GPS mapping with iOS and Google Earth

The past few weeks, i’ve been playing around with a freebie mapping app called ‘Outside Maps‘ ‘ which displays open ordnance survey maps on my iPhone and used in conjunction with my phone’s compass and GPS functions which is proving to be an invaluable aid whilst out walking. The app has a whole list of features including setting waypoints and offline map pack downloads in the event that mobile or 3G signal is weak.

You can’t beat having a proper map with you though and I usually like to carry an appropriate OS Explorer map with me but having a little GPS ‘me’ moving along the map as I walk the route and having a directional indicator is rather fun!

I recently picked up a new walking book called the Robin Hood Way which details the 105 mile 18 stage walk from Nottingham Castle to Sherwood Forest, taking in many of the historical sites and countryside along the way. The book also contains 14 circular routes and and it’s one of these that I thought I’d use to test out the app.

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Prior to heading out, I looked up the route area on the map, went to the offline download section and installed map tile packs for the area. They correspond to the Ordnance Survey maps and therefore are quite easy to figure out which are the current ones to get. Also, there’s a handy radius feature so for example, setting the slider to 10 miles will list will all tiles within a 10 mile radius from your current (or starting) position.

Data is supplied by the Ordanance Surveys OpenSpace and OpenMap initiatives which doesn’t have the same level of details right down to field boundaries like the OS Explorer range, but i’d say that they were on par with the OS Landranger series. Using the book as guide i placed various waypoints onto the map and although they might be slightly off course I would relocate any waypoints en route by simply tapping and dragging them around the map.

At the start position, I dropped a waypoint on the map and headed out to the next one via the rather handy ‘To next waypoint’ feature that gives you a compass bearing and indication on distance which counts down as you get closer. Along the way (and avoiding any encounters with ‘his band of merry men), i moved and added more waypoints to mark areas of interest and reference for when i walk this route again. Very handy for the amateur photographer!

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The route itself uses a section of the Robin Hood trail which is well known and clearly marked through Fountain Dale, the alleged home of Friar Tuck and the place where he and Robin Hood met, fought and became lifelong friends. Further on as I leave the trail, the way becomes a little unclear and so I had to resort to the paper map to double check the app map due to the lack of detail. With the waypoints already entered and the compass to guide the way, you could quite happily rely on the app alone. However for me, who didn’t want to be trudging around looking for an overgrown trail or a hidden stile, I much preferred the OS Explorer map. Besides, those clouds behind me were chasing.

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Stopping next to a small nature reserves to watch unknown black and white birds hover and perform aerial acrobats over the ploughed fields.

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One of the beauties of modern technology and signal coverage means that one has the internet in the palm of ones hand and can use it out in the field…and so i did, Mr Google says that they were Lapwings!

After 4 hours of great walking and thankful that the clouds gave up chase, i arrived back at the start of the trail and eye-spied the refreshments cabin for bacon cobs and hot coffee.

Back home, I’ve used another feature of the app to export the waypoint GPS data (in the form of a .gpx file) and transfered it to my PC. You can either email the file to yourself via the in app mail client or copy the file to DropBox).

Using something like Google Earth, i can then import the data, amend the waypoints, add further notes and tag photos before saving for future use (or indeed share with other walkers).

My route in Google Earth.

On the iPad’s larger screen the app really is a pleasure to use – although you might need to tether an iphone if your iPad isn’t a GPS model. I also read that you can can import .gpx data into the app, but as of yet, i can’t figure out how to do it. Can anyone help?

O.k sure, so Outside Maps can’t compete with the zoom detail you find on the genuine Ordnance Survey apps but bearing mind that this is a completely free app, unlike the others that are very expensive, save yourself a bit of cash, try it out for yourself on a known route and buy some new walking boots instead 🙂

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