Straight to Silver! A navigation weekend in Buckden

What adventures did I have this weekend? Oh, I was on top of a mountain summit in the dark, got my compass bearing slightly wrong and then it started sleeting. All for fun!

If you’re wondering what on earth I was doing, my adventure this weekend was a three-day NNAS navigation course at Buckden, in the Yorkshire Dales. Inspired by national map reading week and feeling the need to improve my skills properly on all things navigation, I booked my course with Team Walking. Hopefully I would gain a NNAS (National Navigation Award Scheme) Silver award.

Over the three days our group had some indoor sessions before Mark, our course leader, took us out on the hills and along the river for some practical experience. The first morning we learnt about route planning, and measuring and pacing. My maths is horrendous at the best of times, but stood on a freezing riverbank I couldn’t do the simplest of sums. Had I failed this already?! It was a fun day, at one point I had to walk across a field with my eyes closed, and we had lunch in a church in the village of Hubberholme. As it got dark we were making our way over the hills back down to Buckden, but I had my trusty headtorch to light my way. Or so I thought. A pathetic little light emitted from my headtorch and I was reliant on my new friends to help light the path. I’d checked the torch at home around the house, it’s travelled to China with me, but in a proper outdoor situation in the hills it just wasn’t good enough. An important lesson learnt and a quick letter to Santa written!

Our second day we spent learning about contours and compass bearings and were out in the hills on open access land. Lunch was at an iron age settlement and later as the sun set, we walked up to the summit of Buckden Pike. As we looked across the landscape we could see in the distance the Yorkshire Three Peaks, with the sun setting it was spectacular and I was gutted my phone battery had died so I didn’t get a picture.

We waited for it to get dark whilst sheltering in a storm shelter tent and planning our route back down. Something else for my list, these tents are great and we were certainly a lot warmer than outside in the freezing elements. It was an interesting descent down, it had started sleeting just as we got some compass bearings wrong, and despite another headtorch and two wrapped around my wrists I still was struggling with the light! In pairs, we navigated our way back down to Buckden along an old Roman road. We stopped on the way back down, turning all the torches off and marvelling at the wonderful starry night. If it hadn’t been absolutely freezing with chances of hypothermia, I could have stayed up there and watched the stars for hours. My kids would have loved it up there.

The third day was assessment day. I could have been physically sick! Could I demonstrate I was competent? After another classroom session, we set off up the road to a moorland path for our day in Upper Wharfedale. It was my turn first to lead the rest of the group to a location our course leader Mark circled on the map. I was nervous and doubting my timings, however, I got to where we needed to be. We each took turns all day to find different locations on the map using our new skills. Lunch was on a limestone pavement! On my last task to lead the group I did have a little panic, but deep breath and lots of encouragement from my new friends and I set off. I couldn’t really miss the ravine and stream I was trying to find!

I really enjoyed myself despite the little panics and confidence doubting. I learnt so much and can’t wait to go out and practise, although maybe not on top of Buckden Pike in the dark without a decent head torch. Hopefully Santa will bring me a new one!

Did I get my Silver NNAS award? Well yes, I did!

All views are honest and my own, I received no incentive to write this.

Have you done any map reading or navigations courses?

11 comments Add yours
  1. What an experience, navigating at night. And well done on your silver award!

    I did some navigation courses about ten years ago when I volunteered with fix the fells. You really do learn so much. I quick thinking I should maybe find a refresher course as I do wonder how much I remember 🙂


      1. You’re right. Practice is the thing. After my son was born, I didn’t go walking for a while. When I finally did, I had a go at taking a bearing. Took me about 20 minutes to figure out the reason I was facing the opposite direction was because the compass was pointing at my belly 😀 I’d like to say I won’t do that again but…. 😀

  2. That sounded like one heck of a 3 day course. Not my cup of tea at all. I like to be off the fells by dark, but if you want to be safe in the fella, it’s a skill you must have.

    I did a map reading course many years ago while completing my Duke of Edinburgh awards, but as I found last year, you need to keep up with it, else you forget.


    1. It was a great course and although tough at times I did quite enjoy myself. No, I wouldn’t want to be on the fells in the dark but for this exercise it was a must. I knew I could trust my course leader, shame the same couldn’t be said about the head torch! Thanks for reading.

  3. I haven’t done any serious nav practice or courses since doing my ML over 10 years ago. However, I’ve been thinking for nearly a year now that I’d love to go on a refresher course. I’ve been invited on a few MTA leer led sessions but have been too nervous to go for fear of forgetting some of the more intricate details. I definitely think I’ll be booking onto a weekend like this in the new year and hoping it all comes flooding back. Thanks for joining us in #adventurecalling . I hope you can again tomorrow.

    1. The ML courses look hardcore so don’t think I’ll be attempting those yet! It’s certainly a skill I need to keep practising on. I’m sure you would find it would come flooding back if you did a refresher. Thanks for reading!

  4. Every year I say I’m going to work on my navigation. Such a great skill to have, well done for doing it and getting your silver award. The idea of leading a group scares me, but I bet you feel so much more confident now. I hope Santa gets you a fab new torch! Thanks for sharing #AdventureCalling

    1. Thank you. It was terrifying at times as I was overthinking! Poor Santa has quite the list this year. Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply