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News article created on 8 November 2013

Map reading is an undervalued skill

How putting too much faith in my satnav puts me in a spin

My name is Liz and I have no sense of direction.

Seriously, one of my daughters (the one with the ‘ology’) tells me I have no ‘cognitive mapping skills’, which probably isn’t a good thing in my job.

Whilst I am perfectly capable of telling my right from my left and am great at following a map, that’s as far as it goes. If I come to a T junction and have to make a choice between left or right based on a hunch, I can sit there, hunchless, until the cars behind start beeping impatiently.

In the days before satellite navigation gizmos, if I were going to a remote canalside location I relied on directions from colleagues (‘past the Red Lion, straight over the traffic lights by the Navigation Inn etc’). If I got lost, I would despair and chastise myself: ‘Pull yourself together! All you’ve got to do is find the water!’ and I was grateful on more than one occasion for spotting our distinctive black and white corporate colours in the distance.

So I was an early and grateful adopter of the satellite navigation device. The trouble is, the more and more dependent I became on it, the lazier I got about looking at maps. Which only compounds my particular problem.

I was at Cambrian Wharf on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal recently for a meeting with our heritage advisors. At the end of the afternoon, I made my way back to the NIA car park and collected my car. My satnav crackled into life: “In 150 yards turn left, in 300 yards turn left, in 100 yards turn left, in 150 yards turn left,” said my electronic friend, Daniel.

Hang on. Even I could work out that I was going round in circles (well squares, anyway).  Thinking that with my history the mistake must be mine, I started again. Sure enough for the second time I ended up back at the beginning. What to do? I decided to strike out and ignore Daniel - 'Make a U-turn where possible' he said.

I’m happy to report that I’m not still driving round the block and eventually got home. But I ask you, dear reader, if my satnav can get lost in Birmingham – famed for its expressways, underpasses, overpasses and Spaghetti Junction - what hope is there for me?

About this blog

Liz Waddington

Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut. 

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