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Driven by the requirement to tick a navigation skills box if walking solo on the South Wales Three Peaks challenge event, we held our first Navigation Skills Workshop yesterday.  It was delightfully illuminating.  For instance did you know these six facts about maps themselves:


  1. A 1:25,000 map (the size you need for navigating whilst walking) means that the map is 25,000 times smaller than reality. 
  2. One blue square on a 1:25,000 map equates to 1 km and the diagonal equates to roughly 1 mile.
  3. All maps are designed with North at the top.  A very basic point which makes compass navigation so much easier.
  4. On OS maps yellow and bright green shaded areas represent open access land.  This means that you are free to roam over any of that land and don’t need to stick to footpaths.  White areas denote fields – here you must follow designated footpaths otherwise you’re trespassing.
  5. Contour lines are measured in 5 metre increments in low lying areas and 10 metre increments in high areas. 
  6. Contour heights are always written facing uphill and every fifth contour is a thicker orange line.  This makes it easier to work out if an area is uphill or downhill and also to calculate height.


Possibly the number one tip Steve Bees (our coach) gave us is that when using a map do NOT to look at it first when you think you’re lost.  Look at your surroundings; clock some identifiable landmarks (woodland, buildings, streams, track junctions etc) and then turn to your map to locate their position.  If you have a compass or know where north it is, so much the better.

 Once we’d re-capped some other map basics including helpful/confusing symbols, we then turned our attention to the use of a compass itself.  My children have all done Duke of Edinburgh/Ten Tors events and were gently mocking at my admission that I’d never learned to use one.  So I flicked on my ‘concentrate very hard’ switch and got stuck in.  True north, magnetic north, base plates, direction of travel arrow, magnifiers and bearings have all now been demystified and I have to say that it’s not actually that complicated so long as you understand the basic principles.  Of course the key to any learning is to embed it firmly into your memory and all of us who were on the course left determined to practise diligently.  If we do ever get lost in the future the strapline is ‘I haven’t made a navigation error, just a concentration error’.  So no talking whilst navigating!

If your navigational interest has been piqued there’s some useful information (including video tips from Steve Backshall) on map navigation on the OS website – click here to read more.  Plus a good Mountain and Moorland Navigation book by Kevin Walker.