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More than a quarter of Brits claim they’ve never been taught how to read a map

With National Map Reading Week taking place from Monday July 11, latest survey results from Ordnance Survey (OS) reveal just how cautious British adults are about getting lost and exploring off the beaten track.

A new study shows that despite four out of 10 adults getting outside more in Britain compared to last year, the nation’s appetite for adventure was being hindered by a lack of confidence in map reading skills.

The findings come from Ordnance Survey, which is launching National Map Reading Week on Monday 11 July to inspire people of all ages and interests to brush up on their map reading skills essential to helping them explore more, find new adventures and make lasting memories.

The survey of 2,000 adults, carried out by One Poll, found more than a quarter (27 per cent) of Brits claim they’ve never been taught how to read a map and even those who have say they still don’t know how to read one (14 per cent).

Some 31 per cent of Brits are worried they might get lost when they are out walking, and many adults say they are cautious and much happier if they’re walking with someone else (46 per cent).

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It explains why tried and tested walks in Britain’s national parks remain the most popular, with Edale in Derbyshire’s Peak District ranked the number one route among UK walkers for the third year running, followed by Ambleside and Grasmere in the Lake District according to 2022 OS Maps app data.

When it comes to getting lost, more than half (56 per cent) of walkers admit they’ve gone astray because they can’t use a map or follow an app correctly, with 39 per cent resorting to calling friends and family, 26 per cent flagging down help, and 10 per cent reporting calling upon mountain or clifftop rescue to get home.

Despite all this, the pandemic has got Brits outdoors more and many were finding unexpected hidden gems.

Around a quarter (23 per cent) of people who are out and about on walks found one just in the last week.

OS GetOutside ambassador Julia Bradbury said: “On the face of it these results seem to show the British public have a lack of confidence regarding their map reading skills.

“It’s a shame, but something that can be quickly rectified.

“Knowing a few basics about how to read maps, understanding map symbols, contour lines, and working out grid references can transform how you feel about getting outside safely.

“Map reading skills give you self-assurance and ease the fear of getting lost. That knowledge can unlock the outdoors and lead to wonderful adventures and discoveries in the British countryside.”

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OS managing director for leisure, Nick Giles, said: “One of the key reasons we run National Map Reading Week is to make the outdoors in Britain more fun, accessible and safe.

“We want to encourage people to better understand how good map skills, both paper and digital, can unlock and inspire people to safely discover new places and adventures.

“We have a fantastic set of map reading resources on the OS GetOutside website, so if you want to get outside and explore this summer but feel apprehensive, you can brush up on your skills by watching our short ‘how to’ videos or read the blogs.

“These resources will quickly give you the confidence to avoid getting stressed and increasing your enjoyment as you explore outside.

“Plus our award winning app OS Maps is free to download and simple to use, with well over a million routes to choose from.”

Learning to read a map

Choose the right map: There are two options. First is the orange OS Explorer maps, which are 1 to 25,000 in scale. This means that for every four centimetres on the map, you have kilometre on the ground in real life. They’re perfect for walking, general exploring, going out running, some kinds of kayaking and cycling. These are the paper maps with the greatest level of detail.

The alternative is the pink OS Landranger maps. These are 1 to 50,000 in scale, which means that for every two centimetres on the map, you have a kilometre in real life. They are ideal if you are heading out on a National Trail such as the Offa’s Dyke Path or the South Downs Way.

Understand map symbols: You can find the legend explaining what the map symbols are printed on every OS Explorer and Landranger maps. These will assist your navigation.

Understand contour lines: When out and about it is useful to get a sense of the shape and height of the surrounding landscape. You do that on an OS map using contour lines, the faint reddish brown lines which if you trace with your finger will come to a number that shows height above sea level. On a shallow slope the contour lines will be far apart, but if a slope is much steeper the lines are closer together on the map.

Find your four-figure grid reference: To mark a spot on the map, you need to give a grid reference. Numbers running from left to right at the bottom of the OS map are known as Eastings. Numbers running bottom to top along the sides are Northings. Pick the bottom left-hand corner of a square on the map and take that number (e.g 24), then go from bottom to top of that square and find that number (e.g.10) and you get your grid reference (24 10). Each map has its own two letter prefix which tells you which part of Britain you are in (e.g SU 24 10).

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