I LIVE in a village near Helmsley in Ryedale and a few months ago a small car eased to a halt at my side as I walked towards the shop. It contained two people of mature years, a man and a woman; he was the driver.

The lady passenger wound down her window and asked, “Excuse me, but can you tell us the way to Derby?”

She had a strong Scots accent and was sitting with a piece of paper on her knee which she passed to me. It was a hand-drawn sketch of her route from Glasgow to Derby, so how on earth she had reached my part of England was baffling. I don’t even know how she got out of Glasgow!

When I examined the paper it showed Glasgow and Derby with a lot of squiggles in between, and among the squiggles I noticed the names of Carlisle, Darlington, Leeds, Sheffield and Stoke-on-Trent. Apparently it was the lady’s task to guide her husband to these prominent places, but she’d taken a wrong turn somewhere north of North Yorkshire, probably in the Newcastle area, according to what she told me but she did not remember Middlesbrough or Thirsk.

When I asked if there was a map in their car, each looked horrified, almost as if I was telling them there was a hungry lion on the back seat but they said they never carried maps.

Oddly enough, I had been to Derby only a few weeks earlier and knew the route so I suggested they headed for York, which was well signed. When they reached the ring road, I told them to head for Leeds, also well signed and from that point, they would see signs for the M1. Once on the Ml, I suggested they head south until they saw signs for the turn-off to Derby, prominently indicated in advance. I stressed that the main centres were all well signed and easily located.

“Oh no,” said the lady. “That’s no good, we don’t want to go anywhere near York.”

I could only suggest they headed towards York and long before entering the city they would reach the by-pass; from there they would see adequate signs showing the route to the M1 and beyond down to Derby. I think they understood what I was suggesting and off they went, but I never knew their fate.

A similar incident occurred when a man with a car-load of young children halted and, in a strong Tyneside accent, asked me the way to Flamingo Park Zoo which is between Pickering and Malton. All he had for guidance was an old envelope with a pencil sketch of the route upon it – and it did not contain any main towns.

His sketch-map was just a bewildering network of web-like lines and I am sure he had no idea where he was. But I sent him on his way.

Traffic police can tell dozens of similar tales – I recall a former colleague, a young policeman patrolling the cliff top in Whitby, being asked by a visitor, “Where are the Italian Gardens?”

“They’re not here,” he replied and before he could explain how to find them, the visitor snapped,

“You seem to be very young and inexperienced, officer. Look, I’ve been coming to Scarborough for more than twenty years, and I know the Italian Gardens are here. The new one-way system has puzzled me.”

“But you’re not in Scarborough,” smiled the policeman. “This is Whitby which has no Italian Gardens.”

The driver slunk away without even thanking the policeman.

The point of these tales is to ponder just how many motorists set off upon a long journey without a map in their vehicles. Either they are unaware of the value of a route map, or they lack map-reading skills.

Nowadays, of course, many rely on SatNav devices, some of which are not always accurate – a road atlas in the vehicle is always a good idea even if a SatNav is installed. I’ve come across drivers being guided by their SatNav along farm tracks, bridleways or private roads and I recall a Dutch driver somehow being sent down the Donkey Path near Whitby Abbey.

His large estate car could not negotiate the narrow bend at the bottom and so he had the awesome task of reversing to the top to the entertainment of crowds using the 199 steps.

It’s not just motorists who get lost. It can happen to ramblers and hikers, some of whom rely either on old maps or, like their motoring colleagues, do not carry proper maps. It can happen to ramblers and hikers, some of whom rely either on old maps or, like the motorists referred to above, simply cannot read or understand a map.

When I was a serving police officer, it was quite common for hikers and day-trippers to pop into the police station to ask where they were, and how to get back to where they had come from. Recently, I was in a stationer’s shop in Helmsley when I heard a woman visitor say to her friend, “We’d better get a postcard with this town’s name on it, so we know where we’ve been.”

Then there are those who park the car to go for a long country walk and then forget where they left it. If that seems odd, I remember a bus driver coming into Whitby Police Station to ask for help to find his bus – he’d forgotten where he’d parked it. We found it at Robin Hood’s Bay. It was full of tourists patiently awaiting the return of their driver.

But if you do decide to buy a map and learn how to use it, please remember that maps can quickly become out of date – I wouldn’t want anyone to get lost!

Siskin visitors

SISKINS are infrequent visitors to our bird feeders, the most regular being a male. On several recent occasions he has been accompanied by a female so it seems they have forged a relationship and may nest nearby.

Being only the size of blue tits they are like small greenfinches and share some of their colours. The yellow wing patterns differ from those of the greenfinch because they run across the wings like chevrons. Siskins have yellow rumps and the male is easily distinguished by his black cap and black chin. The female lacks the latter features. Siskins live in pine woods and there is a large plantation at the far side of our dale so it is likely they are visitors from there.

When I was busy at the kitchen sink recently, a male siskin arrived on our peanut container apparently unconcerned at my presence a mere six feet or so (2m) away. But when I moved, he froze. Somewhat surprisingly he made no attempt to fly away but remained in the position he had adopted moments before noticing me. As he was hanging upside down to peck at a nut with his head sticking out at a strange mid-peck angle, his frozen pose looked most peculiar. He reminded me of a child posing for a photograph. This behaviour intrigued me and as I stepped away from the window, he resumed his business. It was almost like a film re-starting after being halted.