In which country is the world’s biggest map?
Would you have guessed that Scotland is home to the world’s biggest 3-dimensional map? “The Great Polish Map of Scotland is placed in the grounds of the Barony Castle Hotel in Eddleston, Scottish Borders – 18 miles south of Edinburgh. It is a very large (50m x 40m) three-dimensional outdoor 1:10,000 scale concrete model of Scotland, complete with mountains, landscape, flowing rivers, estuaries, coasts and seas. The map is a remarkable example of topographic landscape modelling of a complete country. Its design and layout involved pioneering survey and construction techniques. It had almost been lost, and had become largely unknown or forgotten by local communities and allowed to deteriorate” (1) …almost.
“The vast structure was designed and built in 1975, as a labour of love by a group of young Polish geographers from the Jagiellionian University of Krakow at the request of war veteran Jan Tomasik (owner of the Barony Castle at the time) and friend of General Maczek (former Polish wartime Commander of the 1st Armoured Division). The map may commemorate a 1940′s defence strategy map used during the Second World War for planning the defence of Scotland against potential invasion from Norway.”(1)
About 8000 Polish soldiers settled in the UK after WWII. Most of them could not go back to Poland which was now a communist state. One of the most important soldier-immigrants was the famous general Stanisław Maczek – a famous name out of WWII; hero of the battles of the Falaise Gap and Breda, a strategist who was crucial to continuing the Polish war effort in the West, teacher, guru… Due to the complicated British/Soviet political relationship after the war, as non-British combatants Maczek and the soldiers under his command were denied war pensions by the British government despite their vital contribution to the Allied war effort. Polish soldiers in post-war UK were seen as potential communist spies; they were not allowed to play any any role in government controlled organisations or businesses. As a result, Maczek, as many others, was forced to change his profession, in his case bartender.
Some of the Polish soldiers, particularly the ones who focused on private business, were far more successful.
One of them was Jan Tomasik, who after years of hard work in the hospitality business became the owner of hotels. And ironically, the war hero General Maczek ended up working for his ex-soldier as a bartender at the Learmonth Hotel in Edinburgh.
At some point Jan Tomasik, already a very prominent businessman became the owner of Barony Castle. This is another historical irony: during WWII the British government dedicated Barony Castle to housing the Higher Military School of Warsaw (Wyższa Szkoła Wojenna w Warszawie). The school trained soldiers who would later fight alongside British Army. It is quite possible that both Tomasik and Maczek had met there some years before.
In the early 1970s Tomasik had the idea to build a huge 3 dimensional model of Scotland in the grounds of Barony Castle. It is generally believed that some form of a large map had been used by Maczek’s soldiers to plan the defence of Scotland. Possibly Tomasik wanted to commemorate his wartime service in this extravagant way.
The idea reached two young scholars of Jagiellonian University in Kraków – Kazimierz Trafas and Roman Wolnik. They started work on this cartographic challenge – how to build a 50m x 40m 3D model of the country with the rivers, lakes, slopes and even a hydraulic installation. What made it even more difficult was that no one in the world had ever done it before at this scale. For some time they worked on building technicalities and small scale models. In 1974, after several months of planning, both academics came to Eddleston to make the millionaire’s dream a reality.
In a few weeks, with no computers, laser levels or other digital ‘science fiction’ technology, they managed to build a rough model of Scotland. A year later they came back with a bigger group of people from Jagiellonian University. With the help of the locals they sculpted and painted the model so it reflected the real shape and the colours of the hills, valleys and lochs of Scotland. Over the space of three summers the masterpiece – a gigantic concrete map of the country with flowing rivers and seas full of water – took shape.
To date, despite all available advanced technologies, there is no record of any other similar map even close to the size of the one built by this group of students and young academics.
Years passed and the wheel of fortune turned a few times in unexpected ways. At the end of the 20th century, the Polish White Eagles were still on the mansards of the Barony Hotel, but it was no longer owned by Tomasik. The map was covered by layers of dirt, leaves and debris that had gathered there during years of neglect. The unique piece of engineering and art became forgotten.
In 1996 Keith Burns was having a walk around Barony Castle gardens wondering what this big, bizarre concrete structure underneath the piles of leaves and dirt was. No one was able to give him any answers. David Cameron and Roger Kelly, neither of whom knew Keith Burns at that time, had heard something about the map’s story and had their interest piqued. These three men eventually discovered their common interest in 2009. This was the unofficial beginning of the Mapa Scotland project – the project that aimed to restore the Great Polish Map of Scotland to its full glory. In 2010 Mapa Scotland had its inaugural AGM involving people from many Scottish and Polish organisations. One of the guests was Dr Tomas Trafas – Consul General of Republic of Poland in Edinburgh at that time, and, by an amazing coincidence, the brother of one of the young academics who initiated the original “Map of Scotland” project – Kazimierz Trafas (another historical twist in this story!). Thanks to Mapa Scotland, the map is being gradually restored. What is also extremely important is that it got plenty of publicity and, with help from the Edinburgh World Heritage urban analyst Krzysztof Chuchra, it got listed by Historic Scotland!
The work that in the 70s took a group of youngsters a few summers to complete, has now become a complex and ambitious restoration project that will last for years. Mapa Scotland needs your help! Please support the project.
Thanks to the commitment of the people working on Mapa Scotland, Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth was in position to say at the beginning of 2013: “I was delighted to hear that this unique monument has been listed by Historic Scotland, in recognition of the long-standing ties which exist between Poland and the United Kingdom. It is a reminder of darker days in Europe’s history but also of the spirit of friendship and solidarity forged in times of adversity, which the European Union epitomises today.”
“Many buildings are of interest, architecturally or historically, but when considering a building for listing this interest must be ‘special’. (…)
Listed buildings enrich Scotland’s landscape. They help to create our distinctive character and are a highly visible and accessible element of Scotland’s rich heritage. Spanning a wide range of uses and periods, together they chart a great part of the history of Scotland and contribute significantly to our sense of place.”
We would like to encourage you to support the Mapa Scotland organisation.
Words: Jarek Gasiorek
(1) The quotations come from the Mapa Scotland briefing.
W 50-lecie Powstania Wyższej Szkoły Wojennej w Warszawie, płk.dypl. Wacław Chocianowicz, London 1969
PSH The Great Polish Map of Scotland – the movie – link
New Mapa Scotland website
Mapa Scotland website
Mapa Scotland facebook profile
Barony Castle i Polish Map of Scotland (POL) link
Zapomniana perła – Great Polish Map of Scotland link (POL) link