Navigationally Challenged

The only pre-requisite for attending the Navigation Training course was to successfully find the venue.

So things didn’t start well when my phone rang:… “Dave, can you tell us where to go? our Sat Nav’s taken us the wrong way!”  After 3 similar messages involving phrases such as “padlocked gate”, “dead end” and “town centre” our wayward, would be map readers finally arrived, having dispensed with satellite technology and resorted to good old verbal instructions.
The navigation course is aimed at runners who want to gain the skills and confidence to allow them to explore more remote areas and take part in fell races where navigation skills are needed.  Our runners had travelled from far and wide, not quite an Englishman an Irishman and a Scotchman but a handful of Lancastrians, some Geordie ladies and a Scotchman!
Introductions over we began by looking at common map symbols – many a puzzled navigator has looked in vain for a path when the symbol they were following was actually for a Parish Boundary, a political concept rather than a feature on the ground!
Then it was outside where the participants were challenged to draw their own maps and direct each other to precise locations on it.
Draw your own map
Once the basics had been grasped it was time to introduce compass skills and pretty soon we had everyone “setting the map” and “walking on a bearing”.  It was really rewarding to see the light bulbs coming on as the group members realised that the “pointy thing that points north” was actually a useful navigational device and that following it was quite straightforward.
Setting the map
After the recent bad weather we were blessed with a bright but cold day so it was good to get a warming brew before the next task; understanding contour lines.  For some people who are new to map reading those squiggly brown lines are quite confusing but being able to interpret contour features is a fundamental map reading skill.  Being able to plan your walk or run by looking at the contours will help you avoid nasty surprises such as having a mountain to climb to get to your destination!  To help our runners gain an understanding it was back to school and out came the Playdough! Each group was given a picture of some contour lines and challenged to make their own hillside.  A number of different shapes emerged as we discussed re-entrants, spurs, cliffs and cols.  The participants were all very mature and resisted the temptation to make elephants and aeroplanes!
Making a mountain out of a.. box of playdough
Is it a submarine? No it’s a hill with 3 summits!
Once the theory had been covered it was time for the bit that everyone had been waiting for – navigation practice on the moor.  Working in small groups, each with an instructor our runners took to the adjacent hillside and were challenged to navigate to specific locations using their recently acquired skills and knowledge.  Interesting discussions ensued over which was the best line to take – was it best to go direct over the rough moorland or better to “handrail” along the wall until the checkpoint was reached?
Putting theory into practice
The rough moorland and occasional remaining bank of snow made for “interesting” running with a few disappearing up to your knee moments!  However the runners happily dealt with the rough terrain and all too soon it was time to head back to the centre for a working lunch; preparing for the navigation race!
Working with an orienteering map our group had to plan how many checkpoints they thought they could visit in 45 minutes and plan their route accordingly.  We had added an element of competition for those who wanted to race but the main emphasis was on them working at their own pace and following their own chosen route.  But there were a few apprehensive looks when they were told that they would be setting off at 1 minute intervals.. on their own!  The biggest temptation in a fell race is to follow the person in front and there are countless tales of people doing just that only to ruefully admit afterwards that the person they were following hadn’t got a clue where they were going!  So one thing that we hope the navigation course will help runners with is to develop independence and the skills to make their own decisions rather than relying on others.
So off they went, onto a different bit of hillside, alone, frightened, vulnerable, naked ….well not quite but you get the picture! Would we ever see them again?
An hour later all runners were back at the centre, all smiles, buzzing from their experience as I listened to them discussing their particular route choices and explaining how they had “hand-railed the fence”, “dropped down the contours” and “taken a bearing”. They were even happy to share their mistakes explaining how they had misjudged the distance, run too far or not set the map.  Everyone agreed that the exercise had developed their confidence and wasn’t as intimidating as they had thought it would be.
A final classroom exercise on grid references before the debrief revealed that everyone had enjoyed the day, learnt some valuable skills and was more confident to enter a fell race, orienteering event or just get out running and explore less familiar areas.
So all in all a very enjoyable navigation course with a great group of enthusiastic runners.  I just hope their Sat Navs work on the way home!
Compass says this way

If you would like to book a place on a navigation course, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

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