The end of the road for paper maps

Ordnance Survey plans to end routine production because of poor sales. Luckily, Rosie Millard has found a new sense of direction

As my husband says, I don't "do North". Or any other cardinal points, actually. When I get a road map out, I usually interpret it as if we are proceeding straight along, the way I'm holding it. I get quite nervous thinking about holding a map in general, at least those that are to be used when a car is in motion.

There is first the unfolding, which requires various wrist-snapping twists around a ludicrously large piece of paper. Then, the fact that your destination is bound to be on a crease. Plus the crazy font used, the baroque "legend" of tiny symbols and those red, wobbly concentric circles, familiar from Geography detention, when miscreants were given the task of erasing pencil marks off them. My parents were ardent hill walkers, and rain-spattered Ordnance Survey maps were a fixture of my youth. I'm not nostalgic. The unfurling of an OS map, or indeed any road map, almost sends me into a Pavlovian sensation of wet feet and the need to find a loo.

I suspect I am not alone. Indeed, I know I am not alone, because OS has just announced that poor sales figures will mean the end of routine production of paper maps covering the whole of the UK. Popular hiking areas will still be mapped, but the nationwide phenomenon that started when the English government of 1790 ordered maps of the southern coast of England in readiness for a Napoleonic invasion, is coming to an end.

It appears that, rather than fighting with groundsheet-sized bits of paper and deciphering symbols for churches with spires, people simply prefer to use their smartphone or satnav to get about. Not just on country walks, either. Sales of road maps and city directories have shrunk by a third in just a decade. Now, I am as fascinated by an ancient map as the next person, and indeed own a lovely set charting obscure corners of the former French Empire, but I greet the news that the road map has had its day with unalloyed joy. For me, road trips will now take on a wholly different character. No more grim moments in the passenger seat when I turn the map wildly around, realising with horror that I have been reading it the right way up, which is in fact the Wrong Way. No more cold sweats as I switch on the passenger light, inspect the map and realise I've been heading for Bradford on Avon, instead of the other one. My inability to read a road map caused me to once send Mr Millard, at the time behind the wheel of a colossal RV (with four children under seven in the back), the wrong way en route to the Grand Canyon. Let us just draw a veil over the resultant four-hour diversion in the midst of Arizona. At night.

Whereas with a GPS device, and hence no need for spousal comments about compasses and Broads, I am unstoppable. Last year, I managed to direct everyone across Rajasthan, in a Morris Minor. There are no road maps in India, and very few road signs. But, with GPS, the crazy world of Indian roads was a mere bagatelle, albeit one featuring the odd elephant.

Oh, I know that people such as Jeremy Clarkson will probably mourn the passing of the ceremonial unfolding of the map over the egg sandwiches, but the fact that satellites can now chart all the extant roads on our planet, and deliver that knowledge to anyone with a smartphone means that thousands of remote communities can feel connected. No longer will people have to wait for some orienteering expert to plod around plotting a map, then publish it. All you have to do is switch on your phone or satnav and then follow the route.

Maps symbolised power; as the recent BBC programme on Captain Cook revealed, the country that was first to chart the coastline of a new country would be able to claim it. Now they have been superseded by a more democratic and far easier system. The only crucial thing I would put in the Millard Smartphone Map Legend is: remember to keep your battery charged.

Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Field of broken dreams: Andy Bell visits Passchendaele
news5 News's Andy Bell visited the killing fields of the Great War, and his ancestor - known only from his compelling war diary - came to life
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

    Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

    Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

    Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel