I was horrified to hear several Apprentice candidates blurt out why they couldn’t read a map because of their age

What a great shame. Maps are a wonderful thing – I loved looking at maps as a child. He would overflow roads, rivers and hills, rushing to various villages and towns.

I liked to follow the paths of the river tributaries and the contours of the hills, and I liked all the symbols – churches with towers or spires, observation decks, crossed swords to mark the sites of battles, post stations and small tents in camps.

When we visited the Lake District, my father took us on long walks along routes he had worked out using Ordnance Survey maps. The map hung in a waterproof wallet around his neck. When we returned home at the end of the day, I liked to unfold the map and retrace our route, visualizing the terrain we had traversed.

Maps are the reason I fell in love with geography so much and continued to study the subject at university.

Now, unfortunately, they are rarely used, and people prefer the ease of mapping apps on mobile phones.

In particular, motorists no longer use them, preferring satellite navigation systems. I must be a rare person who has a glove box full of cards in my car. I still stop to ask for directions, which is not always easy and no doubt many will say it is dangerous, but I prefer that to listening to a robot telling me where to go for the entire journey.

There is another reason why we should not be so quick to dismiss the cards. Turning off GPS and using maps could help fight dementia, study suggests.

Researchers have found that orientation to terrain, which relies on navigational skills, memory and movement, can be a useful tool to prevent cognitive decline.

A study by a team from McMaster University in Ontario concluded that reading a map can stimulate the parts of the brain that our ancestors used for hunting and gathering.

Map reading is a skill, no doubt about it. My dad was an expert at following old trails and detours to make for varied, interesting walks.

I’m not quite competent. In the wilds of the North York Moors, Dales or Lake District, I sometimes find it easier to follow written directions on a walk. But I always take a map of the operating system to back them up and give an overview of where we are. And like I said, I like to settle in with a map and see where we’ve been later.

I wouldn’t trust GPS in the wild like many do – what if there’s no signal?

In cities, I find street maps to be the easiest way to navigate. I just bought a new London AZ because my old one I’ve been using since college is falling apart. On my last visit to the city, I forgot to take it and used my phone. Due to the small display screen and the fact that I had to constantly refresh it, I couldn’t navigate in the dark, got hopelessly lost and had to be rescued by my daughter. With a regular card in hand, this would never happen.

Apprentice candidates are no doubt familiar with Google Maps – someone needs to tell them that real-world maps are pretty much the same, just on paper or, if you’re very lucky, on linen.

We owe a lot to maps, we should appreciate them and use them.

“I can’t read maps,” the candidates say. If I were Lord Sugar, I wouldn’t hire any of them for that reason alone.


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