Friday, 3 June 2016

The Empire gobbles up more of the country

My Ordnance Survey Explorer map coverage - my 'Empire' - has expanded further since I last reported on it. This is digital mapping, bought from the OS and downloaded online, and stored on my phone for easy access, without the need for a 3G or 4G signal, when out and about. My friend Angie has a similar but more modest installation on her own phone, so that she can't get lost in the Forest of Dean.

Anyone who gets off regular tarmac roads used by cars needs detailed maps like these - hill walkers, ramblers, mountain bikers. Anyone who likes to follow an interesting-looking footpath and find the hoary old castle, or mysterious standing stone, or intriguing monument or folly, or that secret silent lake. Places for people who want to explore. I've little doubt that modern OS mapping could get you across the Dead Marshes and into Mordor by the secret way - and then safely home to The Shire - without ever a false step. (But then there would be no story) Naturally you can fire up GPS while using these maps to pinpoint your position. Except of course when delving under the Misty Mountains - but hey, how likely is that?

The OS offer more than one way of having these maps: this way (where you pay for map sections - 10km x 10km squares, or 'tiles' - on a tile-by-tile basis); or by annual subscription (entitling you to access all their maps, at all scales - as much as you want - and to copy sections of them for printing at home); or by popping into a shop to buy a traditional paper version, folded up inside a cover to keep in your rucksack (which also comes with a one-off digital download). That's quite a wide choice, although to keep things simple it pays to decide which way is best for the long term, and stick with that.

Speaking for myself, I dislike subscriptions. Over the years, the cost mounts up alarmingly, and you never actually 'own' any of the maps, just as you never 'own' any music listened to on a subscription-based online music service. If you stop paying, you suddenly have nothing. The most accomplished and versatile photo-editing programs - Adobe's offerings, for instance - are also subscription-only. It's the modern way. You get the latest version at all times, and all the latest innovations, but it's expensive; and if ever you stop feeding their money-machine, you lose it all.

I do like paper maps, but they are a pain to carry, very awkward when it's wet and windy, not self-illuminating, and you can't zoom in to see the detail clearly. I do however collect old editions for study and reference at home.

For me, an up-to-date large-scale OS map right there in my hand, on my phone, is the ideal I dreamed of when young, and can have now. A seamless map covering thousands of square kilometres. Instantly available, searchable. With all the fun of adding to it tile by tile until it's a monster map covering all the areas I am likely to visit on a day trip from home, or on a caravan holiday.

As well as maintaining the obvious spreadsheet in Dropbox for the laptop and phone, I keep a low-tech paper record of all the digital-download Explorer maps I've bought on an old small-scale OS map of the entire country - gradually colouring in those 10km x 10km squares as I make purchases. This is the present Empire, in yellow (for 2015 purchases) and orange (2016):

The Empire now covers most of south and south-west England, and has advanced up the Cotswolds. Thus the Melford hegemony is imposed. Soon the entire country. Then the world. Then the Universe. But I know that the Rebels will fight back, using the power of The Force. So my expansion plans are ultimately doomed.

Enough of such fantasy! Let's be practical. Let's look at that spreadsheet. It's evolved over many years, has columns to record this and that about each map (paper and digital), and now looks like this. Click on the images to see them better. Off to the left you see the name and number of each map. I keep to the Pathfinder Series numbering of the 1990s. This is the 'home' part of the map, showing Pathfinder number 1:

Here's a section from lower down; and I pan right to show the many columns:

Right at the bottom of the spreadsheet, things are totalled up to reveal 'how many maps' and 'what it it has all cost me so far':

There you are. In summary, 482 paper maps costing at least £571 over many, many years ('at least' because I don't know what some of them did cost) - and that £571 needs to be adjusted for the march of inflation. I'm guessing about £1,500 in today's money. 

And 351 digital maps - electronic downloads - costing £656 since last October.  

'What!' you may say, 'You've spent £656 on your digital map empire in less than a year?' It does sound a lot. But then I've bought them in small batches, so this is a gradual, incremental thing. Besides, the average Explorer map has cost £656/351 = £1.89. So two of them cost roughly the same as a small glass of wine in a pub. That's 175 small glasses of wine in eight months - about my normal consumption, I'd say. And no ill-effects! And I have these maps forever! And the OS will automatically update them! And they are in gorgeous high-definition! So I can zoom in and they stay sharp, with great colours:

The bottommost example shows my exact position, after firing up GPS. (Towards the bottom right on the map, near the Airman's Grave)

This is mapping at the 1;25,000 scale - about two and a half inches to one mile. The OS's next-best is the 1;50,000 Landranger mapping. I've recently purchased an All-GB Landranger package for my laptop, from Memory-Map. That's the entire country at 1:50,000 for just £75. The 2016 edition too. I buy a fresh edition from Memory-Map every four years, at a 25% discount, being a repeat customer. I bought the USB-stick version, which was delivered free, two days after ordering. 

You just plug in the stick thus, and upload the contents:

It's also high-definition mapping, with a great look. Not quite the same detail as the Explorer mapping, but you see more land area. Here's an example, Muncaster Fell, a hill in the Lake District (click on the map to see it better):

Now why this hill? Ah, that's connected with my next post, in which two grown men churn up the track leading up to Hooker Crag at the top. The same men who rescue these ladies from a Blackpool beach:

My goodness, Alfred Wainwright would be aghast! I did in fact look in two of my Wainwright hillwalking guides, to see if he had ever covered Muncaster Fell. 

I looked first in Book Seven: The Western Fells. No joy. Then Book Four: The Southern Fells. Still no joy. I dare say that even as an old man, with legs not so strong as once they were, Wainwright scorned the low-rise Muncaster Fell. 

But in the Southern Fells book, bought second-hand in 2009, there was at least this fond dedication:

   To Tony,
from your walking companion,

No kiss, no date. I imagine these were simply good friends who walked the fells together. Not old people: Hazel's handwriting is firm and clear. The book had lost its paper cover, but wasn't dog-eared in any way. I like to think that Tony kept it at home or in the car, as an inspiration when planning a weekend walk, but not as the guide they consulted out in the hills, in the rain. I'm sure they'd now use a modern OS Explorer map instead, and if still walking together - why shouldn't they be? - they, like me, would carry not only a paper map but a GPS-enabled phone with digital OS maps on it. 


  1. Sorry about the delayed holiday trip. Might be wishing my trip to the disaster zone that is France at the moment with floods, strikes and empty petrol stations, decent maps in paper certainly help in the GPS age...

    You say that the electronic maps update automatically, does that mean that you loose old versions? Looking at changes over time is the most interesting thing with maps.

  2. Yes, you would lose the last version you had on the device. But then, if it matters to have forever a dated 'snapshot' of an area, you could buy the paper map. Or, for a small area, take a screen print off the laptop or phone and file that away for future viewing.


  3. What's the speed of update like on Memory Map? I use Viewranger on an Android phone - they have a similar OS deal. It's fine when walking apart from the outrageous power consumption, but it doesn't keep up at all well when driving, even at town speeds. I don't use a satnav, but a moving OS Landranger map is what I always wanted of one for finding the start of trails to standing stones and the like.

  4. I can't tell you, Ermine, because I don't use maps that way. I use electronic maps as I would paper maps. So if driving I stop the car to consult the map on my phone. And I hardly ever use GPS.



This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal.

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford