The Simple Things
What I treasure My Ordnance Survey maps
Some people think I’m a bit of a nerd but I’ve never understood how anyone can live somewhere or go on holiday without an OS map of the area. It’s the first thing I do – paper always, despite the potential hazard of folding it in high wind. I do use maps on my phone but there’s something about spreading the map out on a kitchen table for getting a sense of place.
As someone who walks a dog and rides a bike, the orange Explorers are my map scale of choice (1:25,000). I highlight all the bridleways and footpaths (told you I was nerdy) and plan routes that will persuade my family to come with. But a smaller scale road map of Northern England has served us well, too, and gives a picture of the broader geography; where the towns and villages are in relation to each other, where the rivers flow and the railways and canals were built. Contours come to life, rivers flow and mountain peaks soar. Flatlands and Roman roads head off into the horizon – you can even picture the sunsets on a west-facing coast.
A map is really where history meets geography and my collection has broadened to include ancient OS maps, too – beautifully drawn and coloured maps from the 19th century of the town I grew up in, where I live now, counties that are special to me. I find them all irresistible, especially the chance find: I once found a random roll of maps at a book fair in a Norfolk village hall; of course I had to have a peek and was rewarded with a collection of large-scale maps of the very area in the Yorkshire Dales where I intend to spend my dotage. In short, they made my day.
More than the map itself, it is the sense of belonging I love. The land I come to know and the memories jogged by notes jotted in pencil on the side about a great pub or view. It’s only when you go abroad you realise how lucky we are to have cartography covering every inch of our isles. Not every nation has mapped its land with such detail, accuracy and clarity; OS maps rarely lie, are almost never wrong – you literally know where you are with them.