“So you’ve decided to collect maps”: A beginners guide to cartophilia

Mmmmm, maps. Image: author provided.

The fact that you are reading a City Metric article about map collecting suggests that there’s a high probability that you already are a collector of maps. Right now you may be thinking to yourself, “Not me”, but I have news for you: many a map collector finds it hard to admit, even to themselves, that they’re a cartophile*.

But if you ever got into the habit of buying a map when you were travelling, and then you kept that map, with your other maps… then you have a collection of maps and you are a map collector.

You might describe this as unintentional map collecting. But to move from this ad hoc attitude to a more deliberate state doesn’t take much. You simply start buying maps of places you may one day visit (admit it, you’ve done that, haven’t you?). Or perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of your mind, you like the idea of owning all the maps – so wherever you travel to, you have a map already.

If you have some small desire to one day have the full set, you are definitely a map collector. If that is you, it’s time to be honest with yourself. Admit that you have been collecting maps for years and now start doing it properly.

What have you got?

Your first task is to assess your collection. Due to your so far unintentional attitude, you’ll probably find an alarming collection of scales and styles.

You may be tempted to rationalize: this is probably a good idea. But whatever you do, don’t throw them in the recycling. These are maps, treat them with respect. File them to one-side, and you will soon work out what the correct method of disposal is.


Once you’ve rationalized your collection, you will have to choose a map series to focus on. In the UK we are more than blessed with options. Ordnance Survey alone offer Explorers, Landrangers, One-Inch, Routefinders and so on. Then there are the Bartholomew’s series, while Sustrans now covers the whole of the UK with cycling maps. You need to pick your team.

Next you need to define your goal. All of Yorkshire? The National Parks? England and Wales? (Scotland is hard)

But seeing as it is a New Year and you are being honest with yourself: you want the whole set. If, like me, the first grown-up map you bought had a pink cover, then you will want a full set of OS Landrangers. Yep: all 204 of those beauties.

Now you’ve set your goal, it’s time to take stock, literally. Go through your maps, sort them into order and catalogue them. There is no point writing a list in a notepad: this is a job for a spreadsheet.

And, because spreadsheets are dull, add a bit of fun by keeping a map of your maps. Find an index map which shows the coverage of all the maps in the series: the kind often found on a maps back cover. Print this out, find a coloured pencil and then shade in all the squares of the maps you have. With each new map, you can fill in your spreadsheet, and colour in your map.

Please note that, once you are recording your maps, you are a proper collector, there’s no escaping the fact.

Filling the gaps

Hopefully, your ad hoc collecting days will have given you a good head start, and you may find you have, perhaps 20 odd maps. (I had 71.) The temptation is to look at your coloured in map index and start filling in the gaps, joining up the shaded blocks.

Rookie mistake. The chances are that these ones will be easy to get hold of in the coming weeks and months. If you cannot resist a purchase on Amazon, or a specialist map site, then purchase maps of remote places in Scotland. Places where nobody goes – where nobody buys the map.

Why? Because the other rookie mistake is to buy maps online. You’re paying more than you have to and it’s too easy, so it spoils the fun. The fun is in the hunt.

Your new favourite shop is the Oxfam Bookshop. I do not know why second maps migrate to Oxfam, and the Lancaster Branch in particular, but they do and they do it consistently.

You can expect to pay £2.49 for a map in Oxfam, but pricing varies around the country. Remember that Oxfam is a charity, so getting the best price may not be the main concern. I have found that spending £20 odd quid a month on maps is far more enjoyable than giving to charity through a monthly direct debit.

When you travel, search out local branches of Oxfam. There is no guarantee they will have maps, but the air of uncertainty just adds to the fun. Some Oxfam Bookshops are out in the suburbs or student districts, so drag you out to parts of cities you wouldn’t normally visit. I’ve taken a tram to Chorlton (shouldn’t have bothered) and a bus to Headingley (amazing, spent over £30). Far flung places have an added attraction: I bought three maps when I found myself in Clitheroe for no good reason.

Another task you will need to take on soon after you start collecting is to clear some space on your book shelf. The 80cm of shelf occupied by maps has steadily expanded. After a couple of years my cartographic colony had grown to cover over 4 metres of shelf real estate.

Having admitted to oneself that you are a map collector, it’s time to out yourself to friends and family. I hope you get the same enthusiastic response I received. Many of my nearest and dearest searched homes and cars for maps and emailed me with a list of maps they were happy to donate to my collection.

Creating an online list of my collection was a great aid. It was handy for me to check in on, and vital for my friends when they stumbled into a secondhand bookshop. Friends loved the hunt so much not one of them asked me to pay for the maps they bought me (I did offer), and one of them hunted down a couple of dozen for me.

Enjoying your maps

In all the searching, purchasing and cataloguing of your expanding collection it is easy to lose sight of the map. I have made one simple rule: I must unfold every map I buy and spend at least a couple of minutes enjoying it.

I’m well-travelled in the UK, so I’m always on the lookout for a map of an area I haven’t visited. More often than not, there is a sweep of a railway across one of the corners which I’ve journeyed along. Often I’m reminded of a journey half a lifetime ago: memories of a hangover in Fishguard, or the big argument with my girlfriend on the ferry to Skye. Happy days.

It may take years, but one day you may complete an entire series. For me it took a year for my initial 71 Landrangers to swell to 201. Another trip to Lancaster scored me two of the final three required. Once I’d catalogued them and coloured in my master map, I considered how long the hunt for the final Sheet would drag on for. Within 48 hours a friend called round my house and handed me Sheet 82 – and I had the full set.

That wasn’t the end. I’d already started collecting the series of maps that preceded the Landrangers, the One-Inch maps with classic red covers. I’ve got 90 per cent of those now.

I do use my maps, and they do leave the house. In a tragic incident in March 2017 I lost a bag containing three Landrangers (121: Lincoln & Newark-on-Trent, 116: Grimsby Louth & Market Rasen;  107: Kingston upon Hull Beverley & Driffield). It was a trauma, but not a disaster, because I already had duplicates of those sheets. No, I didn’t stop at a full set of 204 Landrangers, I have over 350 of them now.

It’s rare for a week to pass when I haven’t pulled a map off the shelf to look up something. Online mapping services are awesome and I use them literally every day, yet the absolute precision of 1:50000 scale map conveys more than the roads railways and buildings they represent. I have a much better understanding of where I am within a landscape with a paper map. This is I why I keep returning to them.

Occasionally I come up with other things to do with my collection. One afternoon I recreated my index map, using my maps. Don’t tell me I don’t know how to have fun.

The Landranger series displayed as you have always wanted to see them: Landranger Timelapse from Chris Sharp on Vimeo.

* I couldn’t find a name for a map collector, so I made one up.

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All images courtesy of the author.

 
 
 
 

Here’s how Copenhagen puts cyclists at the top of the social hierarchy

A cyclist in Copenhagen, obviously. Image: Red Bull/Getty.

Have you ever wondered why Britain is not a nation of cyclists? Why we prefer to sit in traffic as our Dutch and Danish neighbours speed through the city on bikes?

Forget about hills, rain, and urban sprawl: the real reason we aren’t cycling is much closer to home. It is not just lack of infrastructure, or lack of fitness, the reason that 66 per cent of Brits cycle less than once a year, is because of status.

An obsession with social status is hard-wired into our brains. As we have built a society that relies on cars, the bicycle has slipped to the periphery, and gone from being regarded as a sensible mode of transport, to a deviant fringe-dwellers choice.

Even though cycling to work has been shown to be one of the most effective things an individual can do to improve health and longevity, researcher David Horton thinks that there are a set of collective anxieties that are stopping us getting in the saddle. These include not just an unwillingness to be made vulnerable, but fear of being thought of as poor.

A quick look over the North Sea shows that there is an alternative. Danish culture has elevated cycling to the point of reverence, and the social status of cyclists has followed. As we have busied ourselves building infrastructure that testifies to the dominance of the car, Denmark has been creating magnificent architectural features, aimed specifically at bike users. The Cycle Snake, or Cykelslangen, literally suspends the cyclist above the city, metaphorically elevating the cyclist and creating a sense of ceremony.

In doing so, they are subtly persuading people of all backgrounds to see past their prejudices or fears and take it up as the clearly better choice. This means there are more women cycling, more older people cycling, and more ethnic minorities cycling. The activity is less dominated by comfortably middle class white males: there are cyclists from every side of the community.  

The Cykelslangen, under construction in 2014. Image: Ursula Bach and Dissing+Weitling architecture.

Despite abstract motivations like getting ripped and conquering global warming, it is only when the bike path becomes the obviously better choice that people will start to cycle. It can take years of traffic jams before people try an alternative, but if you make motorists jealous of cyclists, then the tables can quickly turn.

Another way that Copenhagen has done this is by taking privileges normally afforded only to the motorcar, and given them to the bike. The city has ensured that cycle routes do not include blind corners or dark tunnels, and that they form a complete, coherent network, and a steadily flowing system – one that allows cyclists to maintain a reasonable pace, and minimises the amount of times you have to put your foot down.

The ‘Green Wave’, for example, is a co-ordinated traffic light system on some of the main thoroughfares of the capital that helps minimise the amount of cycle congestion during peak times. It maintains a steady flow of cycle traffic, so that there is no need to stop at any point.


Small measures of prioritisation like this one increase the sense of safety and consideration that cyclists experience, making it natural for the citizens of a city to act in their own self-interest and get on their bike.

As well as redefining the streets around the bicycle, the Copenhagen Cycle Chic blog positively fetishises cyclists. The tagline “dress for your destination, not your journey” depicts the social fashion life of the cycle lane as a “never ending flow of happy people heading from A to B”. Its writers are  literally making cycling sexy, dispelling the idea that going anywhere by bike is odd, and helping the world to see that the bicycle is actually the ultimate fashion accessory.

So unlike in London, where cycling is still a predominantly male pursuit, Copenhagen sees a more even split between men and women. Not just because they feel safer on the roads, but because culturally they are comfortable with their appearance as part of a highly visible group.

So while our low level of cycling is partly due to our physical infrastructure, it is also due to our cultural attitudes. The mental roadblocks people have towards cycling can be overcome by infrastructure that is not only safe, but also brings old-fashioned notions of dignity and grace into the daily commute.

Of course, office shower facilities might stop cyclists being ostracised, too.