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The Northern Championships 2024

Following the British Middle Championships on Saturday 27 April, CLARO organised the Northern Championships which took place at Kilnsey South. Here, organiser Mike Cope and Planner Vicky Bailey give their insights into the area where the event was hosted and how the event went. 

Ideas about CLARO hosting the Northern Championships alongside AIRE hosting the British Middles were discussed many years ago.  CLARO’s own areas are limited for a big event so the club was more than happy to borrow an AIRE area.

All really started almost 2 years ago when dates were fixed, CLARO agreed to participate, Kilnsey South was chosen and an organiser and planners were found.  Kilnsey is complicated though with permission needed from Natural England, a landowner, 4 farmers, Long Ashes Caravan Park and Threshfield Quarry Trust.  Natural England was the biggest worry and not until their permission was granted could other permissions be firmed up.  And it was found that Natural England cannot give an orienteering club permission for an event.  They can give landowners and farmers permission to allow an orienteering club to hold an event.  So which comes first?  It all took a very long time.  Outline permissions were obtained from all, course planning was started, but it was only in September 2023 that it was possible to confirm that the event could take place.

Kilnsey is complicated for other reasons.  We learned at JK 2016 that relying on a field for parking in March/April is not a good idea.  Emergency arrangements were needed just before that event when it was clear that a nicely sloping parking field with top access and a lower exit used for maybe a thousand cars for the Kilnsey Show in the summer would just be too wet in March/April.  Threshfield Quarry is massive and can swallow up lots of cars on hard ground.  But it means a long walk to a start and from a finish.  It was thought that this would put a lot of people off, though in the end it didn’t.  Cars for the event easily fitted into the quarry with hardly any hold ups even though much of the parking near the quarry entrance was initially taken up by Fellsman Hilke competitors returning from their event.

Kilnsey South rises to 450m.  With a north wind and rain it can be a serious concern.  Competitors were warned when the event was first advertised that a waterproof hooded top might be compulsory.  A few days before the event all competitors were informed that such tops would be compulsory.  It was very cold on the day when the start team went off to set up and early starting helpers went off at 10 o’clock.  Later starters were a bit luckier.

The area is used for farming sheep and cattle.  This gives two problems.  There are lots of walls and fences to keep the animals where they should be, and where would the animals be on the day of the event?  To a non-farmer, the latter seems simple, but farmers often don’t know where their animals will have to be, as it depends on the weather, the progress of lambing and so many other jobs that have to be done.

Yorkshire Dales walls and fences are big and they need big stiles to cross them where there are no gates.  Competitors on the longer courses were treated to a variety of ladder stiles, milk crate steps, a crawl through and a specially built step stile near the end capable of taking 700 plus competitors at a rate of 4 or 5 a minute.

The highlights of the day came as the first competitors returned smiling and giving very positive comments about their courses and the arrangements.  At the same time the weather started to improve.  And then when it improved further the ice cream van started doing business and it was warm enough for competitors to be standing around looking at results and discussing their courses.

CLARO is a small club and this was the biggest event the club had ever taken on.  Some much appreciated help came from elsewhere, but members rose to the challenge and did an excellent job on the day.  For the rest of the year the club will revert to hosting evening and family events with regionals in June and September.  This will be a relative rest before helping with the JK in 2025.

Northern Championships 2024 results

Kilnsey planner Vicky Bailey's perspective

Planning on Kilnsey was a challenge for all the practical reasons Mike has mentioned, but also because as planners we had two hard acts to follow in the shape of 2016’s epic acts-of-God JK and AIRE’s sunny summer special in 2018. It seemed appropriate then that our event served up something in between; on the day, a moderately grim start melting into a modestly mild finish; in the lead up, a catalogue of every other available weather, never friendly enough for shorts but nothing so hostile that it saw us off the hill. No sun, no hail strikes, but come the day: a sunburst of primroses.

With the assembly area already fixed we were limited with how much we could vary from AIRE’s event, which had used the same quarry for car parking. Early efforts to find a novel start location were quickly abandoned – you didn’t want a longer walk to the start, did you? But for the finish we gambled on a short walk back to assembly for the fun of a combined finish with the White and Yellow courses in the caravan park. This also left us with a little more length in the courses, which meant a better share of Kilnsey proper for the shortest senior courses before the inevitable march off the hill. For the longer courses, Mike and Chris’s efforts with permissions and crossing points opened up access to additional areas not used since the JK – a big help for keeping things fresh. Planning tactics evolved over the thrashing-out process. Our early strategy of avoiding long legs crossing the walls resulted in somewhat bland Middle-style courses that lacked “story”. In the end, using the walls to set up macro route choices provided better structure, and made for some entertaining post-race analysis on Routegadget. Every crossing point was worth it, Mike, honest!

The most memorable part of planning at Kilnsey has been the efforts undertaken by so many volunteers to overcome its challenges. Fathomless feats of endurance and ingenuity! An alphabetised schedule of animal-dependent crossing point logistics. A 60kg sheep-proof control marking solution! Dauntless control collectors taking on longer loops than their original courses and a map layout for every permutation of scale and paper size. The amount of time and care that goes into these events is in equal parts scary and inspiring. My tip for anyone considering taking on something similar is to get yourself a co-planner. Find one who always finds time to be slightly less busy when you are super busy; who has a seemingly exhaustible supply of patience, and a very good recipe for flapjack – then no amount of trans-Pennine weather tantrums and late-night PDF checking can get you down for long!