After I was residing in Yemen in the course of the 1980s, somebody gave me a battered outdated map. Info was scarce then, and correct maps have been extraordinarily onerous to come back by. So departing expatriates tended to go on any treasures to new arrivals. As he did so, my benefactor paused. “Watch out,” he mentioned, “You don’t wish to get caught with this.”
Maps, you see, could be harmful. I consider this after I meet Martin Greenaway, a cartographer at Stanfords in London. Martin is sitting by a few laptop screens behind a treasure trove of maps: tables lined in huge vibrant nations, wall racks groaning with continents, drawers full of cities and mountain ranges. Stanfords has been making maps because the mid-1850s, and has operated from this purpose-built web site on London’s Lengthy Acre since 1901. Now it’s shifting on – opening new premises in close by Mercer Stroll on 10 January.
Martin laughs at my Yemen story. “A buyer got here in and instructed us how, within the 1970s, he pulled out a 1:50,000 map on a bus and received into bother with a Spanish secret policeman sitting subsequent to him. Now we promote those self same maps to walkers.”
And do many nonetheless purchase them, I ask. Isn’t the web killing the paper map?
“GPS and Google have definitely eaten into the market,” he says, “However I believe paper goes to make a comeback. You simply can’t orientate your self as effectively with a handheld machine.”

Martin Greenaway within the map room at Stanfords Lengthy Acre retailer. {Photograph}: Kevin Rushby for the Guardian
A part of the explanation for this doable comeback is that Stanfords can now print any map you want, centred on the place you select, at a scale that fits your objective. Martin takes me by means of the method. “You know the way the hike you need is usually on the be part of between two or extra maps? We merely re-centre it and print it for you.”
I’m reminded of the OS Explorer maps for the Lake District. 4 sheets, all of which handle to fail miserably for anybody doing a stroll centred on the place they meet, roughly Grasmere Widespread. Now there’s an answer for somebody like myself, a folded paper aficionado.
And who buys such maps?
“All kinds: a person who was researching an historic pilgrim footpath in Italy received me to create an entire new map for it; a canoeist doing the Yukon River wanted one thing comparable. We get householders who’re in boundary disputes, pilots – and lots of people who can’t get maps in their very own nation.”
That pursuits me. A few years in the past I purchased a map in Stanfords for a journey in Sudan. I knew I wouldn’t discover something prefer it as soon as I used to be there. Repressive regimes world wide have at all times needed to restrict cartographic freedom.
Martin nods. “We had one man who needed a avenue map of Homs in Syria.”

Maps and guidebooks at Stanfords’ new London retailer on Mercer Stroll
In a time when information are to be treasured, maybe paper maps have actual significance, recording as they do a model of the reality much less prone to tampering and fakery.
Martin shortly demonstrates the alternatives and limitations of digital mapping by pulling up all the data he has on Yemen’s capital, Sana’a. It’s not quite a bit. “That is Open Road Map, an internet site that makes use of GPS information from contributors’ telephones to construct maps.”
Dwelling in on our personal present location and the standard is nice: each store and alleyway in London’s Covent Backyard is precisely plotted. Transfer to North Yorkshire and a footpath I’ve lately walked within the Howardian Hills is completely absent.

Yemen as seen utilizing the Open Road Map web site. {Photograph}: Open Road Map
Not that paper is infallible. The Ramblers is at the moment operating a volunteer mission referred to as Don’t Lose Your Manner, the aim of which is to get better misplaced rights of manner that by some means did not make it on to maps. Its conservative estimate is that England and Wales are at the moment lacking about 10,000 miles of footpaths on what are supposed to be the definitive maps. These are held by all native councils and utilized by organisations together with Ordnance Survey.
Martin himself clearly delights within the new know-how however his love of paper has a sensible side. “I educated as a pilot after I was a young person and we nonetheless want these paper maps.”
He flies quite a bit in Canada, relishing the distant areas the place many lakes stay unnamed, and the place if geographical options have a reputation, they have a tendency in the direction of the weird. “My favorite is an escarpment in Alberta referred to as Head Smashed In Buffalo Leap. Thoughts you, the UK is fairly good: you’ve received locations corresponding to Chilly Christmas and Unthank.” To which I can add, from private expertise, Wetwang and Slack Backside.

For Stanfords’ Martin Greenaway the mix of a paper map and a GPS machine (plus a compass) stay key. {Photograph}: Alamy
We undergo the method of printing a map: I select an OS Explorer-style manufacturing with my very own home bang within the center. Helpful for walks straight from the door. Martin bumps up the size a bit. “It’s wonderful how far more you see in a map when the size is modified from 25,000 to 12,000. There’s no extra data – we are able to’t add that – however you do spot stuff you’d beforehand missed.”
We transfer to the formidable printing machine and cargo up with the paper of my alternative, then watch as woods, streets and rivers roll out. Subsequent to us is the map of London’s streets that taxi drivers use when studying The Information.
“Individuals nonetheless do it?”
“Oh sure. We promote lots of these.”
This formidable process is all of the extra fascinating at a time when the consequences of the digital period on people’ psychological map skills have gotten obvious. A latest examine on the College of Montreal discovered that some video video games that relied on non-spatial methods might scale back development within the hippocampus, an all-important area for psychological mapping. The hazards of digital maps, it appears, may very well be inside your personal head, relatively than within the secret policeman sitting subsequent to you.
Martin retains each choices. “I at all times carry a GPS, a paper map and a compass.”
I ask if he has a favorite map.
“Stanford’s 1871 world map, displaying the commerce winds.” He fishes out a duplicate from one of many wall racks and we gaze in marvel on the colors and textures. “It’s a murals.”
It appears that evidently paper maps will at all times trump digital in a single necessary respect: magnificence.
• Stanfords customised OS 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 scale maps on A1 paper price from £24.99
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