Whilst watching the news in the morning a few days ago, I saw an interesting segment on the Ordnance Survey maps and their history. Created in 1791, the government –fearing a French invasion - wanted to map the south coast of England. Although the maps are no longer used for the singular military function, the organisation is still in practice. However, what I found most interesting about the report was its inability to reflect on the fact that sometimes these OS maps are mistaken, misleading and always awkward to use.
Having done my overnight Duke of Edinburgh assessed expedition only recently, I am fully aware of the fact that the maps – even the most updated ones – seem to be lacking in the basic necessities. For example, having pre-planned our route down what was seemingly a large, public path, it took us until we reached the large house and the sign saying “Private Property, Guard Dogs Around” that we realised we needed to leave, ASAP. As amusing or dangerous this incident may be it highlights the fact that these maps aren’t just getting it right. My team and I had a lucky escape, but someone else could easily have walked down there unknowing and been attacked by several vicious guard dogs. Or Chihuahuas. The sign may also have been just as erroneous.
What the map makers also seem to fail to realise is that these maps are not waterproof. Some of you may be thinking that this is relatively obvious, as paper isn’t waterproof, but you’d expect some form of keeping these tools dry, considering the modern technology at our fingertips and the fact that this is England. England that has an annual average of 57cm of rain, meaning that paper maps are highly unlikely to survive any month of the year. There is of course the solution of a “waterproof” map case. But the truth is that there is no such thing in existence as waterproof. Showerproof maybe, but torrential, unavoidable, drenched-to-the-skin English downpour proof? You’re as likely to find this in a shop as you are to bump into Hermione Granger in the street and she is kind enough to cast Impervious over you and everything you own. Despite the fact that neither our economic climate nor our global emissions are in any desirable state, we are wasting money on so many other pointless things, I don’t see why we can’t invest money in creating a waterproof material; it would certainly make me a lot happier.
Added to this is the fact that these maps are gigantic, inflexible and costly. I understand that if you go for longer walks then you don’t want to keep changing maps and buying more to simply cover your area. But when the map itself just about takes up the entire room you’re planning in, so that you can’t actually see half of it; or when in order to fit it into said un-waterproof map case you have to fold it over and over in so many awkward places that you can no longer close the map case: well that’s when I think we need to find the happy middle ground. As well as this is the fact that if you are trying to get the whole map out to try and find where you are amongst several trees, a bush and some grass, you stand there with your arms wide open like a penguin trying to fly whilst the flimsy yet awkward piece of paper flaps around refusing to behave. I never thought that paper could be so infuriatingly impossible to handle, yet OS maps seem to do everything except what they’re supposed to. To top it all, despite the fact that these charts are not waterproof, flexible or made to a sensible size that satisfies everyone, they are extortionately priced. Around about £5-£8, OS maps are apparently determined to make you pay ridiculous prices for something that is likely to only last once if you go out walking in England. Perhaps if they were made of this seemingly invincible material then this pricing would be appropriate; then again with the usurious valuing of everything now a days, anything as valuable as that would be available only to lottery winners.
Hopefully Ordnance Survey will attempt to create better maps at a more acceptable amount; if not, they should expect their sales to fall in favour of people walking around on Google Street View from the comfort of their own, dry home.