Map reading and countryside access

Map reading in the Lake DistrictMap reading – a dying art? So several articles I found recently on the web would have it. The advent of SatNav systems and beloved SIRI on our iPhones means we no longer rely on map reading and the art of paper and symbols to understand how to get from A to B and are outsourcing yet another facet of our intelligence to machines. Now as an iPhone addict myself  and a regular driver, I am not about to right off the virtues of this modern technology. My iPhone is my trusted companion on many a walk to help track my walks or ping back my location to family if I’m off the beaten track with limited company. Likewise many a time I have found myself saved by voice of the SatNav as I deliberate which of the four lanes of London traffic I’m supposed to be in before I have the decision made for my by the herd of rampaging London black cabs bearing down on either side of my car at breakneck rate. However, when the news that people are beginning to rely on these helping hands alone and failing to pass on these vital skills to kids is a worry for the future. Fewer people able to use maps could mean fewer hikers or more worryingly, more cases of people leaving home without the right kit or understanding of where they are going or how to get home if weather, signal or batteries play up. Basic map reading is included as part of the UK Key Stage 3 (7-9 yr old) curriculum but at this relatively tender age & geography not compulsory for secondary school kids there is a legitimate concern that the knowledge may not survive to the adults of tomorrow. Even the adults of today are struggling if the British Cartographic Society and an online 2007 survey by eSure are to be believed. The latter reported that a quarter of British adults can’t read a road map and 83% couldn’t identify the symbol for a motorway!

Ordnance Survey are on the case at least. They have a great resource – MapZone – which has everything you need to kickstart your child’s map reading skills, including a handy pdf guide to the basics of understanding a map.Failing that, sign them up to Girl Guides or Scouts as soon as they are old enough or get your teens to join the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme – all of which still encourage the pursuit of good old fashioned map reading skills. For those of us older but not necessarily wiser, why not brush up on your skills for both beginner and advanced map readers with the adult guide from Ordnance Survey. The Ramblers also have a good page to get you started on compass work, ditching that online route measurement software for a trusty piece of string and a list of suggested courses for those of you serious about improving your navigation skills – you can find it here.

Of course, once you know your route is definitely on a footpath not an A-road, you’ll also need an awareness of your rights on public paths and an appreciation of the countryside code.  The below information from the Environment Law website gives more information on public rights of way:



This public right of way is meant for pedestrians only. You are allowed to walk your dog as long as it is under your close control. When walking a dog, you must ensure that it keeps to the public footpath and does not trespass into nearby properties. Prams, pushchair or wheelchairs can also be used on a footpath.
These are meant for walkers, horseriders and bycyclists. Bicyclists are expected to give way to walkers and horseriders.
Byways Open To All Traffic (BOAT)
These byways are normally marked “byways” and are open to motorists, bicyclists, horseriders, motorcyclists and pedestrians. As with public tarmac road networks, motorists must ensure that they are legally authorised to use BOATs (i.e. registered, taxed, insured and MoT’d).
Restricted Byways
Restricted Byways are created under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. They are open to the traffic mentioned above in BOATs, but exclude motor vehicles and motorcycles.
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  1. […] Want to find out about walking access rights and map reading in the UK? Go to […]

  2. […] next family hiking trip. Teach them about footpath and bridleway markers (check out the links on this post on map-reading) and let them loose on a map of your local area. Best of all, you can avoid disappointment of them […]

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