BACK in 2005, Lyle Brotherton was enjoying an extended holiday in California, indulging a passion for the great outdoors fostered by his childhood in the Yorkshire Dales.
His companion on that trek among the spectacular but dangerous mountains of the Sierra Nevada was a member of the US Marine Corps who, like Lyle, had a fascination with land navigation and, specifically, the various techniques which could be used in emergency situations.
“At that time I was absorbed in emerging satellite technologies and had always considered myself a competent navigator,” recalled Lyle.
“However, we were discussing more rudimentary methods, such as the use of compasses and the stars to determine distances, when he demonstrated a very simple visual method of working out the trickier assessment of depth between two given points by putting a thumb over one eye.”
It was, said Lyle, a “eureka” moment.
“I realised that while I had acquired a great deal of knowledge about land navigation, there was always more to learn.”
When Lyle returned to his home at Cavers, in the shadow of Ruberslaw near Denholm, he resolved to pull together what he already knew and to garner the expertise of search and rescue teams and special forces across the world.
“I wanted to produce some kind of guidebook which would help these professionals, along with leisure walkers, but, at that time, I had no real idea of what I was letting myself in for or the scope of the project,” he told us.
Six years on and no such doubts exist because today sees the launch of Lyle’s debut book, The Ultimate Navigation Manual, which is published by the world’s leading publishing group Harper Collins.
And in the process of researching the 368-page fully-illustrated volume, Lyle has become an acknowledged leading expert on land navigation, with his services as a consultant in demand in disaster situations across the world, from the devastating floods in Pakistan of 2010 to this year’s shattering tsunami in Japan.
In fact, Lyle has worked with more than 135 search and rescue teams, special service personnel and governments in 24 different countries since he embarked on his project while still finding time to be a valued member of the Selkirk-based Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue Team.
With a preface by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Lyle Brotherton’s book takes the reader through all the techniques you need to become an expert navigator from the basic principles right up to the advanced technology of GPS (Global Positioning Systems) and Satnav which Lyle says is the most significant advance in navigation since the invention of the magnetic compass.
Designed to allow even absolute beginners to find their way anywhere in the world, it also develops a unique confidence in navigation with or without technical aids.
It outlines how to use the natural environment to navigate and how to use maps, and reveals both tried and tested and ground-breaking relocation procedures for those who find themselves lost in life-threatening circumstances.
“I’ve tried to cover all bases and write the book in an accessible format with lots of my own photographs from my numerous field trips,” said Lyle.
In exceeding his original ambition for a user-friendly guidebook, Lyle admits his life has changed beyond recognition.
“It has taken me into so many different spheres, such as advising governments in emergency planning situations as they happen.
“When a natural disaster, like an earthquake or flooding, strikes, the geography is changed and it can present huge logistical problems in getting people to safety and that is my area of expertise.”
Dad of four, Lyle, 54, has recently been advising the Home Office on contingency plans for the safe exodus of people caught up in terrorist atrocities and collaborating with police in America over the evidential use of Satnav at crime scenes.
Lyle lectures and instructs mountain rescue and search-and-rescue teams in the UK and abroad in advance navigation and has developed his own national GPS training programme.
Lyle admits he has been lucky with his life choices, none more than his decision eight years ago to sell his successful recruitment business and move to the Borders with his wife Judith, a teacher at Kelso High.
“I guess I had the time on my hands to pursue my passion, but if I thought I was coming to the Borders for a quiet life, I was wrong and my consultancy work means I am frequently travelling abroad,” said Lyle.
“But I love the wild beauty of the Borders hills and the work I do outdoors, and I suppose I wanted to give something back with a book that will encourage people to get out and about more safely and enjoy the fabulous resources all around.”
The Ultimate Navigation Guide by Lyle Brotherton is published by Harper Collins today, priced £14.99. ISBN: 9780007424603.