Navigation in the Yorkshire Dales

Prepare yourself for an off-road adventure by brushing up on your compass and map skills


Lost is not a word that TeamWalking’s Mark Reid believes in. “If you know where you are at all times, then you won’t ever get lost again,” he explains. “You might be slightly misplaced, but I’ll show you how to find your way back to the last known point.”
I hold my map level, carefully balancing a compass on top while trying to match the needle’s North to the grid lines. Then I realise that either the map or myself are at right angles to where they should be. “Not lost, misplaced,” I think, as the compass slides off altogether. Fortunately I’m not stranded on top of a remote mountain in whiteout conditions. Unless things really have gone wrong, I’m pretty sure that we’re still safely in the centre of the Yorkshire Dales’ village of Malham.



My boyfriend Alex and I are here for a taste of TeamWalking’s navigation skills courses, which lead to either Bronze or Silver level certificates from the National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS). Launched in 1994, the NNAS enables walkers to develop skills in planning and safely navigating routes through the countryside. I’d like to think I’m a fairly experienced hiker, yet even with 2000’s Countryside Rights of Way Act having opened up huge areas of access land to roaming boots, I still cling to footpaths with a lingering fear of what might go wrong should I have to rely upon a map and compass to make sense of the landscape. We’re in safe hands with Mark, however. A seasoned navigator and qualified walking group leader (his TeamWalking colleague, Richard Tarran, is a mountain leader), he is also the author of the Inn Way series of rambling guides and knows the area intimately.

The Bronze course starts with the absolute basics, so even if you’ve never held a map before you’ll feel comfortable. After my initial confusion, I soon have map and compass aligned correctly, with the compass’s direction of travel arrow pointing from my stomach towards the start of our route. As we stroll along the banks of Malham Beck, Mark outlines the four Ds of navigation: direction, distance, detail and don’t pass it, which Mark defines as “a clear overshoot feature, something very obvious beyond your intended turn, to flag up that you’ve passed it.”

With the direction part sorted, we turn to distance, measuring between points on the map, calculating timings based upon walking speed, estimating 100m (328ft) stretches by eye and counting paces as we confidently stride over springy pasture. Far
from being guesswork, Mark explains, pacing can
be a reliable, if antisocial, way to keep track of progress. We pause regularly, each time picking out three details from our surroundings that will pinpoint our location on the map.


Soon we reach Janet’s Foss, a waterfall flowing
into a mossy woodland pool overlooked by a cave where, according to local legend, the queen of the fairies hides. As our path climbs gradually above Malham Cove, Mark points out the lynchets, narrow terraced strips shaped by generations of medieval ox-drawn ploughs. I gain a new appreciation for the level of detail on my map, offering silent thanks to whichever nameless surveyor was meticulous enough to include the little sheep fold tucked into a corner that enables me to distinguish one dry stone wall from another. We take turns planning and navigating short legs of the route, becoming ever more aware
of how the map’s markings echo the contours of spurs and valleys, the shapes of fields and the crags of grey limestone jutting through the soil.


Stopping on a handy rock outcrop near Malham Tarn, Mark runs through other vital knowledge for walkers, including clothing and nutrition tips and what to do in an emergency. Patches
of snow glisten in the early spring sun, reminding us of the unpredictability of the Dales’ weather, and as we continue uphill to the ancient monastic waymarker of Nappa Cross, a crisp white layer conceals the footpath on the ground. That’s no problem for us, however. Armed with maps, compasses and the four Ds, we descend back into Malham with a new confidence and a spring
in our steps.

Useful Information


102 Leeds Road, Harrogate
01423 871750

The two-day Navigation Skills course costs £89 per person for groups of up to six and includes morning tea, OS maps, compass, loan of outdoors clothing and headtorches and NNAS Bronze or Silver level certificate.


Fraoch Lodge, Deshar Road, Boat of Garten PH24 3BN
01479 831331

Offers a range of week-long and weekend mountain skills and navigation courses in the Cairngorm mountains.


The Lister Arms
Malham, Skipton BD23 4DB
01729 830330
17th-century coaching inn serving cask ales.


River House
Malham, Skipton BD23 4DA
01729 830315

This family-run B&B offers AA Egg Cup award-winning breakfasts.