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      May 2012 > In praise of the Ordnance Survey

In praise of the Ordnance Survey

Walking holidays in EuropeI know that satnav and gps have some wonderful technical features, but the most important piece of kit to help you stay on track while on a walking holiday in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter, is a good map. Maps don’t rely on batteries or chargers, and you don’t have to worry about satellite coverage, ‘shadows’ or celestial interference. You just need to get hold of the right one – and remember not to leave it at home, of course.

In this respect, we’re very fortunate in the UK, as no-one in the world makes maps as well as the Ordnance Survey. It may be a bold claim, but if you’ve walked abroad you’ll know what I mean. The current 1:25,000 Explorer series are not only easy to read – boasting the best representation of what is actually ‘on the ground’ – and incredibly accurate, but they are wonderful works of art in their own right.

It all began as part of anti-Jacobite measures in the aftermath of Culloden, when King George II commissioned General Wade to undertake a military survey of the Highlands and Islands in 1747, which included the construction of new roads for ease of access to areas of perceived insurrection.

The king's surveyors and cartographers later moved on to map the south coast of England as part of the government’s ongoing defence strategy. This work was the starting point of the ‘Principal Triangulation of Great Britain’ (1783–1853), and led to the creation of the Ordnance Survey itself. The initial triangulation of the United Kingdom was completed by 1841, but has been improved upon regularly in the intervening years. (History lesson over.)

Next time you’ve got a quiet moment, take a look at the OS map that covers where you live. Look at the detail – there’s so much you can learn about your immediate area, or any area you may be planning to visit, simply by ‘reading’ your map. You’ll soon identify what the different symbols mean and be able to plan your own walks, following footpaths and bridleways that link historic sites, nature reserves and villages with pubs. Learn about contours – the height numbers always have their top facing uphill regardless of the orientation of the map – so you always know whether you’re in for a long slog up a hill – or a gentle stroll down to the bottom (the increasing /decreasing height numbers are bit of a clue, too!).

However, things aren’t always as good once you leave these shores. Admittedly, the French IGN maps (Institut Géographique National, 1:25,000 series) are good, as are the maps of Spain’s Mapa Topográfico Nacional de España. Austrian and Swiss maps tend to be pretty useful, too, especially when coupled with good signage and waymarking. Indeed, the two seem to run hand in hand which I suppose is only natural.

However, to my eye, even these maps are just not quite as clear or as user-friendly as the good old OS. Non-OS maps tend to be a bit more stylised and – particularly in Alpine regions – are not so good if you need to go ‘off-piste’, despite being great for showing the official routes.

The problem is multiplied when you walk from one region or country into another. For example, on our walk from Collioure to Cadaques, the route is covered by three 1:25,000 maps, all produced by different companies, which means that you need to be careful when moving from one map to the next as the key is likely to be different. Even if they are all to the same scale, it comes down to what the mapping company have deemed to be the correct level of detail! Many countries don’t, in fact, have national mapping agencies like the OS and IGN, so international publishing companies (e.g. Michelin, Freytag & Berndt and Kompass, amongst others) have mapped these countries (or the ‘best’ parts thereof) based on information supplied.

And therein lies another problem – historically, there have been some governments/countries that have not wanted detailed maps in the public domain and so the best you can hope for is a road map. Trying to walk cross country in unfamiliar territory using just a road map has certain limitations – mainly, that the map won't accurately display footpaths (if it displays them at all) making it very difficult to know where you're meant to be heading. Unless, of course, you have a set of meticulously researched, detailed walking notes.

It’s always a nerve-wracking time when guests return from holiday as we hope they’ve had a brilliant time wherever they’ve been. The tension is naturally heightened when the holiday is new and the country in question is one whose maps are, shall we say, less than perfect.

Greece is a case in point, and only this week we received our first questionnaire back from guests returning from their walking holiday in Corfu. This holiday, Corfu’s West Coast, is new for 2012 and so it was gratifying to note that they scored us top marks for the ‘accuracy’ and ‘ease of use’ of the notes, and top marks for our ‘choice of routes’, adding that the highlight was undoubtedly reaching some great viewpoints en route.

The ‘bottom line’ is that wherever you go on an Inntravel walking or cycling holiday, you can rest assured that we pay great attention to detail, and update the notes regularly. We will guide you safely to your destination, keeping you on route and on schedule.

Walking holidays in Europe


Posted: 22/05/2012 14:19:38 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: France, Greece, opinions, walking

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