20 things you need to know about the Art of Navigation
Ever spent hour after hour wandering round in ever decreasing yet ever more aimless circles? Ever struggled to identify vaguely familiar objects in the all-enveloping mist? Ever sat yourself down, head in hands, and uttered a defeated, despairing cry of "Where the hell am I?!" Yes, yes, we know all of these occur on a regular once-a-week basis following Friday night visits to the pub. But on the hill? On days when the clag is at its claggiest, when the much vaunted views are nowhere to be seen? Then it's high time for.. 20 things you need to know about the Art of Navigation:
- Navigation is more of a science than an art, being based firmly on the Five Postulates of Euclid. However, as every schoolgirl knows, the unfortunate Euclid spent his life pushing a boulder up a hill and wrestling with the Oracle at Delphi, so he didn't seem too good at postulating himself.
- We shall not go into Euclid's Postulates here as they are bothersomely pedantic - e.g. parallel lines meet at infinity, all angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees, it's a long lane that has no turning, etc. Einstein later proved the whole universe to be non-Euclidean - but thankfully only in Wainwright's drawings does this level of pedantry matter.
- The most famous navigators were mostly Portuguese and have all had famous things named after them. Magellan has the Magellan Straits, Amerigo Vespucci has the Vespa Scooter, and Vasco Da Gama has vaseline and gamma radiation. Thor Heyerdaal has nothing named after him, and no wonder.
- The most famous of all navigators was of course Christopher Columbus - who set sail for Australia, discovered the West Indies and so founded Test cricket. His navigational skills are however open to some doubt as he contrived to do all this whilst going via Iona.
- Navigation is basically about getting from A to B via a straightish line. However, C D E, alpha beta gamma, and half of every known alphabet seem to intervene most of the time. One way to avoid this would be to live in a two-dimensional universe instead of a three-dimensional one. The easiest method of trying this out is to move to Norfolk.
- The fundamental tools of navigation are the map and compass. These were adequately defined for us in TAC2 by Dr G.W. McSharkie - "Map: coloured paper thing covered in squiggles. Compass: attractive dangly neck thing."
- The first maps were made by people who thought the earth was flat. Thus it was that maps were made flat. Quite handy for us really as it makes them easy to fit into map cases.
- All later maps were made by the Ordnance Survey. They started at Southampton and by a process called "triangulation" ended up at Northampton. One reason why they took so long to map Scotland properly was that they didn't get here until recently, having become lost for many years in Hampton Court Maze. (That's enough Hamptons - Ed,)
- Another reason for the delay was that triangulation involves being able to see three separate hills at the one time, and therefore doesn't work in England.
- Ordnance Survey maps are crisscrossed by thin blue lines known as the National Grid. Besides being a useful aid to navigation, these show how the country's electricity supply works. Interestingly, the Government has recently announced plans to further privatise the electricity companies square-by-square, with a specially-made Peter Purves advert for each one.
- The first compasses were made by people - such as William Blake - who thought God was up there with a giant pair of compasses like you used to get in technical drawing lessons. They quickly discovered that these compasses sent them round and round in circles, but the name stuck.
- The present day compass works by magnetism - a kind of electricity without batteries. Unfortunately, as any avid navigator knows, magnetic north is changing all the time and a new correction must be made each year. The reason for this is to do with more and more Japanese cars leaving the East and coming to the West, thus attracting compass needles slightly.
- Everyone knows about the magnetic rock in the Cuillin which nullifies the compass and makes the ridge a dangerous place in mist. Alternatives are a pocket altimeter, a copy of Poucher, or a knowledge of all the Prince Chairlie's Caves from which to await a change in the weather. In the days of tricouni nailed boots it was possible to get stuck to the rock. Although safer in the long run, this prevented you from navigating anywhere.
- Navigation is of course vital in mist and could save your life. Simply put, you need to know where you are and where you are going. If you don't know where you are you are lost and might as well pick any route at random. If you do know where you are then you are a smartarse and don't need this fanzine to tell you how to find the way.
- Occasionally you will read of hillwalkers jokingly refer to having been "temporarily misplaced". No-one actually says this in real life, the phrase merely being a crap euphemism invented by famous hill-authors to kid on that they really knew what they were doing when in fact cluelessly lost.
- In winter conditions a safe descent can usually be made by following your own footsteps back. The danger here of course is that you follow those of someone else - such as the Grey Man of Ben MacDhui and end over Lurcher's Crag. However, this is easily avoided if you cultivate an Eccentric Gait - e.g. by dragging one foot or wearing only one crampon. (As pioneered by Martin Moran: see "Scotland's Winter Mountains", p92 - know-it-all Ed.)
- The old one-inch-to-one-mile maps have been decimalised without much fuss. There is going to be much more trouble in 1998 when the EC decimalises the compass. There will then be 100 degrees instead of 360, and cleverclogs like your editor - who memorises precise bearings off 20 different hills - will be plummeting to their doom everywhere.
- Many oldfashioned types still prefer to navigate by the stars at night. This is feasible if you have a good knowledge of the constellations, but it isn't worth taking Russell Grant along with you. He is too fat for hillwalking and talks too much anyway.
- If you do decide to navigate at night, there are only three things you need to know: how to recognise The Plough - which the Americans call The Great Bear due to its resemblance to Jack Nicklaus; how to recognise Orion (shaped like a broken-down car); and how to locate north using the Pole Star. The latter is easily achieved: simply follow the line of Orion's Belt, turn 90 degrees left by north at the Crab Nebula, then bisect the twin constellations of Andromeda and Cleopatra and you shouldn't be far wrong.
- It is said by David Bellamy that moss only grows on the south-facing bark of trees. If you are in this desperate a situation you might be better dowsing for ley lines. These, like the electricity supply, follow the grid lines on O.S. maps, and can be dowsed using a hazel twig. Alternatively, it might be easier to ask David Icke the way.
TAC 3 Index