Like any skills, it’s important you go out and practice them regularly. Not everyone can get out into the hills on a regular basis but there is one resource on most people’s doorstep – your local permanent Orienteering Course. These make ideal places to fine tune those new found navigation skills.
First find your orienteering course
Permanent Orienteering Courses are usually maintained by a nearby orienteering club and consist of a series of marked posts and a regularly updated map with the course variations marked on. Many courses are in country parks or similar who often make the maps available from the on-site shop or café. You can find out where your nearest orienteering course is by visiting the British Orienteering Federation website
Short Course first
So you’ve found your course so what next. If you’re new to this lark, then start easy. Choose a shorter course and using just the map navigate your way round the course, from marker to marker. (You can of course use your compass to orientate the map, i.e. make sure the north(top) of the map is facing north.)
Once you’ve successfully negotiated round that, reward yourself with a cup of tea and a scone, then head out again, this time using your compass to navigate either round the same course (it’s good to get reassurance that you’re heading in the right direction) or another short course. Place the edge of the compass between two markers and turn yourself and map round until the red end of the needle points to the top of the map; walk in the direction indicated by the direction of travel arrow. You might need a few goes at this to get it right but practice does, of course, make perfect.
As your confidence grows try longer, more elaborate routes and the whole process of navigation should become easier. You’ll make mistakes of course, but just make sure you check why you went wrong, then try it again. Learning from your own mistakes, and understanding why you made it, is one of the best ways of learning after all.
If you find this sort of navigation fun, you might even like to try an organised orienteering event. Again the British Orienteering Federation can point you in the right direction!
Pete Hawkins: Author and navigation expert runs Silva Navigation School. Map and compass courses for walkers, runners, mountain bikers and all outdoor enthusiasts.