Riding all the OS Maps

Riding all the OS Maps

By Mark Wedgwood

In 2022, Mark Wedgwood achieved the unique feat of cycling 7,300 miles across all 204 OS Landranger maps - in numerically ascending order.

I am fascinated by maps and I always have been. But especially Ordnance Survey (OS) maps. They have always interested me more than books. They brought the world to life, fired my imagination, and held the promise of something new and undiscovered in these fascinating and varied islands. And over the years, they led me to make many cycling trips.

In mid-2021, I unexpectedly found myself without full-time work and with the precious gift of time. It seemed like a wonderful opportunity for a big adventure. We were still in the throes of a global pandemic, so my attention was directed at Britain – and in turn, naturally, at my OS map collection. I found an old OS marketing freebie I picked up years ago from a bookshop: a very simple poster-sized outline of Great Britain with all 204 of the different 1:50,000 OS maps overlaid as numbered squares. I noticed for the first time that there is a particular numbering system used by the OS for its coverage of the country – and, suddenly, there it was. My big adventure!

Mark riding his Sonder Colibri, fully loaded

Map 1 is at the top of Shetland. Maps 2 to 7 move down NE to SW across Shetland and Orkney. The remaining 197 maps sweep in majestic rows – 26 of them – across the country from West to East until reaching the bottom right corner of Cornwall at map 204 (Truro and Falmouth). My longest coast-to-coast – St Davids to Walton-on-the-Naze - spanned thirteen OS maps, and the shortest (and last) just two. It was all just waiting to be explored. In numerical order. By bicycle. An adventure to everywhere in Britain!

A rough calculation told me it could be a journey of perhaps 7,000 miles. This was a perfect distance, I told myself, to fit nicely into the best six cycling months of weather and glorious long days that the UK can offer. Probably. And I would have a prevailing westerly wind helping me sail through the whole country. Hopefully.

Of course there would be many practicalities to overcome. I would need to get back to the start of each subsequent coast-to-coast with my bike somehow (I was not proposing to ride all the way back again each time!). And I would need places to stay. I might need some “rules” to stay faithful to. And I would certainly want to see my wife and grown-up children at reasonably regular intervals along the way.

But first I needed a bike I could ride every day for 6 months and trust. I live in Hathersage in the Derbyshire Peak District (in map 110, since you ask) and we are lucky to have a branch of Alpkit. I chose a Sonder Colibri AL. I already owned everything else I needed. So now there was no excuse. I booked ferry tickets to Shetland for early May. Game on!

colibri leaned up against the wall with a sea back drop

So that was the easy bit. Now I had to plan and execute six months of cycling, trains, ferries accommodation and existing commitments between May and the end of October. Which was a logistical nightmare. I actually never knew where I would be more than a couple of weeks ahead. And that turned into only a couple of days ahead by the second half of my challenge. But I did reach Cornwall before the end of October. Just. By Halloween I was in Bude, in map 190, after cycling for more than 100 days across Scotland, Wales, England and the Isle of Man. I had the most incredible run of luck with the British weather; but it finally let me down and I went home thinking that was that until next year. Except that summer returned in early November, allowing me to continue as far as map 198, including a brilliant visit to OS headquarters in Southampton. I wasn’t going to be left with 6 maps, so I picked my weather windows and finally got the job done by 28th November, always in good weather; but occasionally in near darkness as the supply of daylight receded.

Bike on the front of an old boat
Bike Hanging on train

And what a journey it turned out to be. My main rules were (1) it always had to be enjoyable and (2) I wanted to avoid traffic wherever possible. With clever route planning (for which I must partly credit my wife, Jenni), these rules proved much easier to adhere to than I ever imagined. I enjoyed countless hours of cycling across wonderfully empty roads through endlessly varied and mostly gorgeous countryside, beautiful villages, handsome towns and a few big cities, including London. The unpleasant parts were few and far between. I met some great people and was reunited with family and friends all along the way. What a delight! The kind bike mechanics in Alpkit Edinburgh and Hathersage always kept me moving along and I saw Britain – all of it – like never before. There is no better way than from a bike.

There is so much more to say that it deserves putting in a book. I hope to do exactly that; but if you can’t wait, I wrote a daily blog of my adventures that can be found at https://ridealltheosmaps.co.uk/ and I also shared many photos of my entire journey on Instagram at @ridealltheosmaps

 Altogether, I made 70 separate ferry journeys and took my bike on 111 different trains. According to the OS, I cycled 7,306 miles in the right direction (plus hundreds more “unofficial” miles to get back across the country) and I climbed up 395,374 feet of official ascent! That is a big ride. It was brilliant.

sonder colibri against railing

Finally, some answers to commonly asked questions: 

  • Did you camp? No, I stayed in BnBs, pubs, hostels and with many kind people. I didn’t want the extra weight and I did want a little comfort at the end of each day!
  • What was your favourite map? There are so many contenders: if pushed I would say map 48 Iona & West Mull, I think. That was spectacular. But I could list several.
  • Worst weather? Isle of Skye. Twice!
  • Best weather? Almost everywhere else. I was blessed.
  • Best road? The B887 between Huisnis and Tarbert, Isle of Harris. Sublime.
  • Biggest surprises? Mid Wales. An undiscovered gem. And Lismore Island.
  • Most memorable day? Aberystwyth to Ludlow. Beating all the elements, riding like the wind, and experiencing the Himalayan grandeur of a sun-kissed, rain soaked Cwm Ystwyth. Who knew such a place even existed in this country?

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