Surveying one of Snowdonia’s highest mountains

Over the past year or so, I’ve been working with a group people who are on a quest to rewrite the map of Great Britain.

John Barnard, Graham Jackson and Myrddyn Phillips have been tirelessly climbing some of the country’s most famous peaks and measuring their heights using state-of-the-art GPS equipment.  In doing so they have helped create mountains where once there were mere hills, and vice versa of course!

Their latest expedition takes them to Snowdonia and one of Wales’ most iconic mountains.

This is their story:

“One of the most spectacular mountains in Snowdonia – Tryfan – may be suffering from delusions of grandeur.  With a 915 metre (3,002 ft) map height, it is close to one of Britain’s historically important benchmark heights, that of 3,000 ft.

Since there is a +/-3 metre (+/-10 ft) margin of uncertainty associated with the surveying method that determined this height (using aerial photographs), it means that Tryfan might not be a 3,000 ft mountain at all.

Tryfan, viewed by many as iconic, rises above the Ogwen Valley, its profile dominating the surroundings.  Its crowning glory is its summit, which comprises two monolithic blocks of rock, known as Adam and Eve. They are separated by just enough daunting space to tempt the occasional “fearless” scrambler to clamber atop and jump from one to the other!

At the summit

At the summit

It is our intention in the latter half of June to resurvey Tryfan and determine if this mountain is in fact over 3,000 ft high. Our surveying activities have stemmed from our quest to improve the accuracy of hill-related data within the Database of British Hills, a database available on the internet which contains details of over 6,500 hills.

It’s also fun to bring an activity based on measurement science into a realm such as hill walking.  Moreover, there is the opportunity to take in the beauty of our much varied upland landscape while awaiting the GPS equipment to gather data!

Gathering data

Gathering data

This project is taking place in conjunction with the Snowdonia Society and also with involvement from Paul Beauchamp and Mark Greaves of Ordnance Survey.

The announcement to resurvey Tryfan was broadcast by the BBC on 15 March, who along with ITV and an independent production group, CREAD, all want to join us at the summit on the day of the survey.

We decided it would be wise to conduct a reconnaissance in order to work out exactly, at our leisure, how we would survey Tryfan!  This would save us time on the actual day of the survey as solutions to any problems would already have been found.

The day of reconnaissance was clear and sunny, but with a biting wind from the North West. We strapped the equipment to one of the blocks, checked that it remained stable and made sure that satellite signals could be received satisfactorily. All we have to do now is repeat this procedure, but this time gathering the minimum of 2 hours of data required for Ordnance Survey verification whilst being filmed doing so.  No pressure there then!

Will Tryfan remain a 3,000 footer?  Keep checking the Ordnance Survey Blog for the answer!

For those interested in ‘The Tryfan Project’ you can now follow its progress on YouTube.

John Barnard, Graham Jackson, Myrddyn Phillips”


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?


GeoVation mapping a path to disability access

As well as the full GeoVation Awards Programme we launched last year (by the way, there will be more news about this year’s programme very soon) we ran an internal version, asking members of staff to come up with their own innovative, geography based ideas.

The winner was Rob Trent, who works in our risk management team, who came up with an idea around geography and disability access.

Here’s Rob’s story…

“An awful lot has been happening since I was fortunate enough to win the internal competition for the GeoVation Ideas Challenge. My idea is to enable people to upload comments, photos and video about any location with regard to disabled facilities. The site could also be used by organisations wishing to sell disability services, such as electric wheelchairs, or it could be used by organisations wishing to promote their accessibility.

The prize was a rather magnificent Flip video camera, which has been extremely useful in taking forward my idea.

Rob is presented his prize by Peter ter Haar, Director of Products

Rob is presented his prize by Peter ter Haar, Director of Products

That was the easy part! Since then I have been engaged in various activities which will hopefully turn the idea into reality.

Days after the award I met with Chris Parker from the GeoVation team, and we started to talk about the idea, It soon became apparent that there was a wider scope to it than just disability. Access issues are also highly relevant for people pushing prams or buggies. We also have a population where the percentage of older people is increasing. Access issues are relevant to older people too.

From those discussions the name “AccessAdvisr” was born. That was to be the name of the website, and anything related to the idea.

On 12 and 13 March I went to London. Not to see the Queen but to WhereCampEU. For the uninitiated “WhereCampEU is the un-conference for geo people. The event will bring together the brightest and most interesting map hackers, makers and designers from across the EU for a weekend of mapping fun”.

The purpose of my visit was to ‘pitch’ my idea to the developers. I did this through a combination of slides and a short film. The slides included some graphic designs from someone helping me with the project, and the ‘film’ (in the very loosest sense) demonstrated my journey to WhereCampEU and how I accessed public transport. This was filmed using the Flip camera attached to my wheelchair.

The presentation went very well, and I made useful contacts, not only with the geo-development community, but also with people who have experience in offering advice to people starting projects. I was given really useful advice regarding such things as registering a domain name for my website, creating a prototype and then trying to get support to push things forward.

Having soaked up all the advice, I spent some time starting to develop a prototype website. I’d already registered the domain name and I have very limited web development skills!

Using a free on-line tool called Weebly I had very quickly (alright, after two days – what are “A records” all about!?) put together a ropey website. So far, I’ve uploaded my first ever Youtube video, and created a link from my website. It doesn’t yet do what it says on the GeoVation tin, but I’m really pleased that the idea is moving forward.

Part of making this idea a success is getting people to trial the site, and to eventually use it. I attended the Ordnance Survey Disability Forum where I gave a 10 minute talk on my idea, and hopefully interested people enough to have a look at my efforts so far.

So, a lot has happened but there’s shed loads still to be done. I’ll do my best to keep you posted.”


Bronze Age farm discovered at OS head office

I met up with Wessex Archaeology recently to find out about the previous residents at Adanac Park, the site of our new head office. 

Back in 2008, as part of the planning process, Wessex Archaeology were asked to investigate the site for historical interest. They were fairly confident of finding some archaeological remains as there had been finds at sites in the local area, but were surprised to find evidence of a late Bronze Age farm, the first of its kind in this part of Hampshire.

Archaeologist Andrew Fitzpatrick told me, ‘The site proved to be late Bronze Age, around 3,000 years old, four or five houses and evidence of smaller structures, such as storage sheds and granaries. There was also an Iron Age burial ground with seven barrows and other graves. This was quite unexpected and the site is unique in Britain.

The team discovered pottery fragments, remains of ancient crops, a quern or grinding stone, loom weights and a whetstone, giving a clear idea that Adanac Park’s former residents were working in a farm environment.

One of the more exciting finds was a sword in one of the Iron Age barrows. It was found along with a spear and the remains of a shield, but due to the acidic nature of the local soil, the skeleton had not survived. Pippa Bradley, who is working on a final report about the finds, explained, ‘It took some CSI-style investigation and an x-ray of the sword remains to determine whether it was from the Iron Age or Anglo-Saxon period. And it was only through the dedication of the field team, returning a questionable lump of mud and stone, that we discovered parts of a metal ornament from the boss that would have sat in the centre of the shield.’

It’s odd to think that when we take over the building later this year we’ll be sitting in our offices, going about our daily business of keeping the mapping of Great Britain current, whereas 3,000 years ago people were growing crops, farming animals and living off the land.

If you’d like to find out a little more about Wessex Archaeology, check out their website. I’ll be catching up with them again soon to find out about their use of GI and mapping when doing their daily work.



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.


Using OS OpenData to fight fraud

We are really excited that CIFAS – The UK’s Fraud Prevention Service, a not for profit organisation, has been using OS OpenData to help them recruit local authorities into membership.

Simon Fitzgerald, CIFAS Programme & New Developments Manager, was very enthusiastic about the release of OS OpenData, and downloaded OS Street View, Boundary Line and Code Point Open for the London Boroughs as soon as the service went live. Using a freely available open source Geographic Information System, Simon set about loading elements of the fraud data that CIFAS collects from its Member organisations spread across the financial services sector and beyond.

Illustrating the fraud-scape of Britain

Illustrating the fraud-scape of Britain

By plotting the location of frauds against our mapping and data, Simon was able to show investigators the density of fraud taking place within their localities and that he understood the challenges they were facing.

Simon says: “Being able to show people where fraud is taking place is a very powerful tool. It’s good to demonstrate that our fraud hotspots are the same as a local authority’s, and goes a long way towards making the case for public–private data sharing to prevent fraud.”

Simon is now using maps to present to a number of Local Authorities, showing fraud hotspots by postcode. This is fantastic use of our data and it’s great to see OS OpenData already being used by organisations, to unlock the power of their own data and to create engaging dialogue with their customers and stakeholders.

So, what do you think? Is this one of the best uses of OS OpenData or have you spotted something better out there?


Why children need the freedom to explore

Back in January, Mission:Explore was announced as one of the winners of the GeoVation Awards Programme, the initiative supporting exciting ideas that use geography. Everyone that met the team was impressed with their passion, vision and sense of adventure. Here, Daniel Raven-Ellison who gave the pitch which secured the award, writes about the project and it’s aims in the first of a series of guest posts.


Mission:Explore is a project to encourage people to see, explore and act innew ways. We started the project because while children’s geographies are being extended in some areas (such as social networks), they are being restricted and bound in others.

As a subject geography is often marginalised and in schools and neighbourhoods children’s physical geographies are being reduced due to risk aversion. Our geographies directly impact on our wellbeing and our understanding of those geographies can help us to improve the wellbeing not only of ourselves but our communities.

Mission:Explore encourages children to look at the world differently

Mission:Explore encourages children to look at the world differently

We believe that it is vital that young people are given the opportunity to explore. Exploration is a state of mind and a process of enquiry. It is about searching for answers even if we do not know the questions and can be physical, emotional or imagined.

Exploration is strongly linked to creativity: both search for originality (if only for the participant) and involve taking and managing risk. These are skills that we need young people to develop and along with their health and education, are being held back when children are not allowed to explore.

Mission:Explore aims to engage young people with geography on their own terms by challenging them to complete challenges. Each mission challenges the explorer to complete quirky, funny, important, strange or just fun activity. The people involved can choose to follow the mission to the letter or just use it to inspire their own ideas.

How far can you get while sucking a mint?!

How far can you get while sucking a mint?!

We have just launched the Mission:Explore children’s book which includes 102 missions. All of our royalties are being invested in free copies of the book for children who would never normally come across them. The first books have been given to Play Tower Hamlets who are distributing them on our behalf.

The book is powerful. As a parent it is a fantastic way to encourage your children to play outdoors in a meaningful way. As an object that can be carried around it can create a purpose for doing the missions and a reason to speak to members of the community.

Missions like “how far can you get while sucking the same mint” involves some basic science while “map (un)friendly places” engages young people with politics and encourages them to question who creates places and cultures. If all the children on a street had a copy of the book it could change that community forever.

The book is available nationally and we would love to hear what you think of it.

We are going a step further though. With the help of GeoVation we, along with The Workshop, are turning Mission:Explore into a website and iPhone App. We will be sharing more details on this innovation in the next blog post.

Daniel Raven-Ellison.


OS hosts global standards event ISO/TC 211


Delegate signing in for the Monday workshop

Delegate signing in for the Monday workshop

We’re being inundated with mapping experts from across the world this week…over 100 prominent players in the international geographic information (GI) community from more than 30 countries are taking part in the International Organisation for Standardisation’s Technical Committee for Geographic Information (ISO/TC 211).

Now that sentence didn’t mean a lot to me, so I had a word with my colleague Carsten Roensdorf to find out more. Carsten told me that ISO/TC 211 is a technical committee tasked with standardising digital GI. This could be anything from data quality measures to metadata records to data formats such as GML. Much of ISO/TC211’s activities formalise the work of the Open Geospatial Consortium and then provide a basis for initiatives such as INSPIRE.

As the main sponsor of the Interoperability Workshop and the week of meetings, we’re providing our Business Centre to host the event and delegates will get the chance to have some tours around our Print Floor and Photogrammetric Services areas – always popular places to visit with the GI and map-loving population.There will be plenty to keep our mapping experts busy over the course of the week as delegates attend workshops hosted by Intelligent Addressing, Ministry of Defence, ESRI, the Netherlands Standards Institute and many more.

The 30th meeting for ISO/TC 211 is in Southampton from 24-28 May 2010. The includes a formal plenary session for official delegations, along with meetings of standards development project teams.
Mingling between workshops

Mingling between workshops