Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Grid references

How to write a grid reference

Grid references can be written in a number of ways. For footpath work the best format is two letters and eight digits (numerals), for instance:

SJ97646956 (the summit of Shutlingsloe, near Macclesfield)

That reference indicates a ten-metre square. Other formats are available for one-metre squares and hundred-metre squares, but ten metres is best for most footpath work.

Some people put spaces in grid references, for instance SJ 9764 6956, but that isn't necessary.

How can I find the grid reference of a place on a map?

Go to the OS mapping page on this site, click on Show advanced features, and see topic "To go to a location that you don't have a grid reference for, and find its grid reference".

I've got a grid reference in the wrong format: what next?

Often you'll come across a grid reference in the wrong format and you need to know how to convert it.

You can use the OS mapping page on this site (click on Show advanced features, see topics "To go to a location that you have a grid reference for" and "To customise the map"). Alternatively follow the instructions below, depending on the format of the grid reference you've got.

All-numeric grid references have two numbers with a comma between, for example "397642,369567". There might be fewer digits but the method for dealing with them is the same regardless of the number of digits. What you need to do is:

  1. Take out the first digit of each of the numbers, and the comma. So from "397642,369567" you get "3,3" and "9764269567".
  2. Use the first digits to look up the corresponding two letters in this list:
  3. 3,4 = SD4,4 = SE3,3 = SJ4,3 = SK3,2 = SO4,2 = SP
  4. Put the two letters in front of the digits to give, in this case, SJ9764269567.

If there are ten digits it's a one-metre grid reference and we want to take two digits out to make it a ten-metre reference. Simply delete the fifth digit and the tenth (last) digit. So SJ9764269567 becomes SJ97646956.


If you've just read the information above for the first time you might think it all sounds rather complicated. But after only a little practice it will soon become automatic.

For most inspectors, they will soon get to know the two letters to use in grid references for their areas. They will copy a twelve-digit grid reference to the clipboard, paste it into whatever document or form they're working on, delete everything except the middle four digits of each number, and type the letters at the front. So 397642,369567 becomes SJ97646956 with just a few keystrokes.

Latitude and longitude

Occasionally you might come across a location specified in degrees of latitude and longitude. You can convert it to a grid reference using the Ordnance Survey's Coordinate transformation tool.

Further information

For anyone interested in delving further into the subject of grid references, there's a wealth of information on the Ordnance Survey's web site. For example:

Related pages

Online maps Highway authorities OS mapping

Page title:Grid references
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