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Once in a while, something new comes along which makes me seethingly jealous that I hadn’t thought of it before, and HandiHikes is one of those ideas.
I’m a bit of a map obsessive. I have an Ordnance Survey plan of my local area on my wall and absolutely love scouring it for interesting pathways and things to go and see. And whenever I go somewhere new I love to get my bearings by peering at a map when I arrive. Alas though, I can’t afford a full set of OS Explorer maps (£8 each or £14 for the waterproof ‘Active’ version).
What HandiHikes have done is re-produce a small section of OS Explorer (25000:1 scale, so you can see footpaths and features really easily) on a waterproof, fold-out map, and they’ve marked on it a selection of 3 or 4 pre-walked routes for you to follow. With very easy to read written instructions for each walk, what you’re getting is a very local, recently researched guidebook for under £4.50. Sounds great, so we put one to the test.
At the recent Keswick Mountain Festival, we found ourselves with a few hours to spare and a HandiHike entitled “Walks from Keswick” in our pocket, so we struck off on one of the routes.
Each route on a HandiHike is graded between Easy, Moderate and Hard, and given an overview along the lines of:
Route 2: … 6.5 miles, 3-4 hours, on good paths which are sometimes steep(ish)
The descriptions are accurate enough that you can be confident of what you’re committing to before you leave base.
I’m able to read a map sufficiently enough to find where I am and follow a path, so we started off by following the well-marked route on the map rather than the written instructions. The 25000:1 scale is really easy to follow and once you’ve got a handle on the scale of the map you can predict what’s coming up on the route really easily. The map printing is excellent and there’s no question of the marked route being vague.
Switching half-way through to the written instructions, these are very well written and informative, but open to some interpretation (“Keep following the path through the woods” – we found multiple paths, so had to reference the map for the correct one) so I found myself referring to the map as well. Not a problem, but it indicates that at least some ability to read a map would be Handi!
The walk was easy to follow and, although we cut it short due to time restraints, we felt that it was accurate in terms of time and effort. And in fact, we were able to cut it short easily because of the full mapping.
On the back of each HandiHike is a quick guide to reading a map, using a compass and how to stay safe in the trail. There’s also a key to the OS map’s features, so if you’ve not seen one before you can tell what you’re looking at. I’d say that would make it excellent for map-skilled tourists, as well as OS-familiar Brits.
HandiHikes currently cover 60 walks in 18 guides across the English Lake District (Cumbria). The guys are working on other areas (The Peak District etc) and I greatly admire that the HandiHikes team have actually walked every single one of their routes in order to write an accurate guide.
For £4.50 per guide, I happen to think that the HandiHikes are excellent value. If you already own an OS map of the Lake District, then perhaps the routes marked could be some inspiration for a walk. And if you’re new to the area, then they’re certainly an excellent idea to get you immersed in the locality.
SUMMARY: HandiHikes guides are really neat. They fold down to fit in a pocket (smartphone size), are waterproof and you get detailed OS mapping for a 25-30 sq.KM area as well as three or four well-researched routes. Some map-reading skills might be useful, but you do get a written guide on using an OS map if you need it. Each guide is simply written, with easy-to-read fonts and sections. A great idea for tourists, those searching for interesting walks or maybe even DoE Award candidates who don’t require a full OS map.
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