Spurring it on?

As a river descends a valley, it rarely goes in a straight line.

The water will take the easiest route.  If there is a lump of rock in the way it will flow round it.

As a result, a river will tend to swing from side to side.

Up near the source of the Severn, the river is already taking a curvy path.  As it cuts itself a valley, that curvy path causes the valley side slopes to interlock with each other like the teeth on a zip.

A piece of higher land sticking out into the lower land (in this case the valley) is called a spur.  When they come from one side and then the other, as the river flows around them, then you’ve got interlocking spurs.

As the Severn’s valley gets deeper it goes through trees.  The path zigzags around the spurs, with the river, but you can’t see the interlocking pattern.  However, the virtually treeless Carding Mill Valley in the Shropshire Hills has a nice view!

So do they spur the river on?  If anything they probably slow it down, as the river twists and turns around them and cannot follow a direct path.

Water from the Cotswolds

Much of the rainwater falling in the Cotswolds disappears into the ground, soaking into the permeable limestone rock. It may eventually emerge lower down the hillside at a spring…

…or maybe not, as in here at what was once the source of the Thames.

Water that has trickled through limestone usually comes out pretty clean and carrying various dissolved minerals, particularly calcium. This usually results in a pleasant taste and gives the water health benefits, calcium being needed for strong bones. Thus it is excellent as drinking water.

But you don’t have to live in the Cotswolds to taste it for yourself. Several companies sell spring water that is bottled at its Cotswold source. These enterprises vary in size, with one company having a licence to remove 73 million litres of water per year from its borehole drilled into the limestone rock.

And then there are the water supply companies. They need to source enough water to keep it flowing down the pipes direct into our homes. Thames Water supplies 15 million customers. It gets around 40% of its water from groundwater and some of that comes from the Cotswolds.

So if the water is taken directly out of the rock and at a faster rate than rainwater puts it back, the spring may dry up.

The river may eventually appear from a different spring at a lower level. Compare this…

…with this.

But in the area of the source of the Thames, water was not just needed for drinking. A major project needed a water supply and it turned out to need much more than was anticipated. Find out all about it next week.

Farming Patterns

The British Isles contain many different landscapes.

Some areas are low and flat for miles, but others are high with steep slopes making it difficult to use tractors and other machinery.

The areas to the west of the islands tend to have more rain.

That’s good for growing things, but more rain means less sunshine for ripening crops.

You’ve probably already guessed that most of the arable farming is found in the flatter, sunnier areas on the east side.

Plenty of rain in the west means plenty of grass growth, providing pasture for animals.  But which animals are found where?

Dairy cows are farmed for their milk production.  They are milked every day and this needs to be taken and used fairly quickly before it goes bad.  The farms need to be accessible to the milk tankers and close to good transport routes to towns and cities.  Thus, you are unlikely to find a large dairy herd up a remote valley, in the middle of a hilly area.

You may still see cows in more remote areas.  However, they are likely to be beef cattle, farmed for their meat.  And if it is a hilly area, the cows will probably be down in the valleys where the land is flatter because they are big animals and don’t cope with steep slopes as well as…



Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t find crops in the west or animals in the east and there are mixed farms all over the country.  However, land and climate do help determine the type of farming that is most practical and most profitable in an area.

The Mini Location

If you studied the locations mentioned in The Mini System you may be wondering why assemble the cars in Oxford.  With 200 truck deliveries of parts arriving each day and 2 trains of cars departing each day, wouldn’t it make more sense to assemble the cars in Birmingham, Swindon or Southampton and reduce some of the transport costs?

The answer is largely historical.  Cars have been built at the Oxford factory site for more than 100 years.  The first was a Morris Oxford in 1913, with the factory producing around 20 hand-built cars per week.

By 1932 there were 4 mechanised production lines, producing cars for Morris Motors, such as the Morris Minor.

When the Mini was launched in 1959, the site was the largest in Europe.

In 1966, a branch off the main railway line was constructed, so that trains could pull right into the factory site.  The outputs (cars) could then be transported easily.

Later construction of the Mini was moved to Birmingham, but the Oxford site continued to be used for building cars.

Then in 2000, production moved back to Oxford, to a newly completed factory built on the original site.  The MINI was relaunched, with an updated design for the car and capital letters in the name!

The new factory was built at Oxford because the site was already established.  The road and rail connections were already in place.  The 100+ year history of innovative design and engineering meant that skilled workers could be found from the local population.

With its army of robots there are only 4000 employees today, but the Mini factory is still the largest industrial employer in Oxfordshire.

Washing the Slopes

Last week we saw the source of the River Severn – a fairly flat piece of boggy land, near the top of a mountain in Mid-Wales.

The water begins trickling in a downhill direction and within a very short distance starts to collect in a channel.

Moving water will wash away any loose material that it is flowing over.  The stronger the flow of water the more it can move, but even a trickle can carry tiny particles of dirt.  Most of the time you can’t see it happening, but you can see the effects.  The channel gets deeper.

Water flowing down the side slopes, to join the main stream, will also pick up and carry particles, resulting in a V shape with the main stream flowing at the bottom.

Less than ½ mile from the source of the Severn you can see this clear valley shape.