Recreating the Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps with Open Data

Originally posted on xyHt:
I made a map which resembles the OS Explorer Maps…only using (free) Open Data

Originally posted on

The holy grail for many map users is the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale “Explorer” map. Not only are they easy to read due to the fantastic cartography used but also have information which is hard to source such as public rights of way, National Trust & Woodland Trust sites, even wind farms…to the casual rambler the map provides everything they need. To a business user, the maps provide enough detail to undertake high level scoping exercises and basic site analysis. It really is a great product, unfortunately it is only available as a raster dataset at a cost, for around 10km² is currently around £50 at best.


So what if there was a way of recreating the Explorer map for free?…

With the recent release of the OS OpenMap (free) product it has become possible to get pretty close using data available in the public domain. Here is a map I created for a British Cartographic Society competition:

Skeuomorph MapYes, there are public rights of way, contours, even heritage sites…let’s go through where this data came from and how it was all compiled, the data can be downloaded from here:

I’m not going to teach you to suck eggs, if you have got this far you obviously know what you are doing and know how to manage the data. Therefore I am going to skip the steps on merging data and/or tiling data, instead we’ll move on to the styling of the OS OpenMap. Until recently OS would not provide styles for their digital data, I have heard legend of users being told that it is up to the user to style the open data…times have changed and OS have not only started to provide styles in both QGIS and ESRI formats but also advice on cartographic principles!

The public rights of way are provided in several different formats, GML, KML, Shapefile & MapInfo. To get this to work I used QGIS and the modeller to get one single set of data. The styles for them were based entirely on the OS 1:25,000 legend (here) – Thank you (again) to QGIS and the colour picker tool!

Woodland Trust sites & Heritage sites were relatively easy to symbolise, colouring them is a synch but the only way I could render the icon (well) was to create a point datated from the polygons. Tourism Points were something else…I wanted to ensure that I had the symbols relatively close to the originals and started out drawing them up as icons….until I came across a font set in my ArcGIS called “Strategi”. Yes, it turns out that Ordnance Survey released most of the tourism symbols with their Strategi release, you can obtain them here

Like the public rights of way, the renewable energy projects require a bit of work, if you obtained the CSV file, then creating some points of the locations isn’t hard using the Eastings and Northings provided and then removing or correcting any which may land in “Null Island”.

Its at this point I had to make a cartographic decision, it would be quite easy to go further and add the MOD danger sites (available from navigation charts), Cycle Routes (from Sustrans) and Youth Hostels (from YHA) – Though the purpose of the map (for me) is as a base layer to put other data on top of, to understand how my information relates to real world features and those on the OS Map.

Styles can be obtained here for both ArcGIS 10.3 & QGIS 2.10

Lacking geoinspiration? Might be worth looking here….

Every now and then we all lack a little inspiration, whether it is a new client looking for that special something or a personal goal to get your work noticed, inspiration seems to fly out of the door as soon as you get to thinking.

Every now and then we all lack a little inspiration, whether it is a new client looking for that special something or a personal goal to get your work noticed, inspiration seems to fly out of the door as soon as you get to thinking.

Help is at hand, believe it or not, the main GIS software providers now host themselves “showcase” sites where you can see what can be done with the software. Don’t be afraid to contact the creators too, if there is a specific technique or an effect which has been used, contact the creator! In my experience, they are usually more than happy to help [to a limit] because the great thing about cartography and creation is that someone else WILL create something better, this new technique will provide a better way of doing what you did before and then you can create something even more amazing….and so on.

Below are my current favourite sources of inspiration, though I have to admit that I also have a style….yes a little predantic but it is a way of identifying my work, so although I might gain a little inspiration from the below galleries, but my work is always in my own style. Also, look carefully, you might see a few of my maps littered amongst the galleries.

Inspirational places for the map maker

British Cartographic Society:

International Cartographic Association:





Have fun!

Nick D

Ten of the Greatest Maps that Changed the World

I’ve had this bookmark on my computer for the last 2yrs and I find that every now and again I visit the page and have a little look…the inner cartophile inspired and humbled by the beautiful work presented here. My personal favourite is the “London Poverty Map”, not just because of the lovely hand draw detail, but also the amazing story behind it, how one man disagreed with what he was told and created a map that changed the way that the councils worked.

The article is from the UK Daily Mail, though it has been written by Pete Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library

Ten of the greatest: Maps that changed the world


From the USSR’s Be On Guard! map in 1921 to Google Earth, a new exhibition at the British Library charts the extraordinary documents that transformed the way we view the globe forever

By PETER BARBER, Head of Map Collections at the British Library

UPDATED: 22:00, 8 May 2010

1. BE ON GUARD! 1921

The infant USSR was threatened with invasion, famine and social unrest. To counter this, brilliant designers such as Dimitri Moor were employed to create pro-Bolshevik propaganda.

Using a map of European Russia and its neighbours, Moor’s image of a heroic Bolshevik guard defeating the invading ‘Whites’ helped define the Soviet Union in the Russian popular imagination.

Be on Guard!


It’s said that Columbus used this map or one like it to persuade Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile to support him in the early 1490s.

The map was made by a German cartographer living in Florence and reflects the latest theories about the form of the world and the most accurate ways of portraying it on a flat surface.

It seemed to prove that, as Columbus argued, there wasn’t a great distance between Europe and China by sea.

The map is also the first to record the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa by the Portuguese in 1488.

This proved that there wasn’t a land link to Asia in the south – and that Europeans could reach the riches of the East Indies by sea without having to go through Muslim-held lands.

Henricus Martellus World Map

The Henricus Martellus World Map was the first to record the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa by the Portuguese in 1488


Made for the Chinese Emperor, this is the earliest known Chinese terrestrial globe, and a fusion of East and Western cultures.

Its creators are thought to be the Jesuit missionaries Manuel Dias (1574-1659), who introduced the telescope to China, and Nicolo Longobardi (1565-1655), superior general of the China mission.

Both were respected scholars, and the globe’s depiction of the coasts of Africa and Europe would have contrasted with traditional Chinese maps.

These exaggerated the size of China and placed it in the middle of a world that otherwise consisted mainly of small offshore islands.

In its treatment of eclipses and meridians and its information about magnetic inclination, however, the globe draws on ideas that were developed in China far earlier than in the West.

Chinese Globe

The Chinese Globe which was made for the Chinese Emperor in 1623


‘America’ is named and envisaged as a separate continent for the first time on this map, put together by a think tank in Saint-Dié in the Duchy of Lorraine.

The map itself was created by a skilled cartographer, Martin Waldseemüller, and was accompanied by an explanatory booklet by one Matthias Ringmann. Impressed by the writings of Florentine navigator Amerigo Vespucci, Ringmann suggested that the Americas weren’t part of Asia, as Columbus thought, but a continent in their own right.

So they should, like the other continents, have a female name – hence America, after Vespucci’s first name. Perhaps to emphasise the independent existence of the Americas, the map shows what we now know is the Pacific lapping the western coast of South America, though its existence was only confirmed years later.

Waldseemuller world map

The Waldseemuller world map named and envisaged America as a separate continent for the first time

5. GOOGLE EARTH, c2005

Google Earth presents a world in which the area of most concern to you (in this instance, Avebury in Wiltshire) can be at the centre, and which – with mapped content overlaid – can contain whatever you think is important.

Almost for the first time, the ability to create an accurate map has been placed in the hands of everyone, and it has transformed the way we view the world. But it comes at a price.

There are few, if any, agreed standards about what should be included, and the less populated and ‘less important’ regions get ignored.

Google Earth

The ability to create an accurate map has been placed in the hands of everyone with Google Earth


Businessman Charles Booth was sceptical about a claim in 1885 that a quarter of Londoners lived in extreme poverty, so he employed people to investigate.

They found the true figure was 30 per cent. The findings were entered onto a ‘Master Map’ using seven colour categories, from black for ‘Lowest class, semi-criminal’ to gold for wealthy.

The authorities were terrified into action, and the first council houses were built soon afterwards.

Map of London poverty

This map of London showed that 30 per cent of people lived in extreme poverty


This map was used by British diplomats negotiating an end to the American War of Independence in Paris. Richard Oswald, secretary to the delegation, annotated it with coloured lines to show where it was thought past treaties established the U.S./Canada border.

In the event, when drawing the northern border the Americans asked for less than expected, and in the century afterwards they tried to renegotiate.

To prevent them from seeing this embarrassing map, it was removed from the British Museum, where it had been since the 1820s, and placed in the Foreign Office.

'Red Line' map of North America

The ‘Red Line’ map of North America was used by British diplomats negotiating an end to the American War of Independence in Paris


Dismissed as too ‘revolutionary’ when it was first submitted in 1931, Harry Beck’s Underground map solved the problem of how to represent clearly and elegantly a dense, complex interweaving of train lines.

Placing the stations at similar intervals regardless of their true locations amplifies the area of central London, increasing its clarity, while the straight lines and interchange symbols confer a simplicity and order on the network. A cartographic icon.

London Tube Map

Harry Beck’s Underground map solved the problem of how to represent clearly and elegantly a dense, complex interweaving of train lines


It’s impossible to portray the reality of the spherical world on a flat map. The familiar ‘Mercator’ projection gives the right shapes of land masses (up to a point), but at the cost of distorting their sizes in favour of the wealthy lands to the north.

The German Arno Peters sought to correct this. His projection gets the proportions (roughly) right, and has the effect of emphasising the Third World. That said, it’s no more ‘true’ than the ‘colonialist’ projection it seeks to replace.

Peters Projection World Map

The Peters projection world map got the proportions (roughly) right in 1974


Created for the prior of Evesham Abbey, this map marks the birth of modern English patriotism.

The top is a world map in the traditional medieval sense, with the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel below and a large multi-towered Jerusalem.

But at the bottom an enormous England stretches from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean. The very large tower above the French coast is Calais, captured in 1347.

We are in the age of Henry V and Agincourt.

Evesham World Map

The Evesham World Map marks the birth of modern English patriotism

Just where are the standards nowadays? (rant)

I am sure I am not the only one, you have the mother of all projects to get some spatial analysis done on by close of business and you go to merge the data for a spot of spatial join action and……there is no consistency, in fact every single data has a different way of structuring its attribute data.

Okay, so maybe you won’t be merging your data together for a spatial join, only a complete noob would be doing that (hello :P) but the point is, where are the standards? You buy survey data and most of its own data uses different attribute labelling formats, you download some Government Open Data and you spend 90% of your time trying to work out what the columns are about…if they are labelled at all!.

This is the modern age, we are looking at big data and cloud based systems yet we can’t even produce 2 data which talk to each other, it is well, embarrassing!! The ironic (or frightening) thing is that I have sat in a few meetings and discussions on Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) and each meeting has its own ideas about what needs to be addressed – The hydrographers want something specific to them and then the survey guys want something specific to them….and so on…

Well there are many SDIs about but here’s the problem….too many chiefs and not enough Indians (excuse the analogy), there are too many rules and regulations from too many sources for anyone to make sense of it & without any single specific governing body we end up with everyone having their own ideas over what they think should be right….only most of these guys are analysts, theorists and conspirators, not the people that work with the geospatial data on a day to day basis.

Just a quick scout on Wikipedia reveals just how many different standards are flying around at the moment:

My question to you all is why can’t the field with the object names in be called “Names” or the field with the WGS84 Latitude coordinates (in Decimal Degrees be called “Lat_DD”? Is this too complex?

I’m looking at my Twitter right now and I see 2500 of the best people to answer my question, if not, to spread the word and help to find the BEST answer to the question –

HOW DO WE GO ABOUT GETTING A DEFINITIVE SDI FOR FEATURE ATTRIBUTION?Please feel free to prod me and poke a stick at me if I am completely wrong and there is a standard which should be adhered to, in 10yrs of geospatial work I haven’t found it but I may have been looking in the wrong places. The closest I have got so far is the amazing work being done as part of the Inspire directive, though trying to comprehend it is a real pain and a few of the attribute names are not compliant with shapefile format eg “meanhigherhighwatersprings” & “Gradeseperatedcrossing” is never going to work!

All I want to do is to inter-relate my geospatial data and not spend hours having to rename and re-order the fields so that it I can join 2 tables together! It can’t be that hard….can it?

Nick D

(almost) All map projections visualised

This was posted today by Aleks Buczkowski, not only a great way of translating the differences in coordinates projections but also a really cool little toy to play with….

All Map Projections Compared And Visualized

Source: Aleks Buczkowski July 1, 2013


Geoid – the most accurate model of the Earth

Life of cartographer is not easy… How to map phenomena on the Earth which are 3 dimensional (and often dynamic – 4D) on the flat surface of a map? If you would like to have the most accurate map ever you would have to carry with you 3D-printed ‘geoid’ which is best known model of the Earth based on pure gravity at perfect zero sea level… and it looks like a potato…

But if you want to show it on a flat map you need a map projection, which will determine how to transform and distort latitudes and longitudes in order to preserve some of map properties: area, shape, distance, direction or bearing. And this is much more important than we might think. For example sailors use Mercator projection where meridians and parallels cross each other always at the same 90 degrees angle. It allows to easy locate your self on the line showing direction in which you sail (loxodrome is a line crossing all meridians of longitude at the same angle) but the projection do not preserve the distances, so you know you are on the right direction but you don’t know how much time will it take you to get to your destination… It is said that many of great geographic discoveries from XV and XVI century happened accidentally because of that fact.

Ok…as a cartographer I could talk about it for ages but lets get back to Earth… ;). Map projects can be as well a night mare, as they are in fact extremely complex mathematical transformations. Now there is web tool to visually compare properties of all major projections. Check this out:

Mercator projection


You can easily say that it’s a conformal projection (preserving the angles) as angular deformation idnex is zero.

Sinusoidal projection


In the case of sinusoidal projection you see that it’s an equal-area projection as areal distortion index is zero.

The tool requires just a few comments as parameters are not well described on the website. Here is what these distortion indexes actually mean:

  • Acc. 40° 150% – The Acceptance index is a numerical measure that summarizes overall projection distortion, in this case with a maximum angular distortion of 40° and areal distortion of up to 150%.
  • Scale – The weighted mean error for overall scale distortion.
  • Areal – The weighted mean error for areal distortion.
  • Angular – The mean angular deformation index.

Have fun!

Map Design – a list of online resources

Great article on Map Design from Ordnance Survey (UK), I know a few people who could do with reading this!! Some great resources provided too!!

Map design: a list of helpful online resources

By , 7, May, 2013 8:00 am

Whether they’ve been making maps for 20 years or two weeks, just like any designer, cartographers need inspiration when starting their latest project.  Inspiration can come from many places and take many forms.  Here at Ordnance Survey we use a range of resources and we want to share some of them with you.  In this post we list several online resources that can help with your latest map design; from choosing the right colour palette to selecting great fonts.  Some of these resources are specific to map-making and some are more general.  It is worth noting that they are not tools for making maps but tools to help with the map design process.

Although by no means a definitive list, these are some of the tools and resources that we refer to and use regularly and we have sorted them into four categories: colours, fonts, symbols and map inspiration:


The use of colour is very often fundamental to the success of a map.  Colour can help with many elements of map design from improving visual contrast to simply catching the eye.   

ColorBrewer 2.0 is a great tool for selecting colour schemes that are specific to maps, especially helpful when mapping various classes of data.

Color Scheme Designer lets you choose colour schemes based on various parameters and the ‘Randomize Palette’ option is a great way to get colour inspiration. 

Adobe Kuler is a web-hosted application for generating colour themes and allows you to experiment quickly with colour variations and browse themes from the Kuler community. 

COLOURlovers is a creative community where people from around the world create and share colours, palettes and patterns, discuss the latest trends and explore colourful articles. 

hailpixel is a wonderful browser-based colour picker from designer Devin Hunt that allows you to create colour swatches with ease.  It’s also really fun to use! is a nice, easy-to-use colour picker that returns a hex code. 

RGB & Hex converter is a simple conversion tool for RGB and Hex colour values by Kenji Kojima. 

There are also lots of mobile apps that can help with colour selection and palette creation, enabling you to get inspired wherever you are.  These include Magic Color Picker, I Love Color and Real Colours.


Choosing the right fonts for a map can really enhance the aesthetics and usability and can also set the tone of a map.  Fonts can be used as a method to group associated features and establish a hierarchy. 

Here is a list of websites offering a huge range of free fonts:

1001 Free Fonts

Google fonts

Open Font Library

Urban fonts  

And here are some great sources of premium fonts:

Adobe Type



TypeBrewer is a free help tool that gives non-specialist mapmakers a chance to explore typography in a semi-structured environment. 


“Symbols are the graphic language of maps; the selection and design of symbols are a major part of creating a successful map” – Judith A. Tyner, Principles of Map Design (2010) 

Maki is a simple point of interest symbol set made for web cartography.  It is an open source project by MapBox. 

The Noun Project has a huge library of icons, many of which are great for mapping.  They are available to download and use under a creative commons license. 

Map inspiration 

Like all designers, cartographers will seek inspiration from various sources.  Making a map allows a cartographer to exercise their own creativity but it is never a bad idea to look at other peoples work in order to stimulate ideas. 

CartoTalk is a public forum for cartography and design which has over 12,000 members.  There is a map gallery where people post their map designs and get feedback from other cartographers. 

Pinterest is a content sharing service that allows members to share images, videos and other objects on their virtual pin boards.  If you search for words like ‘maps’ or ‘cartography’ you will find a whole host of inspiring images. 

Designspiration is similar to Pinterest and you can search any word to return a wide range of images.  You can also search based on specific colours. 

Google image search is always a reliable method if you are looking for visual inspiration.  Again search for words like ‘maps’, ‘cartography’ or add in more specific text based on your project. 

Atlas of Design is not strictly an online resource but this book from NACIS contains some fantastic examples of modern cartographic design.  We have a copy and would highly recommend it!

Also, keep an eye on the Ordnance Survey Flickr pages as we’ll soon be using it to showcase a variety of our own maps.

There are loads more helpful tools and resources online that we haven’t mentioned here and it’s also good practice to read blogs from fellow cartographers and designers.  There are also lots of fantastic books available on the art and application of cartography – we might cover those in a future blog post.

We hope you find these resources useful – if there is any that you use that are not listed above then please let us know in the comments section.  It would be great to hear about what inspires and aids your map designs!

Visualising for Human Geography –

Great article from James Cheshire reminding us how important good visualisation is.

From May 2013

Visualising for Human Geography

Locals Vs Tourists by Eric Fischer

The publication of the International Benchmarking Review of UK Human Geography back in March was a major event for the discipline. The report concludes that the UK human geography community is setting the intellectual agenda for the subject and can therefore consider itself the best in the world. Whilst this is a great achievement, the “relative weakness in quantitative methods and GIS” (p16) was also highlighted. The authors flag the growing interest in data visualisation, and its value for information dissemination and impact, but suggest that human geographers may not be ahead of the curve in the same way as they are in other parts of the discipline.

Compelling data visualisation is the key to communicating results from research widely and, perhaps most importantly, a means to inspire current and future students to work with quantitative data. More maps (and other visualisations) than ever are being produced, but many are methodologically floored or misleading because the people who created them are great with complex software and data manipulation, but less good at placing their visual outputs in context. I would argue that human geographers, with their knowledge of population processes, are uniquely placed to perform a “sanity check” on the many graphics that stem from analysis that has set off down the wrong path. Human geographers are also well-aware of the power of maps to change perceptions of the world (both for the better or worse) so they are perhaps a little more cautious in the way they portray data and make doubly sure that they have produced something that is both representative and defensible.

So, it is more important than ever for geographers to engage with the many relevant datasets that are now available and also with the communities (largely of computer scientists and designers) that are currently grappling with them. We don’t all have the skills to manipulate large datasets, or visualise them, but we can still contribute to the creative process and ensure the outcomes are representative of the data used to produce them. The benchmarking review lists four people/ groups that have made a start in this regard [Hans Rosling (of GapMinder), Simon Rogers (formerly, the Guardian), Danny Dorling (and colleagues) and CASA (where I work)]. Interestingly only two would probably badge themselves as geographers.  I thought I’d speculate a little about what makes each of these groups successful in this context and also add a few more groups that I think could offer the inspiration needed to get more people visualising human geography.

Hans Rosling and Gapminder

Gapminder helped to kick-start the interest in the power of data visualisation to explore the complexities of global development. The website, and energetic videos by Hans Rosling, have raised the profile of the many datasets compiled by global organisations, such as the UN, and offer a means for students to engage with data in an interesting way. For people starting to think about data, Gapminder should be one of the first websites they visit.