There is something about maps. The tribulations of a hard day spent selling pencils can be soothed by resorting the map section geographically. Everyone loves maps, even me and I cannot read one to save myself. Ask anyone who has ever hiked with me. I have to hold the map exactly the way up to correspond with the path in front of me, line up the waypoints and even then there is only a 50% chance it will turn out well. I once took my sister for a hike up Leith Hill in Surrey, took a wrong turn on the way down, met some mist and before I knew it was having to call my uncle to come and pick us up from just outside Horsham, Sussex. Luckily when we went to the Himalayas we had a guide otherwise we’d still be communing with the yetis in Shangri-La.
And if maps are good, historical maps are even better. For one thing they are often amazingly beautiful things. Towns are represented by little pen and ink sketches of church spire and castle turret rather than a dull grey-brown blob. Where there are unknown bits (and there are often unknown bits) the space may be filled with fanciful dragons. Two map experts at The National Archives, Rose Mitchell and Andrew Janes (I bet they never get lost), have written a book Maps: their untold stories. It comes out in September. I have seen some advance pages (one of the treats of being a bookseller is a peek at publications yet to come) and it is a truly magnificent tome.
It describes the cream of our map collection with glorious colour illustrations and fascinating factoids. We have seven centuries of maps here: military maps, explorers’ maps even a map of the London Underground in the form of a cucumber and believe me that is not something you’ll see every day. Put it on your Christmas list now. You can pre-order a copy from your friendly bookshop here at The National Archives. It will be the best £25 you have spent in a while.