Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Ordnance Survey

A great review of The Natural Explorer came out on Friday, which capped a pretty good week.

“The Natural Explorer takes us on a multi-sensory, literary journey intent on heightening awareness of our surroundings. An ambitious combination of Gooley’s own insights and those of countless other writers, explorers and philosophers, this is serious armchair adventuring.” Prospect Magazine

I spent Thursday morning at the sparkling new headquarters of Ordnance Survey in Southampton. I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the work they are very busy doing (Did you know that there are on average 5000 daily changes to OS maps? On Wednesday last week there were over 12,000 – maybe strange things happen on Tuesdays?).

I learned a lot during my precious few hours at this wonderful hub, but I think the overriding lesson that I will take away concerns the fluidity of mapping data. No sooner is a map made, then it needs to be remade, because some inconsiderate individual will have tweaked the land in some small way. This little patch, like all little patches, will need to be overflown, photographed – using cameras that Dr. Who would approve of – and then worked on in stages by teams of experts, many of whom wear bizarre stereoscopic goggles and stare into stranger machines.

The Olympic site is proving a fascinating challenge for OS. Many government agencies, not least the emergency services, need up-to-date and very accurate mapping data for the Olympics. But those building the site have displayed a propensity for putting things up, enlarging buildings and creating new roads at a pace that does not have the mapmaker in mind.

The data Ordnance Survey harvests and manages is constantly being repackaged for our evolving world. Chances are that, even if you are not one of those who considers the opening of an OS paper map to be one of the few essential ingredients of a happy life – somewhere below food and water, but above the need for satisfying work – then you probably do still benefit enormously from the work OS is doing. A huge number of online maps feed off OS data, often at no direct cost to the end user. If, for example, you’ve typed a postcode into a computer for a map, or checked a floodplain online, then you’re probably part of the OS community. But for the millions of these anonymous searches, there are opportunities to enlist the help of Ordnance Survey in more personal ways.

Towards the end of my visit, the Director General of Ordnance Survey, Dr. Vanessa Lawrence CB, was kind enough to give me a pair of maps. The first was centred on my home near Chichester and the second on the hill I spend much of my time walking over, Bignor Hill. That is neat enough, but the thing that made these Explorer maps really stand out from the approximately one gazillion others that I own was the front cover. It read, ‘Bignor Hill, Tristan’s Favourite Walking Area.’ It is a near-certainty that friends and family will be receiving personalised maps of their homes for a couple of years!

On the Ordnance Survey website you make your own maps, with personalised covers.

A big thank you to everyone at Ordnance Survey for your time on Thursday and no less for the work that lies behind countless good times and adventures.