Get a Mountain Map (and look at it)!

My OpenStreetmap derived maps feature prominently on all the route descriptions and that might suggest that I believe  these are the only maps you need to carry. However, this is far from the truth. In particular if you are on open mountain, you should be carrying a quality topographic map with accurate contours. For our purposes this means an Ordnance Survey NI 1:25,000 Leisure Map or, in the case of the Mourne Mountains, a Harveys 1:25,000 Superwalker. These are both available in  paper (waterproof) and pre-downloadable smartphone form (Google Maps do not qualify)!

For the small number of walks here with mountain sections such maps may seem overkill, indeed many ‘hillwalkers’ do much more dangerous routes with no maps at all and generally live to tell the tale. The key point is that if you regularly carry and look at a proper map, before during and after your walks, you will be continuously learning and building your navigational skills. So come the day when the clouds come down, the weather closes in, you miss the indistinct path and your walking companion starts to get hypothermic, you will be able to lead down off that mountain by a fast, safe route.

Ordnance Survey NI maps are also useful for lowland and coast walkers particularly in areas covered by the 1:25,000 Leisure Series. Unfortunately this excludes significant parts of Northern Ireland where only the 1:50,000 series is available.

The equivalent 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey GB maps are much more useful as they detail the massive network of public rights of way which exists there. These rights of way generally correspond to footpaths and councils there generally maintain practical good quality signposting and waymarking as part of their routine function. In NI there are almost no off-road rights of way, paths are often not maintained and waymarking is ‘initiative based’, sporadic and seldom maintained over time. We have a very long way to go before we get anywhere near the GB standard!

Ordnance Survey NI

The Ordnance Survey has been producing definitive high quality maps of all of Ireland since 1830 – see PRONI OS Historical map Viewer  for an free online archive of this amazing work. Today their maps are still the standard for accuracy, consistency and coverage and should be required reading for anyone interested in getting into and enjoying the countryside.

Harvey Maps

Harvey Maps have been around since the 1970’s and have their origin in the sport of Orienteering.  Here the need for specialist cartography with exceptional clarity focused on detail readable by an athlete running at speed, produced a style of mapping which prioritised legibility and usefulness over absolute accuracy. Their maps have always been printed on waterproof paper and been compact and easy to fold and manage out on terrain. In NI the Mournes are the only area currently covered by their mapping.

Smartphone Maps

In this blog I frequently suggest the reader prints out the maps attached to each way and I make no apology for this. Paper (and waterproof paper) is still a very useful technology and is unlikely to be replaced anytime soon. It should always be there at least as a backup for when batteries, signals and screens fail. It is also easy to carry paper bigger than a smartphone and therefore better to get an overview of your route – useful particularly if you need to change plans.

However, good quality electronic maps previously downloaded to your phone are useful particularly when combined with GPS. However, GPS is a mixed blessing – you should make it your tool (not your crutch)  to test and develop navigational skills (practice finding your place on the map – then confirm with GPS). Don’t let GPS turn you into zombie walker with no understanding of where you are and where you are going. Someday the machine may stop (or break) and you don’t want to end up wandering around the country like the walking dead!

I have included a link below to the Apple / Android / Windows App I use. Other Apps are available and may be better – this is just the one I know and use. As well as giving access to OSNI 1:50,000, OSNI 1:25,000 and Harvey Maps (all charged of course) on your phone it also allows you to access OpenStreetmap with essentially the same information as contained in the route maps used by this blog. Finally it is very useful for your own route creation, where a few taps or mouse clicks will give you a route length and climb – essential for planning a safe enjoyable day out for you and your companions.

External links

Or visit your local outdoor shop where you should be able to browse before you buy!