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Intro to Navigation

If you are heading to the hills, or going for a walk anywhere unfamiliar, you should carry a map and compass and know how to use them. We are running a series of introduction to map reading courses online for people totally new to map reading. Here you will find some of the basics of giving a grid reference and understanding contour lines.

Three quarters of people in the UK say they are unable to read a map. With more people exploring locally we will show you how to decipher them. There will be further links and resources provided after completion of this course. Course led by qualified geography teacher with years of experience leading navigation courses and supervising DofE groups.

Knowing how to take a grid reference is essential for working out where you are, where you are going, and working out how long the journey will take. Of course its also essential if you plan on meeting someone at a specific point or need help to get off the hill. All navigation maps work on a grid system. Eastings are the numbers along the top and bottom of the page (they head east) and northings go up the side...

The number given, in this case 2442 refers to the coordinates at which these two lines intersect. This is the bottom left hand corner of the entire 1km square given this grid reference. So if anything is in this box its 4 figure grid reference is 2442. For most navigational purposes we need to be more specific.


Six figure grid references

A 6 figure grid reference tells us the 100m square area that something is found in (usually this is all that is needed). Again the number refers to the bottom left hand coordinates of the square within a square.

In the course we will go into this in much more detail with plenty opportunities to practice your understanding of grid references. Another feature useful to understand are contour lines, which show the shape and slope of the land around you.

I hope these brief examples are useful to understanding a little more about map reading please email cara@onenatureeducation.com with any questions or to book onto one of our courses.


These are some video links from Ordnance Survey that cover some of the points we looked at in the course. You may find them a useful reminder.

6 figure grid references

Compass bearings

Contour lines


Practice is really the key thing. Get out somewhere you know and begin to identify features on the may and see how they look.


Happy walking!


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