Ode to the Map


At 21 years old, engineer William Roy was tasked with mapping the Scottish highlands. Following the rebellion of 1745, the military decided they needed to open up the wild highlands and to do this they had to understand them. William Roy and his teams spent eight years measuring distances with a 50ft chain, the rest was sketched by eye. 

This is the origin of the OS Map. 

Born from a military desire to control, the bright orange Explorer maps now form an integral part of our freedom to roam, to adventure and explore Britain. In less than 300 years these maps have completely reversed their philosophy and we should take a moment to celebrate the possibilities that lie within their folds.


Every time I pick one of the maps off the blue bookcase that stands in the corner of my office I experience the tiniest flutter of excitement. It means I’m heading outside, it means my rucksack and my precious Scarpa boots will soon follow. It means I’m going on a journey. Thanks to Roy and his ability to dream big and achieve bigger I’m able to explore an empty valley on my own in an afternoon, knowing I’ll make it home. Or I can cycle the length of the country knowing exactly what obstacles I’ll meet each day. I can chose somewhere to pitch my tent before I even leave the house. Isn’t that amazing?!

In 2017 we’re so obsessed with surveillance, with who is tracking us and that nothing is unknown but why not highlight one positive in the culture of fear and control. Every detail of the landscape is known and available to us, from the farm wall to the footbridge or bridlepath that might guide us to the breathtaking view over our home town. Having that knowledge gives us a freedom that didn’t exist in the past. So next time you reach for your OS take a second to thank William Roy and the explorers who’ve made your adventure possible.

Happy travels!

MusingsMelissa Davies