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O R D N A N C E S U RV E YMAP R EADI N GFrom the beginner to theadvanced map reader

ContentsWhat is a map?3 Understanding your map needs4 Map symbols5 Map scale6 The basics8 Grid references10 National Grid lines11 Reading contours and relief13 Know your compass14 Using your compass15 Using land features17 Advanced techniques17 Pinpointing your location17 Transit lines18 Pinpointing your location with a compass19 Triangulation20 Aspect of slope21 Feature interpretation22 Contouring23 Measuring the distance travelled on the ground24 Naismith’s rule24 Walking on a bearing26 Still can’t find your next location?27 Navigating at night or in bad weather32

What is a map?A map is simply a drawing or picture of a landscape orlocation. Maps usually show the landscape as it would be seenfrom above, looking directly down. As well as showing thelandscape of an area, maps will often show other features suchas roads, rivers, buildings, trees and lakes. Crown copyrightA map can allow you to accurately plan a journey, giving a goodidea of landmarks and features you will pass along the route,as well as how far you will be travelling.Understanding your map needsThere are many different types of maps. The type of map youwould choose depends on why you need it. If you were tryingto find a certain street or building in your home town youwould need a map that showed you all the smaller streets,maybe even footpaths in and around town.If you were trekking across a mountain range you might need amap that shows a bigger area of land and tells you the heightsand steepness of the mountains.If you were a pilot flying from London to Edinburgh you mightneed a map that has the whole of the country on a single page,with only the locations of towns and cities on it. Whichevertype you choose, there are a few basic features usually foundon any map, which will be explained in this leaflet.3

Map symbolsRather than containing descriptions, maps have symbols toshow where certain things are. Symbols are used so mapsdon’t have to be covered in writing, as this would make themvery confusing. Ordnance Survey uses different shapes, coloursand symbols to show all the roads, buildings, rivers and otherfeatures of a landscape. Symbols are designed to be simple,often looking like the features they represent. This meansthings can be quickly and easily recognised as you look at amap. The symbols here are actually used on Ordnance Surveymaps. Write down what you think they represent:123Use the blank boxes to draw pictures of how you think thesymbols for the following things appear on a map:a. Horse ridingb. Gardenc. Place of worshipd. Lighthousee. Nature trailf. ViewpointHere’s where you find out how you did The answers to the first three questions are a telephone callbox, a campsite and a caravan site. To find out how close yourdrawings are to actual Ordnance Survey symbols you can lookat the key on an Ordnance Survey map. Maps will usually have akey or a legend. This is a section that will explain what each andevery symbol on the map represents. If you find something onthe map you don’t understand or recognise, the key or legendwill help you to identify what it is.4

Map scaleTo create an accurate picture of a landscape on papereverything has to be made much, much smaller. This is doneby ‘scaling down’ the actual size of the land. The map belowshows Great Britain. The size of the island has been ‘scaleddown’ so it will fit on this sheet of paper. The map is too smallto contain a lot of detail and doesn’t have many names on it, asthere isn’t much room.Scale: 1:6 000 rburghInvernessFort mpbeltownStranraerNewcastle upon TyneCarlisleIsle of ManKendalDouglasLeedsKingston upon ton

The basicsThere are some basic features that most maps will include: Roads tend to be marked in different colours depending onthe type of road depicted. Roads on a map range from thickblue lines, showing motorways, to dashed lines, indicatingan unfenced minor road. Footpaths are marked on Ordnance Survey maps in variouscolours. On a 1:25 000 scale OS Explorer map the publicrights of way are marked in green and on a 1:50 000 scaleOS Landranger map they are marked in magenta. There arevarious types of public rights of way and public access, soplease check the map key for full information. It is importantto be aware that footpaths that are shown in black are notnecessarily public rights of way. Woods are shown in green with a coniferous ornon‑coniferous tree shape printed over the top. Buildings are marked by small brown squares outlined inblack. However, some particular buildings have their ownspecial symbols, such as churches and windmills. Any ofthese buildings can be useful landmarks, helping you tocheck your position on the map. Rivers and streams are shown as blue lines. The width of theline is representative of the watercourse width (if the widthof a river is more than 8 metres it is shown as two blue lineswith a light blue area between). Rivers and streams can beextremely useful in determining your position on a map. Scale tells you how much the land has been scaled downto fit on the paper. If the scale of a map is 1:50 000 theneverything on the map will be 50,000 times smaller than it isin reality. Your Ordnance Survey map will also contain other featuresand information that will be explained, along with thefeatures above, in the key of the map.The following pages shows a scale comparison between1:25 000 scale and 1:50 000 scale6

Crown copyright1:25 000 scale1:50 000 scale7 Crown copyright

Grid referencesOrdnance Survey maps are covered in a series of faint blue linesthat make up a grid. The lines have numbers accompanyingthem that allow you to accurately pinpoint your location on amap. Once you have located where you are, the grid systemmakes it simple to give others (such as Mountain Rescue) anaccurate description of your location. This description, whichwill be a series of numbers, is known as a grid reference.Northings (up the stairs) »Before you begin to look at grid references it is important to beaware that all the numbers going across the face of the map,for example, left to right, are called eastings (this is becausethey are heading eastward), and similarly, all the numbersgoing up the face of the map from bottom to top are callednorthings (again because they are heading in a gs (along the corridor) »There are two main types of grid reference: 4-figure – for example, 1945, this identifies a single kilometresquare on an OS map. 6-figure – for example, 192454, identifies a 100 metre squarewithin a single kilometre square on an OS map.The Grid reference is always for the bottom left-hand corner ofthe grid square you are in.4-figure map referencesWhen giving a 4-figure grid reference you should always givethe eastings number first and the northings number second,very much like when giving the reading of a graph in school– you must go along the corridor (horizontal) and then up thestairs (vertical).8

Northings (up the stairs) »4746454412344342181716201921Eastings (along the corridor) »For example, the number 2 in the diagram is 19 across and45 up and therefore the 4-figure grid reference is 1945. Thenumbered squares on the diagram would have the following4-figure grid references:1 1845 2 1945 3 1844 4 19446-figure map referencesHaving worked out the basic 4-figure grid reference, forexample, square 3 above, imagine this square is further dividedup into tenths. Using the example right, the blue box is in thesquare 1844. More accurately it is 7 tenths across and 8 tenthsup within the grid square 1844 and therefore has the 6-figuremap reference 187448.The shapes on the diagram would have the following 6-figuregrid references: 185443Northings (up the stairs) » 18744845987654321441812435678919Eastings (along the corridor) »9

National Grid linesAs well as numbered grid lines, OS maps have a two letter prefix.The two letter prefixes can be found printed in faint blue capitalson OS maps. The whole of Great Britain is divided into squaresof 100km and each square is given two letters. There will be adiagram within your map’s key showing you which areas of yourmap fall into different squares of the National Grid.When you quote your grid reference you should put thetwo letter prefix of the area you are in before the numbers.This means that there is no doubt or confusion about yourlocation. For example, you may be at grid reference 509582 insouth‑west Scotland. The complete grid reference you shouldquote would be NX 509582 (without the letters the numericreference would be repeated in every 100km square).HO HP1200HT HU1100HW HX HY HZ1000NA NB NC ND NE900NF NG NH NJ NK800NL NM NN NO NP700NR NS NT NU600NW NX NY NZ OV500SC SD SE TA400SH SJ SK TF TG300SM SN SO SP TL TM200SR SS ST SU TQ TR1000SV SW SX SY SZ TV010020030010400500600

Reading contours and reliefUnderstanding the shape of the land by looking at a map isa very useful skill and can be essential if you’re going to bewalking in mountainous terrain. The height and shape ofthe land is shown on a map using ‘contour lines’. These linesappear as thin orange or brown lines with numbers on them.The number tells you the height above sea level of that line.A contour line is drawn between points of equal height, so anysingle contour line will be at the same height all the way alongits length. The height difference between separate contourlines is normally 10 metres, but it will be 5 metres in flatterareas. The map key will tell you the contour interval used.4030201030 4020 10The picture shown illustrates how a landscape can beconverted into contour lines on a map. An easy way tounderstand and visualise contour lines is to think of them ashigh tide lines that would be left by the sea. As the water leveldrops it would leave a line every 10 metres on the landscape.These marks would be contour lines.Being able to visualise the shape of the landscape by lookingat the contour lines of a map is a very useful skill that can bedeveloped with practice. It will allow you to choose the bestroute for your journey. When reading contour lines on a mapit’s helpful to remember the numbering on them reads uphill.It might be useful to imagine that to read contour line numbersyou have to be stood at the bottom of the hill looking up it,otherwise the numbers would be upside down. Other usefulthings to look out for when reading contour lines are rivers,which usually flow into valleys, or areas with very few contourlines, which will be flat.11

The picture below shows how contour lines can be used onmaps to describe different landscapes. Even though all thelines look similar at first, they are describing very differentlandscape features. The closer together the contour lines, thesteeper the slope of the hill. If a hill is very steep the contourlines might even merge into each other.A spur is a ‘V’-shaped hill that juts out. A simple way to tella valley from a spur when looking at contour lines is toremember that if the ‘V’ points uphill it’s a valley, if it pointsdownhill it’s a spur.Steep slopeSpurValleyShallow slope12

Know your compassNow you have the skills and knowledge to read and understanda map, the next step is to learn how to orientate your map tothe land so that you can use it to navigate. One of the best waysto orientate your map is with a compass.8197536421BaseplateThe mounting of thecompass.2Compass housingContains the magneticneedle and has the pointsof the compass printed ona circular, rotating bezel.345Compass needleFloats in liquid so it canrotate freely, the red endpoints to magnetic north.Orienting linesFixed within the compasshousing and designedto be aligned with theeastings on a map.Orienting arrowFixed within the compasshousing, aligned to northon the housing.136Declination lineEnables conversionbetween grid andmagnetic north.7Index lineFixed beneath the rotatingbezel of the compass, itmarks the bearing youwish to travel along.8Direction of travel arrowShows the direction thatyou want to travel alongonce you have taken yourbearing. It is an extensionof the index line.9Compass scaleDisplayed along the edgeof the base plate so youcan measure distances onmaps.

Using your compassWhere do you want to go? From your starting point on the map,place the index line on an imaginary line between where youare now and where you want to be – with the direction of travelarrow on the base plate pointing the way. Start by drawing aline from A to B now.Holding the baseplate in place, rotate the compass housing sothe orienting arrow lines up with grid north on the map. Theorienting lines should be parallel with the vertical blue gridlines (eastings).BAYour compass does not point to grid north. Magnetic norththroughout Great Britain can range from 0º to 5º. The amountof variation changes every year, so check your OS map towork out the most current value. You’ll find this in the maplegend. Add magnetic variation to your bearing by rotating thecompass housing.rthnoticegnMarthGrid no14

Compass readings are also affected by the presence of ironand steel objects, so be sure to look out for – and stay awayfrom – pocket knives, belt buckles, mobiles and so forthwhen using your compass.By the way: The red end of the compass points to north.The black end points to south.Take your compass off the map. Hold your compass flat at waistheight and turn yourself until the red needle meets up with theletter N and is positioned over the orienting arrow.You’re ready to go. The red direction of travel arrow will pointthe way.Using land featuresAs an alternative to using a compass to orientate your map, youcan use your eyesight. This method will only work if you arein an area with visible prominent features or landmarks. First,locate yourself next to a feature or landmark and place yourfinger on the map at the point where you are standing. Thenbegin to rotate the map so that other features and landmarkson the map begin to line up with the actual ones you can see.The map is now orientated with the land, although not asaccurately as it would be using a compass.OK, so now you can read a map. But before you put on yourboots and pack your rucksack, take the time to read throughthe following handy tips and safety points to ensure you getthe most from your adventures.15

1 Pre-plan your routeBefore you set out, take the time to plot your route andmark it on your map. If it’s your first experience with a mapand compass, start with a short route in an area you’refamiliar with.2 Make sure you have the right equipmentYou don’t need super expensive equipment to start youradventures. Making sure you have the right clothes andgear means you can enjoy your time in Great Britain’soutdoors any time of year. Walking boots/shoes, waterproof jacket and trousers, hatand gloves. A comfortable rucksack and dry bags to keep kit dry inyour rucksack. A map of the area you are exploring. OS Landranger andOS Explorer maps also come as laminated, weatherproofActive maps. Your compass! A watch, to keep track of time. A pencil, to mark your route and make notes. A fully charged mobile phone. Head torch and spare batteries. Food and drink, plenty of water. First aid kit including blister plasters and sunscreen. Whistle.3 Tell someone where you’re goingTell a friend or family member where you’re walkingand when you’ll expect to be back. Take a friend withyou if you’re not a confident walker. Make sure you’reconfident navigating with your map and compass. Practicenavigating with your map and compass on a familiar, localwalk.Check the weather forecast and sunset times;metoffice.gov.ukIf you’re going to a mountainous area; mwis.org.uk4 Abide by the Countryside CodeBe safe – plan ahead and follow any signs.Leave gates and property as you find them.Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home.Keep your dog under control.16

Advanced techniquesThis part of the booklet will introduce you to some advancedmap-reading techniques that can be useful when navigating.These techniques are largely used when you are off the beatentrack in mountainous or difficult terrain, where excellentnavigation skills are essential. Before reading this part youshould have a good understanding of how to use a compassand map to navigate.Pinpointing your locationThere are several techniques to help pinpoint your locationon a map. Pinpointing your location is useful to make sureyou’re moving in the right direction or can help you to relocateif you are lost. These techniques can be used very effectivelyonce you’ve learned to interpret the features of a map. Somemethods will rely on your eyesight while others use yourcompass.Transit linesWhen you know two or more features on a map will line up withone another along your journey you can form a transit line. Asyou walk along a track (which appears on the map) there willonly be a single point where two features appear in a direct linewith each other.Draw a line on the map that crosses through both features andcontinues across the track you’re walking on. When you see thetwo features on the landscape line up as you walk along thetrack, you’ll be at the point where the line on your map crossesthe track (as shown here).Sight line througha wood boundaryand a far-offfarmhouseTrack17

It’s also possible to create transit lines using linear featuressuch as walls, fences or straight streams, even if the featureswon’t line up as they did above. By drawing lines on a map,extending the existing lines of linear features, you can createseveral transit lines that will help you pinpoint your location (asshown below).WoodTrackWallPinpointing your location with a compassAn alternative to using transit lines, and relying on sight, is touse a compass to locate your position.If you are on a known track with an identifiable feature in sight(which also appears on your map) you can take a bearing in thedirection of the feature and use it to calculate your location.Looking at your compass, detect the direction the feature isfrom your current location. With the direction of travel arrowpointing at the feature, turn the compass housing so theorienting line sits under the red half of the compass needle.TrackWhere the linecrosses the trackyou are on is yourapproximatelocation18

This bearing is a magnetic bearing rather than a grid bearing,which your map uses. You need to deduct magnetic variationfrom the compass reading to convert it. The magneticvariation is currently 0º to 5º throughout Great Britain (thisamount changes annually, so check your OS map to work outthe most current value).Line the orienting lines up with the eastings (the grid linesrunning north–south) on your map. Now carefully slide thecompass across the map so one of the edges of the base platecrosses the feature you spotted on the landscape on themap. If possible, draw a line along the base plate. Where theline crosses the track you are on is your approximate currentlocation.TriangulationA resection is similar to a back bearing, but can be used if youare in the middle of open countryside or on an unknown track.You need to begin by taking the bearings of three features insight, which are also on your map (if there are no man-madefeatures use natural features such as the crests of hills).The three features should be spread out, ideally with 120ºbetween each (for example, one in front of you, one if you lookover your right shoulder and the other over your left shoulder).It is possible to use two features, but this will severely affectthe accuracy of your pinpointing.Repeat the steps you took to obtain a si

From the beginner to the advanced map reader. Contents 3 What is a map? 3 Understanding your map needs 4 Map symbols 5 Map scale 6 The basics 8 Grid references 10 National Grid lines 11 Reading contours and relief 13 Know your compass 14 Using your compass 15 Using land features 17 Advanced techniques 17 Pinpointing your location 17 Transit lines 18 Pinpointing your location with a compass 19 .

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