TRIED & TESTED / The day we went to Bangor: We put eight road atlases through their paces. But our panel didn't have a lovely time with them all

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S nothing more infuriating on a car journey in unfamiliar territory than finding that exactly the page you need has disappeared from the rapidly disintegrating atlas or that the town you're looking for is just on the edge between two maps. To help you navigate from A to B without tearing your hair out, we've tested some road atlases. They range from compact handy atlases to a hardback heavyweight. Our testers, all professional drivers, assessed them to see how practical and useful they are in keeping you on the right track.


Ron Biddle, Joe Forbes, Daniel Gray and Roger Lawrence, who are all chauffeurs with the Chauffeurs' Guild, London.


We asked the testers to use each atlas to trace their route on an imaginary journey from Chelmsford to Bangor. They rated each atlas on how convenient it was to handle, how useful the index was, how clear the maps were, and extra features, such as town maps or tourist information. Scores were converted into a best-buy rating.


Paperback. Size: 11in x 13 1/2 in. Scale:

4 miles to 1 inch. Price: pounds 3.99.

This is one of the cheapest atlases and testers thought it good value. But it didn't score well overall because it had few extra features. Roger Lawrence didn't mind the lack of tourist information and praised this atlas: 'Good paper, clear maps, simple index. If it had spiral binding, I would buy it.'


Paperback. Size: 11in x 15 1/2 in.

Scale: 3 miles to 1 inch.

Town plans. Price: pounds 6.99.

Testers rated this highly for the clearness of its maps and thought it was convenient to handle. It scored poorly, though, on its index, which works on the same principle as the AA hardback atlas. Daniel Gray found he could not match up the map co-ordinates and got 'lost' twice: 'Very frustrating to use.' Others thought spiral binding would be an improvement. 'I would need almost to break the spine to keep it open,' Roger Lawrence said.


Hardback. Size: 8 1/2 in x 12in.

Scale: 3 miles to 1 inch.

Town plans. Price: pounds 20.

This has lots of extra information for touring and even maps of the Folkestone and Calais Channel Tunnel terminals. Testers rated it highly for its maps and extra features. 'This tome has everything a traveller could ever need. The colours, printing and quality are fabulous. But the index grid co-ordinates are just awful - far too complex,' said Roger Lawrence. However, Ron Biddle found the index 'very precise'. Not all the panel thought it was very practical: 'A lovely book, but it is rather bulky - where do you keep it in the average family car?' asked Joe Forbes.


Spiral bound. Size: 5 3/4 in x 7 3/4 in. Scale: 5 miles to 1 inch. Price: pounds 4.95.

This compact atlas scored fairly well on convenience of handling and on its index, but poorly on the clarity of its maps and on features. 'The size of the writing would mean stopping the car to read it if the driver was alone. The number indicating the next page is also too small,' said Roger Lawrence. But it was reasonably priced and, said Joe Forbes, 'it's an ideal size for the glove compartment or door storage'.


Paperback. Size: 6in x 8 1/2 in. Scale:

11 1/2 miles to 1 inch. Price: pounds 3.75.

This atlas is intended for people who have trouble map-reading when travelling south. It has two sets of maps, one with north at the top of the page as usual; in the other, the maps are reversed, with south at the top, so, for example, on a map of Scotland, Glasgow appears on the right-hand side of the country and Edinburgh on the left. Testers thought that, at least initially, people might find it confusing, but Roger Lawrence said: 'After some difficulties with the concept, I quickly got the hang of it. It's the first time I've seen it and I wonder why it hasn't been done before.' But this atlas didn't score well on the index, clarity of maps, or on features.


Spiral bound. Size: 11 1/2 in x 15 1/2 in.

Scale: 2.16 miles to 1 inch.

Town plans. Price: pounds 12.99.

One of the first things you notice about this atlas is that it is very heavy. 'Good for weight-training,' said Daniel Gray. The panel didn't find it convenient to handle at all: you have to hold the atlas sideways, which the testers found cumbersome. They also didn't rate the features very highly, but did think it had a good index and that the maps were clear. 'Easily read by anyone,' said Joe Forbes.


Spiral bound. Size: 11 1/2 in x 15in.

Scale: 3 miles to 1 inch. Urban area

maps and town plans. Price: pounds 8.99.

This atlas was a good all-rounder, scoring well on everything, and is reasonably priced. 'Very, very good,' said Daniel Gray. Most testers liked the spiral binding: 'A distinct advantage for a map of this size as it can be reduced to a single A3 page,' said Joe Forbes. A disadvantage, though, was that the centre of the pages where the spiral was could be difficult to read. Ron Biddle liked the rear flap used to mark the page.


Spiral bound. Size: 11 1/2 in x 15in. Scale: 3 miles to 1 inch. Urban area maps and town plans. Price: pounds 8.99.

This scored highly all round and was considered good value. It was very popular with Roger Lawrence: 'Lovely colours, good strong paper. I love it.' This atlas was also a favourite with Daniel Gray. 'The index to main towns is brilliant,' he said. Ron Biddle found, though, that the area of the map where the two pages met in the centre wasn't always clear. Like the Bartholomew, it has a rear flap to mark the page, which the testers liked.

Next week: Nutcrackers

(Photograph omitted)