Mountain Days | Navigation

3 Essential Maps for Walking The Wainwrights

If you’ve taken on the challenge of ‘Walking The Wainwrights’ of the Lake District you will have realised that eventually you must buy some maps and learn how to use them properly. Below I reveal the maps I used whilst planning routes around the Wainwrights (having completed all 214 fells) and why, as a qualified Mountain Leader, I still use certain ones on every hike.

The Dorrigo Raised Relief Lake District Map

The Dorrigo Raised Lake District Relief map is a 3D map sized 825x740mm and looks nice attached to the wall of your unfinished camper-van with gaffer tape!!! Even better, you can buy it already framed ready to go on the wall.

Raised relief essentially means bumpy. Well, my children call it ‘the bumpy map’. It’s great for showing you a bit of vertical reality when it comes to linking the Wainwrights into longer hikes, in fact it’s really played a pivotal part in getting the kids exited about doing the Wainwrights back home or at night time in the camper-van.

Ridge walking makes it’s quite ‘easy’ to walk a number of Wainwright tops in one continuous walk. A great example of this is the Fairfield Horseshoe. I did this walk in the summer of 2015 and included Stone Arthur, topping nine mountains in a matter of hours. When it comes to linking fells that are not part of a continuing ridge Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells comes in no help, he only advises on the ascent to a neighbouring fell along a ridge.

Now, this map doesn’t do that either exactly but it does show you visually in three dimensions that when you link Raven Crag (at the top of Thirlmere) to Bleaberry Fell there is a wee depression between the two. Consulting the Ordinance Survey map you would realise that only a fool would do these two fells ‘at the start’ of a walk – I am that fool, it was before I owned a Dorrigo Map and I swore blind I would make a purchase the following day.

Dorrigo relief map of the Lake DistrictDorrigo relief map of the Lake District
Dorrigo relief map of the Lake District

After buying this map I can make more realistic Wainwright routes and enjoy the Wainwrights even more. You get a better idea of what fells join other fells, you can clearly see ridge walks with Wainwrights that link up to others.

There is one problem!

The Dorrigo map doesn’t include all of the Wainwrights. There are a few in the Northern Fells that have been omitted. A spokesperson at Dorrigo said there’s no plan to change the map in the near future. They would have to redo the mould and print.

Putting that flaw aside it’s a great map, everyone Walking The Wainwrights should own one I think.

The best thing about the map is that if you have one on your wall your guests will always ask you loads of questions about your walks in the Lake District!

Ordnance Survey sell them with free delivery here – Dorrigo 3D Lake District Relief Map.

Maps To Take On To The Mountains

There have been numerous maps produced through the years for the Lake District. Of course things change so maps need updating. Ordnance Survey do a very good job of keeping the Explorer maps on point as do Harveys but for me the 1:25k ‘Active’ Explorer (waterproof) is king. As a Mountain Leader and teacher of navigation I love to see the detail on the landscape reflected on the paper and the Harvey’s map just doesn’t do that for me.

Some prefer a Harvey’s map, waterproof as standard! The fact that there is less detail is a turn on for them, less confusion, I can understand that, each to their own.

Whichever map you choose, you’ll need a set of four to cover all of the Lake District.

The four OS maps are:

  • OL4 (North Western)
  • OL5 (North Eastern)
  • OL6 (South Western)
  • OL7 (South Eastern)

Go to Ordnance Survey Maps.

GPS – Global Positioning System

A good GPS can be an amazing tool on the fells. I’ve not used many because before I went shopping for one I got lost in fog and swore I would just buy the best one I could find. The reviews pointed to the SatMap Active 12 (it’s been updated to the Active 20 since).

With the Lake District 1:25k Explorer maps (familiar mapping instead of it’s own maps you don’t understand) on a SD card I was sorted and it got me out of a lot of scrapes until I realised that to use a GPS properly, that is not just use it to show you where you are but be able to identify what should be around you, I should really learn to read a map and navigate properly by myself.

A good GPS unit will tell you clearly:

  • Where you are
  • Your grid reference
  • The distance travelled
  • Your ascent on the route you have completed
  • Your highest point
  • More is a bonus

The SatMap Active 12 is available at a much reduced price now. It comes with loads of accessories, most of which will actually just sit in a drawer somewhere like the bulky waterproof case (my unit saw LOTS of rain in our two years together!). Oh, another great option is that it takes AA batteries if the proper battery dies and you can’t charge it (cheaper to carry AA batteries than buy a £30 spare eh?).

You can plot a route and follow a route but I never spent time working out how to, just needed it to tell me where I was and what was nearby. The most useful bit for me was it telling me the ascent and distance I’d travelled.

3 Reasons To Visit Ordnance Survey Website:

  1. SatMap Active 12 – £269.99 (£400 on SatMap website!)
  2. Lake District set of 4 Explorer maps on SD
  3. Coast to Coast set of Explorer 1:25k on SD

I’m not going to commit to saying it’s the best GPS but it certainly did everything I needed it to do.

In Conclusion

At the end of the day, we don’t just use one map for everything. Sometimes you want to see the bigger picture, a 3D representation, sometimes you need tech to help out. As long as we get to where we want to be AND get back safely in one piece it doesn’t matter how we do it. There is no right and no wrong, as long as it’s working for you in the long term don’t let anybody tell you there is.

I would say however that just because what you do works on a nice sunny warm day doesn’t mean that when the weather changes and you end up in fog and rain trying to get off the fells, that your chosen method will work for you. I strongly recommend you learn how to use (and always carry) the correct map and a compass; and funnily enough I teach navigation so get yourself on one of my Navigation & Map Reading Workshops.

Happy adventures.