Map Work Exercises

For many years now, the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London has run an introductory orienteering exercise on Hampstead Heath to familiarise new undergraduates with basic map skills.

The orienteering exercises provided here are based on those used for the UCL undergraduates, but are tailored towards a younger age group, particularly those studying GCSE Geography.

There are two routes, Red and Blue, each of which comprises 5 localities covering all the basic skills required for GCSE Geography map work skills, plus some introduction to the underlying geology of the Heath. Both routes are based on the use of an Ordnance Survey map, as required by all examination boards.

The routes should only take about an hour to complete and both finish at Kenwood House which is a good place to meet up and have lunch.

It is assumed that pupils will have lessons on basic map work and compass skills before they embark on the routes. General information is provided about the geology of the Heath and the area of the Kenwood Estate. This information can be either given to pupils before or after they attempt the routes, to help them answer some of the geology questions, taught to them formally in the classroom, or used as the basis of a geology field trip.

Topics Covered

  1. DIRECTION: Using a compass Bearings, back bearings, triangulation
  2. SCALE: Use of a 1:10000 map
  3. DISTANCE: Measuring distances on a map and using the scale to determine distance on the ground. Calibrating pace lengths (how many paces = 100m) to determine distance straight from the ground.
  4. GRID REFERENCES: Understanding and determining six figure grid references from the map.
  5. RELIEF: Locating spot heights during the orienteering exercise, and using contour lines to draw a topographic cross section of the route taken.

Skills Required

Before embarking on either of these orienteering routes, pupils should be able to do the following:

  • Take bearings
  • Calculate back bearings
  • Triangulate using back bearings
  • Measure distances on a map
  • Mark bearings on a map using a compass
  • Use grid references

Maps of Hampstead Heath

We have a set of six laminated 1:10000 OS maps of Hampstead Heath that can be borrowed from us for free.

For more information please contact:

Dr Wendy Kirk
Department of Earth Sciences
University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT
Tel: 020 7679 7900

Alternatively, maps can be purchased at a cost of £35 for a 3km x 3km sheet from the map and travel bookshop, Stanfords.


The information contained on this website is believed to be correct at the time of posting. However, please bear in mind that alterations may be made to signposts, paths etc. on the Heath.

If you find that anything has changed in such a way as to affect the exercises provided here, please let us know.


Hampstead Heath is maintained as a public open space by the Corporation of London and access to all areas required for these exercises is freely available to the general public. Please bear in mind, however, that some areas (e.g. S.S.S.I.s) are restricted; and you should take great care not to intrude into them.


We have constructed these exercises so that possible hazards are minimized. However, please note that the Heath contains several large areas of open water, and at least one high level viaduct. Students should, therefore, be closely supervised; particular care should be taken to allow sufficient time to finish the exercises in daylight hours as the Heath may not be safe after dusk.