Anquet Maps 1:50000 Great Britain North; 1:25000 Superscale Highlands, 120 pounds each
(Software version reviewed: 1.1.8.) Anquet Technology: Regus House, Windmill Hill Business Park, Swindon, SN5 6QR; 01608 647402; www.anquet.co.uk
THE THING you're buying here, the thing that commands the big price tag, is information. Anquet have licensed 1:50000 mapping data from the Ordnance Survey, and 1:25000 from Harvey Maps, and they've bunged it all on to CD-ROMs for your delight and education.
Great Britain North comes on four CDs, and contains OS Landranger maps covering the whole of Britain north of the Humber. Superscale Highlands is a single CD - it provides 1:25000 Harvey Superwalker coverage of the lumpy parts of Scotland.
Other stuff is on offer. If you care to shell out another 120.00 you can collect the complete set of 1:50000 coverage by purchasing the four CDs of Great Britain South. The Harvey-based Superscale Lake District will set you back just 45 pounds. Anquet also provide a set of budget packages - 1:50000 coverage of National Park areas. These CDs cost 35 pounds each and are called Lakes, Peaks (sic), Scotland, South Coast and Wales. Coverage is variable - Lakes covers more than just the Lake District, but Scotland covers only selected mountainous regions.
Having a truly humongous quantity of data is a fine thing in itself, of course - the mere fact of possession gladdens the heart (well, it works for me). But it's only really useful if you can get at it - if you can view it and mess with it, extract useful bits and print them out. And this is where Anquet come up trumps - they've stuck a nice, clear, intuitive front end on their costly data.
Whichever Anquet package you buy, you'll get the same front-end software. If you buy a couple of packages, the data merge seamlessly behind a single instance of that front end. You have a couple of installation options - you can install the software and a minimal dataset to your hard disk, and access the major mapping data via your CD drive; or, if you have a hard disk the size of a small European principality, you can dump all the mapping data on to your hard drive, too. For the benefit of TACers everywhere, I tried both options. First, I installed to an elderly but still sprightly 200MHz Pentium with 64MB of RAM, running the aptly named Windows ME (it makes you feel tired and sick for a year after you install it). The program used up around 200MB of my hard drive, then chugged away quite nicely, reading its mapping data from a 32x CD drive. There was a distinct delay as I scrolled around the map display, and the inevitable hassle of changing CDs when I wanted to change resolution or move to a completely different area, but this stickiness was by no means unacceptable.
So I moved on to a 1.9GHz Pentium 4 with 256MB of RAM, running Windows XP, and bunged all five review CDs on to my hard drive. There was a brief pause while I fed the beast the CDs in the requisite order, and then I was able to admire a directory called Anquet Map Data, which was hogging an impressive 2.34GB of disk space. (Jeez-o. First hard disk I ever owned stretched to 20MB, and I thought I'd never fill it.) With this installation, the maps scroll pretty smoothly - you can click-and-drag your way seamlessly around the countryside with the mouse, as if you were crawling across God's own Landranger map.
Right. Let's move on to what this thing actually does.
At startup, your screen is filled with a map at the current resolution. Every installation comes with an OS 1:1000000 "overview" map which lets you navigate swiftly around the country, and a 1:250000 OS road atlas with a 200m contour interval. Higher resolutions are available according to the map packages you've installed.
Along the top are the customary toolbar and menu bar, and at bottom left there's a little box telling you the current grid coordinates of your mouse pointer, and its altitude. This is interpolated from a 50-metre square grid covering the whole country, so it can be slightly adrift from the contours you're seeing onscreen.
The maps are stored as single images, rather than in layers, so there's sadly no possibility of turning off the OS's irritating purple lines and tourist-information icons. However, you can zoom in on any detail that seems a little obscure, which is certainly more than I can manage with a real map and my creeping presbyopia. You can scroll the map smoothly across the screen by clicking-and-dragging, or move it in increments by tapping the cursor keys.
For bigger navigational leaps, you have several options. One button on the toolbar brings up a dialogue box that allows you to go directly to a specific grid reference or latitude and longitude. Another lets you search a database of a quarter of a million placenames, and then jump to the location you've specified - the database pops up a list of matching names, together with their grid reference and administrative district to help you decide which one you want, and some information about the nature of the feature and its distance from your current location. You can also narrow your search by creating filters for the type of feature and administrative district, so it's possible to search for, say, hills in Aberdeenshire which contain the word bhuidhe in their names - we're talking a significant edge in the TAC quiz, here. A little playing around with this function suggests the database comes from OS data - I could jump to pretty much any obscure name I could find on an OS map, but names that appear only on Harvey maps weren't found. A more significant limitation is the accent-specificity of the search - Beinn Dorain was unfindable until I realised I had to enter Beinn D˛rain, which I could only do by cutting and pasting the accented character from another application.
Another method of moving quickly from place to place is to right-click on a feature of interest, set it as a "waypoint", and then add it to Anquet's "Quick-List" - thereafter you'll be able to return to it with only a couple of mouse-clicks.
Mention of waypoints brings us to another feature of the software - the creation of "paths" and "routes". Paths, in Anquet's environment, are used to connect waypoints - start at one waypoint (one you've made earlier, or one you create on the fly), click your way across the map marking out a path, and terminate at another waypoint. You can associate little bits of descriptive text with your paths and waypoints, should you so desire. Routes are concatenations of paths, and any single path can be incorporated into several different routes. As you assemble a route, any text associated with the component paths and waypoints is compiled into a route description for you. This whole caboodle can then be saved to disk for later use.
It reads as if it's going to a real faff to do, but after a couple of minutes with Anquet's reassuringly minimalist 10-page manual I was laying in paths and routes like a good 'un. I confess I'm hazy on what the advantage of this two-stage approach to route-planning is, but there seems to be no problem with creating a one-path route.
Once you have a path or route mapped out, you can call up information about it. There's a neat, customisable "Path Profile" that shows you the ups and downs you're going to have to negotiate, and a digest of distance, height and time based on Naismith's venerable formula. The Naismith calculation is customisable for those who cover ground faster or slower than the standard, and there's the option of inserting a downhill jigger factor if your knees are beginning to complain on the steep descents (the default setting for this option is "disabled", which gave me a frisson of concern until I realised they meant it was switched off).
Next step - print the map, including your planned route. The interface for this is neat and intuitive, with the printable area displayed as a black box on the screen. You can drag the map around and adjust the magnification to make best use of the printed area. With the printer zoom set to 100%, you get a printout at exactly the original scale of the map. The seamlessness of the OS map display comes into its own, here - I found it slightly disorientating to have a map of Creag Mhor and the approach to it from Glen Lochay, all printed on the same piece of paper.
The last option Anquet offers is data transfer to and from Garmin or Magellan GPS receivers. Again, this was impressively easy - I plugged the serial cable into the back of my Garmin GPS 12, told the Anquet software a little about the device, and we were off. Before I quite knew what was going on, Anquet had found a forgotten track-log, downloaded it, and displayed it. (Seems like I did find my way to the right top on Beinn an Dothaidh last year ... or, as Anquet insists, Beinn an D˛thaidh.)
You can transfer individual named waypoints to your GPS, but if you copy over an entire route, Anquet automatically generates its own waypoint names, giving you control over just the initial two letters. Since I find walking from AC001W to AC003W via AC002 less than edifying, this is one feature I'm hoping will improve in subsequent versions of the software.
Speaking of subsequent versions, a trip to Anquet's website at http://www.anquet.co.uk/ allows you to register your product, and lets you download the latest version of the software. You'll also get online support, and access to their database of routes. This latter is a searchable list of routes submitted by Anquet customers. They are, as might be expected, of variable quality, and so far there are only 140 or so available for the whole of the UK. I'm not a great man for traipsing along following other people's directions (or even worse ... shudder ... following their waypoints on my GPS), but with the duties of the reviewer heavy upon me, I downloaded a couple and took a look. Some, like the route for Beinn a'Ghlo, are nothing more than someone's track log from a standard day out (see opposite). Given the ease of entering your own waypoints and routes through the Anquet interface, it's difficult to see why anyone would want to download such a thing. But others, like the walks in the Living History section, at least use the technology to full advantage by providing text annotations along the way.
So: summary time. The data were always going to come expensive, and the price tag is probably more or less what might be expected. The Anquet software is slick and customisable and easy to use - I'm impressed, and I had lots of fun and no distress at all when playing with it. I did once have the software hang completely, but I was doing something particularly dim at the time - changing the defined paper size for my printer while in the middle of printing a map. (Just asking for it, really.) I'll certainly use it in future - for quick Naismith estimates, to generate GPS waypoints, to print out custom maps when the route spans a couple of sheets, to search for placenames, and for general map-browsing. What didn't I like? The placename search certainly needs to be insensitive to accents, and could do with some better support for wildcard searches, given how difficult many hill names are to spell correctly. I'd also like to see better support for transferring named way-points to the GPS. But that's it - it's a fine package.
That said, I'm not sure if anyone but the serious enthusiast will care to spring 240 pounds for OS maps of the whole of Britain. But you might well care to spend ú35 for your favourite part of the country - do take a look at Anquet's website to see the exact areas they cover.
Specification City -
Minimum system: Windows 98/ME, 32MB RAM
Recommended: Windows 2000/XP, 64MB RAM, 500MHz processor
TAC 58 Index