An Idiots Guide to Map Reading!

The idiot being the author, me, not you! Why on earth did I get involved in doing this!
But I can guarantee that once you become familiar with how to read a map you will have great fun doing Map Reading Competitions! It brings a new dimension to the enjoyment of cycling. And you do not even need a map to learn and practise the black art of map reading.

On your P.C or Tablet, go to Bing Maps and in the search box type Sevenoaks Weald. This is where the Southern Saunter starts from!

At top right of the map is a small box with word “Road” click and choose “Ordnance survey” and you will get map shown above.

On the line above the map are various options. At far right it says “More” click to get full screen so map is bigger and easier to work with.

And I forgot – I have also zoomed in to get this enlarged map, as used on O.S Landranger Maps. These which are about the best size to start working with and most commonly used by road cyclists. (You can enlarge much more for greater detail, as provided on O.S Explorer maps – much better for use off-road by hikers, mountain and Gravel bikers).

Now you can see that the map has faint blue lines going up and across the map, with numbers on them. These are the Grid Lines.

The village of S/Weald is at top right corner of the box with the blue Grid line number 52 on the left and 53 on the right.

The Grid line at top of this box is numbered 51. By following this line back, towards the left for a couple of inches, you will see the blue number 51 identifying that Grid Line.

If you look down, two blue lines below this number 51, you will see that another horizontal line numbered 49. From this you do not need to be a maths wizard to work out that the bottom Grid line of the village’s grid box, between nos 51 and 49, must be number 50!

It just so happens, to be a very rare (and for this example – confusing) coincidence that the 4 numbers are so similar!

The 2 important numbers, which define the Grid reference Number are those that identify the intersection of the 2 Grid lines at the bottom, left hand corner of the Grid box. Hence 52/50 is the four digit Grid Ref. That took a lot of time to explain but is actually, very simple!

Just to add to the confusion, in this particular case, the village is at the top right hand corner of the box, nearer to the grid lines 53 and 51! I just hope that you are not dyslexic!

However the good news is that as we start the Southern Saunter from S/Weald we will be looking for easier to identify grid squares.

So for another example, let’s try Cowden Railway Station. Stations are readily identifiable on OS maps, and this one is not too far from S/weald, so could be a potential place to visit on the Saunter!

The bottom left hand corner of the Grid square is identified by the number 47, the blue Grid Line on left of station, and 41 along the bottom edge. Hence Grid Ref 47/41

How do you remember which numbers go first, and which second? Just remember that at home you go “ALONG the corridor and UP the stairs“.

So on a map you start on the left hand side of the map and follow the horizontal grid line to the right hand side. That is heading EAST on the map, until you come to the vertical line – (in the above example number 47)

Next you go to bottom of map and go UP the stairs, i.e. going NORTH on the map, until you come to the horizontal line at the bottom of the relevant Grid Square – (in this example number 41) Hence Grid Ref 47/41

The next bit, now that you can find Grid squares, is to learn the information that maps provide to identify places, terrain, and man made infrastructure, etc. Down the left hand side of O.S maps is a long list of the symbols used to identify for example, churches, railway stations, steep hills, pubs, gas pipelines, overhead power cables, woodlands, bridleways and much more.

You could be given a clue to find a location, like this:
Proceed to Dormansland Railway Station and follow the roads in a south easterly direction, to the Surrey/Sussex Border. Here, locate and note which Grid Square, Basing Farm is located in.

So that’s it, see how quickly you can find the answer, following the Idiots Guide with the map below. But which of us is the Idiot?