I had been accepted on to the Point To Point test march being organised by Avalanche Endurance Events and as part of the excellent resources they were providing to give us the best chance possible of completing it, they had organised a number of navigation training sessions, because Point To Point will involve going from one grid reference to another in the Brecon Beacons. I had been given a place on the training session being run by Ian Ford (and, as it turned out, Stuart) in the New Forest, near to Ringwood, and my first navigational task was to find the meeting point because my car satnav tried to get me to make a u-turn on the A31, but I was clever enough to continue following Ian’s excellent directions and found myself at the Picket Post car park in good time.
I changed into my Aku Pilgrim boots, decided to leave my gaiters off for the moment because the weather was staying dry, despite the forecasts and the storm warning messages from Ian, and walked over to introduce myself to Ian and ask him about the suitability of the two Silva compasses I own. One of them was completely unsuitable because it does not have the ten by ten scale to determine six figure grid references from a map, and the other has degrees and not mils, which will be an issue. The Silva Expedition 4 Military compass is now on my shopping list.
I also had an opportunity to catch up with Sean Linehan before we got going, and we talked about the unfortunate and unavoidable postponing of Dark 15…although you might want to check my blog in about a week for some more on that. Then it was time to get going, and because of the numbers we split into two groups. I was in Ian’s group with John, Richard, Daniel, Graham and Steve, none of whom I had met before this morning.
Ian had prepared waterproofed maps of the area for each of us and we began with him showing us how to orientate the map, which also gave him an opportunity to check the compasses we had with us. You can expect the sales of Silva compasses to go up between now and Point To Point ! We moved on to grid references and how to break down a square on the map into a six figure grid reference, and how a six figure grid reference is easily obtained using the correct scale guide on the compass. We practiced a few using the map provided, and that would ring a few bells later on in the day. So now we could be accurate about our location to 100 square metres, and moved on to taking bearings on a map so that we could move from one accurate location to another. We learnt how to take a bearing from trig point 104 to a pond, and then how to take the bearing from the pond back to trig point 104, before learning how to measure the distance between the two points from the map. Now that we could measure off the map it was time to learn how to measure distance on the ground, and for that it appeared that we needed some pink flowers.
We moved away from the car park onto some open ground which was relatively flat, with Iam telling us “this is going to be the most difficult part of your day, and it’s called ‘walking normally'”, and we stopped by some pink flowers. We would be walking normally from those flowers to a white line on the ground 100 metres away, counting every other step, and would repeat that coming back to see if we got a consistent number. That would then give us the number of paces it would take us on an indvidual basis to cover 100 metres. Mine was 56 both ways. We then went down a slope, with Ian promising with some glee that there was a swamp at the bottom. Richard set off first, got snagged on a bush, so had to come back and start again, and we all followed him down, one by one. My pacing had gone up to 72 by going downhill.
We came back up and my pacing had gone up again to 85. Which all makes perfect sense, and now I have the necessary figures to use when going over different types of terrain. Having got back to the top of the hill we went through how to take a ground bearing, which ended up with all of the group pointing our compasses straight down the track at a family who were walking towards us. They must have wondered what they were walking into. Having got our ground bearing we then took it back to the map and Ian had us calculate the distance to a point along the track. We then paced out that distance to see where we ended up. It was a 250 metre distance and I used my pacing beads to keep track. I was about 4 paces short of where we were trying to get to on the map, but the pacing had got me within 10 metres of my objective, which is going to be more than good enough in most circumstances. We crossed the road and calculated the distance to a point along another track, and using a timing matrix Ian had put on the back our maps, we calculated the time it would get to that point and began to walk to it. The timing method was pretty much spot on and Ian also had us check our location by reference to the markings on the map, and by taking a bearing down the track and then taking that back to the map. We definitely knew where we were.
We were now going to be leaving the footpaths and heading towards a ford, so I thought it was an appropriate time to put on my gaiters. We were working in pairs, and John and I were left behind so that Ian could use us to demonstrate how to take a back bearing. The rest of the group went ahead on the bearing, we slightly corrected their position when they came to a halt, they then took a back bearing to us, and we were called in to join them. It all worked very smoothly and we repeated it for all the pairs as we made our way to the ford.
From there, John and I were tasked with finding a route to the next grid reference, which we had all identified on our maps. It is worth noting that no fingers were used in identifying any locations on the maps ! We were being allowed to use the tracks at this time, and it very soon became obvious why that was the case as we entered a wood and I took us round to the right. There was another track going to the left and Ian asked if I was sure I was going the right way. I indicated the track I wanted to follow on the map, showing how it curled to the right on entering the wood, and that confirmed we were, literally, on the right track. It is all about matching the ground to the map.
We continued through the wood, passing a number of ponies on our way, chatting and getting to know each other, until we came out of the wood and were confronted with a puddle blocking our intended route. Ian took the opportunity to explain to us how to avoid and obstacle and still stay on bearing by pacing sideways. It is little nuggets like that which will make all the difference.
We reached the grid reference at Little Wood and after Ian gave us the next one, we worked out the bearing to get us there. He then started off down the track. I checked my compass and he did not appear to be going on the bearing I had calculated so I checked it again, was happy with it, said to Richard, “Is this a trick ?” and was about to question what was happening when Ian stopped. It had indeed been intended to demonstrate that you should not just follow the person in front of you. We made our way along the track on the correct bearing, reached an underpass at the required grid reference and went through there to find a spot for lunch.
Once lunch was finished Ian explained that we were now going to be working in pairs, following a point to point exercise to get us back to the car park. John volunteered us to go first, and I did not have any problem with that because the day so far had confirmed my own confidence in my ability to use a map and compass, so here was a real opportunity to put it to the practical test. We were given the next grid reference and it turned out to be the trig point 104 from exercises earlier in the day. We could continue along the track for a while and then continue straight on over open ground. We also had the A31 to our right to guide us, and if all else failed we could follow that to a track which would bring us back to the trig point. John would be using the compass and I would keep track of the distance with my pacing beads. We set off with the others following a short distance behind us, came off the main track as it curled to the left and followed a much less distinct track which bordered the A31 because it was still on our bearing, until we saw that the trig point was in plain view and we could proceed without the need for further reference to the map or compass. I still kept a check on the pacing, and that tied in with our estimate. We were sure we saw the other group heading away to the left from the trig point as we approached it, but we did not see them again all day. The rest of the group soon joined us at the trig point.
The next pair were given their grid reference and we all set about locating it on the map. While there was some leaning on the trig point for this part of the preparation, fortunately that did not happen while bearings were being taken or they would have been affected by the metal in the trig point, and very soon we were on our way again, following the next pair from a short distance away as they took us towards the pond we had also come across on the map first thing this morning. Now there were no tracks to follow, just a couple to cross, and the pond itself was not visible, so we would find out if this map and compass thing really did work. We were going in a straight line across the ground and it was fairly easy going.
Suddenly the pair who were guiding us came to a stop, and after a while Ian walked over to them to check that everything was going fine. It turned out they were taking a ground bearing along the track crossing, not for direction, but to confirm their location. They carried on, we were called forward, and before long we came to the top of a slope down to the pond. So this map and compass thing really does work. Which is fortunate, because now we were down at the bottom of a dip and the final pair had no way of seeing what might be between them and the next grid reference until they got us out of here.
They took their map bearing, applied it to the ground, and taking note of a reference point at the top of the dip they headed off towards it. As we followed, Ian indicated the swampy ground which could have been on our route to the reference point, and commented that as we knew our reference point there was nothing to stop us taking a less direct route to get there, and the less direct route might turn out to be the quickest one. Once at the first reference point, our guides took their bearing again and headed off through the higher, more dense heather which was covering the ground, our own “mini Elan”. There was a long and wide stretch of this open ground ahead of us, but that did not make it easy to walk in a straight line, and we were all winding our way through it as best we could. Ian pushed on ahead of the main group to catch up with our guides.
He had them take a back bearing to the first reference point, and in doing that demonstrated that they had moved off the intended bearing. They readjusted by using the back bearing and we set off again, quickly covering the open ground and reaching a very high and wide gorse bush. There was no way we were going to be able to follow the bearing through that. Ian took the opportunity to show us how we could use triangulation to pinpoint our position on the track we had reached, and by knowing that we could now move up and down the track to find a way through the gorse bush without losing sense of where we were on the map. We did not have far to go before we found a gap and were able to follow a route down to our final pond of the day.
Ian told us we would now be going back to Little Wood, working in threes over long distances, which would mean more than one bearing would be needed to reach our destination. The first group would take us to a grid reference, the second group would take us from there to the underpass, and once through that we would calculate the distance to Little Wood and estimate the time it would take us to get there. John, Richard and I were given the first grid reference, which turned out to be trig point 104 again. We could certainly not see it from here, so we took a bearing from the map, spotted a prominent point at the top of the gorse bush along that bearing, retraced our steps back to the track at the other side of the gorse bush and then moved along to the prominent point. We could see the others coming up from the pond and were able to take a quick back bearing to them, just to make sure we were at the correct prominent point, and having confirmed that we took a look at what was before us. Another gorse bush. I did not have to go far up the track to see that the bush was not very deep, so we could very easily skirt around the edge and get back on to our bearing, which we did. We were then on to open ground with John keeping a check on our bearing, Richard following our progress on the map, while I went ahead looking for the best path to follow along the bearing. I spotted a much lighter trail of heather which led in the direction we wanted to follow, so I took it and as we progressed John continued to confirm that we were correct on the bearing. We crossed a track and as Richard wanted to confirm that it was the one on the map, because we might have expected to cross it earlier than we did, we stopped to check. It was the correct track, we had just crossed further along it because of the line we had taken from the pond, and Ian came forward to join us as we were ready to move on. We explained what we had been doing and he walked along with us, endorsing our choice of route along the easier trail between the heavier heather. We could see the trig point now, although it was much harder to see from this position than it had been from the other side, and Ian mentioned that the day before they had not been able to see it from here until a white lorry drove along the A31 behind it and suddenly it was clear to see.
The second group took over once we had reached trig point 104, although Richard was being extra keen and doing everything again. In fact, he was being so keen that he set off on his own route “pretending that the path did not exist”. We followed our guides across the open ground to the path and were very soon at and through the underpass. We measured the distance from there to the Little Wood grid reference and it came out at around 2000 metres, which meant that based on the distance chart it should take us about 24 minutes. Which it did. Ian deliberately stopped us at a track junction along the way and to have us identify our location on the map. Both tracks looked exactly the same on the ground, but on the map one was shown with a single line and the other with a double line. Another lesson had been learnt.
And that was it, as we would now just be following Ian and the path back to the car park. Or so we thought, and everyone relaxed. I was chatting with Daniel about which track we were following as we headed downhill, because there were a number of tracks heading in this direction from Little Wood, and as it turned out that put me in a good position to deal with what happened next. I could see the A31 to our right, could see there was no other track between us and that, and we had just crossed a little wooden bridge over a stream when Ian told us he had had a heart attack and we needed to pass on our current grid reference to the emergency services. I could see immediately where our track cut across the water at Ridley Bottom and was able to work out the 6-figure grid reference, although the precise location was right in the middle of two 6-figure grid references and so an 8-figure grid reference would have been even better.
And that really was it. We walked from there along the track back to the car park, and I think we were all quite surprised to find out we had covered 8 miles in the time we had been out. It had been an excellent training session, from the initial basics through the practical experience, and Ian had made it all sound very logical, understandable and workable. Everything we had talked about before setting off No matter what level of experience we might have had when we set off, we all came back able to find our way from one grid reference to another, and, ultimately, that is what Point To Point is about.
Ian and Stuart had given up their time for free over the weekend to train us, so a huge thanks must go to both of them for that. Ian is actually fundraising at the moment, so I hope he will not mind if I highlight his Virgin Money Giving page here.
You can see more photos from the day here.