Orienteering and Navigation Courses


The ability to use maps to guide us through our surroundings is as old as civilisation itself with early, rudimentary maps found in cave paintings dating as far back as 25,000 BC. In the Lake District, the ability to use a map and a compass can save your life. It can prevent you from becoming stranded on the fells with no way of knowing how to get back to your starting point. Mountain Rescue Teams respond to hundreds of calls each year from lost walkers, and sadly, a small handful do end with a fatality.

Map reading, or navigation, therefore, is a vital skill, and one that can be learned through courses offered in the Lake District. Orienteering uses these skills in a fun and challenging way. Participants are given a map with a number of points marked on it. Using their map reading skills participants must visit each of these points and, in competitive orienteering, the aim is to be the fastest person or group around the course.

What Orienteering and Navigation Courses Involve

For a typical navigation course, you can expect to receive some in depth tuition on how to read an Ordnance Survey map with topics covered, such as map scales, contour lines, and how to use a compass in conjunction with your map. Some courses will also cover using GPS units, such as a smartphone or a standalone unit to help you navigate. You then may be taken on a route that will test your new skills.

For orienteering, you are given a map of the course and have to visit each point on the map. You will need to find the “control” which marks the point that you are looking for. It could be an item to collect, a symbol, a clue to a puzzle, or a letter that forms part of a word you need to spell. The aim is to complete the course by visiting all of the controls in the fastest time possible.

What to Wear and Bring

You will need to wear weather appropriate clothing, including waterproofs, and a sturdy pair of shoes. Walking boots or trainers with good ankle support are best. Flip-flops or heels will simply leave you with sore feet. Layers are ideal so that you can add or takeaway as required.

You will need a map and compass, though these may be provided by your course organiser. You will also need to pack some food and water, ensuring you have plenty to last you the day. Although you may be learning to navigate without GPS, a fully charged mobile phone will ensure you have a way of calling for help if required. A whistle is also useful if you get lost, as it can alert search parties to your whereabouts, whilst a torch will provide you with light should you get stranded in the dark.

Where to Find a Navigation Course in the Lake District

There are a number of activity companies offering navigation courses in the Lake District. These courses will provide you with the skills needed to both navigate the fells and complete an orienteering course:

The Lakes Mountaineer

The Lakes Mountaineer offers Bronze and Silver Navigation award courses aimed at building up complete navigation novices. The courses teach you navigation techniques, such how to navigate use maps, grid references and compasses, what to do if you get lost, recognising dangerous or difficult terrain, maintaining route accuracy in poor visibility and much more. They also offer a bespoke service if you are looking to have a tailor made day out.  

  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Tel: 07903456136
  • Websitethelakesmountaineer.co.uk/navigation-courses

Lakeland Mountain Guides

The Lakeland Mountain Guides offers an array of navigation training courses, as well as winter and mountain skills courses. The navigation course will help you learn how to read a map and use a compass and various other skills, whilst the winter and mountain skills courses teach you how to navigate more difficult terrain, including how to scramble and use more technical kit like crampons.


Kendal Mountaineering Services

Two-day navigation courses are provided in the south lakes with the option to include an overnight wild camping stay as part of the course.


More Than Mountains

One-day courses are available with starting points at Keswick or Windermere. Groups are kept to a maximum of four people in order to ensure you are fully supported.


West Lakes Adventure

'The Skills for the Hills' course offered by West Lakes Adventure not only covers navigation, but also includes other aspects of mountaineering, such as emergency procedures including rope work, and how to navigate steep terrain.


River Deep Mountain High

One or two day courses available with tuition taking place in the RDMH training centre. Practical sessions are held in the southern fells.


Where to Find an Orienteering Course in the Lake District

Once you have some navigation skills, then you can try out an orienteering course. There are orienteering clubs in the Lake District with many offering sessions that are open to visitors and beginners. You can search for planned events with clubs on the official British Orienteering site.

In addition, there are orienteering courses available around the Lake District. Some are permanent and independently led with maps either available to download online, or to buy at the start point of the course. Others are available through private activity companies, as listed below.


Whinlatter Forest

There are two permanent orienteering trails at Whinlatter, plus an additional Gruffalo orienteering course aimed at children, which is pushchair friendly. Maps can be purchased from the visitor centre.


Wild Ennerdale

There are two permanent courses at Ennerdale Forest in the western Lake District with maps available to download free of charge. There is no visitor centre at Ennerdale, so you do need to print the maps off in advance of your visit.

  • Address: Bowness Knott Car Park (For Ennerdale), CA23 3AU
  • Tel: N/A
  • Website: wildennerdale.co.uk


The Lake District’s visitor centre at Windermere has two permanent orienteering courses available with the controls forming part of a puzzle to solve. Maps are available in the Brockhole shop.


Kendal Mountaineering Services

Courses can be tailored to suit your needs, whether it be a one-hour course or an all-day event. Ideal for families or groups.


Keswick Climbing Wall

A session includes some basic navigation tuition, followed by a challenge on the course set in the centre’s grounds. There is also an option to attempt a more challenging course off-site.


Green Man Survival

When it comes to navigation and orienteering courses, Green Man Survival provide a one-day and a two-day option. The one-day course teaches basic navigation using a map and a compass, reading terrain, how to cross rivers, emergency procedures, emergency shelter building, water sourcing and purification, signalling, what to bring on a day trek, as well as foraging and tree-ID. The two-day option covers all of the above and more with an overnight stay in the great outdoors.