Disclosure of interests: I was sent free copies of these maps as a gift and have opted to write this review on a voluntary basis. I have no business connections with any of the companies or businesses mentioned in the article.
Maps. I’ve got a lot of maps. Paper ones, flat ones, OS ones, geology ones, Kompass ones for Europe, orienteering maps. Then there is the online swarm of maps I have access to and apps that combine spatial databases with location data. All have different uses but all are united by a common purpose: to put information in a spatial context.
The new urban nature maps of Edinburgh and Glasgow bring together layers of information in a new style of map. The closest analogue I have are the Harveys British Mountain Maps, which use a modified symbol set to provide mapping for more specialist outdoor users and have a wealth of information on the reverse.
However, the urban nature maps focus on the green and blue spaces of major cities and routes that link them. While many people will have some knowledge of their immediate surroundings, the wider cityscape often contains other similar spaces that are unknown to most people, even those who have lived in a particular city for many years. Such information has become increasingly important to outdoor instructors during travel restricted lockdowns but can be difficult to share with a wider audience. As such, these maps are a great way for urban landscape ‘insiders’ to explain what is available in Scotland’s two major population centres. The support from Rob Bushby, who is involved with a wide range of outdoor projects, including Slow Ways, really shows up. I like his tag of ‘focusing the fuzzy’ for what he does in the map credits.
Home base for Hills of Hame is on the southside of Edinburgh and I have also lived, worked and studied in Glasgow. Over the past year, I’ve also worked on routes for DofE ‘flexpeditions’ under DofEwithADifference changes and staffed some of these expeditions. The maps would also be great tools for outdoor practitioners in forest schools and those just becoming involved in outdoor learning/education. School teachers may also find them useful for lessons relating to a range of topics. The maps are very timely, as many people have had a chance to find new places and may well cut down on travel post-lockdown and locating free alternatives to indoor exercise, such as cycling routes (Glasgow and Edinburgh both have bike hire schemes) and outdoor gyms offers more equity to a wide range of users.
I’ll stress that although the maps are ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Edinburgh’, they both cover areas outwith the city administrative boundaries. A wise decision for both locations, as many areas well-used by residents for outdoor recreation are included for both cities. ‘Edinburgh’ includes a good chunk of the Pentlands and also the Firth of Forth, although some extra points about the scope for sailing, stand-up paddle boarding and sea-kayaking would make good additions. Bouldering and climbing crags would also be a possibility, as these sites are now widely publicised and I’ve found it great to see fellow climbers heading to urban crags near me with their bouldering mats and gear racks during times of restricted travel.
What is innovative about the keys to the maps is that they consider spaces as functional or land-use types. A wider aim of urban good is to make people think about the way land is divided up and held. The have also produced other maps that cover London, Newcastle and Amsterdam.
Also on the maps are linework for cycle routes, walking routes of various types and a general set of point information for activities. Not all of these are outdoor sites, as climbing centres are marked, along with outdoor shops and bike shops. This is quite an excellent way to bring together many more elements of the infrastructure for the urban microadventurer. The thought that has gone into the maps does promote the laudable aims of the wider urban good project to empower people. By identifying sites for activities such as outdoor swimming and BMX tracks, it guides people to where they can carry out certain pursuits and, just as importantly, where they might meet like-minded fellow enthusiasts. Such information is important for visitors or those moving to a new city. The reverse of each sheet offers ideas about city-specific things to do and additional maps, diagrams and infographics for each city. Edinburgh has a lot of geological information, including the Local Geodiversity Sites.
Charlie Peel’s bright, bold design and colours are appealing and differentiate these maps from the standard topo maps. While the overprinting of some of the more ‘neon’ colour palate elements on some backgrounds can be a bit dazzling to the eye, this is a minor personal quibble. The folded maps retail for £9.99 or £15 for the two from the urban good site but other retailers do stock them. Having just checked, the Edinburgh map is already into a second printing, so can only be pre-ordered at the moment.
The maps are produced at 1:20000 and have similar dimensions as a folded OS map. Good quality paper they feel robust but they do strike me as planning tools, rather than a map for the pack or pannier, and I can imagine the flat ones being mounted on walls in libraries, schools or community centres in the way that the relevant OS sheet awaits the visitor in the foyer outdoor centres or bunkhouses across Scotland. Perhaps the backpacker hostels will start having these in Edinburgh and Glasgow in future alongside the other tourist maps.