I have always liked maps. And I have always been a little sorry for people who had the misfortune to live in places mapped by lesser agencies than the Ordnance Survey. OS maps have always felt almost more real than the reality they represented. Had anybody asked me whether I thought they were completely free of error, of course I would have said no – a moment’s thought about the complexity and level of detail involved shows that it could not be otherwise – but nobody ever did ask, and it never crossed my mind that reality would have the temerity to diverge from the stipulations of the map.
Until, that is, I found two very clear cartographic mistakes while walking the London Loop. The second was the more amusing, with paths confidently leading straight out across a lake. Before I got there, I assumed that there must be some kind of causeway not clearly marked. But there wasn’t, there was just water. I wrote at the time about how that must have come about. What’s interesting now is that OS have – sort of – fixed it.
The first map is as it was a year ago, with the paths careering across the lake. The second is as it now shows on the OS website. It’s a pretty minimal change, with the bits actually over the water tippexed out, but still with odd stubs pointing to the long-vanished bridge over the long-diverted river, and with one path still overshooting the bank. But in doing that, the continuity of the right of way has been broken and that of the Loop with it. Maybe that’s an accurate reflection of a failure formally to divert the rights of way when the lake was created, maybe it’s just an oversight. And in practice it doesn’t matter in the slightest, since this is all in the uninspiringly named Roding Valley Recreation Ground, so nobody is going to build a fence.
Meanwhile, the removal of the green dashes reveals more clearly the black dots marking the boundary between the civil parishes of Loughton, Chigwell and Buckhurst Hill – still following the course of the River Roding as it was before the lake was there at all. In some small ways the reality of the map really does take precedence over the reality of what is mapped.