map symbols


Your right to roam with public rights of way

Did you know, we show over 220,000 km of public rights of way on our maps? Approximately 170,000 km of these are footpaths and 40,000 km are bridleways. Over 4,600 km are National Trails and 30,900 km are recreational routes!

One thing we’re often asked about is when someone has followed a public right of way shown on our map and found no visible footpath on the ground. Why is this? Public rights of way information is sent to us by local authorities, and a right of way doesn’t necessarily mean a footpath on the ground. We’re also often asked about blocked or overgrown rights of way. These need to be reported to your local authority too and, if any changes on our maps are required, they will pass that information along.

We also map rights of way permissive footpaths and bridleways as well as byways. And, if you don’t know the key differences or symbols of each of the types, you’re in the right place to find out!

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GeoDataViz: map symbols

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.

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Map reading skills: Understanding map symbols


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: Read More


New OS map symbols make it into print

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.

One Show map symbol competition winners

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New electricity pylons being added to the map

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. Read More


All about map symbols

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.
preserved_railwayWith 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. Read More


Understanding map contours

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 on a map

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. Read More


Test your knowledge with a map symbol quiz

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…