The Angry Corrie 16: Dec 1993-Jan 1994

OS Sheet 12: Time for Abolition?

TAC readers will be all too well aware of the amount of hard-earned money they continually shovel into the Ordnance Survey's bottomless coffers. Landranger maps continue to rocket in price, such that a full set now costs an astonishing 850+. This sits uneasily with the sub-one-pound editions from the early eighties, and with the spell when prices seemed to stick at 1.40 for a goodly while mid-decade.

Then there is the flimsiness issue. Your editor isn't averse to a little flimsiness in the appropriate places, but for an expensive map to turn to papier-mache at the first hint of Scottish Weather is a bit much. Pink cardboard covers may be okay for rural rambles around Chew Magna and the like, but in an uncanny echo of the current OAP/winter fuel payment debate, the number of lifetime copies of, say, Sheet 33 bought by the average Scottish hillgoer must be far greater than the requirements of a similarly active southern walker. Why can't the OS laminate their maps as do the excellent Harveys of Doune? Given that Harveys seem able to do so at no extra cost, and given the vastly wider market of the OS, this does tend to suggest an unseemly degree of pocket-lining by the surveyors from Southampton.

Maps can of course be protected by large plastic map cases, but the arguments against the purchase of such were spelled out within these very pages right at the start, in TAC 1. To parade around the ridges with a transparent square flapping around your front bottom is as inappropriate as turning up, as your editor often does, at trendy nightclubs wearing cords, cardigan and cagoule.

But towering over all these injustices is the matter of overlaps. Take a look at the back of any OS map. The big outline of Britain shows 204 sheets, but also a remarkable amount of wastage. You have to search for sheets - such as 20 and 79 - not partially contained by neighbours. This is less obvious on the current editions, with everything drawn in white; earlier versions showed overlapping areas in grey. A case of tactful marketing perhaps?

Sheet 12 - Thurso, Wick and surrounding area - like every other Landranger map, contains 1600 small 1k squares. Of these, 225 overlap with Sheet 7, 16 with Sheet 17, and a quite ridiculous 960 with Sheet 11. Even accepting that the 11/12 overlap includes the whole of the 12/17 overlap, this still leaves Sheet 12 with only 415 squares over which it has sole, undisputed jurisdiction. No other map in the country suffers such interference; even if you live in the Sheet 137/138/148/149 area of Wales, or the 13/14 bit of Lewis, things aren't quite so bad. Nor does it stop there. Of these 415 squares, exactly 200 contain nothing but blue, blue sea. Which leaves a mere 215 squares - or 13.5 % of the total. It therefore goes without saying that Sheet 12 is the least worthwhile buy of all Landranger maps - and this is even without bothering to add in the fact of it also being one of the flattest. Only Sheet 46 among Scottish maps shares the distinction of not including a Marilyn - a hill with a 150m drop on all sides. Why, you could almost be in Lincolnshire, ogling the Boston Stump.

Sheet 12 also lacks a proper "map top". The map top receives further coverage elsewhere in this issue, but is basically a concept we atTAC have invented to denote the highest point on any given map. Usually this is clear-cut: Nevis is the map top of Sheet 41, Goat Fell of both 62 and 69, etc. But occasionally the highest piece of land on any map is on the very edge of the sheet, and doesn't actually constitute a named summit. Hence whilst Cruach Ardrain, at 1045m, is the highest summit on Sheet 56, a 1050m contour sneakily intrudes from neighbouring Stob Binnein. And yes, this is also the case with Sheet 12: the map top is on the very western edge, at northing 550, approximately 280m up the shoulder of Beinn nam Bad Mor, the summit of which lies, predictably, on Sheet 11. The next highest point is a toss-up between the sheet's highest genuine peak, 244m Ben Dorrery, and another disappearing-act slope at easting 052. Sheet 12 seems such a grim piece of cartography that even its few hills are trying to escape onto adjacent sheets.

So TAC is campaigning for the abolition of this useless bit of paper. A few signatories, a letter or two to the papers, a lobby of the Southampton and Thurso MPs... that should do the trick. Nor should the inhabitants of the 216 unique squares feel poised above the abyss of oblivion. Our government is always rationalising and rearranging, so this could easily apply here.

For starters, Sheet 7 itself has a totally pointless overlap with Sheet 6. Simply by moving 7 due southwards, 95 squares could be salvaged. Moving it slightly westward - trimming the area of sea immediately east of the island of Burray liberates a further 6 squares from Sheet 12. This leaves only 114 squares - 29 in the bit around Scrabster and the unpleasant-sounding Ness of Litter, and 85 on the coastal strip from Noss Head (which should surely be called Noss Ness?) down to Ulbster, including Wick itself. These could either be put in boxes and placed in the sea a la Milleur Point on Sheet 82 - or, more radically and cost effectively, various of the sheets hereabouts could be printed diagonally, so neatly accommodating the problematic squares by dint of Pythagorus. Indeed, this particular method opens up all manner of new possibilities for OS improvement. Rather than just reducing the number of Landranger sheets from 204 to 203, the whole country could be mapped slantwise, so bringing the figure down to around 190.

TAC 16 Index