Mapping a personal journey with OS OpenData

As part of our #OSDeveloper series, we’re bringing you a guest blog by Liam Mason, spatial analyst and cartographer for the Scottish Government.

A LEGO representation of author (made by author)After months living and working at home, I decided to stretch my legs and walk the West Highland Way, a long distance route from Milngavie to Fort William and one of Scotland’s Great Trails.

Following 96 miles of ancient paths such as drovers’ and military roads, the route passes from the suburbs of Scotland’s largest city, along the shores of the UK’s largest lake, crossing the remains of a supervolcano, before arriving at the UK’s largest peak.


To commemorate my walk, I wanted to make a map. I’d tracked my efforts using a GPS watch, so I had a wealth of data. Points, tracks, distance, pace, heart rate, elevation… So much data it was a bit overwhelming. What was important for the narrative? What style was I looking for? Read More


A different perspective on the Highlands with OS OpenData 

Guest blog by Alasdair Rae, University of Sheffield 

Thanks to the new Ordnance Survey Data Hub, it’s easier than ever for users to get their hands on the treasure trove of geographic data covering the length and breadth of Britain. In this article, I’ll explain how I used some of Ordnance Survey’s digital terrain model data to create a new map of the Scottish Highlands. I will also say a bit about the software and methods, and I’ve shared the data below so anyone who is interested can try it for themselves. But before that, let’s take a look back at the first ‘3D map’ of the Highlands.   

Extract of Alasdair Rae's Highlands map showing the Cairngorms

The first ‘3D map’ of the Highlands 

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SEPA embrace digital transformation one application at a time

Guest blog by Simon Pattullo, Product Owner at Scottish Environment Protection Agency

If you haven’t heard of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), we are Scotland’s principal environmental regulator tasked with protecting and improving Scotland’s environment.

One key tool we use is Permitting and as such, our service needs to be efficient, so we’re constantly working to improve it. We have always been largely paper based, but this is changing. The progress we have made so far within our Permitting department has even won us an award. Read on to find out more… Read More


Understanding Scottish Places with OS data

The Understanding Scottish Places (USP) platform launched in April 2015, offering a way of understanding the similarity of places across Scotland. The tool contains a range of demographic, social and economic data on all 479 Scottish settlements with a population of over 1,000 people. Deliberately designed to avoid a simplistic ranking of places as better or worse, USP focuses on the shared characteristics of towns.

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Beat the bugs – midges

Midge: Culicoides_impunctatusWhen you’re out in the countryside, particularly if you’re camping, it’s impossible to avoid midges and mosquitoes. These types of insect are an important part of our ecosystem, and there are trillions of them, but you may be tempted to forget this when you’re under attack.

The best you can do is to employ some kind of skin protection, stay away from the type of habitat and conditions that midges like, and know how to deal with bites you might get. Learning a bit about why midges bite, and what attracts them can also help you plan your avoidance strategy.

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It’s a surveyor’s life…

We currently have 250 field surveyors who contribute to the 10,000 changes taking place every day in our database. Thanks to them our master map of Great Britain is constantly, subtly shifting and changing. Luckily, the country is nothing if not varied, and not all of our surveyors are pounding concrete and worrying about urban canyons (the phenomena of being in an area so built up that satellite signals – can’t reach their GNSS kit). Some spend their days surrounded by sheep, not Starbucks. One such surveyor is Guy Rodger who looks after Shetland. Guy’s worked for OS for 30 years and spends an average of four weeks in Shetland every year and has to carefully plan his work to maximise his time there. I caught up with him recently to ask him some questions.


Guy at the Bird Observatory back in 2010

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A dramatic change updated – Kelpies!

We make 10,000 changes to our geospatial database every day in order to keep it as up to date as possible. We have a team of 250 surveyors who collect change across the country as well as two aircraft which collect highly detailed aerial imagery which is incorporated in to the database.


Many of the changes are small; changes to road layout and pavements or changes to individual buildings and new developments, but from time to time we need to survey something a little more unusual in order to make sure that we record everything you can see in the landscape. Read More


The Skye Cuillin – Britain’s most difficult mountain survey

John Barnard on one of the two summits of Knight's Peak.  Photo Taken by:  Alan DawsonFollowing on from the success of Britain’s new mountain back in April this year, we have a guest post from Myrddyn Phillips on his latest mountainous challenge.

The Cuillin Mountains of Skye in the Highlands of Scotland are renowned as having the most challenging mountain environment anywhere in Britain.  These mountains contain narrow, complicated ridges where a day’s outing can require a mountaineer’s skill and knowledge to overcome their difficulties.

Picture: John Barnard on one of the two summits of Knight’s Peak. Photo taken by: Alan Dawson

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Knight’s Peak – Britain’s most difficult mountain survey

Following on from the success of Britain’s new mountain back in April this year, we have a guest post from Myrddyn Phillips on his next mountainous challenge.

Balanced precariously on the aptly named Pinnacle Ridge in the Cuillin Mountains of  Skye in the Highlands of Scotland is a lump of rock that may well prove to offer the most difficult mountain survey ever conducted in Britain.

The mountain in question is Knight’s Peak (grid reference NG 471 254).  Its summit is situated amongst castellated peaks in the most challenging and dramatic mountain range Britain has to offer.

The summit of Knight’s Peak consists of two tops a short distance apart.  One top is spacious enough for one person to balance on its highest point, whilst the other is a pointed top where standing is not advised.  The land beyond the summit area is precipitous.

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Lie of the Land

We do like to find unusual examples of maps and we loved this idea for a range of map-based jewellery. Today’s post is by Glasgow-based jewellery designer and silversmith, Clare Spencer, who uses our OS OpenData to create her map-based jewellery range, Lie of the Land.

Since moving to Scotland six years ago, I’ve been continually charmed by its natural landscape and have been looking for ways to celebrate it in my work. The first opportunity presented itself when I was asked to make a personalised pair of earrings for a client’s mother. The only stipulation was that they had a connection to Tain, her birthplace, situated on the Dornoch Firth. Looking at maps of this area, I noticed that the lines of the land and the sea had a natural rhythm. The result is a pair of earrings that together make up a section of that coastline. Tain is marked with a tiny turquoise gemstone. The recipient was delighted with such a personal gift and sent me a lovely thank you card.

Dornoch Firth earrings

Studying Ordnance Survey maps, I was intrigued by the shapes of different lochs (of which there are over 31,000 in Scotland!) and saw how their shape would work well as cuffs and rings making special gifts for those with an affinity to a particular place.

Loch Carron rings

Loch Nell cuff

It was important to me that the outlines of my jewellery were accurate and that I was able to access maps for which I had copyright permission. A search on the Ordnance Survey website revealed their open source data [OS OpenData]and a phone call to a helpful, knowledgeable staff member confirmed that I would be able to use the data for free as long as I acknowledged its source. This information is now printed on my business cards.

Clients might commission map-based jewellery for a variety of reasons –  as a gift for a lover of Scotland’s outdoors, because of a childhood connection to a place, in memory of a special holiday, as a wedding gift (incorporating the location of the ceremony) or as corporate gifts for international clients.

As well as lochs, islands have formed the basis of my requested commissions. The Isle of Skye has been very popular and I’ve been asked to make pendants, brooches and cuff links in its shape.

Skye cuff links

Skye pendant


I trade under the name Rose Madder and you can also find me on Folksy and Facebook.