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 // 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 // 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: GB & Ireland

Having had few exciting adventures in 2020 thanks to the Pandemic, receiving this book to review finally started to get me excited about future adventures.

Big Trails: Great Britain and Ireland covers 25 long distance routes. This includes famous routes such as the Pennine Way and Cape Wrath Trail, to routes I’d not even heard of, such as the Beara Way and the Raad ny Foillan. Having completed 3 of the routes already, gave me a good perspective on the descriptions provided.

First thing to note, this isn’t a book to take out on the hill with you. It’s meant for reading with a coffee on a wet day as you start to plan adventures; a place to start if you need inspiration and advice.

Big Trails starts with a detailed ‘How to Use this Book’ section highlighting understanding icons used, the colour coding used for when to go and the differences in pace calculated for each type of adventure.

For each route the book provides beautiful images along the trail, alongside a summary of the route, including highlights, key locations and things to think about while planning. This provides 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.

For each route there is also an overview map showing the total trail. Obviously this isn’t going to be suitable to navigate with, but is great for planning and understanding where the route will take you.

The adjoining page provides a summary of essential information, such as distance, key features, a profile of the route height along the trail, and pros and cons of the routes, (my favourite is the Icknield Way Path which highlights Luton as in the list of cons!).

It also lists good places to find out more about the route to aid planning, from books to websites.

Reading through the routes that I have completed, such as the Pennine Way, Dales Way and Hadrian’s Wall Path reminded me of some of the highlights of the routes. It did however make me look in detail at the time taken for the routes.

The Dales Way for example I completed with a friend in 4 days which put us at the Trekkers category. The Pennine Way I did in 11 days (albeit over 8 years!) which put me in fastpacking category. That all sounds reasonable.

The Hadrians Wall Path however, I ran over 5 days. But the guide suggests is should be possible to trail run the route in 2 days.

Heading to the detailed section on speed at the front I looked at how they had calculated this – knowing that 138km in 2 days for Hadrian’s Wall was quite an undertaking for a ‘trail’ run. (That is technically an ultra run of 69km a day).

The calculations seemed logical but missed the obvious of how much kit you might be carrying which would slow you down, sensible places to stop for the night, and assume that you’re always going to walk/run for 8 hours a day. For walking this is probably realistic but the definition of trail running is a bit misleading. Few trail runners would run for 8 hours a day or complete such ultra distances. So that probably needs taking as a very rough guide!

That said the selection of routes is fantastic, with not all of them being National Trails or way marked long distance paths. I love that it has a fair spread of routes in the 5 nations and it does have some really useful information for planning routes. I’m totally inspired now to check out Ireland’s long distance trails and the Cambrian Way is now on the bucket list.

If you’re in need of some inspiration for an adventure and need a place to start then Big Trails: Great Britain & Ireland is a great book for your Christmas list.

Giro dell’Etna

Its impossible to deny that Mount Etna is fascinating – the most active volcano in the world, its impact on the local landscape and history of Sicily cannot be ignored. Surrounding the volcano the landscape is covered in smaller vents, plateaus of lava and rock formations from centuries of eruptions.

It is however incredibly touristy.

At Etna South, the southerly main active crater, there is a cable car and chalets reminiscent of a ski centre. It is indeed a popular ski area in winter, but in summer you must be guided to the summit on foot or by vehicle.

As two mountaineers the prospect of being guided up a large dome of ash and lava didn’t appeal to us. Thankfully there are alternatives and hiring bikes turned out to be the perfect day out.

All around the Etna national park there are trails, both hiking and mountain biking which are well marked and available on the national park map. As it was, the company we hired the bikes – Etna bike tours – from gave us a pre-loaded GPS for the main trail – the Giro dell’Etna. Including the descent back to the rental place in Milo the total loop would be 55km.

The Trail starts just below Etna South, so we were dropped off with our bikes and GPS on a gloriously sunny day.

The start of the Pista Altomontana track

The first section of the route is a relatively easy contouring of the volcano on the western side as you follow the Pista Altomontana in and out of the woodland as it heads north past mountain huts. There’s some uphill and some downs but nothing too difficult.

The view inland was fantastic.

Despite the woodland, the landscape on the west of Etna is quite barren as the route crosses the 1843 lava fields, with little growing in them. We passed lava channels and caves until the trail turns eastwards as it heads around the north of Etna.

Here the lava fields from the 1614-24 eruptions are even more barren with not even a bit of grass growing in them and the trail becomes single track, rocky and a bit more technical. A few steps on razor sharp lava was enough to make me a bit worried, even with huge 29″ tyres.

From here the route starts to climb upwards as it heads up to Rifugio Santa Maria and it heads into the pine woodland – which, after the baking sunshine provided a welcome break from the heat. The trail through the pine woods eventually lead to a road at a cafe. We’d been advised that it was worth the uphill ride on the road to the second cafe before having a break. It definitely was.

The second Refugio better catered for bikers and had loads of outdoor seating in the woodland. It also had details of the local trail routes being developed by mountain bikers locally. The woods on the northern and eastern side of Etna definitely have potential for some great technical trails to be developed.

From here, now on the east, we had about 10km uphill on the road before we zipped downhill and eventually into the woods again – following trails.

The descent back to the town of Milo was some of the best downhill tracks I’ve done – not technically and while they weren’t swoopy narrow single tracks, they were definitely fast and endless. Great fun!

If you’re looking for an alternative to joining the hoard up to the summit crater then I’d highly recommend hiring bikes. I think we saw more of the volcano on our tour, learnt more about the different lava fields that we crossed (there’s lots of information signs) and had a much more fun adventure.

Hiking Monte Inici

Having managed to escape the UK for only a week this year and finding ourselves in Sicily for sport climbing and sunshine, I was surprised that there wasn’t more information on hiking in the mountains given that Sicily is quite mountainous. In fact the only map I could find was of the Etna region.

Spending a few days in Castellamare del Golfo we were making the most of the beaches and the sport climbing in nearby San Vito. Castellamare del Golfo is busy little fishing town which has a typical touristy beach and restaurants. Its is also overshadowed by Mont Inici.

Despite the dominance of the mountain on the town it seemed few people walked up there, with no maps available and very unloved footpaths and trails. There were however intermittent signposts at junctions making it possible to see that once it had been a popular area to hike.

So, armed with digital mapping (which turned out to be pretty accurate on all our walks in Sicily) we set off on the tracks from the view point above the town.

While Monte Inici stands at 1060m and looks like an imposing mountain, its actually covered in wide tracks which are suitable for mountain biking as well as hiking. This does mean that Sicilians also drive off-road vehicles to the summit to forage for fungi and other delights.

From Castellamare the track zigzags endlessly up the steep hillside and heads into the pine woodland.

From here the path splits and we headed East towards Pizzo Stagnone and round to the East side of the hill before more zig zags upwards. The view across the other side of the mountain was fantastic.

As we reached the col between Monte Inici and Pizzo Delle Niviere we entered dense deciduous woodland and we met a German hiker who warned us about large pigs.

Wondering about if he meant wild boar and how dangerous they might be, we continued on to the rather disappointing summit of Monte Inici – and its radio masts. Ok not the summit trig point we were hoping for but worth it for the view.

Since we were here we walked across to the slightly more impressive (definitely only slightly) of Pizzo Delle Niviere. At least this had a trig point of sorts.

Sicilian Trig pillars leave a lot to be desired!

After a bit of debate we decided to make the walk a circuit and descended westwards before contouring round to reach the path across Pizzo Crastone and then northwards to Pizzo del Dottore.

On the descent from the summit we met 2 vehicles of Sicilians collecting mushrooms who also warned us of wild pigs.

At this point the endless switchbacks became a bit tedious in the scorching sunshine and we were pleased to finally reach the descent path on the Northside down to the road.

This section was the only bit that was on narrow paths, and these were a bit overgrown and like wading through the undergrowth and fallen trees, but even then relatively easy to navigate.

We never did see the wild boars/pigs, but I did find porcupine spines and this praying mantis.

The whole circuit turned out to be 26km so a good hikes albeit on relatively easy tracks. A mountain bike would definitely have been the best way to descend!

Have a go at Orienteering!

In the last month I’ve been working with members from East Pennine Orienteering Club to create a Marsden Virtual Orienteering course for their virtual series. Its live this week!

If you’ve never had a go at Orienteering this is a great way to try it out. From understanding the orienteering style of maps to learning how to navigate at speed and maintain the orientation of the map. The best bit is, you don’t have to be a fast runner – its all about ability to navigate accurately and come up with the best route between controls. You don’t even have to run at all, if you just want to use the courses for practicing navigation skills and techniques then just go for a walk.

So if you want to have a go, the Marsden courses – Long, Medium and Short – are all live on the website. If you don’t live nearby there’s lots of other virtual routes still live – as the courses will exist forever even after the weeks ‘race’ has ended.

Download the MaprunF app for your mobile if you want to log your time, and print out the maps. Instructions for MaprunF are on the EPOC website.

So get yourself outside and have a go!

(thanks to Richard for his help and putting up with my lack of IT skills!)