Jennie Taylor Communication Officer caught up with Stephen McKinley (Southern Navigators) the official organiser for this year's Southern Championships set to take place on Sunday 25 this month and asked how everything was going and what competitors can expect from the event.
Stephen, said: "Yes the event is preparing well, and looking at the early courses it certainly looks like competitors will get a unique event for the South, it can’t be often that the Southern Championship men’s elite course has nearly 900m climb, however when you see the pictures of Hindhead and the Devils Punch Bowl you quickly realise why. The area is an outstanding area of natural beauty and even though it is now over 7 years since the Hindhead tunnel was opened and the old A3 converted to grassland this is the first time the combined efforts of South London Orienteers and Wayfarers (SLOW) and Southern Navigators (SN) have brought the orienteering community an opportunity to run on a combined map. Mapped earlier this year by Dave Peel the area covers nearly 6 square km of prime orienteering terrain providing the runner with both the challenges of route choice and fine navigation. A prominent feature of the map is Gibbet Hill which is the second highest point in Surrey, standing at 272m above sea level. When catching your breath from the climb you can take a chance to enjoy the panoramic views, where on clear days it is possible to see Wembley Stadium and The Gherkin. The hill takes its name from the Gibbet (a type of gallows) that once stood here and was used to execute criminals. The bodies were hung in metal cages to deter other criminals, all of which have now been removed!"
Stephen continued: "Now known as the A3, the London to Portsmouth road, connecting the capital to the main base of Royal Navy, has for centuries been one of the country's main routes. Much changed over the years it passes or used to pass many well-known orienteering areas: Esher Commons, Wisley (where the route crosses the M25), Longmoor and the location of this year's championships the most spectacular Hindhead Common and Devil's Punch Bowl.
Usually development is not good for orienteering but in this case it has allowed us to join two previously good but separate orienteering areas into one. This is where the last section of the road had not been “dualled”, and because of the SSSI status the road was put in a tunnel – 60m under our competition area. The main part of the old road was dug out and sandstone taken from the tunnel used to fill it and “return it to nature.” So SN and SLOW could put together the previously separate mapped areas of Hindhead Common (SN) and The Devil's Punch Bowl (SLOW), and offer long courses uninterrupted by traffic."
The Devil's Punchbowl is a celebrated landscape feature - the largest spring-sapped valley in England. Its rim is a long curving ridge across the new map including the second highest point in Surrey, with the ground sloping away on both sides, steeply in places. The area is a good match for long distance championship races:
The soil is sandy, well-draining, and is mainly precious heathland. There are many tracks and paths, mapped and seasonal unmapped ones. Generally there is a lot of very pleasant running and good visibility. There is also a lot of self-seeded birch and gorse.
British Orienteering would like to take this oportunity to thank Stephen McKinley (Southern Navigators), Dave Peel (South Yorkshire Orienteers), South London Orienteers and Wayfarers (SLOW), and Southern Navigators (SN) for all of their time and hard work in organising this event.