Modern Britain is not short of hazardous places – like motorways, landfill sites, and army shooting ranges. This is why routes are so important: they offer pilgrims safe passage, guiding them on the best path via holy places toward a wonderful destination.
But even if you are following a pilgrimage route, it is usually not enough to rely on way-marking 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.
The future (and, for many, the present!) of British pilgrimage mapping is digital. That is because most people in the UK carry a smartphone, and most smartphones contain a GPS chip. And such a phone, most likely yours, can download an app to store maps offline, making your phone into a map that tells you where you are! Imagine how pilgrims of the past dreamed of such a thing – it is Harry Potterishly good! And because the GPS chip works separately to the other parts of the phone, you don’t need mobile or data signal, and GPS still works fine almost everywhere – except caves, deep valleys, and certain churches.
The only peril is power. Watch the battery, as constantly checking your location is pretty draining. Best practice is to carry an external battery pack, and to turn your ‘cellular data’ setting off, because you don’t need 3G/4G. Or Wi-Fi. Or Bluetooth. Even if you turn it onto Airplane Mode the GPS still works, but the most convenient power-saving solution is to turn off WiFi and Bluetooth, leaving Cellular Data on, because then you can still receive phone calls. And if you do run out of power, head for the pub or nearest church spire.
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. Knowing you can always find the path lets you roam off it with greater freedom. You can get lost in the woods, always knowing you can find your way back.
Download an App
There are a number of apps offering offline digital map navigation for smartphones. For the gold standard of mapping, we recommend Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps website and app. At £24.99 per year, this subscription-based service allows you to browse the latest 1:25 and 1:50 maps (and larger scales too) for all of Britain, and import the GPX routes files from our website into the app (although only the route tracks, not the individual waypoints). You can also download KML files from the Google Maps on our website too which work with some applications. By subscribing, you will always have the latest OS Maps on your phone. You can search for locations, and draw and edit your own routes.
There is another called Guru Maps, which uses Open Street Map maps – these show public footpaths, and are in some ways more detailed than OS Maps and constantly updated by the general public. You can download Guru Maps app for Apple iOS and Google Android here. Guru is free to download, but there’s a subscription to the Pro version if you download more than 15 routes. Friends of the BPT get 30% off the Pro yearly subscription.
There is also a cheaper app called OsmAnd.
For Apple iOS on iPhones
Click for Guru Maps app step-by-step image-led instructions here. OS Maps and OsmAnd will also have their own instructions.
For Google Android on Android Smartphones
How to load a GPX route from the BPT website
For downloading the GPX file, which will draw the route for you onto your mapping app, follow steps 1-5 in the iPhone guide displayed below. Then, for Android, follow the steps under sub-menu ‘Importing KML/KPZ/GPX files’ for the Guru Maps app, and for Apple iOS, here.
1. Go to a route page. Tap the ‘Click to download route/s in GPX file format for your smartphone’s map app’ button.
2. You will be directed to our website’s ‘Download Routes’ page.
3. You need to fill in the form asking you various questions.
4. Then once you have clicked the button ‘Click to Receive GPX file…’, go to your phone’s email browser, and open the ‘Your GPX Downloads’ email and click on one of the files, or press and hold finger on file icon to reveal pop-up menu in Step 6.
5. If the following screen occurs, click the tray icon in top right corner and then find the mapping app you have downloaded onto your phone in order to open the file. You may need to click the ‘More’ tab and scroll down to the find your app.
For OS Maps, NB: clicking the tab ‘Offline Maps’ does not show your routes, even if they are imported – instead you must click ‘Routes’.
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! Practice 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 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 compromise. 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 once you are on the path, and engage more with the land and holy places you encounter.