Grunts and mutterings echoed about. I asked for the GPS. I do have one of these units, which over the past two years I have used for a total of ten minutes, so my confidence wasn’t high. After a minute spent familiarising myself with the controls, a red icon signalled our location which I confirmed by a brief walk up the hill, to which it moved accordingly. A bridleway half a mile away linked into another path, which descended to cake and tea nirvana. I walked off, letting everyone know that my stomach was getting impatient and that this was the right way, despite mutterings to the contrary. I wasn’t confident in my abilities but no-one else seemed keen to take the helm Jeremy, as best mates do, spurred confidence and followed me.
We reached a field and I checked the GPS again, which confirmed I was on course for the bridleway. As I checked behind me, I saw that several of the group had veered away. When asked where they were going, the emphatic answer, and apparent solution, was tractor marks in the ground. Supposedly, tyre tracks were our salvation and offered deliverance to civilisation, something we should remember.
I convinced the group that following tyre tracks was not the best of ideas, and they responded by turning to follow me once again. We made inroads over the field and, as I looked to my right, a long stream of head torches swept through the night like a search party.
The promised path appeared. I checked the screen, noting a sharp incline ahead which finished near what should be familiar surroundings to everyone. I turned right, climbed, and sure enough we reached an intersection that everyone recognised, confirmed by blinking lights a few hundred feet below us. Fifteen minutes later we were buttering teacakes, stirring cups of tea and steaming up the windows in the cafe.
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When lost, your worst enemy is yourself. Despite checking bearings several times, we still look up, check the map and mutter the immortal line:
No, that can’t be right.
Trust your decision was the other advice my navigation guide taught me. Your instinct can be a lifesaver but it can be your worst enemy. Believe the map and compass, check it and check it again. Have faith in the decision you have reached. I still doubt my decisions when navigating; instinct is a powerful force and difficult to ignore.
Above all, I found out some important things that afternoon. I learnt not to be complacent. Despite familiar surroundings in an area you visit and know intimately, you can still get into trouble.
Don’t underestimate the weather. It can turn like a beast and holds no loyalty to you.
Trust your decisions and stick to them.
Believe in yourself. Despite hiking 12,000 miles in recent years, I believed that every one of the eleven other hikers could navigate better than me. I also thought that every one of them was more capable of leading us out.
And above all, treat the outdoors with respect.