Where did the path go?

map of kinder

which symbol is the path?

Have you ever tried to follow a path on the map but got confused as you couldn’t see it in the landscape around you?

A common mistake that people make is that they don’t understand what the symbols on their map actually mean.  Take the map above for example on which there are several symbols that might confuse the unwary navigator.

The black dots show near Crowden Head  
These are actually a Civil Parish boundary; an imaginary line separating two Parishes that has nothing to do with paths on the ground!

The black dashes at the top right and close to the Pennine Way  OS 25K symbol - Path
This is the symbol for a path that exists on the ground.  But be careful with this as there are also lots of paths on the ground made by sheep or deer for example that aren’t shown on the map!

The green dashed line running NW – SE through the centre of the map 
This is a Public Right of Way (footpath).  And this is where a lot of people slip up as the symbol is a political designation (i.e. by law you have a legal right to be there) but it does not mean that there will always be a path on the ground.  Anyone who has tried to run or walk across Kinder Scout following the public footpath symbol will know that the “path” doesn’t exist.

The green diamonds signify a National Trail 
In this case the Pennine Way.  As these tend to be more popular walking routes there is more likelihood that there will be a path on the ground, however if you look closely on the map to the north east of Red Brook you’ll see that the Pennine Way runs through steep ground whereas to the east of it, the black path symbol keeps to the higher ground.  Ask yourself “Are there really two paths there or is the Pennine Way symbol an arbitrary line on the map?”

So with all these things to confuse you how do you make sure that the path you’re on is the one you want to be on?

Look at the contour lines
Whilst paths may come and go due to animal and human feet, the shape of the landscape will remain.  A hill will always be a hill, a valley likewise.  So if your intended path is supposed to take you downhill and you find yourself running on the flat, stop – something isn’t right.

Check the compass
Look at the direction that you want to be going and check that you are actually going that way.  It is all too easy to run along a path that gradually changes direction.  If you should be going north and you’re not, then again something is wrong!  Too many runners stick their compass in their bumbag only to get it out when they are lost.. too late!  Keep it handy and check that the direction you’re running is the right one!

boggy running in the Peak District

I thought you said there was a path!

access land symbol

access land symbol

symbol showing the boundary of access land

symbol showing the boundary of access land

If you are on Access Land then you have a legal right to roam anywhere – you don’t have to stick to public rights of way.  This is shown by the thick beige line on the map and the symbol on gates or stiles.

So the moral of the story: Just because you’re on a path doesn’t mean it goes where you want to go!

Do you need to improve your navigation skills?  Click for more information about my Navigation Skills Courses.

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Fell Runners Association Navigation Course

The Fell Runners Association holds two navigation courses every year.

The Spring course from Kettlewell YHA in the Yorkshire Dales is sometimes held in warm sunshine… but not this year – winter returned!

navigating in winter conditions

conditions on the “Spring” navigation course!

The aim of the course is to give runners more skills and confidence to enable them to navigate safely on the fells and to make their own decisions in races rather than simply following the runner in front.  It crams lots of information and practical activity into the weekend with participants split into small groups and allocated an instructor (a merry band of hand picked “experts” with vast experience of navigating, fell running and orienteering – or a bunch of old crocks who have all gone the wrong way at some time or other!)

"expert" instructors

“expert” instructors lead the way

Starting with introductions on Friday night then into a basic theory session discussing all things mappy, terms such as contours, handrails, attack points, aiming off and catching features were all added to the participants’ vocabularies.  Then it was off to the local hostelry for further getting to know each other but with a reminder that people would be “encouraged” to take part in the morning 7 am run!

Morning Run

morning run

The early morning run gave a taste of the day’s conditions with light snow starting to fall on the trot up to Hag Dyke.   Appetites whetted it was back down to the hostel for a hearty breakfast before the day’s practical activity.

The main part of the day was taken up by practical navigation on the hill with each participant being tasked to take their group to a specific location, usually an obscure point on the map, and then discussing their route choice and techniques used to get there.  It was great to see confidence growing throughout the morning as the runners learnt to accurately estimate the distance they were covering and use the features around them to make the map “come to life”

where are we?

where are we?

By mid afternoon it was time to let the students off the leash to take part in a solo, orienteering style activity putting into practice what they had learnt.  The hillside was soon dotted with runners counting their paces and following compass bearings looking for shafts, gullies and re-entrants.

gulley hunting

gulley hunting

After a long day on the hill the group were happy to get back for a shower and hot drink before tucking in to 3 courses of excellent food.

Then it was time for the much anticipated night navigation exercise!  A few rather uneasy faces looked up as they were given details of their task; to use the skills they had learnt to locate checkpoints but this time in the dark.  At least they were doing this in pairs so they had someone’s hand to hold!  The instructors headed out to take up strategic locations making sure no one went astray and could soon see a trail of head torches coming up the hillside.  This was a real test of navigation but there were plenty of major features to help re-locate if anyone went slightly wrong.

night navigation

the much anticipated night nav.

An hour later there was a real buzz in the pub as enthusiastic (or should that be relieved) runners exchanged stories of their experiences, the locals must have been wondering where all these gullies, boulders and contours were.

Was it the exertions of the previous day or the “re-hydration strategy” that lead to slightly fewer runners assembling for Sunday’s 7am run?  Those who got up had the chance to run around the night navigation course and see exactly where they went – or should have gone.

Another good breakfast was had before the FRA’s Access & Environment officer Chris Knox gave the group an insight into the role of the FRA.  Then time to prepare for the final activity; the individual 10k navigation exercise.  This took the form of a fell race with compulsory checkpoints but with the runners choosing their own route between them (although there was no pressure to race if people wanted to focus on the navigation rather than speed).

The one thing that hadn’t been anticipated was the weather as snow, strong winds and low cloud made for really testing conditions.

navigating in bad weather

testing conditions

The skills learnt allowed all participants to successfully complete the exercise and runners returned to base with a sense of achievement at what they had done.  Feedback from the group showed they had all gained confidence and achieved something they didn’t feel at all confident with when they arrived.

So a successful course and a happy gang of runners with a new set of skills ready to use in their next race.   Thanks must go to the staff at Kettlewell YHA, the instructors who give their time for free, Steve Batley for organising the course (again), Margaret and Jenny for their hard work behind the scenes to ensure the administration runs smoothly and finally the enthusiastic participants who make working on the event so rewarding.

The Autumn course is at Elterwater, September 27 – 29.  See you there.

 

Navigating when it’s Grim

Teaching navigation skills in bad weather is a good thing…

…and the last week has been particularly “grim”.  Cold, windy days with the Peak District hills hidden away under a heavy blanket of low cloud.  Normally, running in these conditions isn’t particularly pleasant, but the bad weather happened to coincide with two navigation sessions I was delivering and so provided a real test of the runners’ map and compass skills.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you can navigate when you’re warm; when you can relax your grip on the map without fear of it being whipped from your hand to disappear into the distance; when your bare hands can turn the compass dial unencumbered by thick gloves; when your eyes don’t stream from the fierce wind and blowing sleet; when you can feel your fingers, toes and nose and when the sun casts shadows on the distant hills.
But when it’s “grim”, what then?
Navigating in “grim” weather
On Wednesday, a bitter easterly wind and hill fog greeted us as we climbed onto the moor from Ladybower reservoir, leaving behind the security of the path and heading into the gloom.  
“How long do you think it will take?” I must have asked John the question a dozen times as he grappled with the numerous variables that were going to affect our speed: distance, terrain under foot, wind direction, ability to focus on recognisable features, and all whilst dealing with cold hands, running nose and steamed up glasses.  It would have been very tempting to call it a day, go back to the shop for a hot drink and look at expensive jackets, but he persisted.  A little hint here and there – “look at the contour lines” and then, BINGO! Out of the murk the tiny sheepfold we had been looking for emerged – well done! Confidence lifted, frozen feet temporarily forgotten, where next? “How long do you think it will take?”
Into the gloom
And on to Saturday, different location same weather.  The featureless Dark Peak moors can be intimidating at times and in poor weather the expression “godforsaken” springs to mind.  And so it was off into this harsh, unforgiving environment that we went, micro-navigating, looking for tiny features in the landscape.  Graeme and Lynne were familiar with the basic concepts of navigating and wanted to fine tune their skills to enable them to be more precise when locating features and thus become more confident for fell races and orienteering events.
Counting paces…60 steps…we should be there…where’s the pond?…stop…check the compass…have we drifted?…is this it?…call this a pond?!
You see that bit of heather?
And thus it continued, taking compass bearings on barely visible lumps of heather and counting paces. 
“It should be 100 metres in that direction.” 
“What does 100 metres look like?” 
“Well Usain could run it in under 10 seconds! I’d like to see him do that up here!!”
What does 100 metres look like Usain?
And again success, stream junctions emerging on cue, a change in the slope right where we expected it to be and two happy runners with more confidence in their abilities.
We like “grim” conditions, if you can navigate then, then you can navigate.

If you would like to book a navigation lesson in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

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