Book Review: The Wild Rover by Mike Parker

Maps are brilliant. Ordnance Survey maps, digital maps, Open Street Map, they’re all brilliant. (Google maps not so much unless you’re driving). I could lose myself for hours looking at maps, finding new places to visit and new routes to cycle or run. Mike Parker also loves maps, although he is more old school preferring paper ones over digital. I read his other book, Map Addict (read about it here), and really enjoyed it, so it wasn’t a hard decision to pick up his latest book.

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In this book Mike starts off by having a moan at the plethora of new footpath signs in the village where he lives, joking that he likes the fact that he rarely sees anyone else on ‘his’ paths. He highlights how quickly footpaths were closed during the foot and mouth outbreak many years ago, and how long it took for many of them to re-open. This is an ongoing theme, with court cases against land owners who have blocked off footpaths.

Mike also covers the history behind footpaths and open access to land, which wasn’t easily won. The most famous case is the mass trespass up Kinder Scout in 1932, where 500 locals wanted access to the moors above their smog and soot filled towns. Less famously is the mass trespass up Winter Hill near Bolton, which overlooks my place of work, and which I have run up a couple of times. In 1896 10,000 people illegally walked over Winter Hill, and many of the ‘ring leaders’ end up in jail. We’ve moved on, but I still feel that too much open moorland is reserved for grouse shooting, especially in light of recent floods, where mass tree planting on these fells would greatly help.

Mike also writes about many of the more famous Long Distance Paths which criss-cross England. He even walks one of them, the Ridgeway; a very pleasant amble of 140km from Ivinghoe Beacon to Overton Hill. I would quite like to do this one day, especially as Overton Hill is near to the famous Avebury Stone Circle which me and Helen visited 18 months ago with my parents.

Back to the book in question, and if you’ve read Map Addict then you’ll know what to expect; bits of history, bits of humour and a whole load of walking.

Book Review: Map Addict by Mike Parker

I’m old enough to love a good fold out map. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to look at maps on my phone, especially when out running, but I always turn to the paper version when I’m looking for inspiration of where next to run or cycle.

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Map Addict was therefore always going to be a book I would enjoy, written by a self confessed map addict. Mike begins with his own obsession with maps, stealing them from his local book shop as a teenager, behaviour that can’t be condoned. He explains the differences between the different OS maps, and why they are some of the best maps in the world. He looks at other iconic maps, for example the London A-Z. I also enjoyed the section where he lists the five best and five worst Landranger maps, which is a bit harsh on Thurso and Dunbeath.

One area of the book I loved was when Mike explained how map makers make sure that if someone steals one of their maps, and then re-brands it as theirs, maybe with differently coloured roads, they would know about it. To do this, OS, for example, place deliberate mistakes on the map. Small enough that you wouldn’t notice, but wrong enough to prove that the map is theirs. OS recently took another company to court, who settled before the trial, which is partly a shame as many people would love to know where some of these ‘mistakes’ are.

Back at home, and me and my beautiful wife have recently organised our map shelf. Helen’s father passed away almost five years ago, and my father earlier this year. We now have both of their map collections, which combined with mine and Helen’s maps means we have almost the whole set of Landranger maps, with only the north east of England and parts of Scotland missing.

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Some of the maps go back over 40 years, so it’s always fun to look at an area before motorways.

Anyway, back to the book review, and while I really enjoyed reading Map Addict, it is a bit of a niche book. If you don’t get excited by maps then you probably won’t really enjoy this book. (Who are these strange people who don’t love maps?)