At the weekend I was fortunate enough to spend a day in the Brecon Beacons with Jake Thompsett of JT Expeditions, doing a hiking and navigation workshop.
Although I’ve been taught traditional map and compass navigation, and had to do a reasonable amount of it at one stage, in practice I mostly use a GPS and so I was concerned I was getting out of practice at proper manual navigation. Map and compass navigation in open terrain, with no paths, requires the ability to set and follow a compass bearing, locate yourself on the map by recognising terrain and being able to relate it to contour lines, and possible use triangulation to determine your accurate grid reference.
None of those things are terribly hard in theory but in practice open landscapes, especially fairly barren ones like Brecon, rarely seem to look much like the map. It was fascinating to go through the techniques again with Jake while hiking and and being able to immediately relate the map to the features we saw. A lot of it is just practice, but it really helped to learn from Jake’s experience and have him clearly explain some of the little details that I would normally have overlooked on a map but that can be really helpful in recognising your location.
If nothing else, it was great fun just having a day hiking an unusual and very much off-the-track route in Brecon, sometimes being given a grid to figure out a way of navigating too, and sometimes just strolling along and chatting with Jake, who is excellent company and incredibly experienced and interested in all things outdoors, active, and adventurous.