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OS Maps: Symbols
Challenge yourself in this fun quiz.

OS Maps: Symbols

This GCSE Geography quiz will test you on symbols found on OS maps. Reading maps involves several different skills - a knowledge of scales, directions and the symbols used by map makers (cartographers) to indicate certain landscape features on maps. Early maps drawn by monks or explorers were like works of art, with landscape features being added as drawings of the actual feature. It was realised that much more information could be placed on a map if simple symbolic representations of the real world were used.

The systematic mapping of Britain was first carried out for military purposes and the maps carry the name of that original Ordnance Survey (the word 'ordnance' means military supplies). Although there are other manufacturers of maps that cover the UK, Ordnance Survey (OS for short) are probably the best known and most often used.

Your geography syllabus requires that you know a variety of symbols used on OS maps. Most of the symbols are the same on the different scale maps but there are a few differences. For your exam, you are most likely to be tested on the ones that are common to all OS maps.

Some of the OS map symbols represent natural landscape features. Together with the isolines known as contour lines, they provide you with a powerful way of knowing what terrain lies in a specific area. There are symbols for cliffs, rocky outcrops, different types of woodland, rivers, streams, lakes and so on. If you are planning your geography fieldwork, knowing these symbols can guide you to the best areas to visit for your particular project.

Other symbols represent human-made features in the landscape. Buildings are marked on as regular shapes coloured with a light brown shade. Roads, tracks, bridleways and public footpaths are also added, each has its own distinct symbol. Some features don't have a pictorial symbol, items like footbriges, post offices, mile stones and town halls for example. These are represented using letters, FB for footbridge, PO for post office and so on.

Symbols are colour coded to a degree. Water features are coloured blue so it is immediately obvious where there is a stream, river, pool or larger body of water. But there are other blue map symbols too. Motorways are marked as blue lines, but it is easy to identify that they are human features rather than natural water features, as they do not have any meanders. Tourist information is added to the maps in blue too, for example viewpoints, camping sites, parking areas and places equipped for picnics. These stand out against the rest of the map making them easy to locate.

A group of students were drawing a sketch map of a village as part of their fieldwork. One of the buildings was used as a place of worship. Which of the symbols should they use to represent it?
More information is required
You need to know if the building has a tower, spire, minaret, dome or none of these features before you can decide on the correct answer
What does this symbol indicate?
A place where you can hire a teepee for your holiday
A campsite
A hippy colony
A caravan site
This symbol indicates that the campsite is intended for tents only, if the site takes caravans as well, there will be a small blue caravan symbol with it
The sketch shows:
a railway line with an embankment and a cutting
a railway line with an embankment and a walled embankment
a canal going through a cutting and over an aqueduct
a series of locks on a canal
Water features in the landscape are represented in blue so that immediately rules out options three and four
Which of the following is NOT true?
This diagram represents part of the railway network
This diagram shows a railway junction
This diagram shows a railway station
This diagram shows a light rapid transit system
The red rectangular symbol indicates a principal station
Which of the sketched symbols represents an unfenced secondary road?
Even if you didn't know that the orange-brown colour meant a secondary road, you can tell that C was the answer as it is the only one that shows it is unfenced (dotted lines at the edges instead of unbroken lines)
This symbol was added to a map by a student carrying out some fieldwork. Which of the following structures had they seen?
TV transmission mast
Mobile phone network mast
TV signal booster mast
It could have been any of the above
The wavy line indicates some sort of electromagnetic radiation and the triangle represents the mast itself
Where would you find the features depicted in this sketch map?
In a mountain range
In the CBD of an urban area
On a subsistence farm
At the coast
The junction between the blue and the pale brown indicates the low water mark of the sea, the black line is the high water mark. Also shown is a wave cut platform, cliff and beach
Which of the following is most likely to be interested in both of these two OS map symbols?
A backpacker
A motorist
A commuter
A cyclist
Just in case you are not sure what a backpacker is, it is someone who is travelling on foot or by public transport using a rucksack (backpack) to carry their belongings. The symbols represent a youth hostel and a bus or coach station. The other three types of person may be interested in one or the other of the two locations, but it is a backpacker who is most likely to be interested in both at the same time. One is their means of transport and the other is where they will find a bed for the night
What commercial activity would take place (or has taken place at some time in the past) at the location indicated by this map symbol?
Balloon manufacture
This symbol indicates a quarry from which rock is (or has been at some time in the past) extracted. There are separate symbols for gravel quarrying and sand quarrying
What type of trees would you see if you visited this woodland?
Deciduous or broadleafed
Apple or pear
A mixture of coniferous and deciduous
Broadleaf woodland has little conventional tree drawings in it, orchards are a grid of green dots and mixed woodland has no little drawings of trees - it is just green
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC Bitesize - Cartographic skills

Author:  Kev Woodward

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