Heron Maps – bringing British waterways to life

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Open a Heron Maps’ product and you’ll notice something a little different – waterways take centre stage on many of its maps, instead of the roads and paths you’d usually see. The company’s Waterways and Greenways products all feature enlarged waterways with corridors of surrounding detail, such as paths, cycle routes and places of interest. They bring British inland waterways to life like never before. We catch up with Nick Holroyd, Director of Heron Maps, to find out more about the company’s unique creations.

What makes your maps so unique, Nick?

british waterways maps

We offer a variety of maps but specialise in plotting Britain’s inland waterways. We’re the only company that offers fold out sheet maps of British inland waterways, usually at 1:50000 scale. You can see the whole map in one view, unlike in a traditional book where you turn pages. We enlarge the canals and waterways too, making them the prominent features of the map. This means you can’t use GPS with our maps, but you can see the canals and waterways in incredible detail.

What are your most popular products?

The Broads map is our most popular product, as well as the Kennet & Avon Canal, and Llangollen & Montgomery Canals, which are all part of our Waterways Series.

Do you personally use Heron Maps’ products?

I’m probably a bit of a map geek and take a paper map wherever I go! My family and I use our maps for cycling and walking along waterways. They’ve all got Sustrans cycle paths plotted on them and footpaths too. Recently we used one to walk a section of the River Thames.

How do you come up with ideas for new maps?

I founded the company in 2010 with my business partners Chris Johnson and Dave Edwards. We’d previously worked together at another waterways mapping company that closed, so we started off making maps that had been popular with its customers. Now we’re filling in the gaps where maps of the British inland waterways system are missing. We’re only five or six maps away from having the whole system covered.

Talk us through the process of creating one of your maps

It takes about six to eight months to create a map from start to finish. A member of staff will visit the waterway, and sometimes work with a local canal society to map it. We look at existing Ordnance Survey maps for reference, but everything gets changed massively. We add in lots of features that are specific to canals, like lock numbers, bridge numbers and lock lengths. The canal line or waterway is enlarged too, as the main point of interest. We use a mapping programme to draw the maps, add all the information in, and layer the map (each feature has a layer, e.g., a layer for roads, another layer for utilities). It’s edited along the way and corrections added in. Once everyone’s happy, the relevant local canal society will have their input, if they’ve been involved. Then we send it to Dennis Maps as a PDF. It takes three to four weeks from sending the files to receiving the printed maps. After that, the printed copies go to mainstream and specialist distributors, then out to customers.

british waterways maps

How do you meet the challenge of making your maps environmentally friendly?

There’s very little in our production line that isn’t sustainable. We even cycle along the canal paths to plot them! Further down the production line, Dennis Maps prints all our maps, using sustainable paper and vegetable-based inks.

Does the business face any other challenges?

Utilities along canals can change quickly and we have to keep on top of changes. For example, pubs may close after a map is published. We aim to update maps every two years but it’s still a challenge to keep utilities up to date.

What’s the best part of running Heron Maps?

It’s exciting when we order large quantities of maps as it means lots of people are using them. Other than that, it’s going to the Crick Boat Show. It’s an annual show in Northamptonshire, that anybody and everybody to do with canals goes to. It’s like a festival with camping, stands and live music. You get to meet everyone and keep up to date with everything to do with canals.

Are there any exciting plans for Heron Maps that you’re able to reveal?

We usually produce one or two new maps every year but this year it’ll be three. We’ve just had one delivered – a map of the Forth and Clyde Canal. It’s a route from Edinburgh to Glasgow via the Falkirk Wheel. It’s exciting for us as it’s covering a new area. We’re currently plotting the Basingstoke Canal too – another new area for us. The map should be out next year.

Dennis Maps is one of the leading map printers in the world, producing more than two million maps and charts every year. We offer comprehensive pre-press services, large format print solutions using both large format litho printing and large format digital print technologies, plus specialised map folding and map finishing techniques.