Guest publisher blog: Ordnance Survey: Understanding maps – a life-saving skill!





There are regular stories in the media of people who have got lost on the side of a mountain and have had to call the Mountain Rescue team to come and get them down. Knowing how to navigate using a map can be a life-saving skill and one that many parents are keen that their children should learn. However how many of us know the basics of how to get the most out of a map?

Ordnance Survey is the national mapping authority and produce maps which cover every part of Great Britain – from the Scottish Highlands and Islands right down to Land’s End on the south coast. They produce two map series – OS Explorer Maps (with orange covers) designed for walkers and OS Landranger Maps (with pink covers) for tourists.

OS Explorer Maps (with the orange cover) are the most popular and highly detailed maps showing footpaths, bridleways and trails, boundaries, landscape features as well as points of interest.

They are ideal if you want to get active outdoors and need to plan routes and work out your exact position. At 1:25 000 scale – this means every 1cm on the map represents 250 m on the ground.

OS Landranger Maps (with pink cover) are designed for more general outdoor leisure trips and touring. They are suitable for days out, short breaks and holidays to both town and country locations.

The maps contain less detail than the OS Explorer series, but cover a larger area and show places of interest, tourist information, roads, and landscape features. The map scale is 1:50 000 which means that every 1 cm on the map is equal to 500 m on the ground.

Both sets of maps also come in an Active, laminated covering making them ideal for using in wet weather – pretty handy when you are out and about in this country!

Map symbols are graphic illustrations of features highlighted on the map. They can be identified using the mapping legend which you will find in the corner of the map.

Ordnance Survey maps are always printed so that north is at the top of the sheet, so as long as you can remember the points of the compass (Naughty Elephants Squirt Water is a popular reminder) you’ll know what direction you are heading in.

If you do need to identify exactly where you are to tell someone else, it’s handy to know how to work out a grid reference. OS Explorer Maps are covered in a series of blue, numbered grid lines. Grid references are easy if you can remember that you always have to ‘go along a corridor before you go up the stairs’ and that each square’s grid reference is the number in the bottom left-hand corner. To make it more accurate, you simply divide the grid square into 100 tiny squares. Sounds complicated, but it’s really not! More information on identifying grid references is available from the Ordnance Survey website which has a series simple-to-understand map reading guides and videos.

Contours are brown lines – often circular around a peak which show the height of the land at 5 m intervals – the closer they are together, the steeper the slope.


You can browse our entire range of Ordnance Survey maps on Hive right here

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