National Map Reading Week and online mapping services

We’d like to know what you think - do you have a preferred online journey planner? And just how useful are online maps and/or sat navs for navigating the countryside?


This week is National Map Reading Week, so it’s the ideal time to brush up on your map-reading skills. Map reading gives you the freedom to explore the countryside safely, without relying on web-based mapping tools.


Start by taking the Ordnance Survey Map Reading Quiz, to test your current skills. On the Ordnance Survey website you’ll also find video tutorials from adventurer Steve Backshall and free downloadable map reading leaflets: Map reading – beginners to advanced for adults or teenagers and Map reading made easy for children.

You’ll also find our guide to Navigation Courses, where you can learn how to take a compass bearing, orientate a map and other navigation skills.

Online maps are a great addition to traditional map-reading skills, however, and in 2012 Google Maps announced that it would be also mapping the UK’s rivers and canals, so that users can incorporate waterways into their countryside journey plans. The aim was to get more people using waterways – our third largest listed structure – whether actually boating, or walking and cycling alongside a stretch of river or canal.

Working alongside the newly formed Canal and River Trust they mapped the 2,000 miles of bridges, locks and paths in England and Wales, and the routes are now available to view.

Ed Parsons is a geospatial technologist for Google. He told the Guardian: “Canal towpaths offer green routes through our towns and cities, and by working with the Canal and River Trust we’re adding towpaths to Google Maps and encouraging people to discover their local waterway.”

But what are the other options for mapping out journeys through the countryside? Search engine Bing offers an online Ordnance Survey option, which, with detailed information following keys and grids, includes roads, farms, woodlands – and waterways.

Other options include which describes itself as an urban walking route planner, and packed full of options for logging journey time, calorie burn, carbon-saving and even the number of steps taken. Although geared towards cities, it includes canals as part of its routes.


Meanwhile, Open Street Map works on similar lines to Wikipedia – users contribute help to build up the map of an area, so that features information on restaurants and attractions, as well as green spaces, roads, railways and rivers