Last year I did my NNAS Bronze Navigator Award to help me become more confident running the trails near home. I really enjoyed the two days and have spent the last year putting into practice some of what I've learnt as I've starting running the Slow Ways and other trails round the village.
The aim was to run the Shipwrights Way, and although I didn't manage it this year, its still on the list for next year.
So while I've been using the trails and enjoying a new freedom, I knew there was still more to learn and so I signed up for the NNAS Silver Navigator Award.
Being November I knew the weather might not be that kind, but I hadn't expected the driving rain and stong winds we ended up walking the South Downs in. We did have a moment of sunshine, but our waterproofs really earned their keep this weekend.
We were a group of 5, all of which had either done the bronze award or were confident navigators, but all wanting to learn more. It could have been a miserable weekend, but everyone was out to learn and have some fun, so even in the pouring rain we had a good time.
On the Saturday we were at Devil's Dyke to really understand contours - the orange lines you see all over the OS maps which show how lumpy the land is. It's all very well 'understanding' them, but you need to understand what that means for the route you've picked out. For instance at Devil's Dyke, I wouldn't suggest trying to go straight up the side of the valley!
We then started to work with our compass. The rain and wind made this interesting as the compass slid around on the map as you tried to line things up and made my fingers so cold I could hardly turn the dial, but by the end of the day I could take a bearing and then follow it across open country.
As the mist came down and the sky darkened, I was quite glad to get in my car, turn the heater up and go home to hot food.
Waking up on Sunday to the sound of more heavy rain, made getting up and out harder than it should have been. But most of my kit had dried out and as 'im outdoors said, 'it'll be done by the time you get there'. (it wasn't.)
I wasn't sure I was going to get to Stanmer Park, the location for day two. There were some very big puddles on the drive over and the rain was still coming down.
Sunday was all about putting into practice what we learnt on Saturday.
Our first task wasn't as easy as I'd hoped due to the many footpaths on the ground that weren't shown on the map. But each leg after that was better and better and the sun even came out for one of them.
There was something magical about setting up a bearing on my map, then setting out across a field with no view of my destination, but to find it every time.
And Rich, our instructor, when not showing us how to navigate was full of advice and interesting facts to fill our heads leaving no room to think about everyday things, which was also lovely.
By the end of two very wet days my gear had been tested to the max, so I was pretty pleased to find that most of it did fine (even the cheap Peter Storm waterproof trousers bought 20 years ago!). I now know that if I want things to stay dry in my bag I could do with some dry sacks, and if it's going to be cold and wet I really need to invest in some better gloves - I got through 2 pairs over the weekend and both were soaking wet by the end of each day.
I know a lot of people would think this sounds like a rubbish way to spend a weekend - out in the cold and wet, but I really did have a fab time. Expect for my hands, I was warm(ish) and dry, and I learnt a bunch of new skills which I can really see feeding into my trail running, giving me even more freedom and confidence.
I'm really looking forward to going out and trying it again on my own, but I might let the rain stop first.