The Ordnance Survey is quite simply the best!

I read a post earlier today that made me laugh and brought back happy memories.  This cyclist was talking about his tour around Crete and the maps that he had used. Wow. Maps, useful looking ones at that.

When I was 18, I went on holiday to Crete with my sister and a friend. It was one of those package holidays where you step off the coach in the middle of the night, tired from the flight, queasy from the drive, and the rep hands you your keys, tells you your apartment is straight ahead, around the back and up the first staircase and that the village is called Elounda. Then the coach continues driving out of the village, the only sound beyond the curious insects.  Looking baffled at each other, we picked up our rucksacks and followed the surprisingly accurate directions and fell into our small beds.

The following morning on the first day of our adventures we veered away from the organised fun by the nearby pool and headed towards the car hire stands. Our youth and smiles and persistent negotiations hired us a soft top 4×4. We were mistakenly thrilled.

And then came our surprise.  Not the bald tyres or dodgy brakes but the woeful map. We had all grown up using maps and hadn’t realised what a staple part of our existence they were. I mean British children even have to master map reading in their exams. We had planned to explore Crete and had gone into Waterstones to buy a Cretan road map. But none was to hand. Obviously, we explained to each other, how much demand was there in Norwich for a road map of a distance Greek island? We were surprised not to find one in the airport but consoled ourselves that the car hire company would provide us with one.

So, when we asked the men for the map, we were surprised when they handed us a tourist leaflet showing the island’s main road and all the popular sites along the way. No, no we smiled, the actual road map, not this. One with the other roads as well. The men looked at each other suggesting that we were mad and then handed us a collection of folded maps.  Where was the spiral bound A4 / A3 road map? The one that helpfully told you what page to turn to as the road veered off the edge of the paper. We seem to have been handed a bunch of walking maps. Walking maps without a legend.

We headed back to our apartment and began to plan our adventures.  It didn’t take long looking at the maps to discover that each map was a complete representation of the island, and charmingly, that each map choose to offer different roads.  What the hell?  How could there be no consensus? Where was the official standard? Where was the calm authority? Where the hell was the Ordnance Survey?!  Like little colonials abroad we suddenly realised that the glorious OS stretched no further than the British shores and that each country was in charge of it’s own cartography. Greece obviously had a more laissez-faire attitude towards roads than we did. We viewed then as integral aspects of the infastructure. Greece, apparently, viewed them as optional extras.

The following fortnight featured many of the following phrases.

“I am braking.”


“The sign says turn left. – Yeah, but that’s not on the map?”

“Hang on the road had disappeared.”

“Hang on!”

“Try another map.”

“No, blue roads mean goat track on this map, not motorway.”

“Bloody hell, who has right of way!”

“I swear, ALL the maps say turn left. I don’t care what the sign says.”

“I told you we should have followed the map.”

“I told you we should have followed the sign.”

“Well this is interesting.”

“I can’t find reverse.”

“Jesus. Everyone OK?”

“How can you forget to add a dual carriage way to your map”

“Where the hell are we?”

“Where the hell are we?”

“Where the hell are we?”


We had a bloody blast, it was awesome, if at times utterly unnerving.  But I’m glad to see in the following blog that the Cretan cartographic services have come on in leaps and bounds. Although I laughed when I read, that even now, roads disappear.  Enjoy, it’s a great blog by someone that loves travelling just for the sheer hell of it.

Dirt road touring / bike-packing Crete