All about map symbols

We’re making some changes to the covers of our iconic paper maps this year – but you’ll be pleased to hear that the contents will remain familiar and you’ll still be able to navigate around the country, spotting interesting sights.
preserved_railwayWith 600+ paper maps covering the whole of Great Britain, there is plenty of scope for map symbols to help you spot the key navigational points. Most of you will be familiar with our map symbols – pubs, campsites, churches and so on. They point out where things are across the country and help you to plan your trips – working out where the best viewpoint is, highlighting the pubs (a key feature!) and helping to navigate across the countryside. They’re not only on paper maps, but also on our range of mobile apps and online products.

We use a range of over 90 map symbols. Some of these are based on the British Standard’s Public Information symbols, but may have been cartographically styled to make them appear clearer when viewed on a paper map with contours, buildings, roads and other information. Others make use of the relevant owners’ logo – such as individual National Parks, whilst a final group have been designed by us to simply illustrate what’s on the ground.

Of these map symbols, around 80% are used regularly and are reasonably well known. Others are used less regularly including the electric boat charging point symbol which appears on only one map –Norfolk!
other_touristOur symbols are designed to be easy to understand, but to accurately reflect what’s there. They tell you what you are looking at without having to refer to the legend, although a legend is always printed alongside the map with a written description. We’re always reviewing the symbols, although our last changes were in 2009 and included symbols for Boat Hire, Cycle Hire, Craft Centres and National Trails. We also change symbols from time to time – apparently the original beer glass symbol for a pub was changed to make it look less like a petrol pump!

We heard from Holst Class at Brockworth Primary Academy in Gloucestershire recently, who had been looking at OS map symbols and deciding which symbols they liked the best and which they would like to update. They sent us some fantastic letters with their ideas – take a look at some of the examples below.

As we move into a digital age, map symbols will remain an important indicator of what’s on the ground and are here to stay. Even if you are out for a walk using mapping on an electronic device, you are still going to want to know where you can stop for a rest.

So – which is your favourite current map symbol? And what would you like to see added to this list? Let us know on the blog.

If you want to brush up on your map symbols, visit our website.

And if you really like map symbols – look out for an exciting competition we’ll be launching later this month…

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1 Response

  1. What an excellent idea! Well done to Brockworth Primary Academy. Aside from an obvious affinity to the PH symbol, my favourite would have to be the Viewpoint one, which helpfully tells you which way to look if it’s not clear from the contour lines. Room for improvement? For a long while I wondered why the “walks and trails” symbol was a giant exclamation mark, until I realised it was actually a footprint!

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