So I can now officially read a compass and an Ordnance Survey map. (Yep, the certificate is even winging its way to me in the post as I write.)
After my minor freak out on the rain-driven and cloud-covered slopes of Mt Snowdon last year, and my stupidly ambitious desire to climb 40 volcanoes by the age of 40, I thought it best to actually get some outdoor skills.
So there I was on a Monday morning sitting inside a concrete shed on a farm with three middle-aged blokes looking at a compass. The four of us scribbled notes furiously as the instructor discussed the bezel (the bit you turn) and the romer (for measuring the distance in a grid reference).
I was the only girl. When I’d turned up these three burly blokes were already waiting – dressed in a mixture of checked shirts, camouflage/combat apparel and sweat-wicking outdoor tops. Facial hair added to the weathered, outdoor look. Their hand shakes were strong and firm, and they had manly names like Steve and Andy.
Beer bellies aside, these guys looked the real deal. I felt slightly intimidated.
But looks can be deceiving. Sure these guys liked the outdoors – all of them had done a bush craft course, lighting fires with flint, living off the land and building shelters from trees – but in the real world they were something else entirely: a stage manager for a rock band; a Londonblack cab taxi driver; and a former IT university lecturer. You couldn’t get more motley than that.
And so these were my survival companions for two days. After learning the ropes of compass and map reading, I was putting my trust in them to direct me on a four hour course through the Surrey Hills near Guildford, UK.
We were given our co-ordinates, located them on the map and designated a leg each to lead. Stocked up with compass, water, tuna salad and 35 pence Tesco sweet mix, we were off.
By and large, I was impressed. These men could actually read a map. They were going great guns, picking up paths where I was left scratching my head. Then we took a wrong turn. Only we didn’t realise until we came to a cross roads that wasn’t supposed to be there. Fortunately, it wasn’t the end of the world, as we soon navigated our way to where we needed to be – a minor detour really.
But then it came to me. It was my turn. The pressure was immense.
I puffed out my chest and strode off at a pace, looking every bit the wannabe female version of Bear Grylls (as a friend suggested on Facebook). It was all going fine until I got lost – twice.
I mean it wasn’t proper lost. I knew where I was – sort of.
The first time, we were on the right footpath but the turn-off was confusing. A tiny path hidden by overgrown grass meant we spent 10 minutes trying to figure out where exactly we were on the map and what direction we should be going in. I say we, because the men decided their input and expert map reading skills were required. A joint effort, however, saw us head off in the right direction, me feeling a little less confident.
The second time was a result of taking a path that was not indicated on the OS map, believing it to be the one I needed to turn on to (so clearly I can’t take full responsibility on this occasion). We spent 10 minutes walking backwards and forwards scratching our heads trying to figure out where the next path was that we were supposed to take. What was annoying was the fact that the car park and finish was literally 200m east. We ended up just pushing our way through the ferns – which is when we discovered the path we should have been on. From there we found the car park (thankfully).
All in all, it was an interesting experience – particularly having to use the “toilet tent” that was about seven metres from a busy road and in the perfect line of sight of car drivers. My confidence has vastly improved now that I can read a map and compass; however there is still a lot to learn before I will feel sufficient in navigating mountain ranges.
Now the challenge is to put my new-found skills to the test. What better excuse than to get outside!
Have you had any navigation hick-ups?
The course I attended was with Trueways Survival. I attended independently and all opinions are my own.