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OS lead National Map Reading Week

Written by Fiona

October 21 2016

A survey has revealed that Brits are not too good at finding places and lacking in confidence when it comes to navigation with maps. With this in mind, Ordnance Survey (OS) has launched an annual National Map Reading Week. You can read all about it in my Sunday Mail outdoors column and below.


Get back on track

With the advent of GPS navigation gadgets and mobile phone mapping apps it’s hardly surprising that art of map reading is waning.

But research by mapping agency Ordnance Survey reveals the British public’s navigational skills to be far worse than imagined.

A survey called for 2000 people nationwide to plot various locations, from cities to national parks on an outline map of Britain.

Some 40 per cent struggled to pinpoint London and only 14 per cent could accurately plot Edinburgh’s location. It was a similar story for Snowdonia and the Peak District.

Despite the mapping results, more than half of those surveyed believed their knowledge of geographical locations in Britain to be “good” or “excellent”.

However, only 40 per cent reckoned they could confidently read a map and 10 per cent in the survey have never used a paper map in their life.

Now OS hope to get more Brits back on course as they launch a new National Map Reading Week.

From October 17 to 23, the week-long event will focus on encouraging and supporting adults and children to learn the skills of map reading and navigation.

OS believe there are many reasons why we should all be able to properly read a map.

Nick Giles, managing director of OS Leisure, said: “Map reading, whether on paper or digital, is an important skill that we should all have.

“At OS we are passionate about making sure that people are using maps to their full potential and most importantly that people know how to use a map when they get into difficulty.

“We hope that the new national map reading week will raise the profile of this important life skill and encourage people to experience amazing adventures in Britain thanks to map reading.”

OS have enlisted the help of adventurer and TV presenter Steve Backshall for the campaign.

Steve, best known for BBC’s Deadly 60, knows from personal experience the importance of being able to use a map.

He said: “Modern navigation tools like GPS, satnav, mobile downloads and apps have pretty much changed the world but there is still no substitute for maps.

“Maps never run out of batteries, wifi or satellite signal and they have literally saved my life on more than one occasion.”

Steve has produced a series of useful map reading and skills videos that can be accessed from the OS website.

The organisation has also teamed up with British endurance adventurer Sean Conway to promote National Map Reading Week.

An OS spokesperson said: “Our brilliant #GetOutside ambassador Sean will be spreading the word about the importance of map reading.

“Having run, cycled and swum the length of Britain’s coastline, he knows a thing or two about using our maps to get about so it’s a great ambassador to have on board.”

Find out more about map reading

For information about National Map Reading week log on to OS at and make use of many free resources, some of which will be revealed this week.

Already the website offers a host of educational resources, games, videos and on-line workshops.

For children age five to 11 there are MapZone games, quizzes and Q&As.

Parents can play map symbol card games with their children or print maps downloaded from the website for kids to colour in.

There are more sophisticated challenges and ideas for older children, as well as a dedicated area of the website for school and university resources.

The #GetOutside map reading section teaches map reading skills, from complete beginners to advanced navigation.

Five tips for better map reading

Don’t be afraid: Many people shy away from maps because they believe they look too complex or even frightening. However, the basics of reading a map are very simple and once you learn some of the symbols and basic techniques you’ll find that maps can be fun.

Family games: Look for ideas on the OS website or try geocaching ( for enjoyable map learning as a family group. You could let the kids lead the adults, for example.

Learn from the experts: Book on to one of the many map reading and navigation courses across the country and learn the skills of practical map reading form the experts. It’s easier to learn when you are actually outside.

Do what you shouldn’t: Buy a GPS device or map app and download a route to follow. Websites such as ViewRanger and WalkHighlands are useful resources. You can then aim to follow the route by map and compass but also use the GPS as back up.

Men versus women: Men and women tend to read maps in a different way. It’s not that one gender is better at map reading but, in general, they often think and plan in a different way. Ladies might prefer to sign up to women-only navigation courses if they fancy. 


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