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Moutaineering and GPS Maps (part 4)

As live weather maps might complement the traditional tools of mountaineering and hillwalking, so too with GPS maps. The ability to know your current coordinates using a GPS receiver and then to relate this to a traditional paper map is a powerful advantage to navigation, but now some modern handheld GPS receivers go further than this and have the ability to display colour maps on a display screen to show the current location and route graphically. The detail available with these GPS maps is now approaching that of the Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50,000 scale mapping.

A few years ago, GPS signals (which originate from US-operated satellites) were intentionally filtered so that there was a considerable error in the location reading, of the order of tens of metres. In practical hillwalking terms, this can mean the difference between an exhilarating walk along a mountain ridge, or plunging over the edge. In 2000 this filtering was removed so that now positional accuracies of the order of 5 metres are attainable, and make navigation in the Scottish mountains using GPS safe and indeed can enhance the experience in many ways.

High Ground Wrecks and Relics

The ability to store locations in a GPS receiver as waypoints has other advantages apart from helping with the dubious pastime of munro-bagging. On many of my walks in Scotland I have come across twisted lumps of metal clearly recognisable as aircraft parts, often very high up and sometime right on the summit of mountains. Being intrigued by this, I purchased a copy of 'High Ground Wrecks and Relics', a small book which lists details of aircraft (usually military) crash sites in the mountainous areas of the UK that still have wreckage lying around. There are a surprising number of these, most dating from the period of the Second World War and directly after. Using the book I was able to identify some of the wreckage I had seen, and because the book contained Ordnance Survey grid references to wreckage sites, I was able to visit some startling sites on subsequent walks, perhaps most notably the remains of a crashed Canberra Jet on the summit of the munro Carn an t-Sagairt Mor near Braemar.

Not all of the sites are easy to find though, and often the remains are in several different locations. A single six-figure grid reference, of the sort given in the 'High Ground Wrecks and Relics' book refers to a square measuring 100 metres on a side, so finding an exact crash site location on a mountain using this grid reference with a map can be a difficult task, particularly if the landscape has small ravines or boulder fields that wreckage may have fallen into. This is where using GPS waypoints will help and I hope in the future to visit some of the crash locations in Scotland and collect more accurate positional data using a GPS receiver.

Another type of interesting feature that a walker might see on walks in the countryside of Britain (although not actually high up in the mountains) is an ancient megalithic structure. These are often large stones that can be standing alone or arranged in rough circles and marked with 'cup and rings' of uncertain origin. Although these sites are very numerous throughout Scotland, finding them amongst dense woods or modern human development can be very difficult. Julian Cope's 'The Modern Antiquarian' is the best book for learning about and locating these fascinating sites, and this book also contains Ordnance Survey grid references. Again, the use of a GPS receiver to assist in finding some of these sites is a major advantage.

Eddie Boyle is currently working as a software developer at Edina, part of the University of Edingburgh on Go-Geo, a portal of geophysical data sources. Eddie climbs mountains in his spare time which he records in his blog. (

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Canberra Aircraft Wreckage