Book Review: The Ordnance Survey Outdoor Handbook

The Ordnance Survey Outdoor Handbook. Michael Allaby. 1987 MacMillan London. 224 p.

Although almost 20 years old, this is a gem of a book that I picked up second-hand. For those from a MTA background it is like having a volume that covers benign as well as hostile habitats.

Allaby organizes his material into three sections. The first section of around 70 pages runs through the major aspects to be considered when going for anything from a low-level ramble to a significant mountain expedition, although the book does not enter the realms of mountaineering. Some of the advice and techniques and legal framework are out-of-date but the sections on navigation, weather and planning are useful and detailed. The BASIC computer program for calculating the difficulty of a walk has a delightful whiff of nostalgia and could be adapted to a modern language. As an aside, Pete Hawkins, who runs the Silva Navigation School, offers free route planning tools, including an Excel spreadsheet that does these calculations.

Section II is entitled ‘Clues in the Countryside’. This section covers changes in landscape from a historical perspective before moving on to aspects of natural history ranging from geology and glacial geomorphology through to both domestic and wild plants and animals. The keys for breeds of sheep and cattle, as well as crops, provide a gentle introduction to the use of these identification tools and could lay a useful foundation for further study. Farm types in different regions are also discussed.

The book concludes with a final section on the landscapes of that make up the patchwork of Great Britain. Each subsection concludes with a list of exemplars by OS map and grid reference. The first two landscapes, Mountains and Hills, Heaths, Moors and Downs are the familiar operational area of Hill and Moorland and Mountain Leaders and are not unduly emphasized in a book that ranges from the summit to the sea. Forests, wetlands, lowland farmland, rivers and estuaries, coasts and islands all get a section each and provide a source of valuable leader ‘chat’, which will so often start off in a forest or farmland area when you have just meet your clients and you need to engage with them. The other sections are probably equally valuable for rest stops in clear weather where the landscape is laid out below.

The volume is out of print but available for a few pounds on the second-hand market and would be of especial value to those leading groups outwith the mountains and higher hills but is definitely a worthwhile read for any outdoor leader.

I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

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