The Mobile Rambler

The mobile phone has become ubiquitous and it is reported that the number in circulation now exceed the number of people on the planet. The cost of smart phones has been reducing in recent years and that trend seems set to continue. On a recent walk around half those present had a smart phone in their possession.

What use do we put these phones to? Contacting friends and family, of course, and it is not unusual to hear a fellow rambler “phoning home” to ensure that the evening meal has been put in the oven! They also provide an invaluable lifeline for the occasion when assistance is needed – though hopefully not soon. But if you were to summon help, do you know your location with sufficient accuracy to direct assistance to that remote hillside?


All current smartphones contain an inbuilt GPS facility – some use the base stations and some use the satellites circling the Earth, but they all provide accurate location information.

There are a range of free apps which use this information to report the phone’s location uniquely in the UK to within around 10 metres. This is invaluable if you need assistance and are not certain which hillside you are on.


Increasingly, smartphones are being provided with a magnetic sensor and this provides an additional feature - the ability to display a compass on your screen.

Most apps provide both “moving needle” and a digital display of bearing enabling you to establish the direction of magnetic north and the direction in which you are travelling.

The lack of a moving bezel does make transferring bearings to and from a map more difficult but the app certainly has a place in the rambler’s toolkit.

GPS & Maps

Bespoke GPS devices with on-board maps are available but these tend to be rather expensive, both for the device itself and for the additional maps.

Navigation apps are available that use the free, and freely available, Open Streetmap maps. These apps are primarily aimed at navigation but all allow the user to show his location on a map and many also allow a walker’s progress to be displayed as a live track and saved to a log file for later use. There are also many apps which simply record the track to a log file.

Going to the seaside?

Apps are available which provide tide times for a large range of coastal resorts and others provide sunrise/sunset information for your location.

The traveller can use Trainline to check train schedules and live arrival times or he can plan his route around the London Underground and receive live network information.

A TV schedule app can accompany a quiet night at home and your walk in the dark can be supported by a virtual “sky at night” app which shows the location of the major constellations and planets.

Android or iPhone?

Both the Google Play Store and the iPhone App Store have apps that fall into all of the above categories. Simply search the store using one or two key words. All of the above apps have free versions and many have options to purchase.

The free apps are often supported by adverts which appear as a banner along the bottom of the screen. The option to purchase is generally inexpensive and many can be bought for under a pound or up to a few pounds.