I think it essential to provide a route map to give readers an idea of the location of the route and its features. I don't intend these maps to be followed on the journey. For that I think you need to transcribe the route on to an Ordnance Survey map and use that as your guide to route finding. I also use services that provide input to a GPS device so you can use that if you wish. Personally I always prefer the printed map and my skill as a map reader.
As on-line mapping services are always changing this page is always a work in progress. If you want to share your own views please do so.
To begin with I drew the maps as sketch maps using a vector graphics programme. Inkscape is a good example. As a result the sketch map is easy to scale and adapt. However, these maps are not much use if you want to follow the route accurately. To do that you need a real map. I still prepare hand drawn maps as a summary and sometimes for detailed explanations of the features you can find on the route, but now the best option is to select from the range of on-line mapping tools available, and draw the route map online. Unfortunately none of them are perfect from my point of view.
These are the options I have tried :
Things I know about but have not tried in any depth :
One of the advantages of these services is that they open your routes to a wider public, but you need to be aware of the risk of transferring intellectual property rights to the service.
My preferred choice is a combination, OS Get-a-map and the "MyPlaces" feature of Google Local. Once I have given BikeHike a go, I might use that in preference to Google.
Get-a-map provides 1:25,000 mapping, which is essential for walking, and is easy to use. Creating routes on Google Local is easy, it is possible to show alternatives and there are several useful icons that can be employed. Google Local also links into services such as Picasa and Wikipedia to provide photos, videos and local information. So far so good. However, while Google Maps shows roads and some tracks it does not show footpaths, public bridleways and cycle routes. The best that can be achieved is overlaying the route on the aerial photography. As I try to use off-road and quiet routes as much as possible, route finding requires good mapping provided by the accuracy of an Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale map. Therefore if you really want to trace the route properly it will be necessary to use the Google Maps in conjunction with an Ordnance Survey map, preferrably 1:25,000 scale.
The first option is to buy the appropriate Ordnance Survey map. This has the advantage that you can carry it with you on the journey and it doesn't need batteries. But there is the expense and you do have to go through the trouble of purchasing the map either on-line or at a shop. I also find handling such a map a bit of a nuisance, even when you remove the cover, as I do. My solution is to photocopy the part of the map that covers the route and work from that, but still take the proper map with me as a "backup". I believe this is "fair use" if it is for your own private purpose. In my case, by the time the journey is over, the copied maps are dog-eared and pretty useless, ending up in the waste paper recycling box.
The second option is a GPS with associated Ordnance Survey mapping and PC software. The route can be transcribed using the PC software and uploaded to the GPS.
Third, you can use some on-line mapping services that provide access to the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps. The obvious choice is the "Getamap" online mapping service run by the Ordnance Survey. This is free, but there is also an enhanced service if you become a subscriber. I subscribe to this enhanced service so I can record routes on OS maps, with the added advantage that the route can be downloaded to a GPS. Unfortunately the "Getamap" route drawing features are not as useful as those provided by Google Maps. It is also not clear to me as to whether encoding routes in this way is passing the copyright to The Ordnance Survey. [Getamap is not compatible with Linux sytems as it uses Silverlight: I use Linux and Mac OS.]
Bing Maps also provides free access to the 1:25,000 OS mapping. The OS Maps do not seem to work with Linux Firefox but they visible using Google Chromium, Safari or Opera. Exploring this option is something for the future.
Another source of OS 1:25,000 mapping is the Sustrans mapping service. For cycling routes, this should really be the ideal place. The mapping uses OS 1:25,000 as a faint background image and overlays cycle routes, known cycle paths and bridleways. The problem is that in a web browser the area displayed is small which makes it difficult to navigate. However, this service is extremely useful when planning and recording cycling routes.
There are other services such as Bikely and MapMyRide. I have submitted a route to Bikely but they have a strange policy for accepting a map into their system and frankly I don't have time to wait until they will accept a route or not.
So to sum up :
Open Access -- As a last point, when choosing a route, there are some mapping services which show where you can go. Local authorities make copies of their Definitive Rights of Way mapping available on-line. Here is an example for North Yorkshire. Note that these are not the actual definitive maps and may therefore not be completely up to date, but it can be a useful resource. In addition, in England and Wales, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 has allowed the designation of Open Access Land. Within certain restrictions the public can freely access this land. Information about access and maps showing the open access land are accessible through Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales. Open Access Land is also shown on modern editions of Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps and the "Getamap" service.
Access to land in Scotland is governed by a completely different approach : the Right to Roam.
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