First, and Further, Impressions of the Garmin 12XL
Garmin eTrex Summit
Garmin Geko 201
Programs Linking Garmin & Magellan GPS Units to a PC
GPS data for Lake District Walks


The appearance of the Walk Distance Calculator on the site, with its database of Lake District locations, and its ability to output bearings and distances, should make the programming of GPS machines for use in Lakeland fairly simple. The writer has developed this section to include route data such that users are not only be able to input these data by hand, but also by data link directly from their computers.

First Impressions of the Garmin 12XL

The writer received a Garmin 12XL two days ago, 7 April 1997, and here notes his first impressions:-

The GPS is very much smaller than I imagined, particularly since it came in a parcel 12"x9"x5". It's actually 5.8"x2.1"x1.2" and my video remote control dwarfs it. It's a comfortable size to carry in the hand and feels chunky and robust. I'm not intending to do any destructive testing but it feels as if it could survive a lot of ill-treatment.

After venturing out into a Kendal street I switched it on and told it which country it was in, as it requested. By the time I'd read the next bit of the manual it had already locked on to six satellites and decided where it was. I wandered down the street to the Town Hall, "marking" positions on the way, returned home and put it away for later.

By the following day I'd had a chance to look further at the manual, and, using bearing and distance data from the Walk Distance Calculator program, had programmed in the route around Cunswick and Scout Scars described elsewhere on this site. The trouble was that I couldn't remember which of the marks I'd taken the previous day was the one for Kendal Town Hall, the starting point for the route, so I guessed. You may imagine my delight at finding, when I told the machine to return to the starting point on the last leg, it calculated exactly the same bearing and distance as my program predicted. I had some spare time that day, so I was soon on my way out of Kendal towards Cunswick Scar, checking the read-out from the GPS, and marking waypoints en route. As I climbed towards the summit the machine bleeped and gave the message I was approaching the waypoint. It was a bit premature and gave me the first indication I'd chosen the wrong waypoint for the Town Hall. This pattern repeated itself throughout the rest of the walk, even to the Town Hall. The waypoints were consistently 200 yards south of where I intended - my mistake, not the machine's. In all other respects the trip was a remarkable success. Out on the fells the machine could receive from ten satellites, missing only one or two because I was in the way. On the previous Saturday I was out on an organised walk in thick hill fog and a gale that blew people down. What a boon this machine would have been then.

Further Impressions of the Garmin 12XL

I've used the GPS on three further trips, now over the higher fells. Having found how to set the coordinates to British Ordnance Survey I find programming in advance has become simpler. I found myself on Stybarrow Dodd wishing to try a descent to Glenridding via Sheffield Pike, a route I'd not tried before. The cloud was down on the felltops, visibility was about 50 yards, and Wainwright says not to use this route in mist. "Of course", I thought to myself, "he didn't have a GPS." The problem is to find a narrow neck of land between the old disused, and dangerous, quarries of Greenside (the turf above the quarry is undercut, like a cornice, and the unwary could fall through) and the crags of Glencoyne Head. I estimated the grid refs. of the summit of Greenside and the aforementioned neck of land, from a map, and programmed them into the GPS. Using the map display I then proceeded along the route it displayed. It took me unerringly to the top of Greenside and I was heading straight for my second destination, in perfect safety, when the cloud started to clear. No doubt I could have done this with map and compass but not with such ease. This is what I would have expected the GPS to do, but even so, I was impressed.

Final Comments on the Garmin 12XL

It is now six months on and I've collected GPS data for most of my walks. During this period I have come across much comment about such machines. One thing that is apparent is that adverse comment almost invariably comes from people who haven't used them. I was once told by a young man I met on the fells that he would not use a GPS because it was man-made and could break down. He was having to carry his mountain bike at the time! My favourite absurdity is the suggestion that people will follow their GPSs over the edge of cliffs. The following reflects my own use and views:-

Stop Press - Selective Availability Switched OFF - May 2000

On a recent trip to Catstye Cam and Helvellyn EPE was down to 11 feet

The Garmin eTrex Summit

The Garmin eTrex Summit is a neat unit, smaller and lighter than the 12XL but with two very special features:

On the few walks I've managed between the appalling weather of Autumn 2000 and the Foot & Mouth restrictions of Spring 2001 I've run the eTrex continuously hoping to get tracks which could be used as maps for the site so I've got reasonable experience of it now. Upgrading the software is simple and I'm now up to version 2.07 which is much better than the 2.02 I started with, there now being a satellite tracking page like the 12XL. The compass feature is handy at times but I usually leave it switched off as it uses a lot of power. Calibrating the compass is simple if mildly embarrassing if there are strangers around. One has to turn round twice, slowly. The panel shows whether one is turning at a suitable speed. I first tried this in a Kendal park and got some strange looks.

The altimeter works very well once it has been calibrated. I first tried it on my Cunswick and Scout Scars walk, setting it on the known altitude on Cunswick Scar and checking it on Scout Scar. It was spot on to the nearest foot, though there was only about half an hour between the two readings. On longer journeys I'm not so sure (yet). One problem is the shortage of known altitude points and one can be on one's frst summit before being able to calibrate it. Reception is not great near my home in central Kendal and I have variations of 30 feet to cope with.

Using GPS Utility I downloaded track data from three trips round my local Cunswick and Scout Scars route. Even with a single pixel track I can find no variation in them. When overlaid on a scanned map the points one would expect to be survey points coincide seamlessly, and they do. There are sometimes differences between the OS map and the tracks at the points where roads curve and there are some obvious errors on the current positions of footpaths.

The verdict? I'm very pleased with it overall. The compass and altimeter facilities are long overdue, and I'd call them essentials. They should have been included in all walkers' GPS systems from the outset. One niggle is battery life. I've got nowhere near the expected 16 hours from a set of batteries yet. It is all too easy to waste them through inadvertently turning on the backlight. I've worn gloves for all the walks I've done lately because of freezing weather and the buttons have been hard to find. I also miss the bleeper from the 12XL which would warn me when the batteries were about to expire.

The Garmin Geko 201

I found myself earlier this year (2003) without a GPS on loan and having to choose whether or not to buy one and if so which one. Navigators have for centuries dreamed of a simple method of identifying where they were, and here in GPS that dream has come true. I often wander these fells without bothering to look at a map or thinking particularly where I am going, but I have only ever got temporarily lost and on such occasions soon found where I was after getting out the map from the bottom of my rucksack and doing some minor exploration. My confidence in that ability has built up over some 40 years of walking these fells so I'm hardly a beginner. So, I don't really need a GPS but having one makes finding where I am all the more simple. My main requirements for a GPS were that it should give me the coordinates of my present position, that it should guide me to another place of my choosing, and that it would link to my computer for uploading and downloading waypoints. From my home I don't have a wide view of the sky and I'd grown tired of trying to recalibrate the altimeter on the eTrex, and the compass facility was expensive in terms of both capital and running costs so I opted to do without both. The new Garmin Geko 201 seemed to fit the bill and, at just £115 from one supplier, I ordered one. That was in February - it was April before it arrived.

It's a dinky little thing but seems robust enough and the screen gives a sufficient display. I set it to WAAS mode straight away, this does slow it down a bit but I'd rather have the accuracy than the speed. In normal use it will give a location within 30 seconds of switching on and the estimated accuracy soon comes down to around 15 feet when out on the fells. The full WAAS accuracy making use of differential data from the satellites takes much longer, if at all, then the Geko quotes differential rather than accuracy and it's soon down to six feet. I've had three trips to The Calf in the Howgills recently but not had full WAAS mode on any of them. I took a waypoint at the centre of the trig. point on my first trip and on the next two trips checked the distance to that waypoint. The first time it was 1.8 feet and the second time 3.0 feet. The Geko was giving its estimated accuracy at around 16 feet both times. Two checks may not be statistically significant but I confess I'm very impressed.

I don't leave it on for any great length of time but after six months of use I'm still on the first set of batteries. The Geko uses the same data cable as the eTrex which may save someone some money. All in all I'm delighted with it, and since I had to put up my own cash thats saying something.

Programs Linking the GPS Units to a PC

Two alternatives are GPS Utility (GPSU) in freeware and shareware versions from and EasyGPS which is freeware from Both support a wide range of GPS units. Route data downloaded from this website in .gpx format can be loaded into both programs. Note that some .gpx files from elsewhere cannot be read by GPSU. GPSU has its own proprietary .txt format, in which routes are also downloadable from this website here.

Walk Distance Calculator
GPS data for Lake District Walks

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