A map is a graphical visualisation of the world around us and is made up using a variety of symbols to help us represent that geography.
Maps use symbols to label real-life features and make the maps clearer. With so many features on a map, there would not be enough space to label everything with text.
Symbols can be small pictures, letters, lines or coloured areas to show features like campsites, pubs or bus stations. If you look closely at a map, you will see that it is covered in symbols.
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
If you cast your minds back to the early summer, you may remember the map symbol competition hosted on The One Show. From thousands of fantastic entries spread across 10 categories we chose 6 winning symbols to be added to our maps. And then the hard work started. Getting the new symbols added to our maps…so it was with great excitement that I had a sneak peek at our revised OS Tour Map series and saw the first new map symbols to actually be printed on the map.
We’ve teamed up with BBC’s The One Show to give you the unique opportunity to play a part in the future of our maps. We have over 90 tourist symbols that are used on our maps already, but we have up to 10 map symbols that need creating for the first time ever. We’re turning the design over to you, to create a new map symbol, and we’ll pick our favourite designs to add to our maps.
We often talk about the 10,000 changes a day being captured in our database containing all of the features of Great Britain. It can be hard to grasp how that much change is taking place – until you think about all of the new roads and buildings under construction and then burrow down into the level of detail we capture – right down to phone boxes and even electricity pylons.
When National Grid announced that the first new electricity pylon design in 90 years was going to be erected in Nottinghamshire, we knew our surveying team would need to swing into action. Pylons not only feature in our large scale products, such as OS MasterMap for our business and government customers, but also in smaller scale products, like the 1:25,000 scale mapping in our OS Explorer maps used for outdoor activities.
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.
With 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.
Ordnance Survey maps use contour lines to join points of equal height together. Understanding contours is a very useful navigation skill because you can identify the lay of the land and landscape features as they appear on the ground. They tell you whether the ground is flat, hilly, undulating, or steep, and whether a route will be a gentle easy walk or a hard uphill slog, so you can plan your route more easily.
Contours are shown on Ordnance Survey maps as thin orange or brown lines with numbers on them that show you the height above sea level of any point on the line. The closer the contour lines are together, the steeper the slope. Contour lines very close together indicate a steep slope and contours further apart show a gentle slope.
We thought it was about time to test your knowledge with a map symbols quiz. When you’re out and about using our well-known OS Landranger and OS Explorer Maps – do you know what all of the symbols mean? They’re there to give you valuable information about the environment you’re in.
Aside from highlighting tourist and leisure information, map symbols also provide vital information to let map readers know what to expect on the terrain they’re crossing. Information ranges from the kind of vegetation you can expect to encounter to detail on roads, public rights of way and even different rock features. If you would like to know more about map symbols, try the Simon King and Ordnance Survey video on understanding map symbols. It’s one of a series of short videos explaining the basics on using maps.
In the meantime though, have a go at our quiz and post your answers on the blog. We’ll be revealing the answers later…