Best of British: 60 things that make Britain great

Imagine you're cut off in a far-off land. What longings would be uppermost in your mind? Here we celebrate those aspects of life that make our islands distinct and beguiling.

31. Maps and guide books

Compass on an Ordnance Survey map, UK

In this age of satnav, we’re in danger of losing our knowledge of landscape and topography, of how places are connected and natural features relate. Britain has a proud heritage of cartography dating back to about 1355, its famous Ordnance Survey (OS)—created for military mapping of the Highlands after the ’45—still one of the world’s largest map producers. Today, OS maps are largely the preserve of walkers, rambling having become Britain’s most popular leisure activity, serviced by a network of foot- and bridlepaths and other ancient and modern ways. Regional guidebook publishing, popularised by 19th-century tourists, underwent a revival with the advent of the motor car with series such as the ‘Shell Guides’ and ‘Pevsner’. Now, Britain leads the field in ‘New Nature’ writing, with literary travellers such as Robert Macfarlane sustaining our love of landscape, place names and the great outdoors.

‘They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something’
(My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell)

Next page Previous page