It’s no secret that I think the best route-planning app is OS Maps but whichever map app you choose, you’ll be pleased to hear these clever geographical gizmos aren’t just useful for planning walks, runs and cycle rides.
Route planning apps can also be a whole lot of fun.
If you want to brush up on your map-reading skills, get the whole family involved in using a map, or even just find out more about where you are, the possibilities are endless. Here are three suggestions for having fun with your mapping app.
1. Track your train journey
‘Are we nearly there yet?’
We’ve all heard the question from children but no matter how old you are, or which train adventure you’re embarking on, train journeys can feel long. If you’re about to take an epic trip yourself, here’s the good news.
Having a map of your journey can speed things along.
Maps and train journeys go surprisingly well together but you’re not likely to be carrying enough paper maps to cover a long journey, and trains move so fast, it can be tricky to keep track (pun intended) of where you are.
This is where a route-planner app really comes into its own.
Before you start, plug your phone into the train charging system (most coaches have them now); tracking a route, especially a speedy one, can use plenty of battery power.
- Sign up to the onboard WiFi.
- Open up your mapping app.
- Use the location facility to show your location.
- Watch your journey as you travel.
- Match what you see on the map to what you see through the window.
Simple but so much fun. Who knew Southampton Docks were so extensive? Or that there were so many drainage ditches on the way to Lowestoft? And how about getting the kids to look out for Conwy Castle as your train passes right next to it? Or cheer as you pass over the Harry Potter viaduct at Glenfinnan?
Whether you’re travelling with the family or not, the possibilities of combining train journeys and maps are endless.
2. What’s that thing?
Have you ever looked at a map and wondered what a map symbol meant? Of course you have. I once sat leaning on a huge chimney wondering what the symbol CHY meant. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised it was chimney!!
When you’re out walking, it’s easy to miss fascinating things that are really close. Okay so it shouldn’t have been hard for me to miss that chimney but there are other things marked on the map snippet above, that might be really interesting but not so easy to spot.
For example, a Gothic typeface shows shows an archeological feature.
And the word ‘Cairn’ on the map above gives the location of a burial chamber. It’s on Dartmoor so it’s probably Bronze Age and almost certainly empty but you might be able to use your map app to spot the box-shaped stone lining of this ancient tomb.
You can also find Roman remains using your map app.
If you spot a descriptive word that has a sans serif (no flicks) typeface and capital letters, it will be showing you Roman remains. Quite often the word ‘ROMAN’ is nearby to help. On the snippet above, you can just see the shape of the fortlet (little fort) below the ‘R’ of Roman. Roman roads are surprisingly common on UK maps and good fun to follow. The Romans were fond of straight lines and embankments, and sometimes it’s hard to work out why they would have wanted to build the road where it was.
But it isn’t just history you can discover through map symbols.
Take a look at the tree symbols above. Bucknall’s Wood on the left is a deciduous woodland (good for autumn colour). The trees to the west (left) of Bage Mill are an orchard (good for autumn smells). You can’t go into either of these as they’re on private land but I can confirm from my Herefordshire pilgrimage walk that Herefordshire apples smell amazing in September.
Think of your walk as a treasure hunt.
When you do that, your route-planning app becomes your treasure map. And there is so much treasure out there to find. How about a windmill, or a battle site, a disused lighthouse or even a deep hole in the ground?
Just make sure you allow more time than usual for all that exploring.
3. The Go-Slow Challenge
Some route planning and exercise apps will tell you how fast you’ve been moving. If you’re into running and want to up your times, this is great but if, like me, you’re more interested in taking your time and observing the world around you, slow is the way to go.
In other words, slow is the new fast!
The average walking pace for an adult is four kilometres an hour. That means you would usually walk a kilometre in 15 minutes. But when you walk at that speed, you often miss things you might have noticed if you had been walking more slowly.
Like that tiny flower. Or a strange shaped hill in the distance.
Here’s a challenge for you. Can you walk a whole kilometre at just 2 kilometres an hour. To save you doing maths, that means your kilometre will take you 30 minutes.
Unless you usually move slowly, this won’t be as easy as you think.
Here’s how your mapping app can help you with your slow-ways challenge.
- Decide on a kilometre route (on an Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 map, that will be the distance across one blue grid square).
- Set your app to record your route.
- Without looking at your phone, walk as slowly as you can.
- Observe as much as you can as you go.
- Once you’ve walked your kilometre, stop the app recording.
- Find out how fast you’ve been walking.
Did you meet the Go-Slow Challenge?
How to use your route-planning app sensibly
While you’re out having fun with your mapping app, it’s worth remembering that it (and your mobile device) are two things you might need to rely on in an emergency.
Using your mobile device to follow or trace a route, or even look at the map multiple times, can eat up battery power. Here are my top tips for making sure you don’t get caught out.
- Bring two devices, Keep one for emergencies and one for fun.
- Decide how low you’ll let your battery go before you stop playing.
- Keep your mobile device warm. Batteries hate the cold.
- Stay closer to civilisation if you know you’re going to use lots of power.
Have fun! Stay safe! And let me know if you have any other great map app game ideas.
You’ll need the paid subscription to OS Maps to enjoy its detailed mapping and play these games but for a small fee, you’ll get access to all the UK’s maps as well as some rather surprising overseas maps (for example Australia and New Zealand).