5
Nov
2015
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Map reading skills: Understanding map symbols

camp_site

Campsite map symbol

Last week we started our six-week blog series on map reading skills. Map reading is an essential skill for any explorer or outdoor enthusiast. We’ve teamed up with Steve Backshall to record a series of videos to remind you of the basics and help you feel confident with your map.

Last week we covered which OS map you need and this week we’ll be talking about understanding map symbols. Over the next month we’ll also cover:

  • Making sense of contour lines
  • How to read a grid reference, both four-figure and six-figure versions
  • Knowing your compass and how to take a compass bearing
  • Understanding magnetic north

We’ll share Steve’s video with you, give a summary in the blog and point you in the right direction (no pun intended) for further resources and details. Hear what Steve has to say about map symbols:

Museum map symbol

Museum map symbol

As Steve said, if you’ve studied or used a paper map before, you’ll be aware of Ordnance Survey map symbols. The symbols help us to understand what appears on the map and gives us a useful guide to what we can expect to see when we’re out and about exploring Britain. You don’t have to worry about learning each symbol (although it can be fun, honest!) as all of our maps have a legend, or key, that explains each symbol.

An OS map symbol is the mapping language that will guide you through every walk, bike ride, run or geocaching adventure that you go on. Think about how many buildings, landmarks, features, man made or natural, that the landscapes around us plays host to. Every feature appears on the maps you use and the OS map key helps you to understand what your map is telling you.

The popular map symbol for a pub!

The popular map symbol for a pub!

From pointing out parking areas to pubs to toilets, there’s lots of information to help you plan your day out. Symbols can also give you information about the landscape around you, such as coniferous woodland, streams or cliffs.

Our map symbols can be put into the following categories:

Contours – lines showing the height (elevation) and shape of the terrain (more about these next week);

Roads – types of roads from motorways to unfenced farm roads;

Leisure signs – showing attractions, viewpoints, places to go, camping and caravan sites, national parklands and trails;

Terrain and landscape features – scree, mud, sand, rocky outcrops, cliffs; and

Paths – footpaths, bridleways and routes, some are rights of way, some aren’t.

If you’d like to know more about OS map symbols, visit our website to download the map symbols sheets we use for our OS Explorer and OS Landranger maps.

Happy exploring! I’ll be back next week to talk about contour lines.

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Map reading skills: Making sense of contour lines
New OS map symbols make it into print
Behind the scenes: creating new map symbols
One Show map symbol competition winners

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