British Orienteerig is 50 years old - almost!

British Orienteering 50 years old – almost!

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the British Orienteering Federation.  The inaugural meeting was held at 7.30 p.m. on 17 June 1967 in Barnard Castle, and the first British Orienteering Championships were held in Hamsterley Forest, Co. Durham the following day.

Early records of orienteering in Britain include a visit to Scotland by Malcolm Murray from Sweden in the 1930s, and “various outbreaks of orienteering activity but none on a coordinated basis” in the 1940s.

David Lee, still active in North Gloucestershire Orienteering Club, recalls an occasion in 1959:
“Peter Palmer returned to Cambridge in 1958 … where his brother Michael was the Captain of the University Hare and Hounds in 1958-59, and Peter was a great help to him with training ideas over that year.  So in the Spring Term we arrived for our usual training session to be told that we were going to ‘orienteer’.  Black-and-white O.S. maps were doled out and a course was marked on the map.  We were also given a compass.   To ensure safety (!!) we competed in pairs.  I believe the event was to the west of the town and involved crossing fields but no forest.  The winning pair were from the University 3rd and 4th team.  Several pairs who were 1st team were rather further behind.”

Stirrings in Scotland

Organised orienteering started in Scotland in the early 60s with the help in particular of the Swede Baron CA Lagerfelt from Stockholm.  The first recognisable event in Scotland was held on the Penicuik Estate on 16th April 1961, and the second at Braid Hills Golf Course, Edinburgh on 29th October that year.  The Scottish Orienteering Association was founded on 24th June 1962, with the first Scottish Championships held on the same weekend at Craig a’ Barns (Dunkeld) as part of a ‘demonstration event’ by visiting Swedes.  Laurie Liddell was the first Scottish Orienteering Association President.  Over the following couple of years, growth in the south-east of Scotland, based around Edinburgh Southern Harriers (Sandy Robertson) and Edinburgh University (Laurie Liddell and others) was particularly strong.

District courses for Instructors were organised in many parts of Scotland in the 2 years following.  In 1964 orienteering was featured in a 7-minute film on Scottish TV. The book ‘Know the Game: Orienteering’, written by Laurie Liddell, Tony Chapman and John Macfadyen was first published in 1965; it ran to several editions and, updated, was still on bookshop shelves in the early 80s.  A Schools Association was formed in 1965 and activity was growing in many different areas.

First steps in England

In England, the West Midlands Orienteering Association was inaugurated on 13th October 1963 following a ‘practice race’ in the Wyre Forest.  The first orienteering club to be formed in England was South Ribble Orienteering Club, in 1964.  Prime movers were Gerry Charnley, who was a member of both South Ribble Search and Rescue Team and Clayton-le-Moors Harriers and Ken Turner who was the first Chairman.  The running club won the team competition in the second Scottish Orienteering Championships in 1963, and soon afterwards, on 24th November 1963, the first ‘proper’ o-event in England organised by a club was held at Whitewell near Clitheroe.  Gerry Charnley went on to play a major part in the development of orienteering in the NW of England until his untimely death in the Lake District mountains in 1982.

In the south of England, a group of well-known ex-athletes – Roger Bannister, Chris Brasher, John Disley, Martin Hyman, Gordon Pirie and Bruce Tulloh – started orienteering following a Surrey Education Committee course led by Disley, but soon found that speed and fitness alone didn’t bring success.  Southern Navigators was the first southern club, formed in 1965, with Peter Palmer and Chris James being other prime movers in south of England developments. Within the following year, races were also organised in North Wales, the south-west of England and the Peak District.

Scots and English collaborate – but process is slow

The next big step was the formation of the English Orienteering Association at a meeting in Bishops Castle on 31st October 1965.  Five regional associations were represented. An Executive Committee was set up with Chris Brasher as Chairman, Gerry Charnley the Secretary and John Disley the Treasurer.  The Scottish Orienteering Association’s suggestion to have a joint meeting in Edinburgh with the new English Orienteering Association, to consider affiliation to the International Orienteering Federation, was welcomed, but for one reason or another it was not held until March 1967 in Dalbeattie, in conjunction with the 1966 Scottish Championships which had been deferred from the autumn because of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The joint meeting agreed on the need to form a British Orienteering Federation, because “it had been made abundantly clear that membership of the International Orienteering Federation could only be obtained through British membership”.  It was clear too that government grant-aid would only be forthcoming if the new Federation established itself with a standard framework of national associations and English regions.  An Extra General Meeting of the English Orienteering Association in April 1967 recommended the change and agreed to the disbanding of the English Orienteering Association at the time British Orienteering Federation was formed.

“Within 50 miles of Kendal”

So the ground was laid for the formation of the British Orienteering Federation.  Tony Chapman and Chris Brasher, Chairmen of the Scottish and English Orienteering Associations respectively, began the invitation to the first British Orienteering Federation Championships and Annual General Meeting with the words: “This is the preliminary announcement and entry form for a championship, run by an organisation that does not exist. So let us explain.

Intending participants were told that the Championships “will be held within 50 miles of the town of Kendal, Westmorland on Sunday 18th June 1967” and that “the inaugural meeting of the British Orienteering Federation will be held at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 17th June 1967 at a venue within ten miles of the Championship area.” Regarding accommodation, “a list of suitable hotels, guest houses, hostels etc. will be sent out with the Championship Programme.  The organisers have arranged for a limited number of beds in a military camp, but these are only available to male competitors and individuals will have to provide their own sleeping bags.  All others will be obliged to negotiate for their own accommodation.”

The Annual General Meeting venue, revealed just a week beforehand, proved to be in Barnard Castle, 45 miles from Kendal, with the Championships venue, Hamsterley Forest, the full 50 miles away.  Such was the secrecy felt to be required at that time!

Scotland focused highly on schools

The introduction of orienteering in schools was from the outset high on the Scottish Orienteering Association agenda.  Many Instructors’ courses were held, and the good level of activity led to the first Scottish Orienteering Association Schools Championships being held at Achray on 28th March 1964.

Sponsorship was obtained for this event: “The Scottish Milk Marketing Board has very kindly agreed to supply free milk to competitors on completion of the course.  The Mobile Milk Bar will of course also be available to spectators throughout the afternoon”, as the final details
put it.


First World Orienteering Championships participation in 1966

Enthusiasm for competing abroad was high, and the main goal was participation in the World Orienteering Championships.  In May 1966 the International Orienteering Federation Council accepted both England and Scotland as temporary members, pending the formation of a British federation.  The English Orienteering Association paid an International Orienteering Federation affiliation fee of 400 Swedish Crowns, and selected a team of ten athletes to take part in the World Orienteering Championships.

The team was astonished to find, on arrival at the venue in Finland, that the Relay team had to be selected from amongst the six participating in the Individual race, as opposed to being four additional athletes.  It seems that a vital Bulletin giving this information failed to reach the team beforehand.  After much representation it was accepted, on the basis of giving more runners some international experience, that the rule could be broken in the circumstances.  But in the end two of the team, Toby Norris and Chris James who were down to run third and fourth leg respectively, never got a competitive run because the team was timed out at the end of the second leg.

The 1966 World Orienteering Championships had 11 nations competing with 58 competitors on the 14.1km Individual course.  This was won by Aage Hadler, Norway in 1.36.02.  Best British runner was Alistair Patten, and the other runners were Gordon Pirie, Dave Griffiths, John Disley, Mike Murray and Tony Walker.  First and second legs in the Relay were run by Chris Brasher (who came to the finish ahead of the Bulgarian and Austrian runners) and Bob Astles.


First British Orienteering Championships sponsored by Guinness

News from Chris Brasher in the
English Orienteering Association Newsletter no. 3, Spring 1967:

“Guinness is good for us!  The firm of Arthur Guinness & Co., who make that delicious dark drink, have become Orienteering’s first sponsor.  At the British Orienteering Championships on 18th June they will present us with a handsome trophy for the Men’s team event, 400 numbered bibs for all major competitions and a cheque for £500 to set up an office."



Report by: Clive Allen (Southern Navigators)
Source:  British Orienteering Archive, University of Sheffield


Item posted by Jennie Taylor, Marketing Manager


Posted on Friday 17th February 2017