Essential Skills – Navigation

By Rory OR

In our modern world of GPS (global positioning system), satnav in vehicles and all kinds of electronic gadgetry it is easy for basic skills to be overlooked and forgotten. The Royal Navy, for example no longer teach astral navigation to the new officers passing through the naval college in Dartmouth.

While these electronic devices can and do save lives and even smart phone apps can be useful in an emergency they are, at best, just a back up for a good solid knowledge base and a thorough understanding of the basics. While a search and rescue team will locate a casualty who has given a location taken from a GPS and will have one themselves for a back-up, the majority of their navigation is done from local ground knowledge and map and compass work.

With the control of the GPS networks and its European counterpart Inmarsat being in the hands of Governmental bodies and the ground stations for them being open and easy targets for terrorists it doesn’t take a huge amount of imagination to figure out where we will be when the plug is pulled. I say when rather than if as I think that one side or the other will decide at some point to restrict or destroy the systems to suit their particular agenda. I think it would have already happened if it wasn’t for the usefulness of these systems to the terrorists as well as the rest of us. They may be mad but they’re not stupid!

Basic map reading is a simple skill to learn and can be practiced wherever you are able to take out a map and practice route planning, terrain identification can be a useful asset no matter what you are trying to do, you may be out on the road and trying to explain the area where you have broken down or indeed be trying to find someone broken down from their description of an area of which you have some local knowledge.

There are many ways to learn this skill, enough publications are out there for everyone to be able to glean the basics without ever having to even go outside however it will never truly begin to make sense until the skills are put to practical use. Take a few relevant magazine articles read during work time breaks, read them more than once. Then when you have digested the most simple ideas take a map out into the countryside, into an area that you know but wouldn’t ordinarily take a map and apply the principles that you have read about to a short walk. As the surroundings are familiar there is little to no chance of becoming lost and you can relate the features on the map to the topography of the ground. I would say to those who have never picked up the idea of navigation before to do this on several occasions on a variety of familiar areas, the lessons learned from reading will very quickly become consolidated and surpassed. Gradually then start to take trips into unfamiliar country applying good map reading and compass skills, all the time checking yourself and pretty soon you will find that your abilities can be applied to most situations that you may face. Don’t worry though that is not the end of the road, for those with an adventurous spirit we can then continue to advanced navigation taking into account such bogey men as night navigation, navigation in close country and more. The world, quite literally all of it, is your oyster.

A good skill to have even just for ones own satisfaction and who knows? One day soon it might save your life or that of a friend/relation.

I hope that those of you who have never thought about this subject before will make some progress and those who know some will learn more.

Happy trails and Goda Forth.
Walk safe all.
Rory OR

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