If you need almost-free contour data, for broad-scale maps showing the terrain of an area, and you live in the UK, then the Scottish Mountaineering Club have kindly provided data in Garmin IMG format on their website. To convert this into other GIS formats, then there is a programme called GPSMapEdit, which is shareware but quite useful. Paying for the software unlocks an option to convert to mapinfo, and from there the world of GIS is your proverbial oyster.
On my new tips and tricks page, I have included some step by step instructions for getting this data properly projected in British National Grid format in ArcMap, and how to interpret the results (not as simple as it sounds).
Having rearranged things at Archaeogeek Towers I appear to have lost the page where I showed how to use the data once you’ve got it into GPSMapEdit, so I will try and redress that asap.
Now, this data is not error free, as the authors freely admit, but it’s good for nice relief maps showing the basic terrain of an area. If anyone knows of other methods of getting this kind of data, then I’d love to here about it- leave me a comment!