The Ordnance Survey has had its own on line route-planning tool for a while, but it's just been revamped under the name Getamap - erm, geddit - a free to use web system which lets you upload and download route data and plot out your own walking and biking routes on screen using genuine digital OS mapping.
Use It Free...
You can either use Getamap in a basic, standard mode for free or choose to pay an annual subscription and get an enhanced experience with added benefits. In free mode, it's actually pretty good. The map window is relatively small, but the mapping loads quickly, it switches seamlessly from 1:50,000 to 1:25,000 scale maps as you zoom in and out and the point to point route-drawing tool is straightforward to use. You can use keyboard arrows to pan the map, so the small sized window isn't too much of a problem.
As you plot your route, you get a rolling route summary giving distance in miles and kilometers, plus a high and low point, there's also a neat elevation graph and a route card. And once you've traced your map, you can save it to your own folder, choose to make it public so other people can view and download it and you can download it either as a GPX data file or for a Garmin device.
There's lots more to it than that though, you can choose to buy 'authored routes' from the likes of outdoor magazines or the AA, find local places to stay and so on. You can also choose to take out an annual subscription and get various extra benefits.
These include the ability to print an unlimited number of A4 maps, free access to authored routes, a full-screen map view and more sophisticated route-editing tools along with the ability to add images to your waypoints. Cost of signing up for a year is normally £30, but until 30 June, it's just £18.
Overall, it's a decent site even in free-to-use mode and ideal if you want to create your own routes then download them to a GPS - particularly if it's a Garmin, though the OS says other devices will be supported in the future. It's certainly not the only option out there and there's at least one other new mapping site looming on the horizon, but the mapping loads quickly and displays really well and it's mostly easy to use.
You can find the OS Getamap service at www.getamap.ordnancesurveyleisure.co.uk