The history of the OS Explorer map – part 2

Here’s the second in our two part series on the history of the OS Explorer map. Read part 1.

The 1:25 000 scale Ordnance Survey map evolves

Pathfinder maps proved very popular with walkers and other leisure users but after a while steps were taken to make the map even more user friendly. The first experimental Explorer maps were published in 1994, with five maps issued simultaneously covering parts of the Chilterns, Mendips and Northumberland. On average the new Ordnance Survey maps covered three times the area of their predecessor Pathfinders, and were six times bigger than the blue-covered originals (originally Outdoor Leisure maps) at this scale.

The new Ordnance Survey maps gave users much more mapping for their money. The additional tourist and leisure information added to the maps at the time made planning countryside walks and outdoor activity trips much easier. Outdoors enthusiasts could find out exactly where every footpath and bridleway would take them. They could clearly see national park boundaries, sites of antiquity, youth hostels, viewpoints, pubs, schools, country parks, gardens, picnic sites and more. They could plan their activities down to the nearest phone box and public convenience! Anyone involved in the countryside now had an amazing level of detail at their fingertips.

More Explorer maps emerge

Over the following two and a half years, a further 26 Explorer maps were published for different parts of the country, several introducing or developing ideas to test the usefulness of the new-look maps to the public. Feedback from people who use the maps regularly from walking groups such as the Ramblers, to horse riders, councils and nowadays geocachers, has always been used to develop the 1:25 000 scale map.

By 2003, every Pathfinder and Outdoor Leisure Map had been converted to the Explorer Map series and in 2004, following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (which gives people new rights to walk on open country and registered common land) areas of open access are being depicted on OS Explorer Maps. And so, the OS Explorer map that is used so widely today was born.

What do people use the OS Explorer map for today?

The OS Explorer map has always been extremely popular with ramblers but these days the list of people who use 1:25 000 scale maps is never ending. The following gives you an idea of who might use one.

  • Walkers
  • Runners
  • Orienteerers
  • Horse riders
  • Cavers
  • Geocachers
  • Mountain bikers
  • Road cyclists
  • Adventure racers
  • Climbers
  • Green laners
  • Pot holers
  • Kayakers

Do you have any other uses for the iconic OS Explorer map that we haven’t mentioned here?


The history of the OS Explorer Map

Here’s the first in our two part series on the history of the OS Explorer map.

OS Explorer Maps – the beginning

The iconic OS Explorer Map, used daily by thousands of people from ramblers to rock climbers and named by the Design Council as an official millennium product, has a fascinating history. Did you know, for example, that it wasn’t until 2005 that the whole of Great Britain was covered, including remote areas of the Scottish Highlands?

OS Explorer Map 218 Wyre Forest and Kidderminster

OS Explorer Map 218 Wyre Forest and Kidderminster

1:25 000 was born

Amazingly, it has now been nearly a century since the famous walking map was born. The first time maps were produced at the familiar 1:25 000 scale (2½ inches on the map being equivalent to 1 mile on the ground or 4 cm to 1 km) was in the early 20th century, but back then, in 1914, only the military had access to this level of detail on a paper map and used them to plan and execute their operations. The first military map from Ordnance Survey covered East Anglia.

Mapping was extremely important during the two world wars but it wasn’t until 1938 that it was suggested that a series of public maps was produced. At this time, it was felt that it would be useful for schools to have access to detailed maps. Students could learn much more about geography with a detailed Ordnance Survey map to hand.

It was decided that if the idea took off in schools, then the mapping might eventually cover the whole of the country to give outdoors enthusiasts unrivalled access to the great British countryside! The first experimental (or Provisional) maps at this scale appeared after the Second World War ended in 1945.

Outdoor Leisure maps

Interest in outdoor pursuits and leisure time spent in the countryside began to grow over time and consideration was given to boosting interest in 1:25 000 scale mapping. In 1972 the first Outdoor Leisure map was published of the Dark Peak area of the Peak District. OL1 can still be purchased today in the map shop. Subsequently other OL maps were published concentrating on the national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

The Pathfinder

As a result of the success of the first 1:25 000 scale maps of national parks, many of the maps were redesigned to broaden their appeal further. They now covered twice the land area and were given green covers to distinguish them. The new maps were given the name Pathfinder. Those Pathfinders covering England and Wales showed all public rights of way. It was now possible to plan walking routes and ramble freely without trespassing!

Read part two next week.


Bath best for a city walk!


Bath Skyline – a row of Georgian houses

If you’re looking for somewhere great to go walking in your leisure time then you could head for the best route in Britain. Did you know that The Bath Skyline walking trail has been named Britain’s most popular city walk, in a new study by The National Trust?

Apparently, enthusiastic walkers questioned by the Trust suggested the 6-mile circular walking trail circumnavigating the historic city is the finest in Great Britain, closely followed by Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, where green, open spaces lined with lime trees have become a walking hot spot.

Having recently spent some time in Bath I can definitely see what the fuss is about. The city is steeped in history and stunning views of Georgian sandstone buildings and rolling hills can be found on every corner, just what you need on a leisurely hike!

Jo Burgon, Head of Access and Recreation at The National Trust, says:

We’re finding that more people want to get out into the great outdoors but often need to be pointed in the right direction.

Bath Skyline and Clumber Park came out on top of a list of 130 walking trails in Great Britain, what better way to get some use out of your Ordnance Survey maps.