A familiar phrase …. based on the medieval practice of putting dragons and all other kinds of creatures (real or imagined), in the uncharted areas of maps.
Cartography, or map making, which has had a long and fascinating history over the centuries, has often in the past given more scope to artistic licence than accuracy.
From Ptolemy in the 2nd century, via efforts such as Hereford Cathedral’s ‘Mappa Mundi’, to our present day Ordnance Survey we have been steadily getting better maps – and most worldwide falsehoods and ambiguities have been corrected.
But the story isn’t over yet by any means.
In a digital age it is perhaps surprising that our public rights of way still have to be recorded on physical maps held in County Council offices.
In theory, a right of way doesn’t exist if it’s not on your local ‘definitive’ map – and come 2026 in accordance with the Countryside Rights of Way (CROW) Act it may even disappear.
Of course, many people have been digitising maps for some time now – and GPS wielding Ramblers have been using them. Councils are in this game too, adopting multifarious software – but they stress that the physical ‘definitive’ map overrides all.
Local councils are under increasing pressure to maintain and accurately record our footpaths – on the map and on the ground. The Ramblers however had to resort to ‘Freedom of Information’ (FOI) requests to obtain information for their ‘Paths in Crisis’ report. Why should this be ?
We can rely on adapted maps, created under copyright free legislation, but we still have to beware of (metaphorical) dragons.
Is not open access needed to all our rights of way data from one digital authoritative source ?
Does the data belong to each county council or the public at large ?