What is Freemap?
Freemap is a project to create free and annotatable maps of the UK countryside, using OpenStreetMap data to create the maps. Freemap maps aim to show not only the official rights of way, but all paths with public access, many of which are missing on other maps.
- Map key
- Using Freemap's interactive features - how to annotate the map and create walking routes.
- New features (April 2017)
- The map isn't showing! Why?
- History and technical details
- Source code
- Other software hosted on this server and available for download.
- Back to map
Map keyThe following diagram (based on a previous version, but the current version of Freemap is to all intents and purposes identical) shows the colour scheme for different types of path (permissive footpaths, not shown here, are light blue):
The maps consist of two layers. The top layer (coloured) shows the routes with public access, as shown above. The lower layer (black and white) gives an indication of the path's physical condition, for example whether it's a dirt path, a track, or a farm access road. The second diagram shows examples of the lower layer, and also shows a permissive footpath:
Note how some paths and tracks have no coloured overlay. These are paths and tracks for which walkers' rights are unknown, i.e. it is not known whether they are walkable or private. Also note the public footpath in the top centre of the map, and how its southern end follows a farm access road and its northern end follows a track.
Using Freemap's interactive features
Freemap maps are interactive and allow you to:
- Add notes to the map, for example share footpath problems or provide directions where this might be unclear;
- Draw your own walk route and automatically get a description of it, ready to take on a walk. Currently walk routes are available as GPX.
You need to login to add notes, so please sign up for an account!
You can share notes by adding them to the map, for example, problems (mud, barbed wire fence, mad cows etc....) or provide directions where the course of the footpath might be unclear.
When logged in, select the "marker" icon from the toolbar, click on the map at the position where you want to add the annotation. Add your text and click OK.
When the map is loaded, you'll see existing notes as markers (exclamation marks on a red or brown background). You can simply click on one to see the note.
Freemap also allows you to create and share walk routes. Once logged in, select "Walk route" mode and then:
- Select the "Draw walk route" option from the toolbar, and draw your route on the map;
- You can then add descriptions to the walk route. Select the marker icon from the toolbar option and drag the marker to your walk route at the appropriate place. You will be asked to enter a description. Make sure the "Add to walk route" checkbox is selected.
The walking route will be downloadable from the site. When logged in, you can select "My routes" to see all your routes, and the start of walking routes are shown on the map as foot icons. Routes are currently available for download in GPX format, so they can be imported into a GPS device.
Android app - OpenTrail
Freemap has an accompanying Android app, OpenTrail. With OpenTrail you can add and share notes "in the field" on your device: these will be uploaded to the database. Furthermore, you can record a walking route while out walking, add notes to it, upload to Freemap and share with others.
Furthermore, OpenTrail features the ability to download and "play" existing walking routes - so you'll be able to see walk route directions presented to you on your Android device while out walking!
After a long period in which Freemap remained unchanged, a few new features have been added in April 2017, partly inspired by the setup of the OSM-UK group:
- Wider range of information included on the map: in particular stiles, gates, field boundaries (where in OpenStreetMap), viewpoints, cafes, restaurants and power lines.
- Clickable points of interest. Selected POIs can be clicked with information appearing where available, such as a link to the website of a pub or restaurant, a link to a Wikipedia article, or (if available in OSM) a general description. Also, a link to the train times for today from stations are displayed if you click on them, via brtimes.com.
- Search results now show the county or district of places found, where this has been added to OSM.
The map isn't showing! Why?
If the map doesn't show immediately, it's because the map for that area needs to be rendered (drawn). Generating the map data from the database takes time as this is a relatively low-spec server. It may take some time in built-up areas. However, once an area of map is drawn, it is cached which means that next time you visit that area, the map will be drawn much more quickly - a second or two.
Also please note that from early 2012, maps have been drawn in the browser using HTML5 technology and the kothic-js renderer. The decision to switch to in-browser rendering has been made as a result of the large demands of server-side rendering due to the increased size of the OpenStreetMap database.
The move to in-browser rendering also means that you will need a moderately up-to-date browser (something released in the last 5 years or so); in particular, Internet Explorer versions before IE9 will not work.
There are some limitations with Freemap as it stands: in particular, due to server constraints it's restricted to England and Wales, and it cannot currently handle certain types of OpenStreetMap data. The main example of this is "multipolygon relations", which is the mechanism OSM uses to handle situations such as lakes with islands or forests with "holes" of open land within them. The principle effect is that, unfortunately, many of the larger lakes in the Lake District are not drawn. This is something that will hopefully be dealt with in the future.
Also, artefacts sometimes occur at tile boundaries; again I aim to resolve this time permitting.
History and technical details
Freemap basically started up in 2004 more or less at the same time as OSM itself, but originally used its own database. My original motivation was that I wanted to illustrate some long-distance walks I did across England and Wales around the turn of the millennium, but found that I could not do that with OS maps without paying expensive licencing fees. So I thought it might be a good idea to create my own maps based on GPS data. Then in early 2005 I met Steve and, once a tagging scheme had been sorted out, contributed my data to OSM; Freemap then used OSM data for its maps, the maps still being rendered on the Freemap server, originally using PHP/GD and later using Mapnik.
Eventually the larger size of the OSM database meant that server-side rendering used up too much resources, so a decision was made in early 2012 to switch to browser-based rendering using Kothic-JS. This means maps are a little slower to draw, but with the increasing power of desktops and laptops in recent years this is less of a problem.
Here is a description of how Freemap is maintained, should you be interested.
- A standard OSM PostGIS database is present on Freemap, containing selected OSM data. County extracts are downloaded from geofabrik.de, and then Osmosis is used to extract the relevant information and osm2pgsql to import to the database. Using county extracts means that the memory issues of trying to import the whole of the UK into the database at once can be avoided, so thanks to Frederik for that!
- A web service has been written which provides tiled OSM data as GeoJSON (or a slightly modified version of GeoJSON, see kothic-js). On the client side, kothic-js parses the GeoJSON and renders it to produce a visible map, using the MapCSS file here.
Freemap source code is available via github; see here. The SVN repository is no longer being maintained.
Nick Whitelegg (OSM username: nickw) Email