Two experiments employed dual task techniques to explore the role of working memory in route learning and subsequent route retrieval. Experiment 1 involved contrasting performance of two groups of volunteers respectively learning a route from a series of map segments or a series of visually presented nonsense words. Both groups performed learning and recognition under articulatory suppression or concurrent spatial tapping. Both concurrent tasks had an overall disruptive effect on each learning task. However, spatial tapping disrupted route recognition rather more than did articulatory suppression, while the nonsense word recognition was impaired more by articulatory suppression than by concurrent spatial tapping. Experiment 2 again used dual task methodology, but explored route learning by asking volunteers to follow the experimenter through the winding streets of a medieval European town centre. Retrieval involved following the same route while the experimenter followed and noted errors in navigation. Overall the results partially replicated those of Experiment 1 in that both concurrent tasks interfered with route learning. However, volunteers with high spatial ability appeared more affected by the concurrent spatial tapping task, whereas low spatial subjects appeared more affected by the concurrent articulatory suppression task. Results are interpreted to suggest that different aspects of working memory are involved in learning a route from a map with a greater emphasis on visuo-spatial resources, but in tasks set in real environments where many cues of a varied nature are available, only high spatial ability subjects appear to rely heavily upon the visuospatial component of working memory. Copyright (C) 2002 John Wiley Sons, Ltd.