When it comes to planning a route, maps are a good starting point but they are only one of the tools available. The problem is that even with digital maps you are still reliant on the surveyors skills at plotting the paths in the right place. More importantly most maps only show rights of way, rather than all the clear paths that may exist on the ground, so you are quite limited for choice in many areas if you want to stick to the paths rather than having to clamber over rocks or tussocky grass.
It's good For the past few months I've been using Anquet's new 1 metre resolution aerial photography mapping. Each pixel on the image matches a 1 metre square on the ground. The result is that the image even shows the footpaths as light worn areas between the grass and rock. Prices vary depending on the size of the area you download but start at £10 and you just download the maps into your computer. This has transformed my route planning and allowed me to confirm that a path does exist on the ground, even when not marked on the map and also allows me to be prepared for navigational problems in advance, when a right of way is marked on the map, but not clear on the ground. On the hill the extra preperation has been really useful too. Particularly when guiding a group across the fells with no path underfoot, as I was able to confidently say, "don't worry lads, the path will be clear underfoot in about 1 km!"
But the 1metre resolution maps are only available from the Anquet server, rather than on CD. Coverage includes England, Wales and most of Scotland, so some areas are not covered. Like most mapping products they require a PC rather than an Apple Mac and these are running on Windows 2000 or XP rather than the latest Vista systems.On my broadband connection it took about 20 minutes to download the whole of the Northern England 1m Aerial Photography map, which is quite slow if you are not expecting it ... but now you are expecting it you'll be prepared to walk away and have a brew while you wait.
Buy it if you want more detail than any map could provide ... brilliant for spotting footpaths that actually exist on the ground.
For information visit Anquet Map Server
To talk about gear check out Trail Forums
Written by Graham Thompson