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No. 45 Find your way with a map

Two children looking at maps at Low Wray campsite on the shore of Lake Windermere in the Lake District
Children exploring with maps in the Lake District | © National Trust Images/Tiree Dawson

Finding your way with a map is no. 45 of the ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’. It might seem really simple, but there's a bit to learn. Once you've mastered it, you'll never get lost again. Use our guide and tips to help you set out.

What you'll need

  • A map of the area you want to explore
  • An idea of where you want to end up - your destination
  • A whistle and mobile phone to let people know where you are
  • Some drinks, snacks and clothes for the weather.

Getting started

Start off by working out where you are right now on the map, so that you know you're following your map from the right place. It sounds silly, but make sure you're holding the map the right way round too. It's good to do this activity with your family or friends, and you'll probably need an adult for the trickiest bits.

Understanding your map

There are lots of lines and shapes on maps. Once you've found your starting point, have a look at the different symbols you can find near your spot. What could they be? There will probably be a special key on your map, which will tell you what each line and squiggle means.

You'll probably find symbols for roads, footpaths, streams, hills and trees. Knowing all these different markings will help you to work out where you are when you're on your journey.

Visitors walking in woodland at Brownsea Island, Poole Harbour, Dorset
Visitors walking in woodland at Brownsea Island | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Work out a route

If you look at where you are and where you want to end up, you should be able to work out a route between the two. If you're planning to cross rivers, take care to check if there are some bridges or you may get stuck. It's also best to check in advance that you're not walking on private land.

Finding your way

Once you've plotted your route, use your map to see where you are. If you've used a map a few times before, you may want to have a go at using a compass. This can be fun, but it's really not necessary for walks where you can look at different landscape features to help you instead.

You'll find you'll notice all sorts of other things that maps can show you too, like how big something is, how far away it is and special places such as forts and churches.

Two girls exploring the woodland trails at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire

‘50 things to do before you're 11¾’

Have fun exploring nature and the great outdoors with our list of ‘50 things to do before you're 11¾’.

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