How to plan a scavenger hunt

Finding a GeocacheFrom geocaching to Easter egg hunts around the house for the kids, we love a scavenger hunt. These games have everything: you have to be quick on the mental draw; you get a bit of exercise when you race from point to point, and you get to satisfy your competitive nature by being the first to collect all items being hunted.

A great scavenger hunt can provide hours of entertainment, improve team-work skills and get you out and about in nature, yet they don’t require much more than a well-thought-out plan. Here are a few tips to help you plan your own… Continue reading “How to plan a scavenger hunt”

How are our paper maps evolving?


Photo - Charley Glynn

Photo – Charley Glynn

The future of paper maps has been the subject of lively debate in recent months. Interestingly, while the popularity of GPS devices and mapping apps for mobile devices continues to grow, paper maps are still being used by millions of outdoor enthusiasts every year, who are increasingly looking to access both paper and digital mapping for their activities.

That’s why for a number of years we’ve been looking to bring paper and digital mapping together in convenient ways that suit your activities and uses. For this reason, we’re launching a new series of maps called OS Explorer Map +, which include the same high quality mapping you’ve come to expect from our paper maps, but are printed on a more robust, weather-resistant paper and come with a free 14 day trial subscription to our online mapping application, OS getamap. Continue reading “How are our paper maps evolving?”

Will the GPS replace the compass?

Guest post by Andrew of Outdoor Look.

compass and gps on a mapFor hundreds, if not thousands of years man has explored his surroundings with a compass and maps. Now we see GPS units and apps for smart phones available a plenty, so has the humble compass had its day? Both have their fans with some seeing the GPS as just the latest ‘boys toy’ with lots of buttons and flashing lights and those who see it as a valuable aid to navigating your route that anyone who is serious about walking and hiking must have with them at all times. I lean towards the compass and map, simply because that is how I was taught, but I can see how technology changes and obviously a GPS unit doesn’t take up as much space, but is one better than the other? Let’s see.

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A beginner’s guide to geocaching

A beginner's guide to geocachingMany of us have fond memories of exciting treasure hunts as children, with Easter eggs and other small treats often the subjects of our searches. These days, though, it’s much more normal to find youngsters glued to their television screens, completing quests of a more virtual nature. Technology has certainly affected the ways in which people explore the world and enjoy themselves, but it’d be wrong to assume that old and new can’t be combined to great effect. Geocaching is a fantastic example of this. Continue reading “A beginner’s guide to geocaching”

Choosing a handheld GPS device

Choosing a new GPS DeviceLove them or hate them, GPS devices are rapidly becoming more popular for all kinds of outdoor pursuits. They can be used for checking your position, following a pre-defined route and automatically recording your route. Some offer additional features, such as cameras or altimeters. Here’s the Ordnance Survey guide to choosing a handheld GPS device.

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Walking with a GPS

Handheld GPS DeviceA Global Positioning Device or GPS is a very handy tool for walkers who want the security of knowing their exact location. If you’re walking somewhere relatively featureless then a GPS provides the peace of mind that you’re going in the right direction. It will also allow you to give the emergency services your exact location, should you get in a spot of bother and need their support. Continue reading “Walking with a GPS”

Are you a social hiker?

Guest post by Social Hiker Martin Free @InSearchOfCloud

How and why I use Social Hiking

I was always a keen hiker. Mum used to take us youth hostelling as kids and though University I was a very active member of the hiking club there. I took some steps to ‘go pro’ and started down the qualification route for mountain leadership, but rapidly realised that I would be better earning my pounds elsewhere and keeping hiking as a hobby. After finishing University, I kept in touch with my hiking buddies and we got together regularly, certainly throughout my 20s. As for most people, life took over. My career, other activities, relationships etc meant that hiking became something that happened less and less frequently.

In 2009, I bought my first proper smartphone – a HTC Hero. It wasn’t the earliest Android phone, but as the first of my friends to get one, I felt like an early-adopter. Having a smartphone opened up a huge range of opportunities to do other things with it, other than just basic calls and texts.

In 2010, I changed jobs. I had been the ‘Training Manager’ for national government agency, which meant working away from home most of the time. I moved back into an operational role near home, working shifts and sleeping in my own bed every night (or day depending on the shift!). This gave me a lot more time to pick up on old hobbies. I started hiking again. I started running again. In both cases, due to my shift pattern I was doing it on my own, mid-week with my smartphone, I started tracking my activities, both for safety and to see later how much I’d done.

Continue reading “Are you a social hiker?”

How do we survey the changing face of Britain?

One of our surveyors at head office

Keeping the master map of Great Britain up-to-date is no easy task and sees thousands of changes a day made to our database. We capture these changes on the ground through our team of 240 surveyors equipped with the latest positioning technology and via Remote Sensing, with both our own Flying Unit and strategic suppliers capturing aerial imagery which is then processed back at head office.

The latest technology makes the task of capturing change on the ground faster than ever before. Our surveyors are usually home-workers and keep the GI data up to date within a set area. They work on a Panasonic Toughbook – a ruggedised convertible notebook computer which serves as both their laptop and data collection tool. It’s both showerproof and dustproof which is essential for a job largely carried out in the great outdoors. It connects wirelessly to their GNSS equipment, electronic total station and hand-held laser rangefinder. It’s also the means for them to connect to head office, arrange and order data for jobs and send data back again.

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Solar Flares – the impact on OS Net and GPS

Space weather is once again in the news – with a big solar flare hitting Earth this morning.

Solar flares are related to sunspot activity which tends to run in 11 year cycles. We’re now in the period where sunspot activity is increasing to a maximum for the current cycle. This morning’s flare is the biggest for 5 years – and tonight there is a chance Scotland might even get to experience the Northern Lights as a result.

However Solar flares can disrupt electromagnetic communications especially ones involving satellites. Solar flares increase the electromagnetic activity in a part of the Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere. This increases the impact of the ionosphere on GNSS signals (the generic term for all the navigation satellites orbiting the Earth, like GPS).


In the context of OS Net, our national network of 110 satellite receiver stations that make precision map making possible, a period of bad ‘space weather’ can make our work much more difficult. It makes satellites harder pick up and track from the ground. Also, in order to calculate an accurate position, the effect of the ionosphere must be modelled and then removed. When ionospheric activity is high and changing rapidly (like it is at the moment) this modelling is much more difficult.  Space weather is also bad news for users who derive accurate timing from GNSS such as to synchronise computer and communications networks.

During a space weather event, GNSS users may experience a loss of satellite signal or errors in position or timing. Using a network of  dual frequency satellite receiver stations, like OS Net, as opposed to a single base station solution is the best way to mitigate the effects of bad space weather. Processing data from a network of base stations allows for the best possible real time modelling of the changing effect of the ionosphere. This means more robust data is sent to our 250 surveyors working to map the changes across the country.

In the meantime, we’re working hard to make sure the affects of this current period of bad weather have as little impact on our work and the people who rely on our data, as possible.

The data from a national network of high precision, dual frequency receivers such OS Net is also useful to predict and monitor the impacts of space weather on the positioning and timing community, these receivers are capable of directly measuring the ionospheric delay of the satellite signals as they travel down to earth , unlike standard GPS receivers. Ordnance Survey are also a partner in SENTINEL – a Technology Strategy Board sponsored research project to monitor the impact of such things as space weather on GNSS signals.  The data collected by OS Net stations and SENTINEL “probes” across the country during today’s event will make an important contribution to the research in to the impacts of space weather on GNSS signals.

There is some more information on solar flares from the British Geological Survey Twitter feed, whilst if you’re after a more technical article on the impact of space weather on GNSS can be found here.

Lost? Follow that satellite dish!

I read a great article on the BBC recently that was giving tips on finding your way in a city. Did you know that most UK satellite dishes (all belonging to the same provider) point roughly south east? They’re pointing at the same geostationary satellite, fixed at the same point over Earth.

We’re all becoming increasingly reliant on having a GPS signal to know our location – whether it’s to find your nearest cinema/petrol station/restaurant on a mobile phone, following the soothing tones of your satnav, or plotting a route for your next countryside walk. But what happens when you lose your GPS signal, or your battery dies on the device you’re using?

Continue reading “Lost? Follow that satellite dish!”