Tag Archives: October Odyssey

October Odyssey Orienteering event, Dukeshouse Woods, Hexham, Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ian Butler

Ian Butler …

“Don’t what ever you do lose the dibber”


The excitement had been building all week and my preparation was spot on. I was in peak condition and ready to go and face the onslaught known as the Harrier League Cross Country. I had even restricted my self to 4 pints of beer whilst at a retirement do on the Friday night.  Then as I was waiting to catch the bus home from the black hole known as Durham Bus Station, I got the text. ‘Its Off”.

The question was now what are we going to do as an alternative?

The answer was the October Odyssey Orienteering event held at Dukeshouse Wood at Hexham on Sunday morning. Oh what joy!

I actually quite like orienteering, provided that any course I do allows participants a good opportunity to have a pacey run between control points, similar to our local event at Aykley Heads last year. I don’t mind doing the navigation, but I hate it when it gets too complex as it really ruins my run. Basically, I get really sickened off and quite antisocial, and guess what?  I ended up being quite antisocial after this lark.

Firstly we set off from home and myself, Heather, Theresa and Phil and travelled together to Hexham.

The intention was that we would complete the event in teams of 2, Heather  & Theresa as Team 1, Phil & I as Team 2. Also, we had to put a time limit on the event, as Phil had booked a post Cross Country Massage for mid afternoon. The fact that there was no cross country to have a massage for was irrelevant, but Phil had to have it.

Both Phil and Theresa are fairly new to the club, and they are both very keen participants in both club runs and running events. They have certainly bought in to the club ethos, and with in their first week got in to buying every piece of clothing that can be bought with the club logo on.  Phil in particular is the most purple person I know, and today in the car he was trying out his new club Buff. The problem was he did not really know the best way to wear the buff and so spent the whole journey trying different approaches to meet his preferred style. In fact, does anyone know the best way to wear a buff, without looking like a fool?

Personally I wear a buff around my neck, which I think is fine. Phil tried his on his head, and in various guises looked like a pirate, a Ninja Warrior, or Spock from Star Trek depending whether he had his ears tucked under of over the band he had made with the buff.  In the end he was a pirate!

If anyone has any advice on the best way to wear a buff, can you let me know, and I can pass it on to Phil.

Ways to wear a Buff

Secondly, things started to go wrong when we arrived at the venue. Many participants had prebooked places on the various courses, as this is a very popular event with serious orienteers. Because of the cross country cancellation, we could not pre-book, therefore the only decent run still available when we registered was the Brown Course. This was the longest run at 5.8 miles, with a degree of difficulty of 5 out of 5. The distance does not sound far, but the difficulty of the navigation made this route in to a true expedition of epic proportions.

Getting lost
Getting Lost

Next thing was that we had to hire an electronic dibber to record our reaching each of the control points, and we were warned “Don’t what ever you do lose the dibber”

We managed to navigate to the start, which was the easy bit. The hard bit commenced at the start itself.  We also gave ourselves a 2-hour time limit so Phil would get back for his massage.

Firstly Team 1 of Heather and Theresa set off, with their map and dibber, followed a minute later by Phil and I as Team 2.

I think it’s safe to say that we both Phil and I wanted to have a good run out, stretch our legs, get out of breath, complete the course, and stuff Heather and Theresa by beating them around the course. The reality would be somewhat different.

Once we were off, we grabbed the map, noted where the first control point was and set off along a path up a small hill. Just over the brow of the hill and about 100m from the start, the difficulties that we would experience became self-evident.

Basically, we were met be the thickest thicket that you have ever seen, made up solely of prickly bushes and brambles. We both headed off in to the bushes and immediately lost each other. It was thick and biting. We decided to split up in order to find the control. Although we could not find the blasted thing, or each other, we met loads of other people aimlessly walking through, under and over bushes, all looking for the same control, and all walking around in different directions. We were all lost together, after only 3 minutes from the start.

Eventually, I found the control, pinged it and shouted across to Phil. I could hardly hear his reply. We regrouped and sought out the second control, which was supposed to be about 20m away. I took a compass bearing from the map and forced my way towards where I thought it should be.

By now, we both realised that our vision of having a good run was gone. We were stuck in navigation and not a running contest. I was starting to get pissed off already and we’d only been out 5 minutes

We came across Team 1 and I politely asked Heather if she had found control 2. At times Heather has the compassion of a water cannon operator, and this was one of those times. You see, she just loves navigating and likes the challenge of finding the controls in the most difficult places. Therefore her stony-faced non-committal response to my polite request was to be expected, as she knew I would hate this type of course, and was rubbing that fact in.

I shouted across to Phil. ‘have you found it?” There was no response. I shouted again, and there was no response. I had lost him already.

I found him hidden under a bush and dragged him out. Eventually, we found the second control. We then needed a machete to work our way to a forest trail to head off to the next control. But because machetes are not approved equipment at orienteering events, we had to crawl on hands and knees and through the bottom of prickly bushes to make some headway. This was getting like hard work.

We then took a series of paths heading off to the next sets of controls, which were fairly easy to navigate. But then we were confronted with a change in vegetation, from prickly thick bushes under a canopy of trees, to thick forests of Rhododendron bushes under a canopy of trees. These were thicker than the thickest thickets experienced earlier, but less prickly.

It was here that tempers were starting to fray a little.  Not ours I may add, but an innocent looking old lady who we came across under some bushes, who looked as if butter would not melt in her mouth. What came out of her mouth was not butter, but a series of expletives along the lines of ‘I’m F…ing sick of it! This is ‘F’ ing ridiculous’.

She then stated that she was not going through the ‘F’ ing bushes and was going around them. Considering that we had no choice but to follow our compass bearing to the next control, we set off on hands and knees under the bushes rather than going around. This was getting stupid now, and our progress was hardly running pace and more like baby crawling pace.

The psychology of orienteering certainly brings out the best and worse in people in these circumstances. As members of the ‘Where the hell are we’ tribe, it was noticeable that as a group of people who were having some difficulties with navigation, we all became a collective of stalkers. Aimlessly looking around for the control points, then latching on to someone who looks vaguely as if they know where they were going, only to have that illusion shattered as they were as equally lost as ourselves and were stalking us.

Our next cock up was totally my fault. We moved on to try to find the 7th control, which was hidden in deep jungle. The main problem was that my shoelaces kept undoing owing to being caught on bushes, which meant I had to take my gloves off to lace back up, and so remove my dibber attached on a loop to my finger. It was here that I lost the dibber, and so we couldn’t register our presence at any more control points. Now I was totally p****d off.

In the Jungle

I knew we were a little ahead of Team 1, but now we would never be able to record that fact, and were set for a DNF.  Total humiliation was now coming our way!

Despite the loss of the dibber, we aimed to continue our expedition and visit the controls in sequence. The next sets of controls were less well hidden than previously and so we were able to do a bit of proper running.  Also, when we got to the actual controls, I made a metaphorical ‘bleeping’ sound to simulate the dibber being placed in the control. This action didn’t help us record any points, but made us feel a bit better.

We came across Team 1, who were now behind us in time, but I still gallantly pointed them in the general direction of control No 10, despite their non-verbal communication at a previous control point.  We don’t hold grudges, and in any case we were in front of them in the real world, just not in the eyes of the organisers.

After about 1hour and 35 minutes, we found that the next sets of controls were taking us way from the start.  Bearing in mind our 2-hour time limit and Phil’s need for a massage, we headed to the finish line.

Phil and I then made our way to the registration point, where I declared the loss of the dibber and a DNF. It was then we found that Phil had ripped the material on his running leggings, clearly whilst negotiating some bushes.

Orienteering can be brutal. It’s not always about having a nice run out, because it can be both frustrating and bloody annoying. In our case we had visited 13 controls out of 30 in 1 hour 45 minutes, covered a distance of   3.2 miles   at 28 minute mile pace, lost the dibber for which I paid £20 to the organisers for a replacement, recorded a DNF and Phil had ripped his running leggings at the cost of  £40 for a new pair. Finally, we had officially lost to Team 1.

I am pleased to say that Phil made it back in time to have a nice post Cross Country massage. Roll on the sheer joy to be had at the next cross country meeting.

Dougie Nisbet …

“That wasn’t me by the way”
“Just checking. I mean, you do have form.”

Roberta had been chortling along to Ian’s report of the October Odyssey on Sunday. I didn’t know that people still chortled, or even guffawed, but Ian’s report certainly seemed to strike a chord. Roberta once crashed out of some path-side undergrowth at an orienteering event, checked the control id, found out out it wasn’t hers, and with an emphatic FFS, stomped down the path in disgust, pausing only to say Good Morning to a couple of startled dog walkers who were not quite expecting to see what they had just seen.

I’ve had the benefit of reading Ian’s report before deciding to write a few words of my own. I do a lot of orienteering, and as I like to point out, it’s great interval training. Classic Fartlek. And the worse you are, the better the training. I had, for me, a fairly decent run on Sunday. I wasn’t last, and there were a few gaps between last, and me, that I was happy to see. Not a vast number of gaps and I’d always be happy to see them vaster, but it was an ok day.

When I dibbed Control 1, which I thought was indecently tricky for the first control, I thought that I wouldn’t want to have a wobble so early on. Struggling on Control 1 is not a great start and a bad start can set the mood for the day. I still have nightmares about Sand Dunes, so many Sand Dunes. 16 minutes to cover the 100m from the Start to Control 1 in Druridge Bay in 2013 still haunts me.

It was a challenging course and I was happy to get to the end. The navigation
and terrain were difficult. I was fairly happy with my route, although I did make some major wobbles here and there. With three controls to go and looking for a
straightforward control in a ditch junction, I chanced upon the ditch by
standing on a piece of grass that turned out to be a generous expanse of empty
space. Winded and bloodied, I followed it to the control. The bleeding was
quite impressive and the finish marshall did voice some concern, but brambles
do that. It was the three foot drop and loss of breath and dignity that were
much more unsettling.

If you ever decide to give orienteering a bash, and you really should, then, as
a runner, here’s the only thing you need to know. All colour coded courses from
Green and above, are all the same difficulty. Both in navigation and terrain.
They’re all the same. Green is shorter, then there’s blue, then there’s
brown and sometimes black. They only differ in distance. But in terms of
navigational difficulty, they’re all the same.

NATO are one of the orienteering clubs that use Routegadget for post-run analysis. This can be interesting to see how your run has compared to others. It’s a great learning tool and lets you look at the maps and routes for all the courses.

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October Odyssey, Hamsterley Forest, Sunday, October 5, 2014

Short Brown - 7.7km - 17 controls

Scott Watson

Scott & Dougie before the offThis was the second day of a two day event hosted by Northern Navigators in Hamsterley Forest, County Durham. Although I was disappointed at having had to miss the first day, it was the second day’s event, to be held over the moorland area of Cabin Hill, Doctor’s Gate and Gull Quarry, that would have been my preferred option anyway – a glorious day on the fells with map and compass with only the sky for cover as opposed to charging through thick undergrowth where the light is so poor that without specs map detail disappears in a blur.

The thing I particularly like about orienteering events is that they are so relaxed. For one thing there are few absolute deadlines to stick to; instead there’s a registration window of a couple of hours with starts about half and hour afterwards lasting for another couple of hours. I also find it slightly weird that although there might be lots of people entered, you could end up seeing very few of them and maybe even feeling that you’re doing it on your own. You rock up any time after registration has opened and off you go (although to be reasonably sure of a map for your chosen course you might not want to leave it too late).

Whilst I’ve done a few events over the years there’s always been enough time between them for me to have pretty much forgotten the procedure – and it’s a procedure not for the easily dissuaded. In the 90s, when I was orienteering as training for mountain marathons, it was all punched cards but now the dibber is king and I confess that I still find the starting sequence slightly intimidating. ‘You’ll need to clear your card at the first station – there’s nothing after that’ I was constantly and mysteriously being told.

My technique in these situations is always to deal with one thing at a time and ditch any pre-conceived ideas so I decided to discard all advice relating to scenarios after the card-clearing one and I’d take it from there. Fortune however smiled on me when on returning from registration £13 poorer, I found that Mr (Dougie) Nisbet was parked right next door! Not only was this my passport to starting success but I’d have someone to photograph!

After Dougie had made his own pilgrimage to registration we set off on the long walk to the start where we diligently cleared our cards and dumped our extra clothing in an unsheltered area marked off for that purpose (a waterproof bag might be an idea next time although it wasn’t needed on this occasion). From there it was another hike along the path then up the stony track known to many County Durham fell runners as the ‘Doctor’s Gate’ track. At long last we were onto the fell and approaching the actual start. Here Dougie kindly sought out and handed me my control description for the ‘short brown’ course.

Nigel from Northern Navigators was setting us off and his young daughter Maya (an orienteering ‘wunderkind’) took the pic of Dougie and I before Dougie stepped into the box to be counted down (with a proper clock and everything). He was doing the full ‘brown’ course which was another 1.5 km longer than the 7.7 km that I was signed up for (to be fair I’d have done a longer one myself but the only M50 course I could see was the ‘short brown’ – but apparently it doesn’t really matter). Off went Dougie who selected his map from the row laid out in front and disappeared up the path.

I had to wait though, as the two competitors who had left immediately before Dougie were doing the same course as me and so I was held back for a couple of minutes to ensure complete independence. Eventually the buzzer went and I was away. I quickly found my map and striding up the track, began to get myself orientated.

Dougie out on the course in the October Odyssey 2014

I might have forgotten just about everything else but my navigation skills thankfully remain intact. Getting that first sight of the map, orientating it and being able to pick out the appropriate features is always a real buzz. If it’s claggy (misty) it’s an even bigger buzz as you’re just trusting to that plastic thing in your hand (or on your thumb) and everyone knows that you shouldn’t reasonably be able to find your way in those sorts of conditions anyhow.

Today however, the weather and visibility were fantastic: the 7 degrees that had been showing in the car earlier in the morning had long been surpassed and by now it was quite warm – possibly even too warm. But temperature was the last thing on my mind as I stepped off the track and loped off uphill through the heather (always driving with my right leg for some reason) heading for the first of 17 controls.

As I write I’m fighting a raging desire to detail every single control visited and decision taken but mercifully I won’t. Suffice to say that, as always, the event was completely absorbing, with every control offering its own mini-challenge and running being merely the means of propulsion. It was so absorbing that it was quite late in the race when I realised how tired I was (the course was almost all heather – a foot high in most places and even deeper in others, often concealing sandstone boulders particularly around the quarry sites). By the time I’d finished, my legs were knackered although I still felt fine in the old cardio-vascular department.

When I did eventually finish I downloaded my dibber (another ‘must not forget’ procedure) and found that it had taken me a fulsome 2 hours and 4 seconds but the fastest competitor had been through in 66.56! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been too disappointed with myself but despite the fact that I’d achieved almost all of my controls well inside single figures, crucially it had taken me sixteen minutes to find the second control and over twenty to find the last! I put this down partly to the control descriptions which unlike those for mountain marathons are more or less hieroglyphics and until you learn ’em you’ve no idea what the feature is that you’re actually looking for!

But that last control was a nightmare! The only positives to come out of it were that as I sensed all my previous hard work slipping away I didn’t actually burst into tears! And that when the little devil on my shoulder was telling me to ‘leave it’, that some miscreant must have stolen it, I didn’t give in and seek solace in excuses at the finish only 150 metres away but diligently continued to search. The relief when I found the thing was almost overwhelming.

To be honest I was never going to be competitive anyway as indeed I wasn’t (I was second last of 17 competitors on day 2) but it’s nice to get the opportunity to put the skills into practice and I might have improved my position a fair bit if I’d not let myself down so close to the finish (or stopped to take photographs). Far too many of the competitors buzzing about the moor looked very slick – coming in from all directions, a quick dib and away whereas I can’t help a little inward celebration every time I find a control.

You really are in a world of your own when you’re orienteering; you can never tell (well at least I can’t) who else might be in your class and it does you no good to try. I did come across Dougie fairly early on, looking very composed but almost certainly engaged in battle with his own ‘demons of doubt’. After that our paths never crossed again. All I can say with certainty regarding his whereabouts was that only two garments remained in the ‘clothing area’ after I retrieved mine, one of which belonged to Dougie.

I can’t think of another event in which I’d be quite pleased with 7.7 km in 2 hours but despite my drop-offs the rest of the event was immensely satisfying. The read-out from the download is brilliant to analyse and lots of lessons can be learned – physically, technically and psychologically. I’d be surprised if I ever did this with a proper ‘race-face’ on but who knows? Organisation was excellent, everyone was very helpful to those of us who were trying our best to wreck their procedures and it was great to do an event like this that for once doesn’t involve miles of travelling.

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October Odyssey, Druridge Bay, Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Short Brown - 7.2km - 26 controls

I’ve not written of my orienteering adventures of late. You’d be forgiven for thinking that for someone who orienteers as much as I do that I spend all my spare time polishing my trophies and admiring my medals. But I seem to have had ever such a run of bad luck. It seems to have started about the time I got back into orienteering a few years ago and unfortunately has continued right up to and including the October Odyssey.

When the satnav chucked me off the A1 early because of a road closure I found myself looking out the window at a lot of muddy runners being jettisoned out of Newcastle Racecourse, which I realised later was the Stampede in full flow. Some time later I’d arrived at Druridge Bay, found the Start, and was being asked if I had a whistle. Indeed I had a whistle, and a compass, and stuff. And then I started.

A maze of twisty winding sand dunes, all alike. I’m an old hand. I know the temptation to sprint away with a determined and knowledgeable expression on one’s face is always a mistake, and consulting the map and finding out where you are is usually a good pre-requisite. I held my nerve, walked slowly from the Start, looked at the map, and worked out where I was. I seemed to be next to a sand dune. Good, good. Now, if I went over this sand dune, I’d get to a flattish bit, then there’d be another sand dune. A bit bigger than the first one. Then there’d be a Clearly Visible Path, with a junction, ah yes, it was all fitting into place. Up over this bit, and the control would be just, over, there. Nope, that wasn’t my control. So where was my control? Behind that sand dune? Or maybe next to this sand dune. Or perhaps in this bunker, beside, well, sand dunes certainly seemed to be involved. The wonderful thing about the sand dunes, was there were so many to choose from. Well this was fun. Sixteen Minutes and 39 seconds later, and almost a phenomenal 200 metres from the Start, I found CONTROL ONE. This was impressive. Even by my own exacting standards I had excelled myself this time. I wasn’t even out of earshot of the Start and could still hear occasional shouts and cheers as competitors launched themselves into the dunes.

The trouble with Burdock I dibbed and dazedly wandered on. A quick calculation that involved multiplying the number of controls by sixteen and a bit minutes made me think that if I didn’t get my act together it’d be dark by the time I finished. The main features seemed to involve dunes; big dunes, small dunes, weird shaped dunes, and pretty dunes. I was becoming weary of dunes. I looked for some nice linear feature that I could handrail along. Nothing but dunes, but, hang on, there was a nice handrail. I couldn’t be sure, but I think it was called the North Sea. I jogged along the beach for a bit only to be met by a big dug bounding the other way, followed close behind my Mike and Dawn Metcalfe from Durham Fell Runners. Despite realising that I was losing valuable seconds that could make all the difference on the podium between first and last, I stopped for a chat and posed for some photos that demonstrated the remarkable propagation properties of Arctium sp. I mean, your really have got to admire those burdock bad-boys. When they want to get their seed dispersed, they’ll stick to anything. I’m sure there are new plants now growing in my washing machine.

Some time later I crossed the finish line and accepted my printout without a glance. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I was hacked off and demoralised, because that was exactly what I was. Last again. Quite generously last. And I never wanted to see another sand dune in my life.

Burdock on the BeachBy the way, if you happen to know any top tips for removing burdock from clothing I’d be most interested. I’ve tried freezing, soaking, microwaving and ignoring. But, sadly, hand-picking it spike by spike seems to be the only way. That, or incineration.

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