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Surveying the State of my Maps

Written by George Fisher

Image for article Surveying the State of my Maps

They’re worn in places, torn in places, it’s even felt at times they’ve been to war-torn places. If you’ve ever tried unfolding then refolding in an attempt to read from the reverse whilst making your way to Little Calva in a raging storm then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

The maps shown here have certainly been put to good use. They are of course Explorer OL4, OL5, OL6 and OL7 covering all four corners of The English Lakes. The scale is 1:25 000, 4cm to 1 km or as I prefer to view them, 2 ½ inches to 1 mile. I tire in miles you see. I know what 20 miles feels like. If the pub with my real ale and beer battered fish is 7 miles down the valley I’m fairly happy with that whereas I find 11.27 km difficult to guage and it doesn’t really convince me that my thirst will soon be quenched and my hungry stomach satisfied. Curiously enough however, I’m quite content to have my altitude in metres. I’m not sure if that qualifies as dichotomy or not?

I have an interesting relationship with paper maps. I love them; but I love them best indoors. Spread out before me on the kitchen table, my coffee mug or Old Peculiar bottle being moved around like a large chess piece as I make my journey in my mind. I can spend hour after hour happily planning and preparing walks I may or may not undertake. You see it doesn’t matter if I never get round to leaving Armboth Fell and traversing beneath Iron Crag, Goat Crag and round to Snipes How. I’ve done it in my mind and what’s more in my mind it was a warm summer evening.

You’ll see from the image that just one of the maps, OL7 the south-eastern area has retained its cover in full. OL4 the north-western area has only a portion of the back cover for protection. I can fully understand why OL7 has survived so well, it’s ground I’ve hardly walked on and on one rare occasion I did, OL7 remained in my bag as the boundary wall from Grasmere over Great Rigg saw me safely onto Fairfield and OL5.

OL5 the north-eastern area is in a dreadful state and it’s not surprising why. Trying to take a bearing from Helvellyn Lower Man in the direction of White Side and Raise on a windy winter’s day can resemble a kite flying display. A poor one at that. Judging by the state of it OL6 the south-western area, has been wet more often than the others. There have been many damp days around Crinkle Crags, Bow Fell, Esk Pike and the Scafells. Scar Lathing resembles a rejected lover’s tear stained letter.

So if OL7 tells the story of one careful owner while OL5 & OL6 look as though they're about to separate at each of the 19 folds, and we could spend hours debating that mathematical puzzle, then why does OL4 the area I’ve walked most often hold onto half its cover at least? Perhaps I’ve grown to know those fells so well I’ve not relied so much on the map when out and about. Perhaps the north-western quarter doesn't receive as much wind and rain as the others? Or have I replaced it at some point, is it not the original from my set of four purchased back in 2003?

So let’s move on to the matter of replacing them and while we’re at it let’s retrace our steps a little to paragraph 3. I said I loved them, maps that is, spread out before me on the kitchen table. You see as much as I enjoy planning and preparing, when I’m actually out and about I tend all too often to ignore the paperwork and go for a potter. Yes it’s loosely based on the premise of the previous evening but If Bleaberry Fell, High Seat and High Tove have all been gained easily then it’s unlikely I’ll be dropping off down to Watendlath as intended. No I’ll be heading on towards, well towards whatever’s down there. Whatever that may be. Will I get the map out and determine where it is I’m going? Will I heck as like as my friend Kate from Yorkshire would say. Decisions like that are for the kitchen table they’re not for getting in the way of a right good potter. It’s not until I’m pretty much lost, well let’s not say lost, let’s say unsure of where I am, that I’ll eventually get the map out and begin to make some calculations as to where it might be I find myself standing.

Now this is where we come to the thought of replacing them. No matter how bashed and battered my maps have become I’ve never really felt inclined to replace them. Not until now that is, and the reason being is this. These days when you buy an Ordnance Survey Explorer or Landranger map the purchase price now includes a mobile download. A digital version of the paper map you’ve just purchased which you can download to your smartphone or tablet. I did just that when I visited Malham last year. I bought OL2 Yorkshire Dales southern & western area covering Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent. Within minutes I had the digital version of the map crisp and clear on my Android device. Apple devices are compatible too. Once in Yorkshire my GPS locator centred me on the map and I instantly knew exactly where I was when I felt the need to do so.

I could have created a route but in truth I found it clumsy to do so and as you will have gathered I’m not really one for sticking to the plan and following routes, but rather just every once in a while, I find it reassuring simply to know where it is I am.

Now I’m not going to drag us into a debate of dedicated GPS devices versus smartphones and tablets, all I’ll say is it works fine for me and you can decide for yourself what’s right for you. I do however know this; I walked for over 6 hours with the GPS on. I needn’t have. I could easily have switched it on and off when required, but I chose to leave it on. I also took around 100 photographs the same day and uploaded several social media posts throughout the day, and I still walked into the Lister Arms with half battery left on my waterproof phone. Incidentally don't look at me that way when I say I post social media updates when I'm out walking. Anyway, back to mapping; I could argue too that it’s a very responsible way of using digital mapping. I could buy a dedicated GPS device today fully loaded with the whole of GB 1:50k on it, and if I chose to, could avoid buying another paper map for years to come, but here’s the thing; I only got the Ordnance Survey digital download because I’d purchased the paper map, and the map was safe in my rucksack the entire time. Think of it as an insurance policy if you like.

Anyway, just out of curiosity, just how many folds does your map have?