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Navigating with a map and compass


I do enjoy teaching navigation skills, to see people’s skills develop and confidence grow as they learn to navigate their way across what at first looks like barren open hillsides.

My client and I set off from Ingram Bridge in Northumberland National Park, on a brisk wintery day to master the map and compass. The first task was to learn how to pace 100-metres, a simple technique, which is an essential tool needed when walking from point to point across the hill. With that mastered, we then spent some time looking at the map, thinking about orientation, working out a grid reference to pinpoint our location and setting a strategy to get from the car park to the more open country.

Once there and off the public right of way we had used to reach the hills, we began by taking a bearing to a feature and measuring the distance on the map, which in turn gave us a strategy to reach that point. Off we went, compass carefully in hand, following a bearing and after 200-metres or 140-double paces, we reached the stream, bang on, a neat bit of navigation.

Looking around us, we could see a boundary fence ahead, which wasn’t on the map, making the point that features come and go but we had confidence in our location, so we took our next bearing to a Trig Point and set off again. Less successful this time, it’s easy to be distracted by a sheep track contouring across a hillside and we ended up some 50-metres away from the Trig Point. A useful lesson, that missing a target in good visibility is not a problem, but in poor light, in fog or at night, you quickly get lost.

The day continued in a similar vein, going from point to point across the hill, confidence grew and soon my client was navigating efficiently and effectively with the map and compass in an area completely new to them. We found a great bit of shelter behind a dry stone wall, never under estimate how handy a feature like that is to get you out of the wind, all part of the learning process and part of a wider strategy for a day out hill walking in Northumberland National Park, or wherever you happen to be.

If you are interested in learning how to navigate with a map and compass, then get in touch. In addition, to learn new or to improve your hill walking skills, at Footsteps you can do the Mountain Training (England) Hill Skills Course with us. It’s a nationally recognised qualification. More details on our website under the Further Footsteps link.

Thanks to my client for an excellent day on the hill, you know who you are.

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