Ever wondered about scale?

Map reading, including understanding scale, is taught at school in geography lessons, but for many of us this could be a bit of a distant memory and scale might not be a familiar concept. So, I’ve gone back to basics with our GI explained series to explain how scale relates to maps and map reading. Hopefully the points below will give you confidence to use a paper map even if geography lessons seem a long time ago…they certainly do for me!

  • The scale of a map shows you how much you would have to enlarge your map to get the actual size of the piece of land you are looking at.
  • For example, the popular OS Explorer map has a scale of 1: 25 000, which means that every 1cm on the map represents 25 000 of those same units if measurement on the ground (for example 25, 000 cm = 250 metres). See the extract below for an example of 1:25 000 mapping.
  • To make it easy, each OS Explorer map has 4cm to 1km written on the front.
  • Every 4 centimetres on a map is equal to 1km in real life. To make it even easier, the grid lines are exactly 4 cm apart so every square is 1km by 1km. 
  • Maps are made in different scales for different purposes. The 1: 25 000 scale map is very useful for walking but if you used it in the car you would quickly drive off the edge.
  • Maps at 1: 250 000 scale (note the extra zero) show lots more land but in far less detail.


If you want to know more about map reading or want to help your kids with their understanding of maps and geography, then you could download one of our map reading leaflets here.

Pathe news reel: how things used to be done!

A bit of fun and a fantastic window into the past here thanks to this Pathe news reel. I love the voice over and most of us can only dream of the motorway being so free of traffic! The technology, hairstyles and brown overcoats may have changed, as you can see from this film showing our modern techniques and taking us behind the scenes, but the passion, dedication and attention to detail are still here.

Just a note on accuracy though, I’m reliably informed that the film probably isn’t actually from 1953 since the first motorway in this country, the Preston by-pass, wasn’t opened until December 1958 and tellurometer didn’t come into use until 1957.