Types of maps


Ordnance Survey maps

The best and most comprehensive maps of Britain for walkers are Ordnance Survey (OS) Explorer maps at a scale of 1:25 000. These are divided into sheets covering the whole of Great Britain.

They give a clear depiction of the physical landscape, detailing a range of geographical features, landmarks, field boundaries, valley contours, summit heights, rivers, roads, railways, villages and towns.

Most importantly, they also show public rights of way and open access land in England and Wales, ‘core paths’ in Scotland, many long-distance trails and off-road cycle ways.

They also contain lots of extra information for visitors, including information centres, pubs and tourist attractions.

OS also publishes another range of maps known as Landranger maps. At a scale of 1:50 000, these are less detailed than the Explorer maps. They have the advantage of covering a greater area on each sheet and some experienced navigators prefer them, but they may not give the all of the detailed information you need for your walk.  

OS maps are available at bookshops and outdoor stores, and visitor information centres, newsagents and garages often stock the sheets local to them. They can also be ordered direct from: www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk

Digital maps

Ordnance Survey Explorer and Landranger maps, and some Harvey maps, are now available in digital form.  There are also a number of websites which offer map extracts online.

Most digital mapping packages allow you to:

  • View and print maps flexibily to suit the needs of your walk.
  • Overlay your own route onto maps.
  • Calculate route distances, changes in height and walking times.
  • Integrate with commonly used GPS devices.
  • Upload and edit routes as traces recorded on a GPS. Upload and edit other people’s routes, for example from online route libraries. (Most systems now support common formats for exchanging routes, like GPX).

For smartphone users there are an increasing number of apps which allow you to get high quality maps directly on your phone – though make sure that the system doesn’t depend on your phone finding a high bandwidth signal, as coverage can be patchy in some rural areas.

Even if you are using a GPS device or smart phone to navigate your way, it’s always best to pack a paper map too, particularly in remote areas, where signal or battery life can be a problem.

Many online map websites are searchable by locality name, postcode or grid reference and viewable at a variety of scales from road atlas to street level. Google, Bing and streetmap.co.uk offer good coverage of the UK, and streetmap includes extracts from Ordnance Survey maps. Openstreetmap.org offers “crowd sourced” maps that are free of the usual copyright restrictions, but its quality varies from place to place.

Ramblers Routes is our own free online mapping experience that allows our members to share, view and print a variety of walks, with the added bonus of key route information and text being included.

Harvey maps

No other map publisher covers all of Britain like Ordnance Survey (OS), but there are a few specialist publishers that produce maps specifically for walkers. The most important of these is Harvey, which makes original and detailed maps of popular upland areas and long-distance paths at 1:25 000 and 1:40 000 scales.

The main advantages of Harvey maps over OS are:

  • They are more compact, lighter and printed on weatherproof paper.
  • They are less cluttered in appearance and include extra detail to help walkers navigate the terrain more easily.
  • Each map focuses on a particular walking area or long-distance path, avoiding the need to carry several OS maps.
  • Useful local information and contact details are also provided.

To buy a Harvey map or find out more, visit www.harveymaps.co.uk or call 01786 841202.


Photo: © Mark Treacey