Navigation top tips

This article first appeared in 2016 when I wrote for Womenclimb website. As it’s National Map Reading Week I’m sharing the content again here… with a bit of a refresh.

Here are my top tips for planning your own adventure and not getting flustered by navigation:

1.Remember the 5 P’s

Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance! Look at the map before you head out and plan a route that’s easy to follow. Not all routes are on easy-to-navigate paths and may require you to pay attention to the paths and terrain you’re on. Planning in advance will save time and arguments and definitely prevent you getting lost!

Think about what the route is and what type of map you’re going to use.

If its a day walk you might want an 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey Explorer map. For a multi-day walk you might decide to use a 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Landranger map to have more of the route on one map. If you’re in the mountains you might decide to use Harvey’s 1:40,000 Mountain maps which identify the contours more visually. Or if you’re after an afternoon adventure you might pick a local orienteering map!

2. Understand the map symbols

  • Do you know what all the symbols mean?
  • Can you identify a footpath from a bridleway?
  • Do you understand open access moorland?

If you’re not sure how to read a map, taking a course can really help.  We have a range of navigation courses to suit all abilities, (see our events page) but there’s also lots of fantastic free resources on the Ordnance Survey page.

Understanding the details on the map can really help to reduce the stress of navigating.

3. Understand map features: Grid Lines & Grid References

The grid lines are the faint blue squares superimposed over a map which form the basis for identifying a location.

Each square measures 1km across the lines or 1.5km from corner to corner so they can be useful for quickly judging distances. They are however principally used to give a grid reference, which when given as a 6 figure can give an accuracy of 100m of a location.

To understand how to identify a grid reference have a look at this helpful link.

4. Understanding map features: Contour Lines

Contour lines are the faint orange/brown lines that are used to identify the shape and altitude of the landscape.

While it’s easier to pick out the massive mountains using them, it’s worth studying the map to learn to identify the smaller contour features which can help to aid your navigation.

Contours have the height marked on them at certain points, which gives away whether the route is up or downhill. It might not matter too much for a few km walk from a car park, but if you’re carrying kit a long way to somewhere a bit more remote then it will make all the difference to how quickly you get there, and how knackered you are!

You need to roughly add 1 minute for every contour line you cross heading uphill, but it might be more if you’re not on a path and you are crossing scree, rocky terrain or moorland or if you’re carrying a heavy rucksack.

5. Orientate the map!

If you’re going to use a map it’s essential to orientate it in the direction of travel as you walk.  Get your map and turn it round until what you see in front of you is represented on the map, in the right direction.  Keep your thumb on the map as you travel to be able to quickly identify where you are.

It can sometimes take a bit of practice, but it’s the easiest way to be able to quickly navigate and understand how what you see in the map relates to your surroundings. Its also the easiest way to prevent getting lost!

From Hill Walking published by Mountain Training UK

6. The 5 D’s

  • Distance – How far are you going to travel?
  • Direction – Which direction are you heading?
  • Description – what are the features you’re going to pass and tick off as you go?
  • Duration – How long will it take you?
  • Dangers – are there any hazards en route?

As you’re walking, make sure you pay attention to what features you should pass on the route – check them as you pass over or by them.  You can mark your map to keep track of where you are.

7. Understanding how to use a compass.

Using a compass if something that many of us learnt at school or scouts and haven’t used since. For many walks its not essential to use a compass as we’re following footpaths or features like rivers and walls. However, when walking across open moorland, or in the high mountains compass skills can be essential.

For an overview of how to use a compass for navigating check out this introduction post from the Ordnance Survey and this more detailed one.

8. Have an escape route

  • What do you do when you the wether changes and you need to change your plan?
  • Can you safely navigate your way back without getting stuck?
  • Are you confident navigating in poor weather or when it gets dark?

Having an escape route or even a few options to cut short your plans is useful to have planned in advance to make a quick exit. Weather can be extremely changeable even when you have done your best to plan.

Read my blog over at Ordnance Survey about why using OSLocate app is a good safety tool.

Book Review// Wild Winter

Winter is my favourite time in Scotland. The mountains achieve a majesty in winter as the weather turns cold and changes the landscape. Wild Winter depicts this change as the chapters focus on the autumn and winter months in the Highlands.

Each month focuses on John Burns’ trips to Scotland and how the changing season affects the wildlife there. Starting in October with a trip to see the deers rut and whale watch, the book progresses through to March, with trips to find mountain hares, pine martens and beavers.

The book follows the same format as Bothy Tales, factual information on Scottish endeavours to re-wild, interspersed with Burns recounting trips to remote locations to be in the landscape. 

“Mountaineering plans are made in a warm room with a map spread out in front of you and a glass in your hand. Mountaineering decisions are made on aching legs, sweating, gasping for breath with reality howling about your ears.”

As he looks at the natural world he also discusses man’s impact. From salmon farming to the culling hares by grouse farmers, he is critical of man’s control of wildlife for our own profits. The constant battle between nature and man is best recounted in the discussion on beaver reintroduction to Scotland.

That Scotland’s wild spaces are anything but due to the management for deer and grouse is something most visitors overlook but wild winter brings to the fore. 

“Where I once saw wilderness and stood in awe of a magnificent landscape, now I see desolation. Now I see the scars we have wrought on this earth. I see the high moorland burnt for the shooting if driven grouse. I see our hills denuded of trees.”

Wild Winter is another beautiful book by Burns. If you love Scotland or just love literature which celebrates the landscape rather than tries to tame it, or battle through it – then Wild Winter is a book you will love.

Book Review // 100 Great Walks with Kids

I’ll start by saying I don’t have a kid, but I do have a 13 year old stepson who prefers the playstation to the outdoors and a small puppy who’s currently only able to adventure for a maximum of 30 minutes. They’re the same as a small child, right?

Providing a range of great walks all as mini adventures, this book provides an opportunity to engage children in the outdoors and explore new places without having to drag them for a dreaded walk.

100 Great Walks with Kids covers the basics of what’s needed for walking with young children, such as considering footwear and buggies/ carriers.

It breaks the walks down into regions and for each provides a great overview and why the walk is exciting to children, as well as the key info such as distance, start/ finish, and difficulty grading.

All of the walks are relatively short 1-3 miles long so do-able for small children with plenty of exploring along the way.

The only downside of this book is that in trying to cover the whole of Great Britain, the walks are spread far and wide – from Scilly to Skye.

The maps are quite basic with not many features marked on them for navigation but there are clear written directions to follow.

All the walks also include a panel of other things to see and do nearby, which is great for making a full day out somewhere if your little one walks quickly!

This is a great book for families who might need some inspiration for day trips, weekends away or a summer holiday. Its also got some great ideas for inspiring young people to get excited about the outdoors from a young age.

Book Review // Day walks in the South Pennines

I wouldn’t normally use a guidebook for day walks and definitely not for the area in which I live. But given the chance to review this guide I thought I’d see if it would still impress me, given the amount of walking I’ve done in the South Pennines.

The ‘Day Walks in…’ guides produced by Vertebrate Publishing now cover almost all of the National Parks and some extra areas too, as with the South Pennines. The same format is also used for their mountain biking guides, which I’ve used a lot since taking up mountain biking last summer. (who didn’t get on a bike in lockdown 1?)

Day walks in the South Pennines covers 20 walks around West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, all between 8 and 29km (5 and 18 miles).

Each route has stunning photos, an overview of the walk with a clear OS map route image and detailed written walking guide.

Each route also has a really clear overview panel covering the total distance of the route, ascent, grid reference for the start, parking suggestions and which OS map you will need.

The books covers a lot of classic walks in the area, so is a great introduction to the South Pennines for visitors. You’ll find walks around Dove Stone Reservoir, Bridestones and Stoodley Pike, Hollingworth Lake and Blackstone Edge.

Some of the routes covered require good navigation skills – for example the first route in the guide of Holme to Black Hill and while it says as such in the written text its surprising for a guide book of this nature to suggest a route which requires walking on a bearing across open moorland which is a hotspot for mountain rescue locally.

The South Pennines isn’t a designated national park or even an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so many people don’t necessarily associate the term with a specific bounded area. So the inclusion of the area in the ‘Day Walks’ series is fantastic to encourage more people to visit the towns and villages in this area that is between two National Parks.

The guidebook does sneak in some routes outside of the rough geography of the South Pennines though with the inclusion of Pendle Hill (in the Trough of Bowland), Rivington Pike (in the Western Pennines) and Goodshaw and Hamilton Hill (in the Western Pennines). These are great routes, but its a shame as there could have easily been 3 more routes on the South Pennines Moors included in this guide. And surely there’s enough great walks in both the Western Pennines and Trough of Bowland for a separate guide too?

That said this is a great introduction to the area and some of its classic walks.

Book Review // Walking the Literary Landscape

I’ve been reviewing Vertebrate Publishing books for the past year and they never fail to inspire the imagination for adventures. I was delighted to review Walking the Literary Landscape, particular as it focuses on the North of England. There’s so many hidden gems in the North that guidebooks like this which are national are going to always miss something wonderful.

The slim book is laid out in a relatively standard format with all the necessary safety information and countryside code reminder for hiking and hill walking in the UK.

The book covers 20 walks ranging from 5 to 14km (3 -9 miles), from the Lake District, North East, Peak District to Cheshire. Each walk also relates to a different literary author, which provides a great range of interesting routes and tales.

Each walk is covered with a beautiful photo of the location and a page summary of the author’s links to the landscape. Its then followed by a 2 page guide with step by step notes about the route and an ordnance survey map of the route.

Some of the walks and literary connections are obvious ones – Ted Hudges for the Calder Valley, Bram Stoker for Whitby and Beatrix Pottery for Windermere. Others were a little less obvious, such as William Shakespeare being associated with Wooler, and Charles Dickens with Carrock Fell in Cumbria.

Vertebrate Publishing always do fantastic walking guides but I like this one for the unique theme and the route choices. Rather than taking in the classic walks of the area, the routes are more thoughtful and cover a great range of beautiful locations.

So if you’re looking for inspiration for walks and have time to combine a trip with a good book then I’d highly recommend combining a walk from this guide with something by the author – perhaps a trip to Daresbury with a bit of Lewis Carroll?

Swellands, Marsden 10.5km

pule hill

A walk round the Swellands route will provide you with a sample of moorland walking on the Pennine Way, views across Colne Valley and a return on the Standedge Trail.

The walk starts in Marsden village centre. While not exceptionally long, it does cross moorland which can be difficult to walk on and navigate in poor weather. It also has some steep uphills to get high on the moors, so be prepared.

A full route description is available on the Marsden Walkers are Welcome website where you can also find the leaflet and a gpx file to download. The route is also well sign posted, with these way markers so look out for them as you walk.

Starting in Marsden village at the train station and head out of the village following the route to go under a road bridge and onto Fall Lane. Follow this right, to the roundabout. Cross the road here and head up Binn Lane. After the houses finish you will reach a wide track leading down the side of Butterley reservoir.

Follow this wide track as it heads gradually uphill passing another dam of Blakley Reservoir. Where you cross a cattlegrid there is a path on the right through the fence which heads downhill to eventually reach a bridge over the river.

Ahead of you the path climbs very steeply (and mostly slippy mud so take care) up to the top where you will meet another path.

Turn right here and follow the path above a deep valley. After crossing the stream help up the steps and continue to follow the path across the moors until you reach Swellands and Black Moss reservoirs. Cross the bridge and follow the path along the reservoir dam to the end. Here in summer you will find a tiny sandy beach, known locally as Marsden beach.

At the other end of the reservoir turn left and follow the paved path as it heads along the reservoir edge and then rightwards, all the way to a kissing gate, from where you will see. Pule Hill and Redbrook Reservoir.

Continue on the paved path till you cross a stream and arrive on the Standedge Trail track, a bridleway across the moors. Go straight ahead and drop down to be able to head right on the Standedge trail towards Marsden.

About 1km on you will drop down to pick up a track that will take you up to the road. Cross this and take Old Mount Rd and then turn on to the track signposted for Hades Farm. Follow this track as it heads towards Marsden and when you can see a stone barn on your right, drop down to take the path at the corner of 2 walls. This will lead you onto Old Mount Road. Follow this downhill back to Marsden and the A62.

Deer Hill Circular, Marsden – 6.5km

High above Marsden lies Shooters Nab, possibly the greenest crag around this bit of West Yorkshire due to its northerly aspect. Near it is Deer Hill Reservoir, the high point of this walk.

The walk starts in Marsden village centre. A full route description is available on the Marsden Walkers are Welcome website where you can also find the leaflet and a gpx file to download.

The route is also well sign posted, with these way markers so look out for them as you walk.

The route heads up past Crow Hill house, built in 1801 and now a large wedding venue. As it continues up the hillside it heads through a field gate and follows a muddy path between fields towards Scout Farm.

Here you pass through the National Trust signed gate and head onto the moors, following the broad track which turns right and heads uphill in the direction of Shooters Nab crag. As you head uphill you cross a stone bridge over the water conduit for the reservoirs.

Turn around and admire the view across the valley!

As the track starts to flatten out it reaches crossroads near another stone bridge. Turn left here and head along this track towards the building in the distance. This is the shooting lodge. As you pass the building the track becomes tarmac as it circles the reservoir.

Along the reservoir are steps, follow these down and past a wire fence where just behind there is a series of steps to cross the wall. Turn left here and follow the wall, heading straight down past a house and continue to meet the road junction.

Cross the road and take the first left up the bridleway towards Delves Cottages turn right onto Delves Gate road. As this descends turn left up a path and then first right to follow a series of paths which bring you out on another road. Head downhill to find the first path which leads downhill on your left.

From here you arrive on the Colne Valley Circular route. Turn right here and as you come to the second set of houses there is a path that leads downhill on your left. Follow this through the fields to the A62. Cross the road and head straight on following the footpath over the river and onto the Huddersfield Canal.

Turn left and follow it all the way back to Marsden!

Eryri/Snowdonia Gold Level Ambassadors

As Tinkadventures delivers courses and activities in Snowdonia, we felt it was important to complete the National Park’s Ambassador programme and we’re now proud to be Gold Level Ambassadors.

The Snowdonia Ambassador programme is a free online course enabling you to learn more about Snowdonia, the management of the National Park, Snowdon itself and 7 of the 9 Special Qualities identified as unique features of the National Park, including geology and historic landscapes.

The Ambassador programme is completely free and while it is aimed at people and businesses working in the National Park area, much of the information is interesting for even the general public so definitely have a look.

Book Review // Big Trails: Heart of Europe

Having already had chance to review Big Trails : GB & Ireland I was very excited to be asked to review Big Trails: Heart of Europe too. What a great opportunity to be inspired for new adventures, (when overseas travel is once again allowed.)

Big Trails: Heart of Europe follows the same format of the GB & Ireland book, covering 25 long distance trails in Western Europe and the Alps. These include some of the really famous and well-walked routes such as the Haute Route, Tour du Mont Blanc and Tour of Monte Rosa. It also includes a lot of routes I’d never heard of before which was quite exciting.

Even some of these lesser known routes which cross flatter terrain sound interesting – such as the Brabantse Heuvelroute in Belgium and the Heidschnuckenweg in Germany, both of which meander along rivers, through farmland, heath and natural woodlands.

Having completed the Tour du Mont Blanc and done part of the Alterweg route in Austria, I felt I had a good basis on which to judge if the route descriptions were going to be both useful and accurate.

As with the GB & Ireland book, for each route there are beautiful images of the landscape you’ll see along the trail. These are accompanied with a summary of the route, covering highlights, key locations and things to think about while planning. This is useful on the mountainous routes where it includes information on refuges to stay at, if wild camping is not tolerated and when drinking water might be a consideration.

The descriptions of the routes provide both inspiration and allows you to learn about the history of the area and the trail. It also has enough information to help start to plan your adventure.

The overview maps show the whole trail so you can see at a glance where the route goes. These are not useful for navigating but the accompanying text provides key information about where you can get further details to plan your trip, from guidebooks to websites.

The essential details page covers distance, key features, a profile of the route height along the trail, and pros and cons of the routes – everything from how busy the routes are to transport connections at either end.

Whilst I’m super keen to do some of the mountainous routes in the book, learning about trails I might not have come across otherwise sparked my interest in visiting other areas of Europe. Who knew there was a trail in Luxembourg which was also an annual ultra event?!

It’s definitely worth doing a fair bit of research though after deciding on your route – the description of the TMB for example only really covers doing it in one direction and doesn’t mention the multitude of campsites available if the refuges are full.

The only downside to this book is that it only covers the central areas of Europe, missing out trails in the East, Spain and some of the long distance trails on European islands. (Shame as the GR20 is still my favourite route).

I can only hope this means that this is the start of a collection of European Big Trails books, which will eventually cover the entire area, providing inspiration for more long distance adventures.

Book Review // To Live

To Live by Élisbeth Revol is a powerful book of survival that tells the tale of the ill fated ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2018 by Élisabeth and climbing partner Tomasz Mackiewicz. 

Being immediately thrust into the terror of the situation sets this books apart from most mountaineering literature. Expecting to start with a window into the tragedy and then be taken back to their individual life journeys to reach that point – instead Élisabeth focused on that tragic night as they tried to descend the mountain. The only glimpses into her past are set as memories as she slips in an out of consciousness and sleep on her attempt to descend the mountain.

Throughout the narrative is punctured with reflections from the present day as she relives the disaster which provide the reader with an insight into how she has both been able to move on and how the fateful night still haunts her. She also reflects on why she’s driven to climb at high altitude and her achievements which provide an understanding of her motivations and abilities.

Trying to appreciate the difficulty of climbing an 8000m mountain in winter is challenging enough. But to understand the mental strength required to survive for days without food and water, to descend having left some essential kit with Tomasz in the hope it would help him survive and to do so with frostbite fearing no-one is coming to help you – is a strength most people do not have.

To Live is a harrowing read, but one that is gripping throughout and a book I highly recommend.