Category Archives: Orienteering

Shaftoe Crags, Sunday, January 29, 2017

Brown Course: 9.7km (12.6km actual) / 21 controls

Dougie Nisbet

I would’ve been a rubbish pilot. It’s worth reading about the phenomenon of Spatial Disorientation as I believe it might apply as much to Orienteering as it does to flying.

       

There I was, at control 7, and control 8 looked like a straightforward compass bearing and a run across the open fell. Off I went with an eye on the needle of my (not cheap) compass. The needle was saying one way, but it didn’t feel right. Surely I should be heading more to the left, towards that bit over there? I drifted more and more to the left, just to be on the safe side, until I came across a dry ditch, which was where the control should be.

The ditch wasn’t particularly dry, in fact it was very wet. Full of water. It happens. A ‘dry ditch’ can be a ‘wet ditch’ if it’s been raining. No control though. I jogged on a bit, and found another dry ditch, that was also full of water. It wasn’t there either. And it wasn’t in the next ditch (wet) or the one after that. And there should be some green blobs too.

I looked at the map. Properly this time. There shouldn’t be any wet ditches here. There should only be a single dry ditch. There was a bit over there on the map, that had loads of wet ditches. But that wasn’t where I was. Or was it?

If I’d trusted the compass I’d have gone straight to the control. But I trusted my intuition instead, which rarely works out. Still, mistakes are made, lessons learned.

Falkor the luck dragon keeping an eye on control 12

I learned that lesson for about another three controls, before making exactly the same error on control 12. Veering gradually but decidedly off to the left, I ended up in a familiar state of bewilderment. Even more bewildered when I realised I was back at control 8 but it looked nothing like control 12 which should be at the foot of something between two thick black lines. With control 8 resolutely refusing to metamorphose into control 12 there was nothing for it but to run in the direction of control 12, which was exactly where it should be.

Roberta had chosen the Orange course and I bumped into her from time to time taking photos of cute sheep and carefully navigating wonky styles. We seemed to share a lot of controls, which in turn shared the same control description: “Crag Foot”. I like a good Crag’s Foot as much as the next man but by the end of 21 controls I think I’d had my fill.

Orienteering events are like any other running event, you have favourites. I like Shaftoe Crags. It’s mostly open and runnable with just enough crinkly rocky bits and steep woody bits to make it interesting. There are lots of long straightforward runnable bits across the fell which is fine if you remember to keep concentrating and trust the compass. A good location for the runner who fancies dabbling with making their running a bit more cunning.

Northern Navigators Charity Score Event, Houghall Woods, Monday, December 26, 2016

3.5km

Patrick Hamill

Team Smitchard & Hamill braved the -3°C Boxing Day winds blowing 35 kph to conquer the steps of doom!

It was a windy, cold, horrible and foul day.  We parked at the top car park on the Science Site and could hardly stand in the wind.  After a while, we got a special gadget to check into the controls which were hidden in Houghall Woods.

There were lots of tricky places where the controls were hidden, with obstacles, slippery mud, hills and steps.  I also taught the grown ups a new technique to climb hills, “Climb like a tiger!”.

I was pretty pleased that I managed to run in my wellies alongside Captain Gareth – I think I’ll catch him at parkrun one day!

After a run along the top of the forest, we had to go into a gorge which was very deep.  We saw lots of other people, going in different directions, but luckily we had a compass and my Dad is good at reading maps.  We had to be back within an hour, or we would get penalties.  So, we decided to run up the steps of doom which were very tricky and tiring.

When we got to the top, we had to run fast across the car park towards the finish.  Then we queued up to get our scores and Gareth got me some chocolate!

Patrick Hamill (aged 7) #parkrunpat

David Aspin has taken a great batch of photos from today’s event and are available as a Flickr album:
Northern Navigators Charity Score Event - 26/12/16

MLN Orienteering, Marne Training Area, Saturday, February 27, 2016

Blue Course

Dougie Nisbet

I wasn’t surprised to get no takers for my offer of a lift to Marne Barracks for a bit of orienteering. However, a last minute check of the email and I saw that Paul had decided to accompany me on this drizzly Wednesday for a trip down the A1 to run around an abandoned airfield.

We were somewhere south of Scotch Corner and we’d pretty much solved all of the world’s problems when I noticed the road noise through the roadworks was a bit excessive, and it seemed to be a bit bumpy too. A minute or two of this and I realised that this was just one possible interpretation of the noise and bumps that were hitting our senses. Another interpretation could be that we had a puncture. Yes, the more I thought about it, the more the puncture scenario seemed to fit the evidence, and driving along in a state of denial wasn’t going to change the facts.

Well there's no point both of us getting our knees dirty. I'll just keep an eye on things.

We pulled off the A1 and had a look at the tyres. One of them had a flat bit at the bottom and I knew that wasn’t good. I contemplated calling the AA but, despite being ok for time, wondered how long they’d take to attend a scene for two blokes too feeble to change a wheel. I mean, it couldn’t be that difficult, could it? I’m sure I’ve done it before. The first step was finding the spare wheel. We found it, eventually, under the back bit where I always assumed the fuel tank was. Trying to get the wheel out was a different manner. As an IT technician I then did something that pained me greatly, I had a look for the manual. I’d already tried switching the engine off and on again but that hadn’t helped. We got there eventually, except for the small matter of the jack, which we eventually found in a cubby hole in the car that I never knew existed. We were unstoppable now.

Man at Work.

A false start where we started trying to jack the car on one of the crunchy bits rather than the proper tough bit, but soon we were cruising. Well, I say we, it was mostly Paul. It had started raining so I spent most of the time standing in the bus shelter taking photos and making encouraging noises.

Back on the road and into Marne Barracks, where passports were shown, disclaimers were signed, and we were driving slowly down the old runway looking for somewhere to park. Speed bumps on a runway, no matter how obviously disused, are an incongruous sight. The last time I orienteered here registration had been at the end of the runway out of a transit van. This time it was inside a nice building, with toilets, drinks, warmth and a costcutter. It seemed a shame to go outside again.

choice: control 15 to 16Paul and I were both doing the same course and I went of first with the organisers observing a strict 90 second interval between starters. The first few controls were around the buildings and access roads and navigation was easy, and by the 3rd control I’d already been caught by the guy starting after me, which was pretty depressing. Then out into the woodland and the navigation got a bit more interesting. I bumped into Paul a few times which, given that he started about 6 minutes after me, meant two things. One, he was running a lot faster than me, and two, he must be making a few errors otherwise I’d only have seen him once.

At control 15 our paths crossed again and Paul sped of to the east, which, given that the control was due north, confused me a bit. I headed straight for the control, knowing that there was the small matter of a fence between it and me. Whether it was ‘crossable’ or ‘uncrossable’, I was about to find out. Thankfully it was the former, but Paul had decided to go for the fast long way round. We finished at the same time, which was handy, as Paul’s dibber had failed to work properly, and we could use my time minus the time that he’d started after me to work out his.

Our journey back up the A1 was less eventful than the outward journey and I had fully intended calling it a day until Paul said he was doing a ‘gentle’ ‘slow’ headtorch run that evening. The ‘gentle’ and ‘slow’ bit I liked the sound of. Turned out there was a bit of mis-selling going on there. Perhaps I should’ve offered to help a bit more changing that wheel …

The next army event is at Scarth Wood Moor, Osmotherley on Wednesday 10th Feb. It’s not somewhere I’ve orienteered before but it looks nice. I’ll be going if anyone wants to tag along. Must be good at changing wheels.

Rab Mini Mountain Marathon, Totley, Peak District, Sunday, February 7, 2016

Four hour score course

Diane Watson

Diane and Scott at celebrate the finish of the first of the Rab Mini Mountain Marathons 2016We arrived at Rotherham East Premier Inn at half past midnight on Sunday morning, me after finishing a 12 hour shift and Scott after having competed in the Wadsworth Trog with Tom and Paul so straight to bed and lights out by 1am. At 6.30am, the phone alarm tinkled its tune: an expensive five and a half hours’ sleep but so worth it not to have to travel the whole way to the Peak District on the day as registration opened 07.30am. So a little apprehensive, I was ready for my first taste of a mountain marathon…

We arrived at Totley Moor sports club on the edge of the Peak District near Sheffield, now with the promise of good weather despite a gloomy earlier forecast and registered straight away in the Mixed Vet50 class. There was a very thorough kit check that included a compulsory bivvy bag each! (note to self: don’t try to get away with less than all of the compulsory items as we would not have been allowed to start).

Map for the Rab Mini Mountain Marathon 2016 at Totley in the Peak DistrictWe had four hours to gather as many points as possible so route choice was important to try to bag some of the higher scoring control points. We looked at the map together and agreed on the first couple of control points before heading straight up a hill and onto the fells almost immediately. I always need a decent warm up and my legs felt really stiff for the first couple of miles – I thought they were never going to get going.

The intention was for me to learn how to take bearings which can be crucial for yomping across expanses of moorland in the absence of other features. This meant that we tended to take a more direct route whereas some runners appeared to make more use of the paths. It seemed to pay off most of the time for us and was far more interesting.

We got to the first control without any problem, then took a bearing to head towards the next; a trig point that was out of sight. As we got close to where we needed to be, Scott was distracted by a huge cairn that had several runners going to and from it. There was no cairn on the map but we headed for it anyway thinking that it might have been listed incorrectly. However, we knew it wasn’t a trig point and that it was not quite where we expected the control to be. Needless to say there was no control kite there. Another lesson learned: not to blindly follow other runners.

Higher now, we turned around and spotted the trig point on the sky line. Once there, a bearing pointed us in the direction of our third control choice: it was a large tunnel shaft on a low hill with lots of heather and marsh in between, little of which was runnable. It was pretty windy on the tops and pretty cold, and I was having trouble with the heather loosening my laces (Scott quickly showed me a much more secure lace-fastening technique)

By this time we had decided that to speed things up Scott would do the navigating and show me on the map what he was proposing to do. I could then concentrate on running and read the control descriptions that were rather unhelpfully written on the reverse of the map meaning that it had to be unfolded each time.

Next, we were looking for the start of a stream in a very boggy area with really deep, ankle wrenching tussocks. Scott said that he had never experienced anything as bad, and he’s done similar events all over the country. I ended up face first, followed by several minor ankle twists and a fall onto my backside. It took us quite a while to find that lousy 10-point control which was visible only from one direction. Another runner was fairing no better and although Scott managed to get the control unseen, I, in my bright pink jacket, was blazing towards it like a beacon and the runner just followed me, pleased for the advantage.

We managed to find control after control over varied and challenging terrain and even had a moment of glory in finding a control described as a large group of rocks (with a dangerous cliff nearby). We later found out that several runners had been unable to locate it and it was the subject of much discussion back at the finish.

On the homeward stretch, we managed to fit in an extra control with a minor route change and had enough time to ease off a little for the last couple of kilometres. We were prematurely congratulating ourselves when Scott realised that with a one-and-a-half kilometre detour we could have bagged one of only two 40-pointers on the course; that would have brought us up from 10th in our mixed age group to 6th, and we had had time enough to comfortably do it!

I couldn’t believe that four hours could pass so quickly, and it was so much fun. We finished the event off with homemade soup, tea and cakes at the finish…..after it had taken me about ten minutes to undo the new lace solution….maybe just a bit too secure! I am now enthused and am keen to complete the series of four….watch out Lake District; the Watsons are coming!

Cong Burn Orienteering, Waldridge Fell, Chester-le-Street, Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blue Course

Scott Watson

Ninety-six hours after a bruising encounter with a pedestrian barrier, where the winner by knockout was the barrier, I found myself in a chilly car park on Waldridge Fell near Chester-le-Street together with Joan Hanson, my chauffeuse and fellow competitor. We made a sorry couple: me nursing bruised ribs and Joan what appears to be becoming a somewhat intractable hip flexor problem.

Keen to capitalise on her Hamsterley success, Joan was figuring that at worst she could just walk around a light green course which indeed she could such is the accessible and inclusive nature of orienteering. I would normally have chosen the longest course – brown – hoping that I could keep it all together sufficiently not to embarrass myself. However, problems with the simple act of drawing breath persuaded me to opt for the blue course that was generously – at 6.3 kilometres – almost a whole kilometre shorter.

Today’s event was organised by my own club – Northern Navigators – and is held in one of the few orienteering areas that I am reasonably familiar with, in steep wooded denes and over one of the few remaining areas of lowland heath still to be found in County Durham.

I consider that I’ve done well if I finish a course out of breath because that means I’ve been running hard and have been finding controls consistently. Often it’s more like interval training where I have brief bursts of activity interspersed with minutes of stressful bashing around through bushes until by some fluke I come upon the control. I almost always have at least one ‘nightmare’ though and today’s came at the second control.

Sometimes I just need a little bit of time to ‘get into it’ and it’s difficult to say specifically why I go wrong. There are a great many factors that go to make up a successful orienteer but I seem to be lacking in quite a few. I was a good four minutes longer than the quickest competitor in my class in finding the second control and in orienteering terms that’s a lifetime. However, once I’d found it and moved on it all seemed to start flowing much more easily.

As usual it wasn’t long before I was soaked. I rarely opt to look for a bridge when crossing a watercourse and have no idea whether anyone else does. At one point I found myself up to my knees in the greenest of bogs that looked like it hadn’t been disturbed for a hundred years: I could imagine Jenny Greenteeth, on holiday from her native River Tees, stretching out a bony arm to pull me down to keep her company.

Somewhere along the way I came across Dougie who had opted for the brown course and was studying his map with great intent at the bottom of a steep woodland slope. It was here that I became locked in battle with a chap who was clearly also on the blue course. I definitely had the legs and was even a bit affronted when he rather obviously tried to pull away from me when he could have just waited and let me make a couple of little errors because his accuracy was clearly much better than mine.

But we carried on in that vein, more or less in each others’ footsteps, his slightly more efficient map reading against my physical advantage. As it continued I tried to concentrate harder on the map but it’s not easy to do whilst running through dense woodland and I didn’t see the overhanging branch that nearly put my lights out and left me with a bloody forehead.

The forest is definitely not my favoured terrain and when at last we emerged onto the moor for the last couple of controls I was able to start running with a greater sense of purpose and even set a fastest split for the last control (leaving my erstwhile foe behind). When I got back Joan had already finished and was bemoaning a couple of navigational errors that had let her down, but that’s orienteering – just when you think you’re getting somewhere it has a nasty habit (for me at least) of bringing it all crashing down and forcing you to rebuild whatever it was you think that you had.

These events are however,very friendly, cheap (£5.00) and easy to access. You don’t have to be a member of a club and the courses up to light green are pretty easy to follow along footpaths, walls, fences and stuff. It’s properly adventurous stuff too: you find yourself happily running through terrain that would make a fell race look tame!

Hogmanay Hooey, Bolam Lake Country Park, Northumberland, Sunday, December 27, 2015

Short Green

Tom Reeves

Tom's Sonic SunglassesAfter my previous disaster at the Durham night orienteering I can’t say I was overly enthusiastic about this but I was doing my duty and accompanying Joan who has now got the orienteering bug.

Learning from the previous event I did bring my new orienteering glasses so at least in theory I could see/read the map. We duly arrived at Bolam Lake in Northumberland around 15 minutes before the start time and watched fellow orienteers limbering up in the car park. Many of them wearing proper club vests!! and one gentleman in what appeared to be knickerbockers. Joan and I plumped for the same course. I was hoping we’d do different courses so I could save face and not get battered by her superior map reading.

I set off from the start first …well actually I set off once Joan had shown me where the start was on the map 🙂 The course we chose was short green which was one down from the longest. We had 17 checkpoints to find and the course length point to point was only 3.2 km. Checkpoint one was fairly easy although in my haste I did overshoot it checkpoint two had me baffled and feeling like groundhog day!! I wandered round in the woods only to see Joan who had started 2 minutes after me leaving for checkpoint 3. Well at least I knew where 2 was at long last. After my very shaky start I finally got my head in shape and started ticking off checkpoints up to checkpoint 10 which was described as a boulder on the map. After a good old wander in the woods occasionally seeing Joan who was having as much luck as me I decided to go back to checkpoint 9 and take a bearing. It was at this stage that the glasses came into their own as I noticed drainage ditches on the map and spied the very same things off to my right…bingo there was checkpoint 10 beside a small rock not a boulder.

I shouted Joan over coz I’m nice like that and set off for checkpoint 11 which was up a steepish hill. The last few checkpoints came thick and fast and before I knew it I was at the finish getting my readout. I held my breath …phew not disqualified, I’d got all the checkpoints, I was happy with that. Joan came in shortly after me and to my surprise I had beaten her by 43 seconds. Result.

Charity Score Orienteering Event, Chopwell Wood, Saturday, December 26, 2015

1 hour

Dougie Nisbet

I should thank Paul, really. The forecast for today’s orienteering event was terrible and my ribs were a bit sore from an embarrassing 0mph bicycle falling-over-in-slow-motion mishap from Tuesday, and the cat was lying on my feet and the bed was nice and warm, so no point going to Chopwell and getting cold and wet, was there? Except that I’d promised Paul I’d pick him up at 0930, and the handy thing about offering to give someone a lift is that it means you cannot easily extract yourself from the arrangement with any sort of dignity when your excuse is you’d rather stay at home and drink tea.

The decision of my orienteering club to move the annual boxing day event from Durham back to Chopwell had not met with my approval and I fully expected to turn up and find a deserted swamp with people staying away rather than nip out to try their hand at a bit of orienteering. However a respectable 50 adventurers had turned out in the damp for a stomp around Chopwell so I was pleased to be proved wrong.

Paul and I were so early we sat in the car for a while and drank tea and coffee and watched the world go by until we were almost late and had to dash over and register before the 11AM start. Paul was wearing some pretty pitiful looking Fell Shoes ‘just one more wear’ that looked like they weren’t brought by Santa yesterday. He completed his attire by not wearing a watch. That could be tricky in a score event. This wasn’t for any reason of principle – he’d just forgotten to bring one. I feigned sympathy and pretended to look for a spare while realising that he’d have a very difficult time planning any sort of meaningful route when he didn’t know the time of day. For shame. I might make this two victories in a row!

16 controls foundThe 11AM start was that rare thing in an orienteering event, a mass start, which tends to only happen in Score events. Not dissimilar to the start of the Durham Three Peaks. We scattered to all points of the compass and I decided to go for a gentle clockwise sweep of the map picking up as many controls as I could. Route choice was interesting and tricky. All controls had the same value so there were no ‘high-value items’ to be had on the peripheries. Scrabble players would have found it no fun. With each minute late incurring a 10 point penalty, and each control being worth 10 points, the common mistake is to go over time and get a penalty. It’s rare in a score event that getting just one more control is worth the risk of an associated time penalty.

I nabbed 16 controls and got back with 24 seconds to spare, which I thought was pretty dandy. My route choice left a bit to be desired though, spending too much time chasing controls out on the periphery rather than mopping up easy ones close to the Finish. Camilla had struggled with the network of footpaths and the invariable confusion that arises when there are more footpaths on the ground than there are on the map. Judging when a trail is just a temporary trod or a permanent footpath is a difficult call, and it’s not every orienteering map that includes in its legend the rather ominous sounding powerline downhill bike track.

Paul takes his shoes out for a sole-destroying final outing

Paul got back with -13 seconds to spare, which cost him 10 points. Pretty good considering he wasn’t wearing a watch, or the correct number of shoes. He’d started wearing two shoes. And he’d finished wearing two shoes. More or less. Mostly less. His right shoe hadn’t held up well, or at all, and was now a shoe of two halves. As Peter Cook might once have said, I had nothing against his right shoe. Unfortunately, neither did Paul. He’d attempted a mid-race pit-stop to change shoes but sadly I’d taken the car-keys into the woods with me rather than leaving them at registration so that was more time lost for Paul. Still, Every cloud. Never one not to see the bright side of another’s misfortune I realised that this meant I got another victory. Two in a row!

Northern Navigators Orienteering Event, Low Redford & Windy Bank, Hamsterley Forest, Sunday, December 6, 2015

Light GREEN - 3.5km, 90m, 12 controls

Joan Hanson

This map and its owner have been through a thicket or two.As the wind howled round the house on Saturday evening perhaps not the most obvious choice for a run the following day was a forest, but having enjoyed the recent night orienteering event in Durham City I was tempted to give it another go. Thankfully Camilla needed little persuasion to join me, and on arrival we were welcomed by Dougie who was starting his day by manning the car park.

This was my second orienteering event – it is a whole new world of running, but I am happy to report a very friendly, relaxed and supportive one.

There was a choice of about 7 courses described by colour, I was advised to attempt the light green which is not considered technical in terms of the location of the control points of which there were 12 located around a course of a minimum of 3.5km. We paid our £5 entry, donned our electronic dibbers and set off to the start.

Dougie had tipped us off the night before that the control descriptions were on the website so I had had an informative half hour deciphering the arrows, squiggles etc and carefully writing them out to carry with me- the logic being that at least if I knew I was looking for a ‘small depression’ it would be easier to find it when running through the forest. Helpfully the symbols bear little resemblance to the actual geographical features on the ground. It was a good job I had remembered most of it because on arrival at the start I realised that I had lost it.

Although the organisers were happy for people to do the event as a pair or small team Camilla and I had decided to tackle the same course but individually, Dougie was manfully going for the brown option (the hardest one).

You start at intervals of several minutes- so you can’t follow people, and pick your map up at the point of starting. You have to visit the controls in number order. The controls are helpfully marked on the ground by orange and white flags and are individually numbered so you know when you have excitedly found the wrong one!

On an orienteering map a runnable forest is, rather confusingly, white. Saves on the ink.For me mild panic set in when Camilla (who has done a few of these events) immediately crouched down with her map and compass and set off in the opposite direction to the previous people who were doing our course. A helpful man then offered to talk me through the map – big learning point here, orienteering maps bear very little resemblance to OS maps which I am quite familiar with – as I peered into the dense undergrowth I was a little surprised to see it described on the map as being ‘forest, run’, goodness only knows what ‘forest, fight’ (yes it is an actual thing) looks like.

And then I was off, immediately up to my ankles in bog, fighting my way through the trees to arrive at control number 3. Choice words were muttered, doubt set in, and I lost all track of time. Soon I was back on track and I suspect more through luck than skill I was soon systematically finding my way through the controls without need for my compass- although I don’t feel like I did much running. I have always run off road over all sorts of terrain but there are definitely some skills to be developed here. I bumped into Camilla whilst trying to find some ‘thicket’ in the middle of a load of trees, she seemed to be making good progress.

All too soon – or perhaps hours later I arrived at the finish, thrilled to have found all my controls in a mind blowing or perhaps truly terrible 45 odd minutes and have no idea how much distance I covered – you have no idea how well you have placed until full results are out due to the staggered starts. Camilla arrived a little later than expected having had a nightmare involving trying to locate a spring and ending up in a marsh.

Amazingly I was first in my category – that’s never happened before. I think I might be hooked…..

NE Night Championships, Durham City, Saturday, October 24, 2015

5.0km / 165m (6.7km actual)

Dougie Nisbet

Durham Cathedral.I always think it’s harder on the fast guys. If you’ve never done an orienteering competition before it’s hard to describe that mind-numbing, crippling-frustration that descends when you’re cruising along, in control, then suddenly things aren’t where they’re meant to be. The clock is ticking, and the control must be nearby. Mustn’t it?

For us slower runners it’s bad enough – the vocabulary-expanding exasperation knowing that time is bleeding away while we try and work out why the world has everything in the wrong place. That time draining away should be time spent running. And if you’re a fast runner, then the damage being done, the distance being lost, is correspondingly greater than that for a slow runner.

Tom, in happier times, with Mr Chips. So I didn’t say much when Tom checked in at the Finish, looking stony faced and, probably not in the mood to be met with a merry quip. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve finished an orienteering competition with a severe sense of humour failure, and recognised that this wasn’t the time for a jolly jape. Mind you, Tom had showed up on the Start line armed with a head-torch but no glasses. That was never going to end well.

Joan, on the other hand, had a great run, having responded to my pre-race goading and tried a harder course than she’d originally intended, and finishing third in her class.

Most of us were going for the long course, down as being 5km with 165m climb. Striders made up a noticeable chunk of the entrants and I found myself hovering around the Start with Tom, Paul and Geoff nearby. Tom went off first, picked up his map, then paused, publicly, to look perplexed and bewildered. Tom studying his map as best he can without glasses. First Mistake. I always advocate grabbing the map, sprinting around the nearest corner, then pausing to ponder the map in private. It’s not the best approach, admittedly, as you may have sprinted 180 degrees in the wrong direction, unless of course, you’d watched starters before you to see which direction they headed.

After a suitable gap, Geoff and Paul also disappeared. And then it was my turn. I grabbed my map, looked at the map for the big pointy building with the jaggy bits on top so I could get my bearings, then identified the location of the first control. Right next to the toilets. That’s always handy.

Durham Cathedral is the dramatic backdrop for the Northern Navigators Night Championships I always find Urban orienteering a bit tricky as the navigation tends to be reasonably straightforward, but there are often a lot of controls, and a lot of rapid thinking to be done. You can’t really switch off – you need to be concentrating all the time. On the way to Control 1 I was already looking ahead to Control 2 and working out how to get there. And so on.

My control 8 was a couple of hundred metres south of Prebends Bridge and it’s where I bumped into Kerry and Sue. They were pretty chirpy given that they seemed to have no idea where they were. I looked at their map to point out their location, but discovered they had gone so far off-piste that they were no longer on their map, so I showed them on mine. They were having none of it. They were so adamant that we were not where I insisted we were, that I even began to doubt myself, despite having just checked in at Control 8.

Control 8 on course one - south of Prebends Bridge.

Sue and Kerry had interpreted the rules in an impressively creative manner. Rather than visit the controls in order, as you’re meant to, they had visited them in an order and manner of their choosing. When I pointed out that you had to visit the control in order, they looked at me as if I was mad, insisted that I was joking, insisting so insistently that before long I was unsure myself of whether I was joking. I suggested they get themselves back to Prebends Bridge and review the situation from there. I led them part of the way, being shouted back as I hurtled down the hill, feeling how a pilot boat must feel as it gently leads an uncertain ship in unfamiliar waters out of harbour. Once I was happy they were heading back to Prebends Bridge I dashed off to get back to the business of finding controls on my course.

Back into town and I would see Paul and Geoff occasionally. Paul kept appearing at high speed from increasingly surreal directions and my self-doubt kicked in again. I was pretty sure I was doing ok, and it was the rest of the world that was on the blink, but perhaps they knew something I didn’t. I kept finding myself snipping at Paul’s heels all the way to the Finish, and knowing that he started a few minutes ahead of me, knew that the result would be close.

I had indeed done OK, and now found myself in the rare, no, exceptional, no …, unprecedented situation of finding myself ahead of Tom, Geoff and Paul in the results table of a race. Tom had abandoned, Paul was disqualified, and Geoff was 18 minutes behind me (not that I was paying much attention you understand). I needed that warm glow however as everyone bogged off to the pub, and since it was my orienteering club running the event, I hung back in the cold waiting for all the competitors to arrive back on Palace Green so I could go out again and bring in the controls.

Charity Score Orienteering Event, Durham University, Friday, December 26, 2014

60 minutes score event

Oskar Määttä

Oskar at the finish. It was an early start being at Collingwood College car park by Durham University for 10:30, having been used to getting up for 12 every day of the holidays. Nevertheless I managed to haul myself out of bed for the orienteering event, gearing myself up with running clothes to complement the cold weather and a choice of trail shoes to combat the mud of Houghall forest. Although I have been a passionate runner for a few years now (at the age of sixteen) I have never exactly done orienteering, so it would be fun to try out and learn how different it actually is from regular cross country running.

Looking pensive.

I went down with my family, and we had agreed to split into two teams, composing of me and my brother Emil for one team and my parents Camilla and Arto forming the other. For my team, we had come to the agreement that Emil would do all the map-work and work out where to head next and I would run off to the controls to scan our E-tag when we spotted them. My parents had gone for a similar approach of tactics, with Arto mainly reading the map and Camilla mainly running to the controls.

Camilla keeping an eye on race winner Duncan Archer.

After having stood about at the car park for half an hour (and gotten somewhat chilly) it was time to set off, so everyone queued up to scan their E-tag and then grab a map and set off on their hunt – whether they be aiming for their fastest possible time or taking it as a relaxed walk. Emil and I weren’t taking it all too seriously, being it our first time properly orienteering, but we were still going to give our best efforts. Anyway, I scanned my E-tag to signal the start of our 1 hour time limit and then prepared to grab a map, but lo behold disaster had struck; they had ran out of maps! It may not have been the end of the world, but our 1 hour limit was already ticking down while we had no idea where to go, which is pretty near. We ended up admitting defeat and joining our parents to borrow their map (don’t tell them that this made it a defeat (only joking, it didn’t really make it a defeat)). However, before we got anywhere we found Scott and Dianne with their daughter, who had a spare map and were kind enough to give it to us, enabling us divide into our original groups again (they mustn’t have been aware that I am in fact from Jarrow & Hebburn AC rather than a fellow Strider, or they may not have given it to us!). We had lost a couple of minutes by this point, but it didn’t matter – we were just glad to be able to start properly.

My brother had plotted out a journey varying to that of our parents, as we had decided to trek out the furthermost control on the map in the edge of the forest, getting only a couple on the way, and working our way back collecting as many controls as we could in a steady loop, finishing with the ones around the colleges. This contrasted to Camilla’s and Arto’s plan as they started getting the nearby ones around the colleges first and slowly worked their way out to the forest, but with a longer run back at the end.

A good Strider turnout.

You could have said that we started well if we had not gone in the complete wrong direction and hit a dead end within a matter of 50 metres, and we hastily turned back to take a missed left turn up some steps. After a bit of prancing about like lost sheep, we did finally come to our first control which we later discovered was our longest split time of 5:40, despite not being particularly far from the start. We knew it was a slow start. However, we didn’t let it get in our way, and like true explorers we continued with a determination to do as well as we could.

Paul and Co.

The chemistry between me and Emil was a good one and our tactic was working out well: I would be running just out in front and he was running behind telling me which direction to go, and when a control was nearby he would tell me whereabouts it was. When I spotted it I would run off towards it and scan my E-tag on it, meanwhile he would plan out which direction to go next. Admittedly, I didn’t do any map-work whatsoever, but in retrospect this was probably for the best as judged by a knowledge of my navigation skills (a couple of years ago I was in the Lake District with the school and on one day we did an event that I wouldn’t call orienteering but it was similar. My friend and I misread a map and got lost for 20 minutes).

Dave Melanie and Jan.

The terrain was quite demanding in the forest. As if the slippy mud wasn’t enough, there were hills of all sorts of gradients that had to be ran up and down then up again. I daresay my brother enjoyed watching me struggling up a hill to get to a control whilst he got to stand at the bottom planning which hill to send me up next (at least it was fun to surf back down in a landslip of dirt). Although it would be exaggerating to call it a death trap, there were some well disguised sticks and logs amongst the mud that fooled me in the demanding terrain and it had me stumbling about several times. There was fortunately much more welcoming terrain in other areas, as you got the grassy fields and eventually the glorious concrete floor by the colleges as you get closer to the start/finish.

Time for a quick warm up.

There was a humorous time just 10 minutes before w had to be back where we were searching a specific control when going up the pathway parallel to the uphill road of the science site, separated only by a patch of forest. Somewhere amongst these trees was a control but we couldn’t seem to find it. As it turns out, Emil had somehow ended up turning the map upside down and so was looking at it from the wrong perspective. No wonder we couldn’t find it! After adjusting the map we did find it, and tried to start increasing our pace as we knew we didn’t have particularly long left. We knew we had already definitely missed out 4 controls, which we had decided to miss out knowing that we wouldn’t have the time, but we had two routes available for us to the finish: one which would leave out 2 of the remaining controls, and the other which would get all of what was left but obviously would take slightly longer.

We ended up taking the route with less controls as we only had a couple of minutes left at the point of this decision, and time started getting really tight and our pace was picking up. After getting all the speculated controls I saw that I had about 30-40 seconds to sprint up the hill and up to the finish. There wasn’t too much for my legs to give having constantly ran about the forest but I applied a boost of speed in this final sprint in attempt to get within an hour (as a 10 point penalty is given for every minute late, essentially subtracting the points worth of 1 control). I scanned my E-tag to make my wrist move faster than I could ever imagine it to and immediately checked the time on my watch. It showed to be out by 9 seconds. The exact time printed out for us was 60:07. If we were 7 seconds faster we wouldn’t have received the 10 point penalty, and to think that we lost at least a minute at the start while we didn’t have a map!

Bringing in the Controls.

We completed it with 24 controls out of 30 and scoring 230 points (although we were on the moral high-ground that it should’ve been 240 points), which we were still very proud of. We found Camilla and Arto and found that they had got 21 controls (even though Camilla’s watch died halfway through so they had to guess at what time to go back, by which they reckon they might’ve gotten a couple more). In any case we had won the friendly family battle, but most importantly of all we had lots of fun and look forward to going orienteering again some time!