If you love the great outdoors and the freedom of the hills and mountains, but you can’t read a map, then it’s going to be at best a very limiting experience, or potentially very dangerous.

Having spent many hours running and walking in the hills, I have always had to rely on someone else to navigate, but with a mountain marathon on the horizon, I could put it off no longer, the time had come to pick up my compass and learn how to use it.

Gillian and I booked on to a specialist course, just the two of us and our instructor Ian, for a day’s tutoring in the Peak District.

Excited and nervous, I was sure Ian would never have come across such inept navigators; after all I had once been asked “have you got absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever” when struggling to get the map the right way up – never mind find something on it.

We started with the basics – measuring paces – so that by counting your paces you would know how far you have travelled; and the five Ds: description, duration, direction, destination and distance.

With simple targets we practised our newfound knowledge, learned how to set the map and take a compass bearing.

Then there were the tricks that you could use: handrailing, aiming off, ticking off attack points and catching features. If that all sounds a bit double Dutch – you can use a handrail such as a path, stream or wall line which you can follow easily to keep you on track; aiming off means to deliberately miss your target so that you know you are definitely left of it or right of it (or should I now say north, south, east or west); ticking off attack points means to break down your route, so that you can hit easier targets along the way to your destination; catching features – you note a feature further away than your destination and if you get there you’ve gone too far!

We stopped for our packed lunch and discussed emergency situations, how to handle an incident and talked through our morning’s lesson. We carried on in the afternoon and compass bearings became second nature. All in all we spent about 7 hours on the hill, and had a truly grand day out.

The course didn’t make us navigators though – it’s the practice that will get us there in the end. So with enthusiasm, we downloaded the map and headed out to a permanent orienteering course on Ilkley Moor. We found the first checkpoint fine, the second was a different matter entirely. So we used the tactics that Ian had taught us and worked through the 5Ds, we used paces, handrails and attack points and eventually we found it. To prove the point that it’s practice that we need, we got better as we went on!

The basics are definitely there now, it’s a great feeling to be able to study a map and for it to make sense. I’m so looking forward to our mountain marathon and to (hopefully) be of use to my partner.

Ian was a breath of fresh air – very professional, obviously incredibly experienced – he didn’t get grumpy or frustrated with us, and he very obviously wanted to share his passion for running in the hills.

If you fancy learning how to use a map and compass then I couldn’t recommend Ian and Everything Outdoors enough. You can contact him through his website www.everythingoutdoors.co.uk or have a look at his facebook page and you’ll see all of his students having a great time www.facebook.com/OutdoorNavigation.

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