attempt at a hashpoint that I failed to reach and was so sad about that I never bothered to finish writing up. The hashpoint was very close (but just out of sight of, it turns out) a geocache I’d hidden in the vicinity, and I was hopeful that I might be able to score the most-epic/demonstrable déjà vu/hash collision achievement ever, not least because I had pre-existing video evidence that I’d been at the coordinates before! Unfortunately it wasn’t to be: I had inadequate footwear for the heavy rains that had fallen in the days that preceded the expedition and I was in a hurry to get home, get changed, and go catch a train to go and see the Goo Goo Dolls in concert. So I gave up and quit the expedition. This turned out to be the right decision: going to the concert one of the last “normal” activities I got to do before the COVID-19 lockdown made everybody’s lives weird.
2014-05-23 51 -1 (61m)
White Way, Kidlington, near the Bicester Road to Green Road footpath. I passed close by while cycling to work, but I’ve since walked through this hashpoint many times: it’s on a route that our eldest sometimes used to take when walking home from her school! With the exception only of the very-near-miss in Lanark, this was my nearest “near miss”.
We’re discussing the possibility of a Subdivision geohash achievement for people who’ve reached every “X in a Y”, and Fippe pointed out that I’m only a hash in the Vale of White Horse from being able to claim such an achievement for Oxfordshire’s regions. And then this hashpoint appears right in the Vale of White Horse: it’s like it’s an omen!
Technically it’s a workday so this might have to be a lunchtime expedition, but I think that might be workable. I’ve got an electric vehicle with a hundred-and-something miles worth of batteries in the tank and it looks like there might be a lay-by nearby the hashpoint (with a geocache in it!): I can drive down there at lunchtime, walk carefully back up the main road, and try to get to the hashpoint!
I worked hard to clear an hour of my day to take a trip, then jumped in my (new) electric car and set off towards the hashpoint. As I passed Newbridge I briefly considered stopping and checking up on my geocache there but feeling pressed for time I decided to push on. I parked in the lay-by where GC5XHJG is apparently hidden but couldn’t find it: I didn’t search for long because the farmer in the adjacent field was watching me with suspicion and I figured that anyway I could hunt for it on the way back.
Walking along the A338 was treacherous! There are no paths, only a verge covered in thick grass and spiky plants, and a significant number of the larger vehicles (and virtually all of the motorbikes) didn’t seem to be obeying the 60mph speed limit!
Reaching the gate, I crawled under (reckoning that it’s probably there to stop vehicles and not humans) and wandered along the lane. I saw a red kite and a heron doing their thing before I reached the bridge, crossed Letcombe Brook, and followed the edge of the field. Stuffing my face with blackberries as I went, it wasn’t long before I reached the hashpoint on one edge of the field.
I took a short-cut back before realising that this would put me in the wrong place to leave a The Internet Was Here sign, so I doubled-back to place it on the gate I’d crawled under. Then I returned to the lay-by, where another car had just pulled up (right over the GZ of the geocache I’d hoped to find!) and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Sadly I couldn’t wait around all day – I had work to do! – so I went home, following the satnav in the car in a route that resulted in a figure-of-eight tracklog.
But today my heart was filled with joy when today I received a postcard – a hashcard, no less – from fellow hasher Fippe, whose expedition to Lüneburg last week brought him past the famous town hall shown in the postcard, as evidenced by his photo from the site.
I’ll be travelling North through England all day on 2020-02-22 and it’s not a huge diversion to go and climb a hill as a break, so long as I set off early enough in the morning. We’ll see…
It’s a beautiful part of the world, the Peak District, although I could have picked a day when I’d be less-hampered by floods and wind. Nonetheless, I was able to climb a short way up Haven Hill, divert around an impromptu lake, and scramble into a thicket in order to reach the hashpoint at around 13:40. And to leave a “the Internet was here” sign at the nearest footpath
Taken by GPSr, but I seem to have lost the charging/data cable for it. Will find at some point.
North end of the village of Curbridge in Oxfordshire. Street View and satellite photography shows it as being alongside a nondescript road, but I’m aware that there’s a housing estate under construction nearby and there’s a new roundabout which appears on maps but not on satellite views which was constructed nearby last year: I’m hoping that the location is still accessible.
I don’t know whether I’ll be able to make it to this hashpoint; it depends on how work goes as well as the weather (while I’m not directly in the path of Storm Dennis I’m still in an area that’s getting lots of wind and rain). I’m not committed yet to whether I’d drive or cycle: it depends on how long I can spare, whether the car’s available for my use, and – again – the weather (I’d prefer to cycle, but I’m not going to do it if it means I get completely soaked on my lunch break).
Okay: I need to vacate my house anyway because some estate agents are bring some potential buyers around, so I’m setting out to the hashpoint now (12:20) after which I’ll aim to work in a coworking space for the afternoon. Wish me luck!
I drove out to the village of Curbridge and parked in a lane, then walked to the hashpoint, arriving about 13:05. Conveniently there’s a pole (holding a speed detecting sign) within a metre of the hashpoint so I was able to attach a “The Internet Was Here” sign in accordance with the tradition. Then I made my way to a coworking space half a mile to the North to carry on with my day’s work.
My GPSr keeps a tracklog:
Obtained, but I didn’t bring the right cable to the coworking space so I can’t get it yet. [to follow]
I keep my life pretty busy and don’t get as much “outside” as I’d like, but when I do I like to get out on an occasional geohashing expedition (like these ones). I (somewhat badly) explained geohashing in the vlog attached to my expedition 2018-08-07 51 -1, but the short version is this: an xkcd comic proposed an formula to use a stock market index to generate a pair of random coordinates, impossible to predict in advance, for each date. Those coordinates are (broadly) repeated for each degree of latitude and longitude throughout the planet, and your challenge is to get to them and discover what’s there. So it’s like geocaching, except you don’t get to find anything at the end and there’s no guarantee that the destination is even remotely accessible. I love it.
Most geohashers used to use a MediaWiki-powered website to coordinate their efforts and share their stories, until a different application on the server where it resided got hacked and the wiki got taken down as a precaution. That was last September, and the community became somewhat “lost” this winter as a result. It didn’t stop us ‘hashing, of course: the algorithm’s open-source and so are many of its implementations, so I was able to sink into a disgusting hole in November, for example. But we’d lost the digital “village square” of our community.
So I emailed Davean, who does techy things for xkcd, and said that I’d like to take over the Geohashing wiki but that I’d first like (a) his or Randall’s blessing to do so, and ideally (b) a backup of the pages of the site as it last-stood. Apparently I thought that my new job plus finishing my dissertation plus trying to move house plus all of the usual things I fill my time with wasn’t enough and I needed a mini side-project, because when I finally got the go-ahead at the end of last month I (re)launched geohashing.site. Take a look, if you like. If you’ve never been Geohashing before, there’s never been a more-obscure time to start!
Luckily, it’s not been a significant time-sink for me: members of the geohashing community quickly stepped up to help me modernise content, fix bots, update hyperlinks and the like. I took the opportunity to fix a few things that had always bugged me about the old site, like the mobile-unfriendly interface and the inability to upload GPX files, and laid the groundwork to make bigger changes down the road (like changing the way that inline maps are displayed, a popular community request).
So yeah: Geohashing’s back, not that it ever went away, and I got to be part of the mission to make it so. I feel like I am, as geohashers say… out standing in my field.
The XKCD Geohashing Wiki has been down ever since the forums hosted on the same server were hacked almost three months ago. But the algorithm is functionally open-source and there’s nothing to stop an enterprising Geohasher from undertaking adventures even when the biggest silo is offline (I’m trying to negotiate a solution to that problem, too, but that’s another story).
So I planned to take a slightly extended lunch break for what looked like an easy expedition: drive up to Fullwell where it looked like I’d be able to park the car and then explore the footpath from its Western end.
Everything went well until I’d parked the car and gotten out. We’ve had some pretty wet weather lately and I quickly discovered that my footwear was less than ideal for the conditions. Clinging to the barbed wire fence to avoid slipping over, I made my way along a footpath saturated with ankle-deep slippery mud. Up ahead, things looked better, so I pressed on…
…but what I’d initially surveyed to be a drier, smoother part of the field up ahead quickly turned out to be a thin dried crust on top of a pool of knee-to-waist-deep ooze. Letting out a smelling like a mixture of stagnant water and animal waste runoff, the surface cracked and I was sucked deep into the pit. I was glad that my boots were tied tightly or I might have lost them to the deep: it was all I could do to turn around and drag my heavy, sticky legs back to the car.
This is my first failed hashpoint expedition that wasn’t cancelled-before-it-started. It’s a little disappointing, but I’m glad I turned around when I did – when I spoke to somebody near where I’d parked, they told me that it got even worse in the next field and a farmer’s tractor had gotten briefly stuck there recently!
Dan Q plans to cycle out to the hashpoint this morning/early afternoon, aiming to arrive around 13:00.
A morning meeting with an estate agent wrapped-up sooner than I expected, and I found myself with enough free time to tackle a cycle out to (and back from) this hashpoint with enough time to spare to do a little freelance work and study in the afternoon. The sun beamed gloriously except during a few windy moments (as you can hear hear in the accompanying video) and a couple of points where it briefly threatened to rain before changing its mind.
I picked a route that minimised the time I would spend on major roads: I left Kidlington via the towpath alongside the Oxford Canal, taking the woodland path to Begbroke alongside the “fairy doors”, and then the cyclepath alongside the A44 into Woodstock. There, I’d planned to cut through the grounds of Blenheim Palace, but for a brief moment I worried that this might not be possible: some kind of event is taking place at the Palace this week, and it seemed possible that parts of the grounds would be inaccessible. Fortunately I was allowed through and was able to continue my adventure without venturing on the main roads, but I still wonder if my route was truly legit: when I came out of the other side of the grounds I noticed a sign indicating that the route I’d taken was not supposed to be a public right of way to the Palace I’d just come from!
Pushing on through Stonesfield and Fawler I made my way to Charlbury, dismounted twice to pick my way through the village’s confusing one-way system, found the station, and made my way down the lane behind it. There’s a lovely little nursery there called The Railway Children, which is pretty cute for a nursery alongside a station. The lane seemed to exist only for the purpose of serving the sewage treatment works at the end of it, but nobody batted an eye at my cycling down it, and I was able to park my bike up half-way and walk the remaining distance up through the grassy field to the hashpoint, arriving at about 13:30. It’s a beautiful area, but there’s not much more to say about it than that.
On the return journey I called in at geocaches GC1JMQY (log) and GC873ZQ (log), but failed to find GC87403 (log), principally because I was running out of spare time and had to cut my search short. I cycled home, logging a total journey of around 43 kilometres (around 27 miles).
Expedition by bike from Kidlington to the to the 2019-08-01 51 -1 hashpoint in Charlbury via the Oxford Canal towpath, Begbroke, Oxford Airport, Woodstock, Blenheim Palace, and Stonesfield, and back via two geocaches.
Hashpoint appears to be at the very end of Bleache Place, a suburban cul-de-sac in South-East Oxford. Looks very close to, but not on, the driveway of number 15. Possibly a convenient nearby lamp post for possibly attaching a “the Internet was here” sign?
(So long as he can get enough of his coursework done to justify taking a break), Dan Q plans to cycle out to the hashpoint at some point during the day.
14:55 – okay, I’ve not finished as much of my coursework as I’d hoped, but I’ve finished enough that I can afford to take a break of a couple of hours to cycle out to the hashpoint, do a silly grin, put up a “The internet was here!” sign, and whatnot. Here we go!
15:58 – Success! Photos, tracklog, and details to follow. I’ve put a sign up so I wanted to put a message here for anybody who happens to see it and visit this page before I get home and finish writing-up!
I’m not sure that I process death in the same way that “normal” people do. I blame my family.
When my grandmother died in 2006 I was just in the process of packing up the car with Claire to try to get up to visit her before the inevitable happened. I received the phone call to advise me that she’d passed, and – ten emotional minutes later – Claire told me that she’d “never seen anybody go through the five stages of grief as fast as that before”. Apparently I was a textbook example of the Kübler-Ross model, only at speed. Perhaps I should volunteer to stand in front of introductory psychology classes and feel things, or something.
Since my dad’s death seven years ago, I’ve marked Dead Dad Day every 19 February a way that’s definitely “mine”: with a pint or three of Guinness (which my dad enjoyed… except if there were a cheaper Irish stout on draught because he never quite shook off his working-class roots) and some outdoors and ideally a hill, although Oxfordshire makes the latter a little difficult. On the second anniversary of my dad’s death, I commemorated his love of setting out and checking the map later by making my first geohashing expedition: it seemed appropriate that even without him, I could make a journey without either of us being sure of either the route… or the destination.
As I implied at his funeral, I’ve always been far more-interested in celebrating life than mourning death (that might be why I’m not always the best at supporting those in grief). I’m not saying that it isn’t sad that he went before his time: it is. What’s worst, I think, is when I remember how close-but-not-quite he came to getting to meet his grandchildren… who’d have doubtless called him “Grandpeter”.
We all get to live, and we’re all going to die, and I’d honestly be delighted if I thought that people might remember me with the same kind of smile (and just occasionally tear) that finds my face every Dead Dad Day.
It’s my birthday on YYYY-01-08 (Birthday geohash achievement, here I come!), and even though I have to go into work (boo!), I note that my graticule’s geohashpoint falls only about a kilometre and a half of a diversion from my usual cycle route to work. The A4260 and A34 are basically a deathtrap for cyclists, so depending on conditions and traffic I’ll probably divert via the Oxford Canal towpath from Kidlington to Peartree, park up near Peartree Services, and then finish on foot. And then go to work, I guess.
Success! A relatively easy (but sometimes scary: the traffic’s a bit nuts on some of the major roads that provided the shortest route) journey to the hashpoint area, followed by a slightly-scary crossing of the road to the hashpoint, which turned out to be right by the crash barriers at the central reservation. The crash barriers provided a great place to tie a “The Internet Was Here” sign.
On my way away from the hashpoint, at 09:19, I hid a geocache: (“2019-01-08 51 -1, 09:19”, OK049E, GC827X6). The geocache is of the “puzzle” variety – the person looking for it is likely to discover geohashing (if they haven’t already) as part of their research into the secret location of the cache.
Okay, I’m going for it! I’m driving from Oxford to Penzance this morning and having just watched the sun rise over Sedgemoor Services off the M5 I’ve determined that I’m ahead of schedule by enough that I can justify a diversion, so I’m going to try for this hashpoint as I “pass”. Typing from mobile, apologies for lack of formatting ans any spelling errors; I’ll fix them later.
Driving from Oxford to Penzance in the world’s-smallest-rental-car isn’t a fun adventure. What is fun, though, is hitting up a graticule I’ve never hashed in before to see if I can find the day’s hashpoint while en-route.
Parking the awfulmobile in a country lane, I followed the road and then a country footpath towards the hashpoint. I say “footpath”, but the public right of way was in dire need of maintenance and the nettles and hedges were encroaching badly upon it. Which was troublesome, because the other side of the footpath was marked by an electric fence that I didn’t want to touch, and so I had to shuffle sideways-at-times through the first field. The second field was easier-going, and I got a great view of the distant storm beginning to roll in which would soak me later, as I hid adventure-game clues atop a cliff near Penzance. The third field appeared to be where the hashpoint would be, and it was crossed by the public right of way, but I was surprised to find that the electric fence returned and now barred my way. Luckily its owner had seen fit to put a length of plastic piping around the live wire so it was possible to jump over without burning my crotch, but this seemed a little not-the-done-thing regardless.
The hashpoint was right in the middle of the field and an easy find. Certainly easier than the short-but-exciting hike there and back.