Basic Survival Tips for Wandering in the Dales of Durham

John Grundy News, Revealing Reptiles

We are blessed to be living in a very rural part of the world, with acres of open wild spaces, secluded valleys and historic coast. You may think that you are in a remote place with no chance of finding civilisation but there are quite a few of us living here.

Wherever you are in County Durham, you’re never too far from help.

My job as Revealing Reptiles Project Officer takes me out into the wildest parts of vice County 66, up in the Dales things do get remote and the chances of losing your bearings increase. As I encourage people to get out and enjoy these places I would like to think that they are safe whilst doing so.

I have a saying; ‘I’m never lost, I just don’t always know where I am.’

Using landmarks and natural or man made features to guide your way and help keep you from straying are the easiest ways to find your way back to base camp, to your car or to a tea shop.


Open featureless landscapes are common across the county.

Walls, fence lines, vehicle tracks, sheep tracks, streams and forest edges are all obvious choices. If you’ve followed a feature like these out across the moors with it on your left, for example, then if it is on your right you are heading back in the right direction.

An obvious feature to use.

A lone tree on a hilltop is always a good reference point, make a mental note of where it is when you set off and keep it in your sight as you go.


Flowing water will always take you to a settlement.

If the weather comes in, as it often can, and visibility drops in hail, rain, snow or fog then I trust one basic survival tip; Find running water, follow it downstream and eventually you’ll come to civilisation. You need not plodge through it but keeping it in site will help.

Using a lone-working system such as I do also helps. I call into the office when I arrive at a location. Giving an idea of when my next message will be and when I leave. I often post pictures as I go, on Twitter and other social media just to show where I am, how much fun I’m having and to generally rub it in, because I’m thoughtful and considerate to my fellow workers.

Some of us just aren’t comfortable in an office. For instance I’m sitting in my garden in the sun writing this as it is warmer out here than in the house. Plus I can keep an eye on the frogs & newts in the ponds and the frantic nest building of the blackbirds and dunnocks.

So whilst I’m all for getting out and encouraging others to do the same, please take care of yourselves. Ideally as reptile surveyors we want to be out in the sunshine, but as proved just last weekend a misty day can produce results as well. You may set off in the sun but upland weather in the Pennines can be as changeable as a lizard’s memory. Take a backpack with food, drink, waterproof clothing, a torch, first aid kit and a charged mobile phone. Obviously phone signal can be a bit hit and miss out there but if you were to get into serious difficulty the emergency services numbers are accessible wherever you are. Have a family member or friend who knows where you are going, when you’re expected to return and how long to wait before they begin to put emergency procedures into practice (such as renting out your room, selling your valuables on eBay and planning a good old knees up in your memory).

Happy Herping!

John Grundy

John has spent more than thirty years honing his skills as a spotter of our region’s elusive and well-camouflaged reptiles. He can often be found wandering the moors of Durham looking for signs of life in the undergrowth. As the Revealing Reptiles Project Officer John frequently delivers reptile survey training to groups and individuals.

Report your reptile sightings here