Whether it is for family history research or for finding my way around whilst out walking you will seldom find me without an Ordnance Survey Explorer map close at hand. I find these maps are so versatile and useful that for me they are a vital piece of kit.
The picture on the left is of my well used Explorer 123 – South Downs Way (Newhaven to Eastbourne) dating from 1996, with a nice picture of the Seven Sister and the coast guard cottages at Seaford Head adorning the cover.
A Brief History of the Explorer Map
On the Ordnance Survey Blog you can find two posts describing the origins of the Explorer map and the various incarnations over the years:
If you want to see some of the different map covers over the years then I would recommend taking a look here (but be warned it is only for the real map addict).
A Question of Scale
Of course their usefulness is down to their scale and the level of detail that they show. The scale of an Explorer map is 1: 25 000 which is the equivalent of 2½ inches to 1 mile (or 4cm to 1km if you prefer). All of England, Scotland and Wales is covered by the 403 maps in the series.
As with any map there has to be a compromise between the level of detail featured and the size of the map. Large scale maps (perhaps better described as plans) show an awful lot of detail but the size of the map needed to cover a few miles on the ground makes them impractical for slipping into a rucksack or opening out on a desk without several pairs of hands.
Exploring the Explorer
The level of detail on an Explorer map is just right, you can cover quite a large area on one map, but with a decent amount of detail. All those little symbols on the map are described on the Ordnance Survey website as well as on the edges of the maps themselves.
Along with showing all the important things like paths and roads, churches and schools and contour lines, some of the most important things for me are that it shows:
- Field boundaries and ditches.
- Parish and other administrative boundaries.
- Paths, tracks and roads (whether public rights of way or not).
Not only does it show a lot of detail but a lot of those features are named, a lot of the larger rural properties (houses and farms) are named, as are some parcels of woodland, a lot of roads are named or numbered also most hills are also identified.
I could go on but probably the best way is to take a look at the map yourself.
Where can you find them online?
Two of my favourite places to find Explorer maps online are:
Ordnance Survey Get-a-map – Zoom in to the maximum level to see the scale at 1:25 000, the only drawback is that the area of map available to view at any one time is only about 1¼ miles (2km). Click on the round purple button to launch the map viewer.
Bing Maps – To view a much larger area you can use Bing Maps, there are several different styles that you can use to view the maps including a couple of different Ordnance Survey scales, although a lot of the zoom levels are just enlargements of the same underlying data.
There are of course many places online and offline to buy copies of the paper maps, and if like me you often find the place you are interested in is split over two paper maps then check out the OS Select service, which allows you to have a map printed to your requirements, centred on the location you want (except Channel Islands and Isle of Man).