Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

A Worldwide Mapping Survey

Without decent maps, we’d never get around the countryside on foot or by bicycle like we do. One only has to start reading Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation to realise the debt that we in the U.K. owe our forbears when it comes to the quality of what we enjoy today. As if that were not enough, it is striking how a heritage dating over several centuries is transferring to the ever pervasive digital technology domain these days.

A Long Held Interest

In truth, my fascination with maps is long held and extends back to my Irish childhood. Once, I even attempted some map making of my own around the family farm; field boundaries may have been accurate but there was next to no consideration of the matter of scaling. Life was so much simpler then.

The appeal of maps has stayed with me since and, during my time as a student in Edinburgh, country overview maps and city plans were mounted on walls much like others do with film or other posters. To some, this may sound unusual but the collection grew because one of my first acts on visiting anywhere is to get myself a paper map of the place. Then, they were drawn mainly from urban explorations around Ireland and Scotland.

Signpost, Chalbermatten, Zermatt, Valais, Switzerland

It was when I moved to England that maps of the countryside took over because that held more interest to me than the urban explorations and marine ones that need harbour charts have not been my thing. That has meant a growing collection of paper maps and, in order not to duplicate purchases, I even have resorted to creating a catalogue of them in a spreadsheet. For a long time, the growing mixture of publishers was limited to Ordnance Survey, Ordnance Survey Ireland, Ordnance Survey Northern Ireland, Harvey and Isle of Man Survey. Having now ventured overseas, ones from other countries now appear in a burgeoning list.

Mapping Agencies & Publishers

Though digital maps surround us now, the mapping agencies and publishers that have been with us for decades have not lost their place in the scheme of things. For one thing, you still cannot beat a paper map fro getting a wider view of what is around you while out in the countryside. Even with all the electronic gadgetry, that reality is not set to change for devices that need batteries can let you down in a way that a paper map and compass combination do not.

Once, this list was limited to Britain and Ireland but changes in life circumstances have allowed me to consider destinations that once seemed out of bounds. That has led to an ongoing expansion of the list as my horizons continue to expand and I learn ever more about the world.

There is a certain knack to finding overseas walking maps too for it is not as simple as going to your nearest book or magazine shop and looking there. Even the biggest Waterstones that I know only ever had a small selection of them and that is the one on Deansgate in Manchester. Buying online brings and better luck and Amazon even has its uses. Still, you could find yourself with at last a week of waiting and it may take longer than that for something to arrive in Britain from a European warehouse.

Smaller independent specialists have a place that they are likely to retain. England’s Stanfords has been around since the early decades of the Ordnance Survey and gets many a mention and with good reason. It has come up trumps for me too, especially for a trip to Switzerland. Atlas & Zanzibar of Ghent in Belgium operate the Manymaps website and I have some Swedish maps from there, even if they took nearly a week to arrive. Nevertheless, that may not stop my using their services again.

Other international possibilities include Germany’s MapFox.de and Italy’s L’Escursionista if you need them. Returning to Britain, there also is The Map Shop in Upton upon Severn as well as Cordee. Crossing the Atlantic, the U.S.A. has Omnimap while Canada has Calgary’s Maptown. For now, that completes the selection until more make their presence known to me.

Anavasi

Greek hiking maps used to be in short supply but there now are private companies like this one serving that need. There is a sizeable range of printed maps covering island and mountain regions with a variety of scales. In addition, there are digital counterparts available for import onto a selection of platforms as well as Avenza’s PDF Maps apps, through which maps can be bought on Android and iOS devices. Otherwise, there is a range of aerial photography books together with a selection of guide books. All in all, this looks worthy of exploration for anyone pondering a walking trip to Greece.

BEV

This is Austria’s mapping agency and the name in English is Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying, far more snappy than its German equivalent as it happens. To see what they can produce, just look at their digital map portal. The 1:25000 scale mapping looks not unlike what Swisstopo produce for their country and there are 1:50000 scale maps too. As yet, I have not come across the paper counterparts very often online where wares from other providers are more readily available. Also, the site is in German only.

BVV

Germany’s federal BKG only publishes large scale maps from what I have seen so you need to go to state mapping agencies to get scales that are handy for walking. Bavaria’s BVV is one of those and recently reaffirmed its commitment to provide paper maps at 1:25000 and 1:50000 scales too. The website is in German only so those without a grasp of the language need to get their web page translator of choice going. Until June 2015, shrink-wrapped digital map packages are available on DVD if you fancy going for that offer. Apparently, these may not work on Windows 8.x but anything up to 7 is supported so all is not lost. Software interfaces are in German so you need to bear that in mind.

CNIG

Though Centro Nacional de Información Geográfica (CNIG) is Spain’s national mapping agancy, it was Editorial Alpina’s wares on which I depended during a recent midwinter trip to Mallorca. Nevertheless, these also produce paper hiking maps at scales of down to 1:25000 so what they produce certainly is of interest to anyone planning a walking excursion to Spain. Additionally, you can access their data digitally via SityTrial or Viewranger so those options are available for planning walks on PC’s, tablets and phones.

Danish Geodata Agency

Denmark may not strike you as a hilly country but my interest in their mapping agency arises from their work with the authorities in the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Stanfords have a listing of 1:20000 scale maps for the Faroe Islands that look interesting but are not in stock at all. However, the Danish mapping has turned over to on demand map publishing through an associated website instead of keeping a stock of paper maps for retail like Britain’s Ordnance Survey do; all prices on there are in Danish Krones so you need a currency converter to work out the cost of what is on offer. That makes me wonder if those high resolution Faroe Island maps remain available at all.

Digimap

This is the selected map retailer for States of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey. One hiking map is produced for each of these with 1:25000 as the scale for the former and 1:15000/1:10000 as the one for the latter. There also are online maps with one each for Jersey and Guernsey/Herm/Jethou if you would like to take a look.

Discovery Walking Guides

The name may not say as much but this publisher produces paper walking maps as well as guidebooks. These mainly are for parts of Spain and Portugal and complement walking guidebooks for the same areas. There also are walking guidebooks for parts of Britain and France. The scale used in these maps and books is 1:40000 so that sounds useful. It also is possible to get digital versions of the maps through Viewranger or My Trails and there are versions of the data available to Garmin GPS receivers too and they link tot the website for MAPC2MAPC digital map conversion software too. The DWG website may appear basic too but this is a husband and wife team with a lot to offer the walking public.

EastWest Mapping

Any map accompanying a route description in the sadly defunct Walking World Ireland would have been prepared by this small operation but they have begun to purvey their own walking maps too. These cover selected areas in Connaught and Leinster at scales of 1:25000 and 1:30000. These are available for purchase from their own website as well as various retailers and digital versions of these maps can be bought from Viewranger.

Editorial Alpina

The name may suggest otherwise but this a Spanish map publisher. Their coverage of Pyrenean areas are what brought their wares to my notice and a useful range of scales is available too: 1:10000, 1:20000, 1:25000, 1:30000, 1:40000 and 1:50000. There is a map viewer too that shows the parts of Spain for which they have maps. The coverage may be select but many mountain areas are featured so there can be no accusations of neglect, especially when you see what is available for the Spanish Pyrenees and realise just how large Spain is.

Ferðakort

Landmælingar Íslands, the National Land Survey of Iceland, no longer sells printed maps and sold that function to Iðnmennt ses in 2007. They now publish and sell maps using the same data and a visit to Reykjavik can allow you to get their maps at their Iðnú bookshop. These can be ordered online too and walking maps mainly come in 1:100000 and 1:75000 scales.Though a little on the large side compared to what you get for other countries, these get updated on a continual basis unlike the 1:50000 series that is around two decades old. For non-hikers, there also are maps at larger scales for touring and other purposes such as getting to know the place. Other outdoor enthusiast options include Mál og menning who publish hiking maps with a mix of 1:100000 scaling for the main panel and 1:50000 highlights. Ferðafélag Íslands, the Icelandic Touring Association, sell higher resolution maps from their huts and I missed out on getting the one for Landmannalaugar when I was there so that is something that could get set to rights in the event of my returning to the country. Otherwise, the National Land Survey of Iceland have online maps that you can peruse at a decent resolutions with names show for places and features too though hiking trails are absent, which is a lost opportunity that Já, the Icelandic directory enquires company, have partially taken up with their offering.

Freytag & Bendt

This online portal sells a range of maps and guides. There are digital mapping packages but these are in German only so it is the 1:50000 and 1:25000 scale paper hiking maps that may be more universally accessible. Aside from Freytag & Bendt’s own wares, there are some from other providers too, including those digital maps. The countries featured are Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic so there should plenty here for anyone contemplating a continental European walking trip.

Gem Trek

If I were after hiking maps for the Canadian Rockies, then I would be tempted to look at what Natural Resources Canada have to offer but for their being coy about their range. Gem Trek Publishing is an alternative who do give you previews of their wares and list what they have to sell. Apart from those of any overview maps such as the 1:400000 one that covers the Canadaian Rockies, scales range from a more useful 1:20000 to 1:100000 with many maps being either 1:35000 or 1:50000. Coverage includes National Parks such as Banff, Yoho and Jasper and all maps are waterproof after a brief dalliance with using paper. User feedback meant that relief shading was restored though I am one of those whose question the necessity of this because my sense is that such an addition obscures detail.

Geo4Map

It was Viewranger’s catalogue that alerted me to this publisher of a series of 1:25000 maps that cover parts of the Italian Alps. At least some of the work in producing these was in collaboration Club Alpino Italiano so there is a sense of authority here. Paper versions of the maps complement their digital equivalents and may be tracked in a reseller of your choice.

Hallwag Kümmerly+Frey

This is another map maker covering Switzerland, albeit with a curious scale of 1:60000 on offer alongside the more conventional 1:50000 scale. Both still make a good alternative to Swisstopo and other countries see some coverage too. Every paper map has an accompanying digital counterpart with an individual code that attaches a map to a single device so you sadly cannot share things among different devices. Still, the packaging and the maps are of good quality as you would hope them to be.

Harvey Maps

This map publisher might not provide the same coverage as the OS but its mountain area maps are worthy additions to the market place. Their SuperWalker series covers many mountain areas in their native Scotland as well as England, Wales and Ireland. These maps come in plastic wallets and have a level of waterproofing applied to them; I had one out on a damp muggy midge-infested day spent around Kinlochleven and it wasn’t the worst for wear after its ordeal. You won’t find things like field boundaries shown but the general presentation is far more punchy that what you from the OS. I certainly find them usable and, in the case of Eire, they probably produce the clearest mapping for areas such as the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the Wicklow mountains and Connemara. Prior to OSi’s expansion of their 1:25000 range, Harvey maps would have been what you used if you wanted larger scale maps than what the OSi offered.

IGA

Istituto Geografico Adriatico (IGA) gets onto this list thanks to their Monti editore series of maps. The available scales are 1:25000 and and 1:50000 so these are of more than a little interest to hikers, especially given the coverage of some areas in the Italian Alps. Digital maps are available through Viewranger, which is how I came across this outfit in the first place. Though the website is in Italian, it remains useful without recourse to a translating tool.

IGN

You need either to have a working knowledge of French or the likes of Google Translate (Bing has its equivalent too) handy to access the information on this website from the French counterpart to the Ordnance Survey, Institut National de l’Information Géographique et Forestiére (IGN). However, you may be surprised to find copies of their maps on sale at a larger Waterstones store with the one on Deansgate in Manchester coming to mind as I write this. There also is their Géoportail if you want to see electronic versions of their maps without incurring any expense to do so; even 1:25000 scale mapping can be savoured here so it is not a bad investment of time before you decide to go for one of their paper maps prior to any French escapade.

Kadaster

This is the Dutch mapping agency and the English version of their website only has information of international projects in which they are involved. To find out about any maps that they produce, you need to go to the Dutch version and use a website translation service like Google Translate to get the information into your own language. The scales of their hiking maps range from 1:10000 to 1:50000 with a 1:25000 scale also available. They also have an online store where you can select your required map using a digital map interface after selecting the scale that you need. Otherwise, their digital maps also can be bought through Viewranger or rented via SityTrail.

Kartverket

Norway’s national mapping agency does not sell maps itself so that is left to a spin-off company called Nordeca whose wares can be found on Kartbutikken.no. Usefully, there also is an online mapping portal so you can get some measure of the resolution of the data that are used to produce their terrestrial maps and nautical charts.

A selection of paper maps were acquired prior to a first trip to the country with an additional one purchased from Tanum’s store on Karl Johans Gate in the centre of Oslo. Aside from the latter, it was the turn of an online emporium when I furnished myself with the others.

The collection was started with a speculative purchase of two of their Bergen maps and both came in cardboard wallets with magnetic closure. That offsets to a point the extra cost above and beyond their counterparts in other countries and is a nice extra that could stop them getting too tatty.

The Bergen maps themselves are printed on crisp paper with the 1:25000 Turkart (a series produced in association with the Norwegian hiking and backpacking association DNT) also having a guidebook style information printed on the reverse, albeit only in Norwegian. The 1:50000 Norge-serien one is printed double-sided with one side featuring mostly sea, such is the nature of Norway’s coastline, and the map appears much more compact than its Turkart counterpart. In a nutshell, these are well presented maps that you would be tempted to collect and cherish as much as use them on a hiking trip.

Kartografija

While the Surveying and Mapping Authority of the Republic of Slovenia should be a port of call for paper maps, there appears to be little sign of a catalog of such wares on their website. That is despite their supply of high resolution (up to 1:25000) data to Viewranger and they once did the same for Mapyx too; I managed to snag the latter while it still was available.

Looking at Stanfords, it appears that Kartografija is a good place to start on a search for paper hiking maps. There is a selection of 1:25000 items for the Slovenian while 1:40000, 1:50000 and 1:75000 counterparts are available for other places. Their main website does not have an English version so their web store is more useful, even with incomplete translations in places. That also includes very misleading headings so a little more help is needed to reach their mountain maps (buried in the Kompass maps section) and what they have in their tourist series (at least are in the right section). On there, you will see a selection of guidebooks on sale as well as products from other publishers like maps from Kompass.

Kompass

This commercial map publisher covers Germany, Austria, Italy, Istria, Majorca and the Canary Islands so its walking maps are to be found on sale in many a shop as I found on my first visit to Austria. The scales typically are either 1:35000 or 1:50000 with the latter of these predominating. The maps themselves often come with a plastic finish so they are weatherproof, a necessity if you have the misfortune to get caught out in a heavy downpour or if you fancy a wintertime excursion. One thing to remember though is that the way that these fold can be less convenient with the whole length or width of the map folding out at once; they need to look at the workings of Ordnance Survey maps since these are folded better. The main website only has a German language version so you need to use a translating tool if you do not have a working knowledge of the language. Thankfully, the online shop allows you to pick from a list of languages that includes English so any Anglophone can peruse the available mix of paper and digital maps. There also is an online digital mapping page on there that shows you how their maps look in a “try before you buy” style.

Lantmäteriet

Sweden’s mapping agency also creates series of maps for outdoor enthusiasts in addition to other tasks like managing the country’s land registry. Usefully, they have an online mapping portal so you can see what kind of data are available and their paper maps can be purchased from Kartbutiken, who also have a shop in the centre of Stockholm and include a range of travel and outdoor guidebooks together with maps from other publishers like Calazo. Generally, Swedish walking maps feature scales ranging from 1:100000 to 1:50000 depending on the area being covered, with mountain areas being more likely to be covered using larger scales than others.

LINZ

While Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) is responsible for more than hiking maps, that is what ensures its inclusion on this list. Paper maps are published and the equivalent digital data are available through the likes of Memory-Map or RouteBuddy too. The available scales are 1:250000 and 1:50000 with the latter of the two having most use for hikers because of its larger scale.

Maanmittauslaitos

The English translation of the above is given as the National Land Survey of Finland, a verbose expansion of what is a long word in its original language. There are a range of online mapping portals that include one for an area called Karelia that has been part of Russia since Word War II. Some may like Finland to have it back but there is no widespread desire for that these days. Of more interest to explorers of countryside are the agency’s MapSite and the geoportal Paikkatietoikkuna. The latter possibly is the more user friendly of the two. Paper maps are available too though there is little word on where to get these apart from vague words about availability in bookshops and online stores.

Mapstor.com

This may be an unusual addition to the list but it is a source of military topographic maps that offer some coverage for areas for which alternatives are not available. The scales may not allow the level of detail to which we are accustomed but that is not such an issue when no other maps are available. The countries featured may amaze you and it is eye-opening what level of detail is available to superpowers about other countries in the world. The maps come as GIF files that are explored using the provide HTML files and I suppose that it is the printing functionality of web browsers that get you prints to take with you. It was someone’s Russian adventure that brought this resource to my notice and the corresponding article appeared in The Great Outdoors too.

National Geographic

The National Geographic society is an American institution known for producing glossy monthly magazines laden with superb photography from paid commissions as well as having a television broadcasting network. What I had not realised is that it had a cartography department. There are a number of series and it is the one covering U.S. trails and national parks that interests me the most and the Canadian Rockies are not out of scope either. We are not talking about whole country coverage though and the data are based on those available from the U.S. Geographical Service.

That organisation has moved away from manual surveying to a more automated process that includes less detail than before. One result is that hiking trails that once were shown are no longer included and you can see this for yourself on their National Map viewer (they call it their TNM Download client and it is not maybe as user friendly as it might be; it is telling when someone has to record videos to tell you how to use a tool). It also allows you to download historical maps so you can how things used to be and digital data sold by Multi-Map and Routebuddy comes from that collection. Then, there is the sizing of their 1:24000 series since it looks a little small to someone is accustomed to larger map sizes and printing out on an A4 sheets makes everything too small.

With the drawbacks of the USGS approach to things, it is just as well that others take up the slack and National Geographic certainly cover popular areas as well as long distance trails that cross more than one state. National Parks get good coverage though scales vary from map to map so you may need to inspect whatever you are planning to buy prior to purchase, especially for less detailed scales. When I last looked, the range extended from a respectable 1:25000 to a more concerning 1:80000. National Geographic no longer sell digital maps themselves but the Avenza app for Android and iOS fulfils much the same need and the National Geographic website says so for many of its maps.

Natural Resources Canada

Again, this is an organisation that does more than cartography so it is their The Atlas of Canada section where you need to look. In there, you will find Toporama where you can view detailed topographic mapping. The agency produces a range of paper maps too though these are not for sale on this website; they refer you to resellers instead. The most detailed scale is 1:50000 and there is one of 1:250000 for overview purposes too. Digital data for these also are available through Memory-Map and Viewranger so that need is not overlooked and the prices are not so unreasonable.

New York New Jersey Trail Conference

While this has all the trappings of an organisation working on facilitating outdoor activities like hiking, they also publish their own maps and the coverage includes the Catskill Mountains in New York state. This also come in digital format through the Avenza app that is mentioned above and that is how I discovered them. The map that I saw looked clear and useful so they get a mention here.

Norstedts

It was an unexpected walk around Stockholm in July 2010 that first had me seeing the name of this long-established publisher emblazoned across one of the city’s landmark buildings. They also publish maps using data from Lantmäteriet and I have a few from their 1:50000 Outdoorkartan series that cover the area around Stockholm. Ones in the same series that cover the mountain areas near the border with Norway have a scale of 1:75000 and the Cykelkartan series is comprised of cycling maps that cover the southern half of Sweden.

Ordnance Survey

Mainland Britain is probably blessed with the best mapping for walkers in the world and just one look at any Explorer sheet should confirm that. It was the Landranger (1:50000) series that got me started but the need to find the exits of fields after entering them drove me to use the slightly more expensive Explorers (1:25000) in their place. The standard mapping is far from waterproof so map cases are a must for those damper days or the more expensive Aqua variants are another option; some of the latter have found their way into my possession. There is the OS Maps portal for those wanting to view maps electronically and an annual subscription is less than £20 too. A more recent introduction was the offer of an accompanying digital version with every paper map. As if all this were not enough, they also get to collect walking ideas for areas like the Cairngorms, Snowdonia and the North York Moors as well as selling GPS devices (with added OS mapping, of course) and related items on their store.

Ordnance Survey Ireland

While I have to admit that mapping for walkers wishing to wander in the countryside in Eire is not up to the lofty standards of Britain’s OS,  it still is not bad. The 1:50000 Discovery series is the main offering and it covers all of the Republic. 1:25000 mapping is rather thin on the ground and seems to be magnified variant of the Discovery maps for selected areas such as the Dingle Peninsula and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.

Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland

Pick up one of their Discoverer 1:50000 maps and you’ll be surprised how like their OSi Discovery counterparts they are; in fact, the similarities are eerie. That’s not to say that there aren’t differences because my copy of the Mourne Mountains sheet has a townland map on the back of it (addresses in Ireland can feature this designation as well as nearest village/town and county). Though no longer a distinct organisation, the trading name will continue and digital mapping provision is part of their remit too.

Reise Know-How

In the main, this is a German guide book publisher but they do have a world mapping project. The scales vary but there are some useful 1:40000 ones of Mallorca that may interest anyone fancying a warmer mid-winter walking trip. That is how I got to hear about them and overview maps always have a place though the website mainly is in German since that is their main language for what they publish.

Swisstopo

Unlike Kompass (Germany, Austria and other European countries but with a website only in German), these appear to be willing to cater for English-speaking visitors and German, French and Italian are other options. One that is shared in common with Kompass though is the hosting of their maps online in a dedicated website; the Kompass version also has its own portal. Even 1:25000 scale maps are available online for anyone to peruse and these have contour lines and other markings that you would expected. What is interesting is the use of a typeface harking back to an earlier time.

Terrain Editions

This is another Greek map publisher that serves the outdoor market. There is a range of printed maps covering islands as well as mountain areas and the scales are useful too, though they do vary. Digital map data are available through Viewranger and there are some guidebooks on sale too.


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