United Kingdom

What3words app saves hiker stuck in bog on remote Scottish island

Alison Winter (above), 41, became stranded on Shuna, part of the Slate Islands, Inner Hebrides, as she made her way towards a hilltop viewpoint

A walker stuck waist-deep in a bog on an uninhabited Scottish island for four hours was rescued thanks to an emergency communication app - which led to ferrymen locating her using just three words.

Alison Winter, 41, became stranded on Shuna, part of the Slate Islands, Inner Hebrides, as she made her way towards a hilltop viewpoint.

She was rescued after alerting ferrymen to her location using geocoding app What3words, which gave her the location code of 'escalates, removing, lows'.

The app divides the planet into 57 trillion 3x3 metre squares, each of which is given a unique combination of three English words.

This allows for precise location mapping as it pinpoints precisely where the user is, eliminating the need to explain a location in relation to landmarks.

Ms Winter had no phone signal but had luckily already downloaded the app after seeing author Neil Gaiman tweet about it coming to his rescue when his car broke down.

Without a signal, the app functions the same as when you have no data connection: you can view the location of any what3words address you enter. 

But when Ms Winter eventually did get a signal, it took just eight minutes for her to be rescued after sending ferrymen the three-word location. 

'It was the same ferrymen who transported me to the island. I felt they would be best to contact in case of an emergency as they know the island well,' she said.  

Ms Winter, a writer, had arrived on the island via the local ferry service last August and came across a pair of fellow hikers who recommended a great viewpoint. 

Ms Winter was rescued after alerting ferrymen to her location using geocoding app What3words, which gave her the location code of 'escalates, removing, lows' (above). The app divides the planet into 57 trillion 3x3 metre squares, each of which is given a unique combination of three English words - and provides precise location mapping

Ms Winter, a writer, arrived on the island (pictured) via the local ferry service last August and came across a pair of fellow hikers who recommended a great viewpoint

But as she made her way towards the hilltop, the conditions underfoot worsened and she quickly found herself struggling with the terrain - and fell into a bog.

Ms Winter, who is an experienced hiker, said: 'It was an extremely hot and sunny day. I wasn't expecting the island to be waterlogged because no one can really appreciate how much rainfall Scotland gets until you live there.

'I realised that I'd ventured into what was essentially a swamp. The grass was 5ft high and the ground was completely unstable. I fell into a bog up to my waist, had to dig out my shoes, and just kept rolling my ankles and falling badly.

'At that moment, however, I had zero network coverage, so had to continue trudging through marshland and what can only be described as malicious tussocks.

'I eventually got a phone signal whilst balancing on a relatively stable mound and managed to get hold of the ferrymen.

'It was 3pm by this time and I'd been in difficulty for hours but was trying to rectify the situation myself.

'I had zero network coverage, so had to continue trudging through marshland and what can only be described as malicious tussocks. I eventually got a phone signal whilst balancing on a relatively stable mound and managed to get hold of the ferrymen,' said Ms Winter. (Above, file image of the What3words app)

'I knew exactly whereabouts I was on the island - I had my bearings and my sense of direction, but I couldn't get across the waterlogged terrain. It was terrifying and exhausting.

'They prompted me to use the What3words app so they could locate me and collect me by boat. Without that, they could have been searching for hours by land.

'Luckily, I already had it on my phone as I don't think the patchy signal would have coped with downloading it there and then.'

She added: 'The boat came as close as it could into the rocky cove, so I had to get over 30ft of rocks, mostly in the water.

'My hands were cut up, but nothing was broken, although I do think I might have slightly cracked a shinbone.

'I'd been rambling in the hot sun for hours, was bleeding, and being bitten to pieces as my repellent wasn't strong enough.

'Although I was prepared if I did have to survive a night there, it would have been awful. I felt like I was in The Walking Dead.

'If it wasn't for the app, I expect a helicopter or rescue services might have been involved - not good during a pandemic - and I felt terribly aware of not wanting to cause trouble.

'The situation could have turned out differently if I hadn't already had What3words on my phone and the ferryman hadn't had the ingenuity to suggest I use it.

'You can do everything right, but something can still go wrong. So many people are reliant on walking as their sole form of exercise right now, and you never know when you might be in a situation like I was.

'I'm keen to help spread the word that this app could genuinely save your life - or at the very least end a traumatic situation.'

What is What 3 Words?

What3Words divides the planet into 57 trillion 3x3 metre squares, each of which is assigned three English words. 

This allows for precise location mapping as it pinpoints precisely where the user is, eliminating the need to explain a location in relation to landmarks.   

The number of distinct words needed to cover the planet is 38,485 - the cube root of 57 trillion. 

Two Etonian chess team friends, Chris Sheldrick and Jack Waley-Cohen, raised millions of pounds to fund the website, which is now used by roughly 60 per cent of UK police forces.  

Pictured is Edinburgh Castle, known on What 3 Words as 'bake cakes tiny'

The pair attracted millions in venture capital funding and said they may take their technology to Mars to enable the red planet to be navigated.

Mr Sheldrick, 39, who was a promising musician, seriously damaged his arm after punching a window while sleepwalking, and subsequently ran a live music business.

He said roadies and delivery drivers kept getting lost because they misread the GPS co-ordinates he gave them, which led him to realise GPS, which works by providing a string of 16 numbers, is a poor way of finding directions because of the high risk of human error.

So he teamed up with Mr Waley-Cohen, 39, to devise a new method of mapping.

What3words divides Earth into a grid of squares measuring 3 metres by 3 metres, with each box given a code devised by an algorithm consisting of three English words.

Nelson's Column is situated in a square marked 'this.fantastic.notes', while Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is tagged 'maybe.sling.worth' and the Statue of Liberty is at 'then.drill.moth'.

The site uses shorter, more common words for built-up areas and more obscure references for remote locations such as Siberia and the middle of the ocean.

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