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 or wild camp.

The Dorrigo 3D Lake District Map

When I was doing the Wainwrights, I bought a Dorrigo Raised Lake District Relief map. This old 3D relief map, sized 670 x 760mm, looked great on the inside wall of my unfinished camper-van, stuck on with gaffer tape!!!

The New Dorrigo 3D Relief Map of the Lake District

Dorrigo has replaced the old 3D map with one based on Ordnance Survey data, i.e. it looks just like the OS map – the maps you should be using in the hills. On a 1:60,000 scale, you can relate more to the map you’ll take with you into the mountains..

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 excited about doing the Wainwrights back home or at night time in the camper-van.

Linking mountain tops in one hike

Ridge walking makes it’s quite ‘easy’ to walk a number of Wainwright tops in one continuous walk. Wainwright himself included suggested ridge walks in each chapter of his books. 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, as Stuart Marshall did in his book, there is a ‘wee depression’ between the two and attempting such a route is a killer. Consulting the Dorrigo map, or being good at interpreting contours on a 2D 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 that day that I would make a purchase the following day.

After buying the Dorrigo Raised Relief Lake District 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 and the tops west of Ennerdale. It cost thousands to make the map so don’t be holding out buying one for when version 3 appears.

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! And let’s face it, we love talking about hiking in the Lakes!

Buy a framed Dorrigo 3D Lake District Map Here

If you need a frame for your old map you can get one here…

Old Dorrigo 3D Lake District Map Frame

Maps To Take On To The Mountains

There have been numerous maps produced through the years for the Lake District. Wainwright used the ‘Mile Per Inch’ map but 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 OS 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.

Limited edition Blencathra maps
Limited edition Blencathra maps

Some prefer a Harvey’s map, waterproof as standard! The fact that there is less detail is a turn on for them – less detail, 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 of the Lake District are:

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

Get your Ordnance Survey Maps here.

Ordnance Survey Online

Plotting your Wainwrights’ routes at home could not be easier than with Ordnance Survey Online maps. I wrote a separate article on this, take a look.

OS Maps Online

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).

Satmap Active 12 on the Coledale Horseshoe
Satmap Active 12 on the Coledale Horseshoe

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.

Happy adventures.