It’s been a wild few days here in North Wales. First we had 8 inches of snow, this was followed by torrential rain (and snow-melt!) and now the wind has arrived. I’ve spent the afternoon tramping around the hills just east of the Horseshoe Pass near Llangollen, checking on the venue for the first day of our Basic Navigation course this weekend. This might sound strange – it’s a hill/mountain/moorland, how much checking does it require?- but it has proven worthwhile over the years to check that what exists on the ground matches what is on the map.

Our training courses are very goal-orientated and have a distinct structure. We build on the core skills of a subject by demonstrating the skill then giving the students a task where they can do it for themselves. By using this methodology we can connect with students who learn in three styles – Visual (watching), Audio (listening/being told how) and Kinaesthetic (learning by doing). Something like navigation, which requires an understanding at various levels, requires a patient coach who can find a variety of ways with engaging with students.
I have spent a lot of time developing teaching methods that have shown themselves to be effective – and any of which can be knackered by a simple map error or a non-existent ground feature! The learning points of a carefully planned lesson – navigating from one fenceline to another for example, can be easily lost if the destination fence doesn’t exist on the ground, or the landowner has built a new fence/wall 50m away from the original one.

I am a big fan of using linear features as navigational aids where possible – rivers, fences, crag edges, roads, paths etc – but these require a certain degree of accuracy. In the U.K. we are blessed with very accurate, very detailed maps at useful scales. You don’t realise how good the Ordnance Survey mapping is until you try and use something from, say, the U.S. Forestry Service or an ex-Soviet military map where roads apparently start and end in the middle of nowhere, or where huge gullies and sizeable rivers are completely omitted. That said, the Ordnance Survey does take a little while to update maps, particularly those away from areas where they sell a lot of maps for – cities and national parks mainly. The 1:25,000 map that covers the area where we live has quite a few fencelines, forest tracks and even streams that no longer exist on the ground. These aren’t old maps either – these are the 2012 revisions. The Ordnance Survey are well aware of these errors – they even have a term for the information relating to changes in the real world: ‘change intelligence’ – and there is an established procedure for reporting a map error . There was even a promotion a few years ago, where if you reported an error you received a free map!

There is another reason for checking the accuracy of the map – something called ‘copyright traps’. These are intentional errors, usually in out-of-the-way places where folk rarely visit that map-makers put in to ensure that if another company copies their map they can prove it. These are extremely rare, but they do exist. I’m convinced I’ve found a few in the Scottish Highlands, and possibly one in the Rhinogau here in Wales.

Errors exist in Ordnance Survey maps, but it is wise to assume that if your idea of where you are, and what the map says, differ then the map is correct and you are not. 99% of the time, the map will be spot on and you are the one who has made an error. If you start to doubt the map at every turn then you will soon end up in the wrong place – with little clue of how you got there or where to go next.

So the above is why I spent a few hours walking along paths, pacing distances and checking bearings – I want to be absolutely certain that this weekend’s students get the most out of the course and that there will be no surprises.


I just hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow now!

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