Testing the UK Open Maps app on a walk from Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat .

A couple of weeks ago we did a circular hike from Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat in the Yorkshire Dales with our friends. It was the ideal opportunity to put the Open Maps app to the test. I handed over my responsibility of walk leader to D for this one as tech stuff is his department.  I love navigating the old fashioned way; using OS maps, but now D was in charge the map was packed away into rucksack to make way for modern technology.

UK Open Maps costs 69p to download on the iPhone and we tested the app on the iPhone 4s. The app allows you to search for walks which are then downloaded onto your device free of charge.
I wanted to include Simon’s Seat, a rock formation, in the walk so did a quick search on Walking Englishman, a walking website, for a suggested route. The website has hundreds of walks with pictures, a map and details such as length and difficulty of walk and even specifies which OS map is required- but we weren’t going to be using the OS map; we were going digital!
We searched for the route on the app and the exact one was available. I was quite impressed! The app claims to have 250,000 British place names available to search in total. The app uses Google Maps and routes are defined with a blue line. Being the thrifty people we are, we looked for a spot out of Bolton Abbey for parking and starting the route as the tourist trap charges around £7 for one parking space! The app enabled us to identify a road close to the route where we could park for free and save a total of £21 between us.
The maps are available to 1:25k and 1:10k scales and the maps are stored on your device meaning that GPS signal is only required if you wish to pinpoint your location on the map. When using GPS it tracks your current speed, average speed, distance, altitude and time elapsed, much to D’s excitement. D updated our group regularly on our progress and got much delight informing us when our pace slowed.

The statistics and map of final route
Our location throughout the walk was pinpointed on the app using GPS and our movements were recorded with a red line which helped us to see whether we were sticking to the route. A downside to the app is the map lacks the intricate detail a paper OS map provides, making identifying our location in relation to the surrounding area quite difficult. Landmarks are easy to see on an OS map but were barely visible on the app meaning we either adopted a trial and error approach by walking until the GPS showed we had gone of track, or taking the OS map out of the rucksack which felt a bit like cheating but more reassuring. Another downside was that the GPS and app would stop tracking our moves if the iPhone was locked. When the iPhone was unlocked the GPS would kick in and pinpoint our new location again but the line drawn by the app wouldn’t trace our steps accurately as a result; it just created a straight line from our previous pinpointed location to the new one. As a result, D decided to keep his phone unlocked which would deplete the battery quicker. D had his iPhone connected to a back up battery so it wasn’t much of an issue but the weight of the battery pack is a definite downside in comparison to an OS map.
Luckily the walk was free of rain but if the heavens had opened, using the iPhone and app would have been risky and could result in a damaged or broken phone. OS maps, on the other hand, are available in laminated versions knows as ‘Active Maps’ by the Explorer brand. I would definitely pick a laminated OS map over the app in wet conditions as a phone wouldn’t be reliable and could end up costly to replace if broken.
The app itself is quite fiddly to use as it has so many options. It defiantly appeals to D more than as it has so many features and is ‘gadgety’ but I, on the other hand, feel it is slightly over complicated and I got frustrated trying to find the options I wanted.  

Approaching Simon’s Seat

Trig point on Simon’s Seat

A bit blowy on top of Simon’s Seat
On a more recent walk over moorland in Nidderdale, the app did prove very useful in finding our location in terrain that was difficult for us to navigate. When leaving a well trodden route we followed a less obvious path and we soon found ourselves stood in heather and bog, astray from the path and unable to pinpoint our location on the OS map due to the few landmarks the moors have to offer. The map marked ambiguous places such as ‘Eagles Stone’ and ‘Sun Bank’ that didn’t transpire to any particular feature on the land around us. However, when D switched on the app and used GPS to pinpoint our exact location on the digital map, we were able to work out our location from the names on the app and translate this to the OS Map and thus find our way to the path.

Our location shown on the app using GPS 

In conclusion, we will continue to use the app but in conjunction with a traditional OS map when required.  I wouldn’t recommend to anyone that they solely use the app as it could be dangerous due to its dependence on 3G, GPS and phone power alongside many other factors. 

On top of the physical benefits the OS map has over any app, is the emotional aspect. To me, spreading open a map to look at the immense detail, accuracy and size brings me joy that an app never will. There’s something about opening a map up, it’s crinkling in your hands and even the satisfaction of achieving to fold it successfully, even if it does take several attempts. 

PS. Have you tried the UK Open Maps app? Do you prefer 
digital or traditional paper OS maps?

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.