Navigation using the Plonk Method

I love maps!  Always have.  I did a marine navigation course many years ago (way before GPS) and love all those maps which show what is going on under the water through some graphic wizardry on a ‘chart’, (the wonderfully technical term for a marine map).  With my equine pilgrimage looming, I need to apply a similar knowledge about what goes on above the water line on terra firma.  For instance, learning what ‘contouring’ means and knowing that ‘3 back bearings equals a triangulation’!  (Sounds painful!)

a studious bunch of navigators

a studious bunch of navigators

So, enrolled on a two-day navigation course in the Peak District with Pure Outdoor, (highly recommend) our patient and knowledgeable instructor, Matt, guided us through the dark arts of land navigation, using compass, map and walking boots on the ground in the beautiful Peaks.


It was a thrill and I soon realised I have been missing out so much over the years through my rather rudimentary knowledge of map reading which mainly consists of finding a route via roads.  This is real off-road stuff.   By studying the features and contours on a map, (such as an OS or Harvey map) you can begin to build up a 3D mental picture of what you can expect to see in the topography in front of you as well as ‘sighting’ your actual position in the landscape.  Where the land rises up or falls away, juts out into a ‘nose’, or forms a hollow or coombe.  Understanding terms such as ‘hand-railing’ along a boundary or pinpointing ‘attack points’ along a chosen route.  ‘Aiming off ‘ a track so that you get to where you want to go by default.  These skills can really set you up if you need to ‘micro’ navigate in the event of overwhelming darkness or a ‘white out’ or other such vagary the weather might throw at you.


The overriding principle of: Distance, Direction, Check-off, Overshoot were all put into practice when planning our route.  We learned to pace and time our distance, use the compass to take bearings, measure distances with direction of travel, and find grid references.  The said ‘plonk’ method is used to orientate ourselves with north…….invaluable as a first stage to reading a map!  It is just that.  By plonking the compass on the ground (or on top of your map in a horizontal position and without any metal objects that could give your compass a false reading), turn the bezel to line up with North, in the same direction the needle is pointing and that will give you your bearing.  Then rotate your map in line with what the compass is telling you…..with North always at the top of the map.

the Eyan Moor loop

the Eyan Moor ‘training’ loop on the ViewRanger App

I was also particularly interested in furthering my understanding of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology.  So with a little bit of extra coaching from Niel, I was able to upload a ’tile’ of the map that we were using and record our circular route via the ViewRanger App.  Result!  Thanks guys for a truly informative and inspiring w/e.

As soon as I got home I took Tommy out with the intention of putting all my new-found knowledge into practice.  We recorded our first circular route on my iPhone.  I have called it ‘the Embla Moor Loop‘ (see below).  It took 2:36:37 hours, over a distance of 11.63 km.  That’s an average of 4.64 km (which I think works out at just shy of 3 miles?) per hour.  That’s without any stops of course so not a true reflection of a long day’s ride.  (I have yet to work out how to upload it to Facebook).  This will go some way to working out how much distance we might be able to travel on our pilgrimage when I begin to plot our course.

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