Map Reading Skills on the Decline

April 9, 2011

I came across this article in the Westmoreland Gazette the other day and it really struck a cord with me. It has become increasingly noticeable on the fells that fewer walkers are carrying maps and certainly a compass and are now relying more on gadgets (GPS, phones and watches) to navigate; I was on Mellbreak a few weeks ago with Wayne when he suddenly started consulting his watch and announcing what height we were at. Proudly showing me the watch (from which I could not read the data – more of that later!) however I was not convinced of its accuracy. Sure enough on the summit the height was out (not by more than 10 metres) and he calmly said – oh that will be because it has to be set at sea level! Well, when was the last time any of us were at sea level? Further along the ridge the entire thing stopped working and later I heard it had been sent to the watch doctors (no doubt being repaired at some extortionate price). Anyway, the point being he thought it was a useful bit of kit and that I should consider it myself as it would be useful? It may well be a nice to have bit of kit but I will stick to map and compass.

As the Westmoreland Gazette piece states – gadgets are a symptom of society with new Apps being released every 5 minutes, which are untested or inappropriate for certain situations. We are now being brain washed to believe every new gadget is the solution for all ills. In addition it also takes a bit of time to understand maps and certainly compass readings and many walkers (particularly the young) can not be bothered to learn and then gain the experience needed. I believe strongly that map reading is the key skill to have on a walk – partly because it is totally reliable but personally I also find them thoroughly enjoyable as a picture in my mind as to where I am with the lie of the land. The problem of unprepared people is only going to increase as fewer and fewer understand the basics of navigation.

I do have a problem with map reading though. I am increasingly finding it difficult to read the detail on a map as my eyes deteriorate and I am not prepared to wander around the hills with a magnifying glass or reading glasses in my hand! Not good – I have taken (on the suggestion of the optician would you believe it) to wear just a single contact lens so I have distance and near vision sorted. Hey ho.

Previous Posts:

Hidden Yorkshire Dales. The joys of walking in my favourite lesser known dales.

Walking with Children. Some tips and my favourite child friendly walks

Multi Day Walks. A few tips to get the most out of them

Footpath erosion. The potential impact of government cuts

Mountain Rescue Teams. The best ways to help them

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