Compass Sport Trophy, Slaley Forest, Sunday, February 17, 2013

Colin Blackburn

The Compass Sport Cup & Trophy is the nearest thing in orienteering to what the Harrier League is to NE cross country. One key difference is that it is a national competition with regional qualification rounds; another is that, as some orienteering clubs are very small, the competition is divided into the Cup for big clubs and the Trophy for small clubs. My club, Northern Navigators, is a small club so at the weekend we competed against other small clubs in the north of England and southern Scotland for a place in the final of the Compass Sport Trophy.

The two competitions take place simultaneously and this year were organised by NATO, the Tyneside orienteering club rather than the military alliance and a big club, and took place in Slaley Forest south of Hexham. There are several different classes depending on age and gender with upto two or three runners in each class counting towards an overall club score made up of the best 13 runners overall. Like the Harrier League those runners who aren’t counters still help in pushing counters from other clubs into lower positions. Because of the scoring it’s definitely an event for the club coming out in force, in breadth and depth. And on the day NN really did come out in force, fielding 20 competive runners. And what a day! It was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Northern NavigatorsElfie dropped me in the middle of the forest near Ladycross Quarry where the event assembly was and my plan was to zip round the course and then jog back home for a late lunch. As I got out of the car I bumped into Dougie who reminded me that the start was getting on for a mile away. I was just about to head to the start with Dougie when I remembered I had to pick up a new club top. Although you don’t have to run in club colours it’s nice to show your colours on an occasion like this and so I headed to the car park to get a brand new top from the back of Boris’s car. By the time I had jogged to the start and got changed there was only 10 minutes to go before my start time and Dougie was well into the woods already.

First two legsAlthough it was dry from above it was anything but from below. Some of the tracks were positively clarty and even patches of dry-looking open ground turned out to be marshy. At one point I was almost up to my knees in mud. Great stuff! The navigation was fairly straightforward though I had a couple of misses and at one point struggled across a landscape of tree stumps and ditches when it would definitely have been easier to take a long route round a nice track. In many ways this really is cross country: ditches, mud, streams, mud, uneven ground, mud, hills, mud, nice tracks and even more mud – it was glorious! As I got to the last control seventy something minutes after starting I saw Dougie, and serveral others, looking for it. Maybe I was lucky but my line took me right into the control and then it was just a short track run to the finish. At the finish I realised how much punishment my nice brand new top had taken along with my nice new Craft thermal. I guess there was more gorse and scratchy trees than I had thought.

After hanging around a minute or two for Dougie we walked back to his car via the assembly area to download our dibbers. By now it was a lot later than I had expected and so I wasn’t going to make it home for a late lunch. Instead I took advantage of Dougie’s Berlingo as an impromptu coffee shop and changing room. Since this was the largest gathering of our club for a good while I decided to hang around for a club photo. Herding orienteers is a bit like herding cats but eventually 20 of us managed to be in the same place at once and we got a photo.

Then it was just the run home! From the edge of Slaley Forest I took the packhorse trail over the fell to Penny Pie and then down to Blanchland. By the time I got to Baybridge I decided to walk up the road rather than het knee-deep in mud again by using the footpath. In the end the run home was longer than the orienteering and I had definitely missed my lunch!

The good news was that Northern Navigators had come second in Trophy round and had thus qualified for the final. A great achievement and I hope I will be able to make the final later in the year but I’m sure the club will be out in force vying to win the Compass Sport Trophy.

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