I love maps. I’m obsessed with them. I have a shelf on my bookcase filled with maps: walking maps, road maps, maps of places we once went on holiday, street plans, geological maps, cycling maps and atlases. They are a source of constant interest to me and I could happily spend an evening just looking at random maps. If this sounds terribly nerdy, I love online maps too. I even have a bank of Google maps of cycling routes I’ll never complete, all planned in detail to get the best views, hardest climbs, quietest roads and occasional watering holes. I’m a cartophile, and I’m proud of it.
Of course, when walking on Dartmoor there’s only one choice of map, and that’s the OL28 Ordnance Survey Explorer, right?
Well, actually, no.
The alternative is a Harvey map. If you haven’t heard of Harvey, they were started by orienteers Sue and Robin Harvey back in 1977. Starting by making orienteering maps, they quickly moved into making larger-scale maps and now produce maps for most of the upland areas of the UK, as well as parts of Canada, Greenland and Africa. Their maps have been given the seal of approval by no less than the British Mountaineering Council and the British Geological Survey, and the Dartmoor map includes a breezy quote from none other than Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes himself on the back cover.
But are they any good?
First of all the scale, which if I don’t mention straight away will quickly become the elephant in the room. Harvey standard maps have, since their first iteration, been produced in 1:40,000 scale. This is because the first one was produced for a mountain marathon, and so needed a bigger scale than we could normally use for walking. Unfortunately for me this means that the scale is 1 inch to 1 kilometre, and the combination of metric and imperial blows my mind. This equates to 100m being 2.5mm, and I find the maths from that point to be too unwieldy for micronavigation.
This is actually my only real bugbear with Harvey maps, and they have in recent years started producing a Superwalker series at 1:25,000 scale. I will, at some point, get hold of this version of the map for a proper side-by-side comparison of OS and Harvey. To mitigate this ‘issue’ further, it is very nice to have all of Dartmoor on one side of a map, and very welcome to not have to flip it when crossing the the B3212. This is a perennial issue for OS28 users and it is always amusing to watch Duke of Edinburgh groups wrestle with the manoeuvre at Postbridge. It is actually a real boon to have it all on one sheet when planning.
The colours of the map also help considerably when route-planning. Lowland areas are pale green with higher ground various shades of orange and brown, marshy ground is a block of pale blue and forests a darker green. This all gives a really nice 3D effect that allows you to easily identify the highest ground and pick a (theoretical) route through bogs more easily. A lot of thought goes into footpaths, with names given for ancient routes and distinction being made between those rights of way that are also paths and those that only exist in theory. You do end up with quite a lot of lines on the map that mean very slightly different things, but you do get used to it.
Harvey’s tagline is ‘made by walkers for walkers’ and this is a real strength. Initial maps are produced from aerial photos and then they are field walked by researchers, so there is a genuine focus on the final user during production. A lot of the extraneous information that walkers don’t need is stripped out – no more looking for a lost group who followed a parish boundary by mistake! – and on the ground you may feel that the clarity of mapping more than compensates for the loss of some detail. The maps are fairly tough and waterproof but much lighter and bulky than the OS.
So if all the info you need is one side of the map, what do you put on the back? Harvey have thought of this too, including a geological map and interpretation, advice on how to use a map and compass and first aid info.
I think they’re great maps, but the big question is – how do they compare to the OS? For a real side-by-side test, I will get a copy of the Superwalker at some point in the future and take both 1:25,000 scale maps out together. It isn’t fair to compare maps of two different scales because I am highly biased by the extra reassurance I get from the greater detail. I’ve grown up with OS maps, but Harvey have made a really good map that is of huge appeal to walkers. It’s practical but also beautiful. I love the ethos of keeping the names and routes of ancient routes alive and sending teams out to physically walk and improve their maps. I’m not sure I’d ditch the OS just yet, but the Harvey map is a great addition to my bookshelf.