002 - Map Skills

Factual Question

How do we read maps?

What can maps tell us?

Activity One - Maps as a form of Cultural Identity

We often think of historical maps being used as a window into the culture of a country but can maps still do that today? 

Useful Resources

The most accurate map for over 300 years. Created for the Norman King Roger II of Sicily by the Arab geographer, Abu Abd Allah Muhammad al-Idrisi al-Qurtubi al-Hasani al-Sabti.

History of Information 

A decorative world map showing the seasons and celestial figures. Created by the Dutch cartographer Joan Blaeu

Double Hemisphere by Joan Blaeu 

Ordnance Survey - 1745 and still going

Maps were often initially developed so that military strategy could be created. As they still are today. Although the average person can enjoy a detailed map top explore an area either on foot or from a far. What is recorded on maps can tell us about a country's or areas rich history. It can make us question about the shape of the landscape, how it was formed or even why a place is called a certain name. Ultimately. the ability to question is key. 

Ordnance Survey - A History

A very British Map - 58 minutes 

Activity Two - Skills

As we have now explored, maps can help to inform us of what a place is like. It is an amazing piece of art to create something so accurate and detailed. But can they be misleading? The creators of maps have made decisions on what to include and what to leave out. For us to be able to evaluate maps we need to have the skills to read them. 

On a first glance maps can look quite completed to read but once you 'crack the code' then what they show can suddenly come to life. Your starting point should always be to look at the key which is often placed on one side of the map and on occasion it can be on the back. Each country has created its own symbols for features but there are some commonalities between them. Contour lines are often orange-brown lines on a map that show the height of the land. The same heights are joined together to create a ring. There can be a 'spot height' which is often represented as a black dot at the highest point of the hill or mountain. Contours not only show the height of the land but they can also help you to identify specific natural landforms such as glacial valleys, cirques or cliffs. We don't often think about the scale of a map when we look at our phones to see how long it will take to get somewhere, but scale is an important feature to understand. The smaller the scale on a map the more detailed it is. If you have completed the International Award scale would have been vital to estimate how long it would take to get to certain key check points or paths along your route. Scale can be represented in different ways. You will be given two different types of maps - one showing an area of Switzerland and one for the UK and possibly a completely random one.

Useful Resources

Understanding Map Symbols

Ordnance Survey

Contour Lines

Ordnance Survey


Wimble Don

Activity Four - Grid References

Grid references are used to pinpoint places that you may want to get to. Four-figure grid references get you to the square that you want the point of interest is in and the six-figure will get you to the more precise point, but how do we read them? 

Useful Resources

4 Figure Grid References

Ordnance Survey

6 Figure Grid References

Ordnance Survey

Activity Four

You now know how some basic map skills so what I would now like you to do is to create a route of your choice from one of your chosen maps. You are going to describe how to travel along the route using compass point directions (to turn in specific directions), grid references (to get from specific points or to say where to turn),  scale (to show distance) and the symbols so we know what to look out for. The key requirements are below and you need to write your routes on paper. 



Activity Five - It's a Puzzle

We are now going to using 'The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book' to explore how different places are viewed and to begin to question the importance of space and names.

Image - Taken from the Ordnance Survey

Useful Resource

'The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book' by Ordnance Survey