Modern Britain is not short of hazardous places – like motorways, landfill sites, and army shooting ranges. This is why Great Routes are so important – they offer pilgrims safe passage, guiding them on the best path via holy places toward a wonderful culmination. But even if you are following a Great Route, it is usually not enough to rely on waymarking on the ground. Little discs on wooden poles every few hundred metres are easily missed, and a footpath can be quickly confused with a well-used animal track. So navigation – taking responsibility for knowing where you are and which way to go – is absolutely vital if you are not to end up down a badger set or cul-de-sac.
Historical pilgrims of the past no doubt followed the straight main routes to their holy places, like Chaucer’s pilgrims. This is partly why a site like Canterbury was so popular in the Medieval pilgrimage tradition – because it had a Roman road connecting it to London, making it pretty hard to get lost, at a time when even slightly off-track could be a dangerous place to be.
But today few pilgrims want to preserve historic accuracy to the degree of walking beside a main-road all the way. Modern tarmac (iron slag in tar) is not made for human legs and feet but for the smooth roll of rubber on metal. And modern traffic volumes are a unique phenomenon of history. Walking along main roads today is noisy, smelly and painful – the very opposite of what a pilgrimage should be.
This is why the BPT recommends pilgrimage routes that follow footpaths and by-ways instead of roads. And it’s why our routes sometimes don’t take the straight path, but go the long and incredible way instead.
Footpaths go the places cars cannot reach – which is perfect for pilgrimage. Following footpaths through rural landscapes immerses pilgrims in creation, not just witnessing the natural world but being part of it. Such a world has been going on forever, and in reality stakes it trumps the concerns of Social Media, Pensions and Inboxes. Outside, on the ground, the old green reality sings on. And to find your way on foot through this pilgrims’ land of Britain, you need a map.
The future of British pilgrimage mapping is digital. Let us explain: Most people in the UK carry a smartphone. And most smartphones contain a GPS chip. Ask Google if yours does. If so, your phone can download an app to store OS maps offline. Your phone then becomes a map that tells you where you are! Imagine how pilgrims of the past dreamed of such a thing – it is Harry Potterish in scope! And because the GPS chip works seperately to the other parts of the phone, you don’t need mobile signal or wifi connection, and GPS still works fine almost everywhere – except caves, deep valleys, and certain churches.
The only peril is power – watch to the battery, as constantly checking your location is pretty draining. Best practise is to carry an external battery pack. And if you do run out of power, head for the nearest church spire. They have power points for the cleaner’s hoover. Also, remember to turn off other power-draining settings – search how on google.
Some folks worry that smartphone mapping removes the freedom of pilgrim navigation, the sense of being able to roam innocently and get lost when needed. But we claim the very opposite – that knowing you can always find your way back to the path lets you enjoy a far greater sense of freedom. It lets you get lost in the woods, wandering freely, always knowing you can find your way back. It opens the landscape, to help you roam with confidence, whilst always remaining essentially ‘on track’.
There are a number of Apps offering this service, but the best is probably the Ordnance Survey’s offering – OS Mapfinder. You can download it for FREE for Apple, Android or Kindle – HERE. But though the App is free, the maps are not. And OS are far from the cheapest option. But this App is well-built, simple to use and reliable, and as such we recommend it. In terms of map-pricing, buying by tile is not a good idea – enough 1:25,000 map tiles for a 12 mile walk – 3 tiles – costs almost £7. while the lower scale 1:50,000 maps cost around £2.50. A much better bargain is to buy the entire region in 1:50,000 – for £10.49. Let us explain how:
How to install OS Mapfinder & Get the Right Maps
The following guide uses imagery taken from an iOS (Apple) device. We appreciate that different devices can look different – however, this should suffice as a guide to most scenarios.
1. Goto the iTunes App Store (or Google Play Store). Search for “Mapfinder”. Install the App.
2. Open the Mapfinder App. You will see a map displaying your location in the form of a little blue circle. There you are! But this map is pretty vague, so you’ll need to download a better one…
3. Press the Menu button on the top-left, and the animated concertina-effect springs into action. Press ‘Buy Maps’.
4. At first you are presented with a choice of tiles. This is the piecemeal and expensive way to buy maps, but for a short route using 1:25,000 scale it may work out cheap enough. At the top of the screen, however, you will see the options of Regions / Parks / Tiles. To buy in bulk, press ‘Regions’.
5. Choose the region in which your desired pilgrimage route occurs. Let’s assume this is for a route to Canterbury. Good choice! Press England South East.
6. This is the best value way to download digital mapping, covering a vast swathe of the country for a single fee. Press the yellow ‘Pick Map’ button to see the price…
7. £10.49 buys you a lot of maps. Buying the same in individual tiles would be many times more expensive. This might look like a lot to pay for an App – but consider it rather as a big pile of OS maps that a. won’t blow away, b. know where you are, and c. sit in your pocket and weigh nothing! In truth, it is an amazing bargain, and once you realise what you have, you’ll not be sad for the investment.
8. Do the passwords and money stuff. We assume you have this already set up. For help doing so, talk to your phone people.
10. Success. The money will disappear instantly, and in its place will appear a downloaded OS map, which will endure as long as your device.
11. The cloud-with-arrow-descending button indicates you are ready to download. Press the button, and it will swirl to denote downloading. You do need a data connection for this – 4G, 3G or WIFI. Make sure to actually download the map before going on pilgrimage, or the map might remain in the cloud, and not on your device. Bring it down properly! Make sure you have done this by scrolling over the entire map area, to be cerain it has arrived.
12. You can see here the difference in the mapping you have paid for compared to the free maps.
13. One great advantage of OS Mapfinder is that maps are automatically HD – high definition – which means you can zoom right in. This makes following a route with GPS especially easy. To locate yourself, press the button in the bottom right, and a small icon will appear telling you exactly where you are. Miraculous!
How to load a Pilgrimage GPX route onto OS Mapfinder
- Go to a Great Route page. Press on the GPX download button
2. This will open up the route as lots of computer code writing. You need to press the top-right ‘box-with-arrow’ button.
3. Next, press the ‘Open In…’ button that appears.
4. Choose the ‘Copy to OS Mapfinder’ option – and the GPX route will load on the App.
5. Success. The route is now stored on the memory of your smartphone, and requires no more wi-fi or mobile signal to use.
6. Press the top-left Menu button, and ‘View Trails’.
7. Select your chosen pilgrimage route – in this case, Wye to Canterbury.
8. Your route will be displayed on the map. Zoom in to see this over your new maps – or to let you see which new maps you require…
Good luck and enjoy.
The most-recently traditional way to navigate is using paper sheet maps, produced by Ordnance Survey (OS). These are simply excellent maps. Buying (or borrowing) them, pondering them, and learning to use them is a worthwhile journey of its own. Maps are artworks, ink on wood-pulp, giving you an eagle’s view of the land. A compass helps a lot too. If you want to maintain this paper tradition of maps, get reading – practise is essential. There are various navigation courses available, but nothing beats trying and getting lost.
To use paper maps, you will need all the individual maps required for the route you are following. In the 1:50,000 scale – the pink ‘Landranger’ – each map costs £8. This scale is good enough to walk with, but has limitations – no marking of field margins, no marking of holy wells and springs, and no marking of the smaller paths. But in their favour, each Landranger map covers a wide area, so for a long route you will carry considerably fewer maps.
The 1:25,000 scale maps are far superior – twice as good! They show holy wells and springs, as well as field margins. These orange ‘Explorer’ maps cover a smaller area, so you need to carry more, or find new ones more frequently. But their information is much clearer and more detailed. Each map costs around £9. OS updates these maps yearly, to take into account new roads, diverted footpaths and closed pubs. So it is always worth getting the newest maps possible. Don’t rely on charity shop ones from the 1970s.
Using paper maps to navigate the pilgrimage routes described on this website is a manual task – you will have to copy them out by hand. Even if a pilgrim route is already marked on the OS map, it is always a good exercise to go over the whole thing slowly. Look carefully at the route markings on this website, and copy them in soft pencil onto your own paper maps. We have provided clear and accurate routes on the OS 1:50,000 scale, and also on Google satellite maps.
Using paper maps allows you to get a sense of the landscape in a very wide context. But be careful – if it rains, the details will get soggy – and if it’s windy, you’ll certainly experience interference. You’ll find a plastic map protector a crucial addition…
Mix and Match
You may like to use computer AND paper mapping – a good compromise – by subscribing to Ordnance Survey’s OS MAPS website. At £19.99 per year, this allows you to browse the latest 1:25 and 1:50 maps (and larger scales too) for all of Britain. You can search for locations, and draw and edit your own routes. Also, you can import the GPX files from this website, then print out the routes in A4 pages. This could save lots of money, and prevent you from carrying maps for places you aren’t going to. You could also potentially laminate each A4 printout using office equipment, to make them wind and water proof.
Even if you wish to carry full paper maps, having access to OS Maps Online will allow you to go over the GPX routes provided by this website visualised on the newest 1:25,000 maps. This will give you a greater understanding of the route you will be walking. Familiarising yourself with the route before you walk it means you can worry less about navigation and engage more with the land and holy places you encounter. Pilgrimage need not be an orienteering challenge.