Going Android with the Huawei Ascend G7

huawei_ascendg7This post is about an Android perspective from the the point-of-view of a long time iPhone user. I’ve been an Apple tech-enthusiast for most of my life and have had an iPhone in my pocket for a good 5-6 years. However I have now acquired a Huawei Ascend G7 phone with Android “KitKit” on it, + the Huawei interface extensions. Huawei are gradually making a name for themselves for producing phones with a premium feel and near-top-range features, for a good price. The Ascend G7 is selling for around £200 in the UK but, in spec and feel, is only a smidgen below the Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 which are up at £500+. Apple is making an awful lot of money from phones so clearly there is a cheaper way – this could be it.

Plus it was the right time to move – my current iPhone 4 is working perfectly well, is fast and has a nice screen, but Apple has decided to cut me out of getting the newest software – iOS 8 – and apps are starting to appear that require this version, e.g. Trails, which looks awesome.

N.B. I’ve actually had the phone for a couple of months, but I wrote the below around 48 hours after getting the new phone.

48 Hours into Android

Things I Miss

So, there’s quite a lot I miss from iPhone. This is to be expected, but here goes:

  • Universal “jump to top” gesture. This is what I miss most, oddly. Particularly when reading long webpages, but for other apps too, e.g. Feedly and my mail app. Many apps have a way of doing this but it’s slightly different in each.
  • Web Apps are self-contained rather than being just browser views, so if you want to change to a separate website, you have to go to the browser proper rather than accesssing a URL bar there and then.
  • Combined view for multiple email accounts. This does exist, but only for the inbox, and I can’t move emails to folders, in this view. Solution is to use a better email client than the built-in one.
  • Unread notification numbers attached to app icons. They do exist for the Phone, Mail and Messaging apps but not for, for example, Twitter or Facebook. This inconsistency is really annoying!
  • The clock in the centre at the top, not on the right. I guess I had just got used to it on the right.
  • The phone is less comfortable to hold when reading with one hand, as it’s wider and thinner. I’ve partially fixed this issue by getting a case.
  • Some of the big apps, e.g. Twitter, have a surprisingly different feature set and look-and-feel between iOS and Android. I was expecting the transition to be more seamless.
  • Some apps (e.g. BBC News player) don’t respect the rotation-off setting.
  • Being able to switch the sound completely off – even to the point of no vibration – is worrying. What if I make my alarms completely silent?
  • I initially missed the physical “Home” button, I can live with the virtual one, although it would be nice if it stayed in the same place and was always visible.
  • Intuitive copy-and-paste of text. Text selection tools are clunky, particularly has different apps have different interfaces for copy/paste.
  • In a similar vein, same apps don’t allow me to see where a URL is pointing to, before clicking on it.
  • In-browser display of PDFs and other content.

The Good Bits

Now that that list is out of the way, here’s what I really like:

  • Google Now voice detection has no problem understanding my (rather English sounding) accent and almost always gets it right. It’s a shame however that often it just forward to a regular Google web search.
  • The camera is pretty nice. Initially it seemed to have problems with focusing but that seems to work better now and the quality of the images coming out are generally pretty good. The multi-focus feature, in particular, is a good way to almost guarantee focus.
  • Having files are great. Finally I can see what’s on my phone in an organised way.
  • The battery is good, particularly as I’d anecdotally heard this was Android’s Achilles Heel. It’s happily last more than a day.
  • Bluetooth transfer of media to other nearby phones. Although it’s still not as easy as it should be.
  • Almost every app I liked on my iPhone is also available for Android too.
  • Android is Not Perfect

    On a general (non-iPhone-user) basis, here’s a list of gripes about the phone and about Android:

    • Notification panel. Notifications get truncated and there’s no way to reveal their full text in most case – touching goes to the app concerned which may (or may not) reveal what the notification said.
    • Lots of bundled games which are severely limited (e.g they quit after 3 minutes. That’s not long enough to get hooked on a game!)
    • Apps lurk in the background using a lot of resource. This can be cleared down manually with phone manager but it’s a pain to remember to do this.
    • Google Maps app kept crashing when doing directions. This was fixable by updating to the latest version. It’s odd though that this updating of core apps like Google Maps didn’t get done automatically.
    • Some poorly designed icons clash with the theme icon containers. Facebook Messenger has so far been the worst for this.
    • Pre-installed which seem to do quite similar things. E.g. Settings and Google Settings. Google Now, Voice Search and Voice Dialler. Browser and Chrome. (Why not just Chrome?)
    • The “updater” app doesn’t update apps (see above) but (I think) just the operating system code. Instead, Google Play does the updating. Multiple apps for similar functionality…
    • I haven’t found Process Viewer yet.

    Overall – Android is pretty good, but suprisingly buggy and unintuitive, which is odd considering how much effot has gone into engineering it and how many people now use it. I’ve listed a lot of quirks above. However, looking at the bigger picture, they are nothing I can’t live with and really, considering how die-hard I was as an iPhone user, the transition was pretty painless.

    As a phone, the Ascent G7 is really nice, it feels every bit as good as an iPhone, and is really available at a bargain. Huawei are taking the time to create a high quality product without the silly pricing. In a market full of naff, cheap phones, or hugely expensive market leaders, this is refreshing. I should have switched earlier…

    Engineering Tour: The Thames Barrier


    I was recently able to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the huge Thames Barrier structure in east London, thanks to the IET London branch – I’m not a member of the IET (although I used to be) but spotted a tweet from them advertising the tour, so was able to sign up.

    As an “engineering” tour, we were able to get right onto the barrier itself, onto one of the “piers” in the middle of the river. Accessing this is fairly involved. The operational site is under very high security indeed, as befits the importance of the barrier during a flood event and the impact that an uncontrolled flood would have on various critical parts of central London, including the Canary Wharf financial district and the South Bank. Once in, getting to the pier involves crossing a short bridge over the first barrier section that is in fact completely dry at low tide) and then accessing one of two tunnels that run almost completely underneath the Thames, with stairs (for the west tunnel) or lifts (for the east tunnel) linking to the piers themselves. The two tunnels are completely separate from each other, for redundancy/safety reasons, so if one of the tunnels was breached, full access to all the piers would still be possible. The tunnels are fairly small, they have reinforced rings like a tube tunnel, but are quite a bit smaller, and contain numerous ducting cables and pipes. They are dead straight, so looking down one makes for quite an eye-catching vista.


    tbt3Each pier has two “hull like” buildings which are silvery on the outside, but surprisingly made of wood on the inside. The smaller one houses the top of the aforementioned lift shafts, while the larger one houses the machinery for rotating the huge barrier pieces. Normally, a close or open event takes a couple of hours – in fact, the barrier is quite capable of closing in a couple of minutes, but this is never used, partially because tidal events are fairly predictable with around 24 hours notice (being based on tide, wind direction, upstream flow and air pressure) and partially because a sudden closure/opening would have a negative impact on the ecosystem of the river – likely impacting flora/fauna in the river, and structures on the the banks (I presume this is from sudden changes in water salinity, level or pressure).

    The larger pier building also has an attractive circular window, facing upstream. From the river, it is quite a distinctive feature of the barrier as you approach it. The circular shape again is a play on the barrier piers having a boat theme.

    The equipment in the piers is large and impressive. Some of it looks pretty old – the Thames having been built in the 1980s but designed in the 1970s, based on 1960s technology that had to be “proven” for a decade before, so harking back to the 1950s. But it is kept in great working order and does the job well – which is just as well, as the barrier had to close during the Spring 2014 floods nearly 50 times – almost as many times as it had closed in the preceding 30 years.

    Anyway, it was a fascinating tour, and thanks to the IET London branch for organising. The tour guides were retired engineers who had worked on the barrier itself for many years, so it was very informative visit.


    Crossrail Site Tour: Tottenham Court Road

    Crossrail organised a number of tours of their major worksites, as apart of Open Doors, this weekend, for civil engineering students and other interested parties. One of the sites was the Dean Street box, which will form the western ticket hall at the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station. While the eastern ticket hall will connect directly with the existing Underground station (for the Central and Northern lines), the western ticket hall is quite some distance away, and in fact is nearly half way towards Oxford Circus – it will also connect to the other lines, via new pedestrian tunnels, but it will be a long walk! The Dean Street box is a huge site itself, with six distinct levels, and yet only a small part of what Tottenham Court Road station will become in 2018:

    The challenges of the site itself are illustrated just by getting to it – access is via the pavement on Oxford Street. As soon as the pavement barrier is drawn across and the doors open, the narrow pavement quickly crowds up with pedestrians, while numerous buses and angry, revving taxis, continue to squeeze along the street.

    The Crossrail platforms will stretch between the two ticket halls, and space has been made for a future extension. Crossrail 2, should it be built, will have platforms here, in further tunnels crossing below these new platform tunnels, perpendicularly and approximately half-way between the ticket halls. Some of the pedestrian passageway tunnels, which also run between the two ticket halls, have sections which will connect with the equivalent for Crossrail 2, the extent of which appears in outline on the main site diagram. Planning ahead.

    The first thing that strikes you when in the “box” is the huge number of old boiler pipes that are being used to brace the outer wall and stop the pressure of the London clay behind (which has been compressed from buildings over hundreds of years) from collapsing it. The boiler pipes near the top are smaller as they have less pressure to withstand. Some of the larger ones are starting to be removed now as the lower levels of the station ticket hall start to be structurally complete. The pressures are so huge that the engineering team is wary of suddenly removing one and causing any unwanted movement – so they are cutting notches in them to allow the pipes to continue to hold a weaker load, before removing them once the force has been almost entirely redistributed elsewhere.


    Here, reached by a very large number of steps down a couple of gantries, you can see the western end of the eastbound Crossrail platform tunnel. I initially thought that the line of yellow struts was showing the platform itself starting to be built, but actually I think it is marking the “floor” upon which the rails will be laid, as it lies right in the middle of the tunnel, and so the platform level would be marked approximately by the line of lights to the right:
    I was surprised to see the quite noticeable curve of the platform tunnel, to the right – I assumed they’d all be straight, which would enable easy boarding for those on wheelchairs and future platform-edge doors. Perhaps, should the latter happen, there will be some kind of mechanical gap infilling?

    Looking in the other direction is the running tunnel, large by tube standards but much smaller than the platform tunnel, where trains will pass along from Bond Street station to here. Because the Dean Street box was excavated before the tunnel boring machine passed through, a tube of foam concrete was added back in, to give the tunnel boring machine something to push against as it passed through. The machine continued to line its tunnel in the box and the platform area, with concrete slabs like you can see below here, but with lower quality, weaker “sacrificial” slabs as they were then bulldozed shortly again after the machine had passed through:
    It was somewhat eerie peering into the silent tunnel, with not a workman in sight, deep below the bustling streets of central London. Largely empty at the moment, with a couple of grooves in the base slab showing where the construction mini-railway had its tracks. Come December 2018, there will be up to one train every two minutes passing along here, so it will not be nearly as silent. Looking into this tunnel there is a noticeable gradient downwards. As trains travel upwards towards here, into the station, the slope will help slow them down, saving energy on braking.

    Various parts of the worksite are being built to different specifications – much of the concrete structure will be clad and so not visible to the public, but there are some parts where concrete pillars will be visible features. So, some experimentation is currently taking place to test the quality of finish they can produce with the processes on site. Here is a test pillar that they are quite happy with already, but they think they can do an even better job when they put them in the appropriate place:
    The edge of the western ticket hall box is immediately behind the pillar – notice the much coarser surface, as this will be covered with additional walls and claddings, so it will never be seen by the public. There is also quite a distinct colour/texture change line, running horiztonally along and reflecting different soil/clay conditions behind it.

    Thanks to Crossrail and the contractors (Laing O’Rourke) for organising the tours and to the staff on site for showing us their site and enthusing on their work. At TCR, they assembled a PPE-free route through the site, allowing us (mainly civil engineerings students, only a few of the “general public”) to get right into the construction area and get an excellent feel of what is going on and the challenges of such a place. It is extremely tidy for such a complex construction site – with multiple levels having simultaneous construction, they have no choice but to keep everything super-organised. Various walkways have yellow lines and blue “walkway” silhouettes on the ground – somewhat reminiscent of the lines you have to walk along between the bottom of steps from an aircraft and the terminal building. Everything about Crossrail is on a grander scale than London’s existing transport infrastructure, and it will be most impressive seeing the completed stations, which are set to become major London destinations.

    The old and the new:

    Book Review: The Capital Ring

    capitalringThe Capital Ring, by Colin Saunders, is an guide to walking the eponymous route, a 78 mile circular walk around inner London (generally Zones 3-4), one of London’s official long-distance walking trails.

    The book, a new (2014) edition, is presented in an attractive, compact format with rounded corners, so ideal for chucking in a bag when walking the trail. The new edition means that the book will have taken into account minor changes to the route that happen from time to time due to housing developments and other aspects of London’s continuing evolution. The route is split up into 15 sections, all between 3 and 8 miles long and generally starting/finishing at or near stations (with short link sections where necessary).

    The book makes excellent use of Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25000) mapping, with different map excerpts for each mile or so of the trail, appearing inline with the route description. The route itself is overlaid in yellow on these maps. Generally, this makes the map useful for navigating, except in some small sections where the route is complicated and the yellow line is a little broad and the scale a bit small (the Ordnance Survey’s own “official” green diamond marks for the route also appear on the maps, which can further confuse). There, you’ll need to follow the route description carefully. The route itself is waymarked on the ground with posts and signs but sometimes these are missing, which is where the book comes in particularly useful.

    The clear and concise route descriptions, and annotated mapping, are augmented by short descriptions of features and trivia of local interest. The walk generally passes through interesting parts of London all the way long, so the book has many such pieces. Some of these are illustrated by photographs:


    Your reviewer test-walked a section near Stoke Newington and found the guide’s navigation effective, and learnt some new things about an area he thought he knew well! If you are looking for a good walk and a great guide to it, that illuminates just how green and varied London’s “inner city” is, you could do a lot worse than with this book.

    Get it here on Amazon: Capital Ring. (Make sure you get the newest edition, reviewed here, which has an orange cover.)

    Thanks to publisher Aurum Press for sending me a review copy. ISBN 9781781313374. List price is £12.99.

    OOM 2.3 – Automatic Postbox Additions


    As a fun project for OpenOrienteeringMap (OOM) during the Christmas pause, I incorporated a feature requested on the forums of NopeSport that I had actually also been thinking about myself – the automated addition of controls. I’m using Nearest Postbox which is a tool written by the polycoder Matthew Somerville to show postboxes in OpenStreetMap augment with reference numbers and other data. If you zoom into an area on the UK edition of OOM and click to add a map “sheet”, you can then click on the “Add Postboxes” button. OOM will make use of Matthew’s API to his site, to pull in known postbox locations and create controls from them. You’ll only be able to do this if there are not any controls already added. You can then edit/delete the controls (e.g. change the score) in the normal way.


    Some Street-O events by SLOW and other clubs already use postboxes as useful controls. This will hopefully make it more easy for the planner, although they’ll still need to visit the postboxes concerned to verify the ref and make sure the postbox is still there…

    The feature is experimental, so if you run into any bugs please tell me.

    Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – New Bridge


    There’s a new bridge into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – the Monier Bridge. It connects Monier Road in Fish Island, part of Hackney Wick, with the Loop Road in the Olympic Park. At the latter connection point there is a new ramp down to the canal towpath and also a path through the Sweetwater development site, to Carpenters Lock which is the focal point of the whole park, as it connects the main north and south parts. The new bridge was actually installed a couple of years ago, but it has taken a long time to open up the area of the park north-west of the Olympic Stadium and so provide the link through to the centre.

    The bridge’s design mirrors that of the Wallis Bridge which connects the northern half of Hackney Wick to the park. A map, that I found on hoardings beside another bridge in the park which is being narrowed, shows both new bridges (on the extract of the map below, they are both on the left-hand side) and also reveals new names for several other bridges in the park. The bridge to the Waterpolo arena, aka the Stratford Waterfront development site, is now called Tallow Bridge. Further downstream, the Aquatic Bridge and Purple Bridge become the Thornton Bridge and Iron Bridge respectively.


    Elsewhere, I noticed that the hoardings around the Sweetwater development site have a new mural on them. There is also a new ramp down to the canal from the White Post Lane entrance, alongside the existing steep and cobbly one. There are also five new level paths connecting the canal with the old Main Press Centre building. The larger building alongside, Here East, which has previously always been a drab white and grey, has a huge “H” painted in black and green on its southern face, along with a huge “HereEast.com” graphic.

    With the new bridge having opened above, and Carpenters’ Road finally reopened under the mainline railway, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park finally has all almost all of its entrances open – it’s somewhat challenging to count them all, but there’s at least 30 now, depending on how the boundaries are defined. Certainly, this is a big piece of London which is now a lot more connected – and a lot less secluded – than it was back in 2007.


    OOM on OpenCageData

    I was interviewed by OpenCageData recently, the article appears on their blog and I have reproduced it here:

    Continuing in our series of interviews with folks doing interesting things in the open geo world, today we enter the realm of domain specific OpenStreetMap variants by talking with Oliver O’Brien, maker of Open Orienteering Map.

    1. Who are you and what do you do? What got you into OpenStreetMap?

    I’m Oliver O’Brien (“Ollie” on OpenStreetMap). I’m a researcher and software developer at the Department of Geography at UCL in London, specialising in geovisualisation and demographic mapping.

    I’ve been a contributor to the OpenStreetMap project since 2007. I first learnt about it when a friend was keen to try out lots of different routes around Edinburgh during the Hogmanay festival, recording them with a GPS receiver. He explained he was uploading them to a project – OpenStreetMap – a map that anyone can edit. At the time it was nearly blank in the Edinburgh area. When I got back to London I discovered that many of the roads in my local area were missing too, so got down to filling them in. At the time, the project did not have access to high-resolution aerial imagery, so GPS traces were very useful – as were annotating note by hand on various scraps of paper! I then discovered the thriving London OpenStreetMap community – we organise mapping parties, though now, as London is largely “done”, it’s generally pub meets. I’m lucky enough to regularly use OpenStreetMap data for my day job at UCL, sometimes including my own contributions.

    2. What is Open Orienteering Map? What is the goal of the project?

    My orienteering club (South London Orienteers, aka SLOW) has been running informal “Street-O” evening training events in various parts of London, for many years. The idea is that you have to visit as many points, marked on a printed map that you run with, as possible within one hour, and get back to the start. The route you take is up to you, so it’s vital that the map you use doesn’t get you lost. Many of the maps being used at the time I first joined the club were created in fiddly (and expensive) bespoke software used for professional maps, typically by hand, tracing in A-Z or Ordnance Survey paper maps. The process was prone to error and very slow.

    Having seen OpenStreetMap data being used in various other projects, such as Andy Allan’s OpenCycleMap, I realised there was potential for it to be used for orienteering mapping too. While regular orienteering maps contain a lot of specialist features not on OpenStreetMap (such as forest thickness and crag detail), basic Street-O maps are simpler, and for many areas, OpenStreetMap likely has sufficient level of detail. Initially I set up a system which required GIS software to use, with appropriate orienteering styles and filters, but that was still hard to use for people outside the GIS world, so I then realised I could go one step further and build a website – http://oomap.co.uk– that performed the same function. So OpenOrienteeringMap was born.

    The goal of the project is to make it as easy as possible for the volunteer Street-O organisers to create maps for their events. This has two main benefits – firstly, with less spent time on drawing the map, and no cartography skills needed – the website generates a PDF map to print, at the click of a button – more new people can get involved and organise their own event, taking time to plan great courses rather than draw a map. Additionally, it encourages new people into the OpenStreetMap community. By making the only easy way for organisers to update the roads, paths and other features on the Street-O map being via OpenStreetMap – with a regular refresh of the database back to OpenOrienteeringMap – the website has got a few people hooked on being “regular” OpenStreetMap editors, as well as orienteers. (N.B. if I rebuilt the service now from scratch I would probably use something the Overpass API and vector tiles directly in the browser, rather than have my own copy of the database and an image tiler and PDF generator.)

    There are three versions of the website: British (with OS Open Data contours), Irish and worldwide, and two main mapping styles, “StreetO”, used for Street-O races, and “PseudO”, which is an attempt to create a “regular” orienteering map style in OpenOrienteeringMap, following the colour and symbol standards defined by the sport. It has a distinctive look but is of less use for orienteering events except in a few very well-mapped places. The styles are on GitHub.


    Above is the map that is being used for the next South London Orienteers’ Street-O event, in December 2014, with around 100 people taking part. Further details of the events can be found at http://slow.org.uk/about/streeto/. Map data Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors.

    3. What are the unique needs of a map designed for orienteering? How has using OSM to meet those needs worked out?

    Orienteering maps need to be highly detailed, clear and accurate, as competitors run through unfamiliar terrain at speed and the accuracy of navigation is as important as speed, when it comes to getting a good result. This general principle applies to Street-O events, where it is important that all navigable roads, tracks and paths are included and that the map is as uncluttered as possible. Other datasets can often neglect tracks and paths in particular, but OpenStreetMap has historically had a good record in this regard, being a grassroots community comprised of many enthusiastic walkers and cyclists, amongst others. The data isn’t perfect, but for areas in London that my local club users, it’s worked out pretty well. Sometimes missing detail is spotted by the organiser and they edit OpenStreetMap to fix it. Occasionally it isn’t spotted and competitors report back missing paths at the race finish – edits can then be made which will benefit future races there. Both these processes improve OpenStreetMap itself (for everyone) while also improving OpenOrienteeringMap (for racers), so everyone benefits.

    Competitor in a London park. Although he is using a custom drawn map for this particular race, the level of detail in some London parks on OpenStreetMap means that OpenOrienteeringMap is a possibility for more informal events here. Copyright Oliver O’Brien.

    4. What steps could the global OpenStreetMap community take to help support the use of OSM in unique communities like this?

    One feature which would be of great use, would be the ability to “sign off” certain areas has achieving a particular level of completeness, e.g. a local contributor confirming that, to their knowledge, an area in a particular bounding box has all the roads and paths on it. Such a mechanism was created by ITOWorld with their OSM Quality tool, for Great Britain, using complementary data from the national mapping agency, however a global version, using experienced OpenStreetMap editors as the authority, would very useful in encouraging Street-O event organisers to use OpenOrienteeringMap or other tools for using the data in orienteering events.

    5. OSM recently celebrated its 10th birthday, where do you think the project will be in 10 years time?

    It will be a map with virtually every building and road in the world on it. Improving and more accessible satellite and imagery will greatly help with this process. Detail will increase too, but I don’t think it will end up mapping every tree or lamppost – there will be spinoff projects which will cover things like that. The project’s licence does ensure that the data will always be as good as it is currently and so can only get better still. I think also, the project emphasis will shift away from the standard “openstreetmap.org” front page map and become more known as the definitive map data store for the world, with other websites becoming the primary way the data is viewed. The project is sometimes described as the “Wikipedia of mapping” and I think it will encounter the same problems, and come up with the same solutions, that Wikipedia did – such as dealing with vandalism of the dataset by having different levels of editors, area guardians and protected places. More generally, I see many more projects like OpenOrienteeringMap filling particular niches and the parent database continues to expand. Perhaps the database will form the start of a global postcode system?

    Many thanks Ollie! A great example of a practical application of open geo data. Anyone who is interested in the project can learn more here. OpenOrienteeringMap is just one of many geo related projects Ollie is involve in, I highly recommend everyone follow him on twitter and read his blog.

    Where in the World…


    …is OpenOrienteeringMap being used to create simple maps, for training and small “Street-O” events?

    Since the all new (version 2) of OpenOrienteeringMap launched 19 months ago March 2013, almost 7000* maps have been created (4300* in the UK), with around 40000 control features added to them. Above (click for large version) is a map showing where in the world these maps have been created. Below is a zoomed in version for the UK. If your local club hasn’t put on a Street-O yet, then why not ask them to do one – with the map already drawn in OpenOrienteeringMap, putting on a Street-O event has never been easier.


    Maps here use background data which is CC-By-SA OpenStreetMap contributors. The background data from the maps, and used in OpenOrienteeringMap, is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors and licensed under the Open Database Licence (ODbL).

    * Planners/organisers will may produce several maps for a single event, as they iterate towards their desired final race map. A new map is created every time they save. If we look at unique map centroids, then the number is 5000 for the world, of which 3000 are in the UK. Additionally, a proportion of maps will have been created without any controls added to them, likely for purposes other than Street-O.

    OOMap 2.2 – Closed Route Crosses


    OpenOrienteeringMap 2.2 has been released, with a significant new feature addition – closed route crosses. These allow you to manually mark routes as out of bounds, for example along roads or paths which are private and locked at either end. The crosses are red “X”s, they are added singly, using the same dialog box for adding controls.

    It is recommended that you places a little distance away from junctions, so that it is clear which road/path is being marked as closed,(and because the crosses will be sized slightly differently in the PDF that is created). You cannot edit or move existing red crosses, as they do not have an edit button in the control descriptions list, but you can delete all the red crosses you have added with the “Delete Xs” button at the top.


    I’ve also updated the styles slightly:

    • leisure=garden now included, shown as yellow (open ground). Previously it was shown as olive green (out of bounds) on Pseud-O or as white (not mapped) on Street-O.
    • Waterways in tunnels (such as canals or underground rivers) are no longer shown.
    • landuse=greenfield and landuse=brownfield no longer shown, as these are just legal designations.
    • landuse=construction and landuse=landfill now shown with light pink overlay rather than vertical black lines (Pseud-O) or white (Street-O).
    • On Pseud-O, fences (barrier=fence) are now shown with the fence symbol, rather than the wall symbol.
    • On Pseud-O, sports pitches no longer automatically have a fence shown around them.

    The styles are open source, in Mapnik XML format, and can be found here on GitHub.

    Why not try out the new feature now!

    The OpenOrienteeringMap service is giftware. If it’s useful for you, it helps you run a successful event, or saves you time mapping, please buy me something on my gift-list or buy a print. Or buy yourself something through my Amazon store link. Gifts will encourage further development and offset the costs of hosting the site. The styles are open source (see link above) and you are encouraged to adapt them!

    A Trio of Munros in the Ben Alder Forest


    I climbed three Munros in the Ben Alder Forest area yesterday. This is the eastmost part of large tract of wilderness in the Scottish Highlands, stretching from Loch Ericht (between Dalwhinnie and Rannoch) all the way over to Glen Nevis (near Fort William). No public roads cross the area, and just one railway line, the West Highland Line. Ben Alder itself is a Munro of considerable bulk and height (1148m), it is hard to get to, requiring a long walk eastwards from Corrour station, northwards from Loch Rannoch or southwards from Dalwhinnie. I took the last option, taking advantage of a newly upgraded estate road to cycle the first 14km of the route to Loch Pattack (450m elevation), which took around 50 minutes – the well packed track generally passable on my road bike, apart from a sandy section near the end.

    Shortly after crossing a wobbly suspension footbridge (pic above) across the loch inflow, I left the bike and climbed onto and up the easy-sloping ridge of Carn Dearg (1034m) from where there were fine views, both to Ben Alder and more immediately the Lancet Edge, a sharply pyramidal ridge leading up to another Munro I had climbed a few years before. I dropped down below the Lancet Edge, traversing a corrie and a valley at 600m before climbing up 100m to the Long Leachas. This is one of a number of ridges leading onto Ben Alder and it is in a spectacular location. The ridge offers easy scrambling, always with a bypass path. It is scenic and so makes the climb up to 1050m almost effortless. Near the top, it narrows, and keeping to the crest of the ridge offers numerous short and easy scambles over various boulders. From the top of the ridge, it is a 1.5km walk across the plateau to the summit of Ben Alder itself. Just below the summit lies the ruins of a small house – built by the team of the original Ordnance Survey surveying expeditions. Shortly after is a small lochan – at 1100m altitude, presumably one of the highest bodies of water in the UK.


    The best views are from the ridge following on from the summit (see pic above), particularly looking north down the cliffs to a large loch and over to the Monadhliath Mountains. Looking the other way, Loch Ossian, with its wonderfully remote youth hostel, is also visible.

    It is best not to follow the ridge eastwards too far from Ben Alder’s summit, as it curves around to the north and then ends in cliffs on three sides. So I came off the ridge early, aiming for the high bealach (840m) and then it was a quick ascent up Beinn Bheoil (1019m), the last of the three. There is a small top just to the right, on the way up, that has a fine view over Loch Ericht – the loch is a reservoir, dammed at both ends as it crosses over Scotland’s east/west watershed.

    After Beinn Bheoil, I continue northwards along the largely flat and easy ridge, then coming off it to the left and hitting a well made stalkers’ path, that leads down to the river, to a bridge across it near Culra Bothy (now closed) and finally back to Loch Pattack and my bike, exactly six hours after I left. I’d walked 22km and climbed 1450m. The return along the estate road, to catch the evening train home, was done with care, as it was by now twilight.