Feature: How women of the hills navigate the Peaks

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (right) pointing out landmarks to Carol Hartley and her dog Max
Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (right) pointing out landmarks to Carol Hartley and her dog Max
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Who wants to wrestle a sheet of flapping paper in a moorland gale nowadays?

Mountain guide Clare Kelly does, and has some sage advice. “I have a map app now, and it’s great,” she said. “But maps on smart phones are a massive drain on your batteries. You shouldn’t rely on technology, so many things can go wrong, I see technology as a back-up.”

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly at Burbage (left) with Carol Hartley (left) and Louise Cunningham

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly at Burbage (left) with Carol Hartley (left) and Louise Cunningham

GPS technology, map apps and back up batteries will cost several hundred pounds, she added, while you can still pick up Ordnance Survey maps for free at Sheffield Central Library.

Clare wasn’t always a mapping guru. “I remember getting lost on a trail in a forest in Kent in my twenties, and my friend just got out her map and compass and said: ‘It’s this way.’ I was so amazed, and thought, how did she do that?”

Years of trek leading across Europe, America, Asia and Australasia later, Clare has launched a series of Peak District-based navigation courses to help local women learn the same magical map skills that led Clare out of the woods years ago.

“There are plenty of navigation courses for people in this area, and I wanted to enable other women to explore to the full extent rather than just follow other people or rely on a book. We all know books that say ‘turn left at the stile’ and then the stile isn’t there. Learning to read a map gives you the confidence to find your own route.”

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) working with a compass with Louise Cunningham

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) working with a compass with Louise Cunningham

Clare chose to offer all-women courses to give women a choice, she said. “Women often say they feel more comfortable and find it easier to learn when everyone’s supportive and helps each other. One woman said normally she just follows her husband, and never thought about learning to navigate herself until she saw these courses.”

“Some women say that they see a man looking at a map upside down and think that women don’t have the same spatial skills,” said Louise Cunningham. “I’m not sure about that, but I think women do have worries about personal safety in the countryside, and being confident about where you are and where you’re going can really help.”

Clare accepts women may feel nervous about exploring ‘off piste’, but following general safety practices is good advice for everyone. “Always tell someone where you’re going, take a map and compass, carry suitable clothing and food, and always carry a whistle on the outside of your pack so you can reach it if you get injured,” she said. “Six short blasts repeated every minute is the international emergency signal.”

Clare’s two day National Navigation Award Scheme courses teach general compass and map reading skills to groups of six to eight women from a base in Hathersage. (She also runs bespoke courses for smaller groups or individuals).

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) checking the map with Carol Hartley at Burbage

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) checking the map with Carol Hartley at Burbage

Trainees learn about using the number of paces you take to walk 100 metres to measure distance along a route, how to use a ‘handrail’ feature like a wall or stream to keep you on track, and how planning a ‘catching feature’ like a change in contours can tell you if you’ve misjudged and gone too far.

Now that the CROW act has opened up large areas of local moorlands, she feels more women should have the confidence to explore.

“Being able to read a map and compass gives you such a vast terrain to go at, you can wander where you want. People who follow book walks are amazed when I tell them I’ve seen a mountain hare, but if you go somewhere like Bleaklow you see them all the time. It’s wonderful.”

Visit Navigation for Women for details.

Navigation for Women: map app v paper map

Navigation for Women: map app v paper map

Sample linear walks using a ‘handrail’

Fox House to Grindleford or Hathersage (2-5 miles)

Bus to Fox House, follow Padley Gorge to Grindleford, then River Derwent to Hathersage. Return by bus or train.

Upper Burbage Bridge Car Park along Stanage Edge (2-9 miles).

Head onto Stanage Edge, and walk as far as you want using the edge as a guide, then turn back. Return route views are always different.

Hope to Castleton (3 miles)

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) looking at landmarks further down the Burbage valley with Louise Cunningham

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (left) looking at landmarks further down the Burbage valley with Louise Cunningham

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (right) picking out landmarks with Carol Hartley

Navigation for Women tutor Clare Kelly (right) picking out landmarks with Carol Hartley

Bus to Hope and find the path following the stream to Castleton tea shops before the return bus.