Maps are fun!

By Andy Chivers

Maps are fun, maps are educational, maps tell the truth, maps are beautiful. You can probably tell that I am a map enthusiast.

I have spent nearly all my life gradually collecting the Ordnance Survey (OS) 1:50,000 maps. I was very envious of a school friend who wallpapered his bedroom with maps running from the west to east coast of England. Maps have the power to transport you in imagination to mountains and river valleys. For people on bikes, who are affected by every hill, difficult junction or busy road, good map reading can make all the difference to a journey.

Maps have changed out of all recognition now that our phones can tell us where we are, and how to get to anywhere else. When a key worker with her new bike wanted to know how to cycle from my house to the JR hospital to meet her friend, she pulled out her phone and got the answer from Google in a moment. In fact, electronic mapping has become so good that it can now take your preferences into account, and websites like Cyclestreets.net or Komoot will design routes and let you download them to your phone, although nicer alternative routes such as Jack Straw Lane or Marston meadow cycle path may go unnoticed.

Paper maps have not gone away and still provide a vital function – they give you the big picture and help you see your place in the countryside. A map on a phone is like looking at the world through a tube – you’ll get from A to B, but you won’t know where you’ve been to do it.

Cyclox has been giving a paper copy of the Oxford Cycle Map to each key worker in receipt of a donated bike for exactly this reason – we want people who are new to cycling to discover routes away from the main roads; it’s rare to find someone who knows all the shortcuts and scenic alternative routes that are shown on the map. For people that want to cycle further afield, OS maps offer much more information about the roads and the scenery.

Not convinced? Here’s an OS map test to pique your interest: do you know what a chevron on a road, or on a canal means? A dashed line along the edge of a road? The difference between grey and blue colouring of a river? (The answers are: chevron on a road means a steep hill, the chevron pointing down the slope; on a canal it means a lock, with the point going uphill; a dotted line means the road is unfenced; river colour is grey to indicate where it is tidal.)

Why am I telling you this? I want all cyclists to feel at home with maps. It’s true that Google will show you a route, and tell you all the shops nearby, but what about the Neolithic forts, the woodland, level crossings, sewage treatment plants, viewpoints, and even watercress farms? You might use a map to get you from A to B, but you can also use maps to make your journey far more interesting.

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