Without decent maps, we’d never get around the hills like we do. One only has to starting reading Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation to realise the debt that we owe our forbears when it comes to the quality of what we enjoy today. In fact, it is striking how a heritage dating over several centuries is transferring to the ever pervasive digital technology domain these days.
As for me, I have had a soft spot for maps from an early age. In fact, I even tried some map making of my own while a child though that took no consideration of the matter of scaling. Since then , I have relied on what professionals produce and my first act on visiting anywhere is the acquisition of a map of the place. Many have turned out to good guides for what to see too.
Over time, a collection has grown with city plans, overview road maps and visitor area maps having played their part in my explorations. For the countryside, it has been a mixture of OS, Harvey and OSi maps that have guided me with paper maps coming with me much of the time. Mobile phone technology may have reached the point where that can guide many when getting about but my partiality to the wider view means that I am unwilling to desert paper maps just yet. It helps that they don’t need batteries either, which is another attraction.
With that desire for a more in-depth awareness of my surroundings, I’d never be one for depending on GPS receivers or the same functionality on a smartphone. That’s before any consideration of the impact of space weather or the fact fact that clusters of geostationary positioning satellites may draw itineraries without any consideration of topography; that has been known to cause a few mishaps in the past. Many GPS receivers have maps on them too but the screen on a handheld device is no match for a much larger paper map. The fact that GPS signal can get jammed during military exercises is another reason for not losing the able to use the old reliable combination of map and compass.
Maps are well and truly within the digital realm now but paper maps remain widely available and that doesn’t look likely to change in the near future. The list that you find here is for Britain and Ireland though that that may see extension in the future. For those looking further afield, Stanfords comes up often as a good place to go looking.
Mainland Britain is probably blessed with the best mapping for walkers in the world and just one look at an Explorer sheet should confirm that. It was the Landranger (1:50000) series that got me started but the need to find the exits of fields after entering them drove me to use the slightly more expensive Explorers (1:25000) in their place. The standard mapping is far from waterproof so map cases are a must for those damper days or the more expensive Aqua variants are another option; some of the latter have found their way into my possession.
While I have to admit that mapping for walkers wishing to wander in the countryside in Eire is not up to the lofty standards of the U.K. OS, it still is not bad. The 1:50000 Discovery series is the main offering and it covers all of the Republic. 1:25000 mapping is rather thin on the ground and seems to be magnified variant of the Discovery maps for selected areas such as the Dingle Peninsula and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.
Pick up one of their Discoverer 1:50000 maps and you’ll be surprised how like their OSi Discovery counterparts they are; in fact, the similarities are eerie. That’s not to say that there aren’t differences because my copy of the Mourne Mountains sheet has a townland map on the back of it (addresses in Ireland can feature this designation as well as nearest village/town and county). Though no longer a distinct organisation, the trading name will continue and digital mapping provision is part of their remit too.
This map publisher might not provide the same coverage as the OS but its mountain area maps are worthy additions to the market place. Their SuperWalker series covers many mountain areas in their native Scotland as well as England, Wales and Ireland. These maps come in plastic wallets and have a level of waterproofing applied to them; I had one out on a damp muggy midge-infested day spent around Kinlochleven and it wasn’t the worst for wear after its ordeal. You won’t find things like field boundaries shown but the general presentation is far more punchy that what you from the OS. I certainly find them usable and, in the case of Eire, they probably produce the clearest mapping for areas such as the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the Wicklow mountains and Connemara. Prior to OSi’s expansion of their 1:25000 range, Harvey maps would have been what you used if you wanted larger scale maps than what the OSi offered.
Any map accompanying a route description in Walking World Ireland will have been prepared by this small operation but they have begun to purvey their own walking maps too, particularly a 1:30000 series for the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains. In addition, there are map guides to the Wicklow Way and the Táin Way, a circular trail in the Cooley Peninsula in County Louth. As well as in shops like Eason’s, you can buy their offerings from their own website too.
In contrast to the largely stable world of paper maps, their digital counterparts seem to be in constant flux thanks to the advance of technology. Initially, you needed to buy physical sets of discs from providers and most only featured maps of the U.K. For a time, the OSi had their Trail Master series for parts of Éire but that seems to have gone by the wayside now. In fact, it seems to have been replaced by what you find on Mapyx Quo and Geolives.
It was the perusal of digital maps that led me to upgrade from a 17″ 4:3 screen to a 24″ widescreen one; the appreciation of the wider view isn’t a paper only matter for me. There is one aspect where a smaller size helps though: route planning on a screen using mapping software is more convenient that using an opisometer (map measurer) on a paper map. It helps that height changes are noted automatically as well. Speaking of route planning, any routes can be loaded into compatible GPS receivers too, not that I ever have gone down that route and my planning tends to be of a less rigorous character. Maps can be printed too and I did just that when a paper map was missing from my collection and it worked well though the aforementioned paper map got acquired too.
Anquet started out selling sets of disks containing OS digital map data but the online download approach seems to have taken over from that; the former remain available but take a little more effort to find them on the website. For a few years, the maps have been available for Windows PC’s with the software being Anquet v06. Recently, this package was complimented or superceded by Outdoor Map Navigator with early bird deals for those migrating from the previous software. The new software not only works on Windows but with iOS and Android. That extension takes the software onto smartphones and tablets, with the latter looking more suitable for the task in hand.
Until a spot of bother with the supplied software got in the way, I exclusively was an Anquet user. The problems that I was seeing caused me to look at Mapyx Quo and it seems to have taken over though I retain Anquet on a laptop as well; the lower cost of Mapyx maps has something to do with it but a fuller account is told below. Until recently, Anquet restricted itself to maps of Great Britain but that has changed with the inclusion of IGN data for France. Things seem to be changing in Anquet’s world not and I am tempted to delve a little deeper to see how things are.
Technical difficulties with Anquet’s software were the cause of my exploring what Quo had to offer after hearing good reports of what was on offer and how competitively it priced its mapping. Like Anquet, the software is free and you pay for the maps either by the bundle or by the tile. The 1:50000 Landranger bundle comes at a not unreasonable price so that was what I purchased in that initial foray. 1:25000 Explorer tiles have been what I have been buying of OS maps since then. Mapyx was one of the first to offer more than OS maps with those from OSi (the only option now that the Belgian Geolives has become SityTrail), OSNI and Slovenia being part of their range. Taking advantage of a special offer on OSi and OSNI maps meant that I had the island of Ireland covered with 1:50000 maps for the first time. The software only works on Windows as far as I am aware but it always been stable, which is a bonus. Route planning is not that dissimilar to how it works on Anquet so I didn’t experience much of a learning curve when I jumped ship.
There was a time when all digital mapping packages came in shrink-wrapped boxes and some have moved away from this model faster than others. Of these two, Memory-Map has just made the move into the downloadable map business with its Digital Map Shop and now offers OSNI maps along with some from continental Europe too; there are sections for Australia and New Zealand but with no contents. Also, I spotted an intriguing subscription offer from Memory Maps too. In contrast, Tracklogs would appear to be sticking with the old model and offering only OS maps as far as I can see. Not having used either of them myself, I have to depend on magazine reviews for impressions: I have seen Memory Map’s praises being sung while Tracklogs would appear to work well while offering nothing really special.
The trouble with most of the digital mapping offerings that you’ll find on this page is that they are all Windows only. Refreshingly, Routebuddy is the exception with its mix of USA and UK mapping for Windows (though it just worked Apple devices until I spotted this), OS X, iPod (using WiFi for location purposes, apparently) and iPhone. Though I have never been numbered among devotees to Apple’s offerings apart from having a 2006 iPod, it always good to see that it’s not all Microsoft-centric. Now, if only someone did something for Linux; well, it is what I use at home and Bing Maps is as good as I can get so far…