When the email popped in to my inbox asking me if I would like to go on a Navigation Weekend in the Peak District with my fellow OS GetOutside Champions I leapt at the chance, I am after all Mountain Leader trained and an Outdoor Instructor therefore it should be a breeze…..
With my Mountain Leader Assessment looming, I was really thrilled at the chance to spend the weekend with the Ultimate Navigation School honing my already supposedly ‘Mountain Leader level’ navigation skills. However, as I drove up to Glossop with my map open and the main roads written on a piece of scrap paper next to me the anxiety started to creep in. Could I remember the basics? Could I lead a group confidently? Did I actually know how to take a bearing? Gulp.
After a restless night’s sleep I rocked up at the Windy Harbour Farm and happily greeted the always welcoming and friendly faces of the OS Champs and I started to feel a little better. That was however until the learning began in earnest. Paul who is a co-founder of the Ultimate Navigation School greeted us all very warmly and we soon sat down, in our Advanced groups (yes I had booked on the advanced…I was clearly not in my right mind the day I sent the email!), and Paul started to run through some recaps of the ‘basics’. Oh My Giddy Aunt. I was totally bamboozled and I started to turn cold with fear, that familiar feeling of swimming in jelly descended and my mind totally switched from listening to Paul explain these things clearly (as he was) to blind panic; would I fail, would I make an fool of myself, would everyone think I was stupid….these questions fired through me at a speed unknown to man and I slowly started to sink in to that awful place that I call ‘Frank’. The anxiety was having a field day but I was most certainly not.
Luckily I had next to me the wonderful Barbara Walshe, fellow OS Champion who to was feeling overwhelmed. We seeming to connect in our mutual fear and opened up to each other about how we must clearly be on the wrong course, we needed to be in the intermediate. And NOW. So, after fudging my way through the next 20 minutes, Barbara and I decided to go and chat to Paul, at the very least to see if we could be in the same group. We needed that support. Just knowing there was someone else feeling the same way as me helped enormously. You see, it is GOOD TO TALK!
Paul was kind, understanding but also quite forceful in that he felt we really should continue on the Advanced, he talked to us and listened to our thoughts and we found ourselves immediately at ease as we were together, in the same group. We had even managed to snaffle Lisa too!
The first day on the hill was a little drizzly and grey, however our group, with the professional and slightly humorous (I’m teasing) Martin was great fun. We refreshed our skills, we felt able to ask questions, able to express our insecurities and able to get the support we needed from the group. All of this was superbly managed by Martin our Instructor. Martin was endlessly patient and managed my anxieties extremely well, it wasn’t long therefore until I felt relaxed and back to my normal self. As the day progressed my confidence returned. I was able to practice and embed the skills I already had and learnt a whole new set of skills that enabled me to feel that I could go for assessment the following day. I had initially said I wasn’t going to do the assessment, I didn’t particularly think I needed it but honestly it was my fear of failure that was stopping me. However by the start of the next day my mind-set had changed. Why? Night Navigation…
I always think Night Navigation needs to be accompanied by sinister music, or the Jaws theme. So many people get a little shudder run through them when they think of night navigation; the fear of the darkness, of being lost, cold, of monsters coming at you across the moor…. Our evening started with more of the same drizzle, patches of snow and ice and a sometimes disparate group. But the thing I grew to love about navigating at night is the simplicity involved. You have to really, really trust your compass. You develop this bizarre relationship with this tiny little instrument that can literally save your life, as long as you know how to use it. That evening we honed our skills; compass bearings, pacing, timing, markers etc and it was so much fun! The best part was when Ems and Scott disappeared waist deep in a snow drift, followed by Nigel doing a spectacular face front snow angel. We worked well as a team, we supported each other and had a great deal of fun. Not your usual Saturday night out true, but one I will remember for a long time.
When I got back to the hotel I decided, what the hell, let’s go for assessment. I had snaffled the first (and by far the longest) leg of the following days walk to lead. I am of the thinking that get your go out the way first then you can relax and enjoy the ride. So, I quickly and sketchily wrote a route plan on the map with a few scribbled notes and slept like a baby.
With the loss of an hour that night due to the clocks going forward 7am came very, very quickly and before I knew it we were at the start of the walk and Martin was asking me questions. I was like a rabbit in headlights. I quickly assumed control and remembered that I had led walks like this many times and I was more than capable. So, we were off. It was a beautiful day and my assessment leg went well, I led from the back as I generally do, sending Karl up to markers in front (he is like a puppy dog that man, I was tempted to send him off, get him to run back and send him out again!) while Lisa and I bumbled at the back, taking in the views as often as possible. (I really need to up my fitness!). Before long we had reached my objective. And, having got Martin to refresh us all on taking bearings to confirm position I was able to confirm that I had reached the exact point I was supposed to. Happy Days! I would usually joke and say this was flook; but it wasn’t. I had used the skills learnt, applied them and only gone and nailed it!
Having completed my assessment leg, this left me free to enjoy the day’s walk, to support my group to practice my navigation and embed my new skills. It was heaven. Not only that but I got to know some of my fellow OS #GetOutside Champions and I literally adore them all. What truly amazing people they all are.
So, would I recommend Ultimate Navigation School? Unreservedly, yes. I have since booked my Mountain Leader Assessment for September and I shall definitely be taking Martin up on his offer to help refresh my skills nearer the time. If only to have the opportunity to see more of the stunning Peak District and have a great deal of fun.
Oh and I passed by the way – I am officially an Advanced Navigator.
The Ultimate Navigation School provides courses for beginners to specialist navigation techniques in a friendly, professional and supportive way. They teach everyone from hillwalkers to Mountain Rescue Teams and as a charity all their profits go back in to maintaining the hills they love. Get in touch here and tell them Eli recommended them!
Photograph credits: Eli Greenacre; Scott McAlistar; Karl Rushen and Lisa Wells