It's a square world for explorer in Yorkshire odyssey

TEN random squares on a map of West Yorkshire might not mean much to most people, but to Alan Burnett it is an experiment in history, geography, photography and the written word.

The 62-year-old was born in Bradford, grew up in Halifax and for the last 18 years has lived in Fixby, Huddersfield, but while the county has provided the backdrop to most of his life, he has recently decided to embark on an odyssey around its overlooked streets and forgotten corners.

"I wanted to find out what it was that gives the place its character," said Mr Burnett. "We are surrounded by wonderful architecture and buildings which have a real story to tell, but all too often we walk on by without giving them a second thought.

"I have tried describing what West Yorkshire is like to people around the world and I found it incredibly difficult. That's where the whole idea sprang from. I wanted to go on an expedition to discover what really makes the place tick."

Having decided he would visit 10 different spots, at first Mr Burnett used a random selection of longitude and latitude to pinpoint the various places. However, when he found he was often directed to the middle of a motorway, he decided a change was necessary.

Now armed with a street atlas of West Yorkshire, divided into 40 squares, each one representing an area of 500 square metres, and an online random number generator his adventure is under way.

Taking photographs of his travels and researching the area's history along the way, when he returns home Mr Burnett posts a new entry on his internet site, which he hopes will become an online tribute to his home county.

So far he admits he's been lucky. The first square he selected at random was Little Germany in Bradford which had Burnett Street running right in the middle. He was similarly blessed with his second location, the world famous Ilkley Moor.

"Its a historical flight of fancy and great fun," said Mr Burnett, who following each expedition posts a blog on the internet, together with a selection of photographs, which he hopes will inspire others to take to the county's streets.

"It will be a 10-week project depending on where the squares are, but I'm loving every minute of it. Every time you turn a street corner there's something new to see."

Mr Burnett's family were part of the textile trade in Low Moor, Bradford and while he left the county to work for the EU Commission, he's always been proud of his roots and since he retired in 2006 he has been blogging about the wonders of Yorkshire, amongst other things.

"When I stopped working, I realised that I needed something to keep my mind occupied and the internet has been fantastic," he said. His News from Nowhere blog has attracted followers from America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada and he hopes his latest postings from the streets of Yorkshire might encourage a few of them to follow in his footsteps.

"I've met some extraordinary, interesting and creative people through the site. Blogging is the 21st-century way of sending postcards. It still uses pictures and words, but you don't have to wait weeks before they arrive.

"The responses I've had so far have been fantastic and in my own little way I hope it might change people's perceptions of places like Bradford and show just how much rich history we have on our doorstep.

"Who knows where it will lead? Perhaps I might embark on an odyssey round England. My mantra, even when walking the dog, has always been never go in a straight line when a circuitous route is available and is done me well so far."

Excerpts from Alan On Little Germany

In the nineteenth century Bradford had risen to become the world centre of the worsted textile industry with merchants from throughout the world drawn to the city. Those from Germany built grand Victorian warehouses to store and display their goods.

Built in an Italianate style from fine local sandstone, they incorporated wonderful embellishments which proclaimed the status, wealth and pride of the owners. Today you can wander through the streets of Little Germany and still come face to face with these architectural gems and with their soot-encrusted skins removed, the details almost make you catch your breath.

With the wool merchants long gone, the buildings are in need of new owners and new purposes.