Henry Mason, who is Chairman of Craven Group of the Ramblers, has been running his successful Map and Compass courses for ten years. He tells the West Riding Rambler the inside story and how it all started.

“I have always had an interest in map reading and been impressed with the amount of detail on Ordnance Survey maps. I was once on holiday in Slovenia and having bought a map of the area, set off to enjoy a walk in the local hills, trying with difficulty to follow the map I had purchased. It was a very basic map which lacked information I would have expected to be given. After an hour, I almost met with disaster! Another three strides would have seen me walking over a cliff and falling 60 feet on to rocks. I studied the map carefully but could not find any indication that the danger existed.

Shortly afterwards, back home, I was asked by a small group of people if I could assist with planning a walk in the Dales. I bought a book “Map and Compass: The Art of Navigation” and after reading it thought that this is something I could pursue. We went out to “reccie” the walk, and I took great care to follow the route and observe relevant details of the area as indicated on the map. I was warmly thanked by the other people and presented with a bottle of wine for my efforts. I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and had caught the bug! It was suggested to me that I could pass on my experience by running courses for local groups and individuals. Having experience of stand up presentation in various subjects in my working life, I went for it.

We live in a modern electronic world with all kinds of gadgets to assist with navigation, GPSs etc. which are wonderful devices and are used by many walkers. I would not criticise the use of them as they are clearly a great help to people whilst out walking, but I am a great believer in the tried and tested use of the paper map.

The Ordnance Survey Explorer maps with a scale of 1:25000 are in my opinion the best maps available for walkers and I would not dream of venturing on to the moors and hills without one. There are other maps available of course, and some people prefer these, but the detail shown on the Explorer maps far exceeds any other.

I have found that the courses I run are attended by far more ladies than men. I honestly believe that there are many men who think that their knowledge of map reading is perfectly adequate and they do not need any tuition. I can definitely say that in many cases this is not so. I never cease to be amazed at seeing a male leader take a 21 year old map out of his rucksack. He is obviously confused with grid references, contours etc. but is loath to ask for assistance. The ladies, generally, have a far more pragmatic approach and are more inclined to listen to advice.

The ability to use a map and compass correctly is an important skill for all walkers, but, sadly, many don’t realise this till they need it! The usual excuse for not learning seems to be that there are plenty of guide books around that provide a route and simple sketch map. However, the guide book will provide the basic information, but the OS map gives many more details and covers a much larger area so that you can see for example where you are in relation to a hill top that may be several miles away.

The six figure grid reference will provide an area on a map which is 100 meters square on the ground. This information is vital to the walker for various reasons and so it is important to be able to work out grid references. Believe me, it is not difficult! If I can do it after a basic education, anyone can. Contours can be a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of them, they are surprisingly useful.

Many people go walking with a compass dangling from their neck, but apart from knowing that the needle points to magnetic north, they have no idea of its many uses. To be able to use a map and compass together, that is, taking a bearing from the map and put it into the compass, or take a bearing with the compass from some object on the ground and relate it back to the map is a skill which gives a person a a sense of achievement and great confidence. To know where you are and in which direction to walk when the mist comes down and you can only see 20 or 30 yards gives you a feeling of confidence, knowing that you have worked it out all by yourself. Once you get the hand of it, it is great fun and not rocket science! The word “bearing” seems to frighten some people. No need. It is simply an angle between North where you are and which direction you are going. So on a bearing of 90 degrees you are walking East.

There are many more sections of the Map and Compass Course that are dealt with in detail. The courses are run to give enjoyment and confidence whilst out walking in our beautiful countryside. It gives me pleasure to see people complete them with enthusiasm and go on to enjoy leading walks with other people. The course consists of two sessions on separate days. The first session is held indoors, going through the theory, dealing with maps, grid references, distances and the use of a compass. This session lasts approximately 4.5 hours. The second session is held outdoors, putting theory into practice over fields and moorland. It lasts approximately 4 hours – on a different day.

The courses are aimed at walkers, not mountaineers or rock climbers, and provide the basic skills of navigation and gaining confidence to people who love the great outdoors.

Henry Mason
For details of Henry’s this year’s Map and Compass courses Phone 01535 959908 or masonhenry537@gmail.com