It’s National Map Reading Week, and as an Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion this year I naturally wanted to get involved. I might not be a navigation expert like some of my fellow Champions (meet us all here), but, like lots of you reading my blog, the ability to read a map is one of the main components that ensures my enjoyment of the outdoors.
In the spirit of a whole week dedicated to encouraging people to make the most of the amazing mapping available here in Great Britain, here is a list of ten things I love about map reading…
Nine Things I Love About Maps
01. Maps on my shelf signify great outdoors memories.
More than just a tool of the trade, each map on my shelf represents an outdoors adventure I have had. Whether it be the series of maps I used to plan the West Highland Way, the road map for North Coast 500, the maps for Lyke Wake Walk, or just maps covering the area where I live, each one contains the key to memories of great days out. Like the photographs I take when I’m spending time outside, my collection of maps will be the key to recalling fun times on the days when I may not have the physical ability to do so anymore.
02. A new map means a new adventure.
The first significant step I make when planning a new adventure, after putting it in my diary, is get a map. Whether I buy the Explorer Map for the area, get hold of a guide book or just print out a small section from OS Maps, having a map in my hands is the moment that an idea becomes set in my mind and turns into reality. It really doesn’t matter if I’m planning a long distance walk or a walk with friends in a National Park, getting outside is always an adventure to me and having a map is part of the excitement and build-up.
03. A map opens up new places to explore at home and away.
Just like buying a map means there is a new adventure on the cards, having a map also opens up a whole host of unexpected possibilities. All those little dotted and dashed lines criss-crossing over the page are just waiting to be seen in person! If you don’t already own the Explorer map for your local area, the one that has your own house on it, then I urge you to go and purchase it today. Use it to find new places to explore where you live; hikes, hills, beaches, caves, and all kinds of other things. Maps are as much about finding places for one hour outside from your home or holiday cottage front door as they are about multi day hikes or other endurance challenges. Maps are for everyone, and can be a great inspiration.
04. Reading a map well keeps me safe.
This is probably the most important thing about maps. Having a map and knowing how to read it is vital to help keep you safe when heading off outside, especially if you are going somewhere remote or difficult or new. And there are so many reasons maps and safety are intrinsically linked. A map (and the ability to read it) is the thing that makes sure you know where you are going, and, possibly more importantly, means you can tell someone else where you are if you find yourself in a situation needing help. It also enables you to make good decisions; you can very easily tell before you set off whether you have the right skills and experience to tackle a particular route, if you have enough time to get to your chosen destination, and you can get yourself back home via another route if the one you had originally planned doesn’t work out. Maps and safety is a whole topic on its own and I urge anyone wanting to go on outdoors adventures to make sure maps are at the top of their priority list.
05. Maps help keep my adventure anxieties at bay.
More than just keeping me safe when I am out and about, planning using a map helps keep my adventure anxieties under control (I wrote about them here) by making me feel organised and ensuring I know what to expect. Anyone who worries a lot will know that an organised mind alleviates a whole host of mind monkeys and their related difficulties, and maps are vital ingredient to that when outside.
06. Food and toilets are only a symbol away.
Yes, this GetOutside Champion worries about where she will eat and where she will pee when she’s spending a day outside! And I know I’m not the only one – I know from my OneHourOutside campaign (which will be back for another month-long challenge in November, more soon) that these are important things to you, too. Some people cited the lack of knowledge about facilities as a reason they do not spend time in the countryside. It’s not just toilets and pubs that are marked; where to park the car, where there is a post office, where there is a footbridge over a river, and all kinds of other things. Handy!
07. Understanding your map leads to good outfit and equipment decisions.
Planning a route using a map ahead of an adventure means you know what kind of terrain you will be experiencing and how long you’ll be. Together with the weather forecast, maps means you can easily decide what to wear and what to carry on your outdoors adventure. Choosing between boots and trainers, working out how many layers you need, and whether you need to be fully equipped with survival bag and emergency rations can all be determined from good map reading. Checking the map before you head out may indeed mean you simply grab your wallet and go, or it may be that you need a pack full of gear.
08. A map means I know what I’m looking at.
Unless you are or are with a local expert, when you are standing on the top of a hill surrounded by other hills, or at the edge of a lake looking at the shapes on the other side, it is your map that can unlock the secrets of what you are looking at. Maps mean we can engage with our surroundings properly, learn about the views we are experiencing, which in turn help us to appreciate and remember our day out. You can do this with a paper map, of course, and being able to understand your surroundings using contour lines and symbols is one of life’s pleasures. But you may find the new augmented reality feature in the OS Maps app even easier, hold it up to the scene and it labels things and tells you how far away they are.
09. Maps are beautiful.
For me, maps are art. They are beautiful and they deserve a place on anyone’s wall. I have a world map on mine and a whole load of others on the shelf, they deserve to be seen. Have you been to the map room in the Vatican? If I had a mansion I’d have a corridor full of maps too!
If you want to know more about map reading, whether you are looking for your own first lesson or are after resources to help those in your charge get more from them, there are a whole host of resources over on the National Map Reading Week website.
And if I can help you with any questions on OS Maps, using maps to GetOutside, or just spending time outside in general, please do ask me here or over on twitter – if I don’t know the answer I am sure I can find someone who does.
Why do you love maps?