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Tweet Friday 6th November 2020

Church Hill Halloween Orienteering Trail - Saturday 31 October 2020

Report and Photographs by Peter Rose, member of Harlequins Orienteering Club (HOC)

Please note:  this event took place before lockdown restrictions in England came into force at 00.01am yesterday (5 November 2020).

Following the launch of the Arrow Valley Permanent Orienteering Course in July, I was approached by Church Hill Big Local about the possibility of holding an orienteering event in the area. The group had been forced to cancel most of their activities and events during 2020 because of you know what.  They were keen to organise some sort of alternative, and had the budget from their cancelled events to put towards something else. The group includes the manager of the Arrow Valley Countryside Centre, who had supported the Permament Orienteering Course refresh, as well as a Scout Leader and a DofE Expedition Leader ; so they had a good idea about what an orienteering event could offer, and were excited about the opportunities.

From a Harlequins Orienteering Club (HOC) point of view, the idea offered many benefits.  Church Hill has considerable urban-orienteering potential.  With a fiendishly complicated path network, and close proximity to Arrow Valley Park, it has many of the key ingredientsfor a very high quality Level C event.  Building a positive relationship with the community, and promoting the newly refreshed Permanent Orienteering Course in the local park, could only be of benefit in supporting club development, both in terms of raising local awareness and participation, and in terms of laying the groundwork for future high quality competitive events.

The HOC Committee enthusiastically supported the idea, with Paul Basher getting to work straight away on a brand new ISSprOM 2019 map of the area.  John Leeson and Dave Aldridge kindly agreed to be the event officials, with Marian White and Ashley Ford leaping into action to make the necessary arrangements with landowners and British Orienteering.

Initial plans were put together, recognising that flexibility was needed as we did not know what the prevailing circumstances would be regarding coronavirus. In true partnership style, CHBL led on the promotion, registration and event centre organisation, and HOC led on all of the orienteering aspects.

Two scenarios were prepared, one with and one without an ‘event centre’, to maximise the probability that we could still go ahead in some form, whatever restrictions were in place.  As it happens, the British Orienteering Covid-Safe Orienteeringg uidance was extremely helpful in identifying solutions; and we were able to go ahead with an event centre, beating the new restrictions by 5 days!

Two trails were offered for family / bubble groups to complete: a ‘short’ 0.9km trail finding 10 monsters, and a ‘main’ 1.6km trail finding 15 spooky Halloweenc haracters, both presented as proper orienteering course maps.

A total of 53 families were pre-booked into carefully planned start-time slots, with prizes on offer for the best fancy dress costumes, and also a prize draw for everyone completing one of the trails.  Maps and information were pre-delivered to participants’ home addresses to allow touch-free event delivery, and Harley O’ Quin (a.k.a Dave Aldridge) put together a superb beginner’s guide to orienteering,tailored to the event map.

Church Hill Big Local (CHBL) put together goody-bags containing the obligatory Halloween sweets, as well as a compass and maps for the Arrow Valley POC.

Everything was set, and even the weather forecast three days out was looking supportive.  Unfortunately, one of the CHBL volunteers noted this out loud; and we woke up the day before the activity to predictions of torrential rain and 40mph winds for the next morning.  A rapid reallocation of start times followed, and a timetable for additional course safety checks was created.  We had the advantage that, as a hyper-local activity, everyone taking part lived within a ten minute walk of the start, and so we felt able to leave the decisionon cancellation to the last minute. That proved to be the right decision.

It felt like everything was conspiring against us when we went out to set the markers in the wind and rain, even finding that the council had felled one of the control site trees in the week leading up to the event!  But it was OK.

Although the conditions in the morning were not very pleasant, they were not as bad as had been forecast.  By lunch time, the rain and wind had gone, and the sun had made an appearance.  The morning weather, as predicted, put several people off coming; but with 67 children taking part with their parents and grandparents, it was certainly a success.  For most, this was their first experience of a proper orienteering course - even for the handful of Scouts and Guides, some of whom came in their uniform!

"Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Amelie declared her goody bag to contain "Two of the most incredible things ever!" 
"Many thanks for organising such a great event! We had a great time. (Thank you too for the goody bag!)"
"We had so much fun completing the orienteering trail and would like to thank You All again for making it happen! It was brilliantly organised :)"

Very positive feedback was received from participants, with many requests for something similar to be offered again, and several showing genuine enthusiasm for trying out the Arrow Valley POC.  We’ve even received an offer from a local resident to make HOC a new club mascot, after she heard the sad story of the demise of the original Harley O’Quin!

With thanks to the volunteers from CHBL and the HOC members Dave Aldridge, Peter Langmaid and John Pearson who helped out on the day

You can see a slide show of the day ’s events here.

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