This week is National Map Reading Week! This is a chance to learn some new skills or brush up those trusty navigation tools.
Maps unlock the world around us from planning your walks, giving others directions or finding hidden gems the key skills of map reading are pretty simple and easy to learn. National Map Reading Week is an awareness campaign originally created by the Ordnance Survey and these are the maps I’m going to give you a whistle stop lesson of how to navigate with.
Whether you’re a lover of a paper map or more of an app operator then these are the things you need to know to navigate with an OS map. Ordnance Survey have a great beginners guide to their maps and how to use them below:
So how do we understand these sometimes daunting looking maps? We first need to understand what they’re showing, maps show symbols to create a picture of what the landscape shows. These symbols are explained in a legend on the map so you can understand what is shown.
OS maps are split into grids (blue line squares across the whole map), these can be read to find a grid reference, OS have a quick guide on grid references here.
Contour lines are orange or brown squiggly lines, with numbers next to them. The lines represent the contours of the land, and the numbers tell you the height each line is above sea level. The closer together the contour lines are, the steeper the slope.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of what the map shows you can begin learning to navigate with it. Taking a bearing is essential in low visibility or the dark so is a skill worth learning, you can try self teaching this by reading beginners guides or you can attend a navigation course.
But you must keep in mind common map reading mistakes:
Confusing boundary lines, paths and footpaths – people can often misinterpret a boundary line for a path or footpath or vice versa when looking at a map. This can lead to you looking for a footpath that doesn’t exist when out on a walk. Make sure you check the map legend carefully to make sure you interpret the map correctly.
Walking whilst holding your compass – walking a few paces sideways can throw your compass off course even though you are still walking in the right direction. Also walking whilst holding a compass can distract you from looking out for danger. It’s best to line your compass up with something in the distance and head towards that.
Selecting a moving object to walk towards – It best to be walking towards something in the distance that is not likely to move (eg in poor visibility it is easy to mistake a sheep for a rock!).
Not trusting your compass – If you think your compass is pointing you in the wrong direction, then start again to work out your direction. If it says the same direction again, then trust it – it’s usually right, and your sense of direction wrong.