Sunday, 29 November 2015

Ordnance Survey Maps

Are paper maps still relevant in today's hi-tech world?

Yes, of course they are! Even though new technology has given us different ways to use maps the traditional paper map is still an essential item for all those who take to the hills and wild places of Scotland (and elsewhere).

Without a map we wouldn't have a clue where we were or which way to go to get to where we want to be nor what kind of terrain lay on our route. People have been making maps for thousands of years. Maps of trade routes, maps of national borders, maps of land ownership, etc., and we in the United Kingdom are very fortunate when it comes to maps because the UK is probably the best-mapped country in the world - all thanks to the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain.

Background story

Old map of Scotland

Public Domain image from Wikimedia 
So how did this come about? Well, going back about 250-300 years or so to the several Jacobite rebellions, the most famous of which was the one of 1745 led by Charles Edward Stuart (''Bonnie Prince Charlie''), when loyal Scots rose up against the English overlords (as they saw it at the time) it became obvious that existing maps of Scotland were woefully inaccurate, especially for military use, and there was an obvious need for accurate, reliable maps of Scotland for use by the English armies.

So the first accurate maps began to be produced and by 1823 much of Britain had been mapped by what is now the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (OSGB) - whose diligent work we have to thank for the many types of excellent maps now readily available for our use.

Today's maps

Given that we have so many convenient ways to use maps why should be still consider the traditional paper map?

It is, of course, entirely a personal choice and although I am not a technophobe I am a bit of a traditionalist and I much prefer the look and feel of the ''old-fashioned'' paper map. There is also the inconvenient fact that electronic devices like GPS systems do go wrong - the most obvious fault being a flat battery!

One thing about a paper map is that it doesn't break down, doesn't go wrong and doesn't give false readings. Of course, the wind could blow it out of your hands (yes, it has happened to me!) but you could also drop your Garmin over a cliff.

So my advice is to take a traditional paper map of the area you are going to. You could also take your Garmin with you if you wish but I wouldn't have that as my only means of navigation - belt and braces, that's my motto!

And now we come to the 64,000 dollar question: ''What's the best paper map to use?''

The OSGB offers the widest and most comprehensive range of maps of Great Britain and are still the best ones to go for and the two types I would recommend for most outdoor activities on the Scottish hills are the Landranger series and the Explorer series.

Cover of the Landranger map
Cover of the Explorer map
Landranger maps (on the left, with a red cover) are in a scale of 1:50,000 - one (2 centimeter) square on the map equals 1 kilometer on the ground and they cover a 40 x 40 kilometer area which makes them the most useful scale of map for a long-distance multi-day trip.

Explorer maps (on the right, with an orange cover) are in a scale of 1:25,000 - one (4 centimeter) square on the map also equals 1 kilometer on the ground - but because of the larger scale they offer much greater detail albeit of a smaller area. Explorer maps cover an area of 23 x 20 kilometers so you would need four of the Explorer series of maps to cover the same area as one Landranger. I use Landranger maps most of the time and Explorer maps if I want more detail of a particular area.

Both of these series of maps come in ''standard'' or ''active'' versions and no, that's not a reflection on the fitness levels of users! The ''active'' version is plastic-coated and fully rainproof - an important consideration on Scotland's hills. Unfortunately the ''active'' version is rather more pricey than the ''standard'' version so you pay your money and you take your choice.

Speciality maps

There is an alternative to buying an ''off-the-shelf'' OS map. You can have a custom-made map of any area you wish. Simply specify the map centre and the Ordnance Survey will print a map in either 1:25,000 scale or 1:50,000 scale and you can have it with a personalised cover - your own photo and your own titles. They look just like the '''off-the-shelf'' maps but each one is unique to you. A great idea as a gift for that special ''outdoor person'' in your life!

OSGB also offer more detailed paper maps of the most popular outdoor activity areas in different scales and they also do a full range of hi-tech, electronic alternatives to paper maps. If you're thinking of buying any kind of map then go to the OS SHOP and see what's available.

Other maps

Cover of a Harvey's map

The Ordnance Survey of Great Britain isn't the only source of high-quality outdoor-related maps of Great Britain. Harveys Map Services, based in Stirling, Scotland, offer an excellent range of maps in various scales.

Unlike the OSGB They don't cover all of the UK but they do offer a quite comprehensive range of maps of the most popular outdoor activity areas.

The only problem I have with Harvey's maps is the colours they are printed in. I find it hard to decipher some of the detail on their maps but I have friends who swear by them and prefer them to the OSGB maps.

Again, you pay your money and you take your choice!

When you go on your outdoor activity take your hi-tech device with you if you must but don't forget to take a back-up in the shape of a good, old-fashioned paper map - it could prove to be a lifesaver when your batteries run dead!

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