Using a map to navigate

September 1, 2011

Staggering idea eh! I never cease to be amazed by the lack of walkers who use a map whilst walking around the fells of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales – time and time again I come across people confused as to where they are and uncertain as to where they are going. Our Ordnance Survey maps are superb – the best in the world.

Many walkers have guide books in their hands, which are ok, but they only give half the picture; once you have missed a turning or happen to stray from the path for whatever reason then it is almost impossible to recover. Stress usually follows and often a less than comfortable descent and whilst 99% of walkers will make it back to where they are aiming for it is just so unnecessary.

Use guide books by all means but relate them to a map – plot the route on to a map from the comfort of your own home and then take the map out with you. Not only will this provide the safest way of experiencing the great outdoors but also the best fun. A map will allow you to leave your chosen route, visiting points of interest nearby which would be away from the guide book route (a viewpoint for instance, or maybe another more interesting descent) and also give you something to look at when you stop. Neighbouring mountains, lakes or streams can be seen and named and all of a sudden the entire walk is more enjoyable.

However I do accept that many walkers do not have the confidence to use a map… however it is not difficult to learn. As with so many things it is the fear of the unknown which is putting people off; when in fact spending an evening simply looking at a map, the contours and the symbols will in many cases be enough. Try using a map around your local area (which is familiar anyway) and relate what is on the map to what you are familiar with. Simple use of a compass is similarly straightforward – the red arrow goes north as does the top of the map – put them together and you are off and running.

The 1,25,000 O/S Explorer maps are what I recommend for the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales (4 maps only cover each area) with the detail and scale ideal for walkers. Whilst I was climbing the Munros I used 1.50,000 O/S Landranger maps as the 1.25 did not exist (and the differences walked tended to be larger) but the detail is less and certainly for practising in the English uplands the 1.25,000 is best.

To have some help in learning all about navigation and having some great fun in the process I would suggest signing on to one of the Where2walk one or two day navigation courses run in the Dales Just click on Navigation Courses to find out more.


Over the school holiday period I have been able to add quite a lot to the website. There is now an Overseas section which includes some friends’ accounts of trips they have made; whether this is a summary of walking opportunities in the Pyrenees and France to bigger walks further afield such as Aconcagua and trekking in the Himalayas.

There is also a great new section on wheelchair access in the Yorkshire Dales written by Debbie who is extremely interested in such matters. Totally inspiring.


Previous Posts:

Walks for the family. How to educate your children to enjoy the great outdoors

Away from the Crowds. Some tips and suggestions on where to still find peace and solitude when many walks are crowded out.

My favourite villages in the Dales. The villages in the Yorkshire Dales which are extra special.

Delighting in photos. Why it is so easy to enjoy photography these days

More than just a walking heaven. Different reasons why people take to the fells and dales

Watch out for the little blighters. Sheep ticks continue to be a growing menace

Map Reading Skills on the decline. Impact of new technology on traditional navigation.

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

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