Thursday, 15 March 2012

Thetford MTB Map - an early look

One of my favourite places to cycle is Thetford Forest.  It is 45 minutes away but boy is it worth it if you like twisty single track.  I probably go 10 times a year, and I have slowly learned my way round bit by bit.

There are well sign posted routes, the Black, Red being the best for the MTBer. But if you hunt around, there are some fabulous single track routes well away from the crowds.  They take time to hunt down but in the end you are well rewarded.  They are also a moving target.  Sometimes the single track routes fall out of use and become overgrown, and right now they are felling areas all over.  But elsewhere new routes are being created as race routes for MTB and Motorcross Enduro.  

If you cycle offroad, you come to rely on maps for planning your cycles.  Most people grew up with Ordnance Survey Maps which are great, but they have one big disadvantage - you can't update them.  That is where OpenStreetMap comes in - it's the Wikipedia of the map world.  You can put routes in the map yourself, be it from a GPS recorded track, by tracing over Bing Satellite Maps.  

Thetford Forest is mapped as far as the straight and boring tracks go.  Somebody has put in most of the main tracks and tree blocks by copying data from maps.  The singletrack routes are not visible from the satellite images so you need a GPS to record them. Actually if you know an approximate route you can put that in too, and somebody will improve the data later.  It is a collective effort.  I have put some of my GPS traces into OpenStreetMap and so have others.

Once the data is in a database, you can do useful things with it.  Within just a few hours of adding data, you'll see your updates in the Standard map view.  There is also the  OpenCycleMap view which highlights the routes a little better.  I also use OpenMtbMap, a map for Garmin GPS's which is updated weekly.

Inspired by OpenMtbMap, I thought I could produce an MTB map of Thetford.  This time, suitable for printing out.

There are maps of, the Red and Black Routes; Brandon Country Park; and Santon Downham in a Google Picasa Album - Thetford MTB Map.

There is no map key as yet, but effectively the important bits are:
  • red line is a confirmed singletrack
  • green line is a path, likely to be singletrack but unconfirmed.
  • dashed green: overgrown, invisible or a confirmed unpassable without effort to clear
  • background under-highlighting of marked routes, green, blue, black and red.

Here is one of those maps, the Brandon Country Park side:

Brandon Country Park.  A map you (yes you!) could update.
Go to album for full size and other maps.

It's out of date as they have just felled a whole load of sections.  It needs updating and that is something you can do if you want this map to be great.  Soon I will put this on an automated rebuild once a month and put up more details on how to edit the map if you want to help out.

Creating the maps is based upon so much work of others who have given their time for free.  If we all contribute a little, we can make great stuff together.

I have written scripts to control a whole raft of free stuff:  OpenStreetMap data, coverted to svg using Osmarender, then to png using Inkscape and uploaded to Picasa using googlecl. And not forgetting the Linux operating system and applications I am using.  Flippin' brilliant !

And the end result, is having fun cycling.

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