I was reading The Guardian (30 March 2020, page 28), and was hit by the headline, “Mobiles mean children will no longer be free to get lost – Attenborough”. The article begins “Children will never again know true freedom because mobile phones mean they cannot get lost, David Attenborough has said.” Further on, he explains that this is something that those of us who are pre-mobile may have experienced, but is unlikely to be experienced by today’s teenagers,
In my most recent experience of being lost, I had a mobile with a map, but no compass. I was going to a conference in London and full of false confidence, I had booked an Uber Taxi. I departed the station and looked for a road sign, but could see none. I wondered around. On the map I could see a ‘blob’ moving, but I couldn’t work out where I was and I couldn’t orientate the map as the sun was obscured. I could feel a panic rising and decided to get a coffee and ask for help. I ordered another taxi, this time confident …. only to see it disappearing into the distance, as I hobbled after it, trying to attract the driver’s attention. I felt tearful. I gave it one more try and this time was rescued. It was a sobering moment. I might be able to navigate across the world, through forests and in mountains, but in an alien environment, the city, I am lost.
Recently, pre- isolation, I went with a friend to Port Quin on the north Cornish, and looked longingly as the sunset over the headland. The next night I commented that I thought I could walk as far as that, but that I might be slow. “We must leave now, to get there and have time to get back before the light goes completely.” She was bemused that I could be so direct. She is not an outdoor person and said that outdoor people develop an innate knowledge of being on and moving through the environment. How could I work out. by looking at a map and the landscape, the time required? How would I know about the time it would take for the sun to move below the horizon? How could I judge that we would have enough ‘night sight’ to return to the cottage? This amused me.
I am a Duke of Edinburgh Award expedition assessor, working mainly in the New Forest. I think it is this innate way of being in the outdoors that we are encouraging, along with many other things. I am always heartened when young people get lost and manage to sort out their position and put themselves back on the right track. I am also surprised at the numbers of adults I meet who seek reassurance from me, that they are on the right track, when faced with being a few metres from a carpark. Let’s hope that post-lockdown we will again be able to access the outdoors and have the valuable experience of getting lost and then finding ourselves …. and congratulate others when they experience the joy of this simple event.