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!
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!)
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!
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.