Benchmarking: Could this be a new hobby for you?

Benchmarking symbol

Is this symbol familiar? Have you seen it somewhere before? Could it be a company logo, the Freemasonry symbol or even some sort of pre-historic carving? It’s actually none of these. This symbol is a benchmark and is used by surveyors to confirm that the exact elevation above sea-level has been officially measured and established at that point. Each benchmark is calculated relative to the heights of other nearby benchmarks in a network extending across entire regions and ultimately the entire country, starting from a fundamental benchmark at average sea level at a place called Newlyn in Cornwall.

Benchmarking is a global practice, but in the UK at least, these symbols were made by officials from the Ordnance Survey and were often carved onto public buildings or structures that were expected to stand the test of time and be around for many years to come, enabling future surveyors to use them as a reference point for elevation. You’ll most often find them on town halls, railway bridges, churches or stone gateposts. However, like many other things, benchmarking eventually became an outdated practice, superseded by GPS and other digital technologies.

Despite these technological advances, a huge number of these benchmarks are still visible and there is a niche interest in ‘bagging’ them and posting pictures on various social media forums. They are everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE. So maybe you have seen the symbol somewhere before without even knowing what it denotes. In fact, there are around 20 such benchmarks within walking distance of Kibworth village centre, approximately 18,000 in London, and approximately 500,000 across the UK.

I personally began bagging benchmarks in 2020 during my daily lockdown walks. I found my first one by chance, carved into a wall round the corner from my house. A few minutes of research later and a new hobby was born, let’s be honest, there wasn’t much excitement in lockdown. But I didn’t stop there; the hobby continued long after lockdown had ended and I began planning walks and hikes with a few benchmark bagging opportunities thrown in for good measure.

I don’t actually live in Kibworth. I don’t even live in Leicestershire. I live in Wigan, Greater Manchester. So, why am I writing to you in the Kibworth Chronicle? In June 2023 I unfortunately suffered a brain haemorrhage and stroke at the age of 44. Cut down in my prime, you might say. I was initially unable to get out and about as normal, so my brother-in-law, Brian (a Kibworth resident) picked up my hobby for me and began sending me pictures of the ones he found on his own travels. I genuinely looked forward to the next photo and wondered where it might be from.

I am much better these days and the search for more benchmarks continues. Between us, Brian and I have so far found well over 200 benchmarks around the UK. A few of our notable finds are below.

If you keep your eyes peeled, maybe you can find some on your travels too? Visit the below website to find an interactive map of benchmark locations around the UK.

Andrew Reynolds, Wigan, Lancashire