Thank you to both Andrew Evans, Dartford Orienteering Klub (DFOK) and Allison Page, DFOK Club Coach who both met with a feature writer and photographer from the Woodland Trust Head Office in Grantham. The reporter has written up the article about her experience of orienteering.
The article appeared in the winter issue of The Woodland Trust's Broadleaf Member Magazine – and has been distributed to their 200,000 members.
The Woodland Trust have kindly given British Orienteering permission to reproduce the whole article and to share with a wider audience.
Photos credited: The Woodland Trust
HEAVY FOOTSTEPS pound the hill behind me. I turn and glimpse a figure moving among the silvery trunks. My breath comes in sharp bursts, my heart hammers, and overhead a jay unleashes an ungodly cackle.
But this isn’t the start of a John Grisham thriller, this is orienteering – and time is of the essence. I’ve come to Joyden’s Wood in Kent, just 13 miles from London to sample a sport that’s the perfect cocktail of woodland exploration, physical agility and mental acumen. And yes, orienteering is indeed a sport, and not just the casual saunter I’d always assumed. At my heels is my mentor for the day, maestro of the map Andrew Evans. “You’re faster than me!” Andrew laughs as we crest the hill and weave between the Corsican pines towering above. A carpet of needles deadens the air, and coal tits squabble like children in the branches. “But I’m lost, and you’re not,” I shoot back. And this is the crux of orienteering. Racing with gusto may gladden the heart, but have I been paying attention to the minutiae of the terrain around me? Can I orient the map accurately to sniff out the next staging post? And most importantly, have I got the faintest idea where I am? Luckily Joyden’s Wood is a brilliant place to get lost, its warren of forest rides tangling delectably through a mosaic of ancient broadleaf and mature pine. This is a wood with history: it’s got medieval wood banks and scraps of Iron Age dwellings half-buried in the undergrowth. Much was replanted with conifers after the war, but 30 years of tender Woodland Trust husbandry have eased it back to health, and nowadays treecreepers and nuthatches scale trunks in search of insects, marauding redwings and fieldfares forage for berries, and dormice, wolf spiders and wood ants scuttle in the leaf litter. For the wood’s human visitors, Joyden’s new orienteering course offers a fast route to total immersion. Dartford Orienteering Klubb helped the Trust install the 2km network of midget markerposts earlier this year, and my own crash course began 40 minutes ago with a tutorial from club chairman Andrew and coach Allison Page. They handed me map and compass and explained the basic idea: to plot a route that gets you from A to B in the quickest, cleanest manner. The more fragile bits of habitat are off limits, and direct-line travel is often blocked by areas of ‘forest fight’ – code for no-go unless you have a machete and a will of steel. So as I’m quick to learn, orienteering is about watching the map and tracking your surroundings as you run This, it turns out, is where I struggle. “Look at the contours and where the post is marked,” says Andrew, sensing my disorientation. I realise my mistake.
The post I’m seeking isn’t atop the hill as I’d assumed, but just over the brow – away from direct line of sight. Apparently, these navigational nuances become second nature to a hardened orienteer. We race on, shouting out features to help keep us oriented. “Left at the T-junction” I yell, feeling like a navigator in a road rally. “Vegetation change!” We plunge downhill and burst suddenly from the muffled quiet of the pines into the joyful vibrancy of native broadleaf trees again. A blackbird is shunting leaves in the undergrowth, entirely unconcerned as we speed past. Shafts of low winter sunlight dance at our feet. “This is what it’s all about!” says Andrew with a broad grin, spreading his arms wide. His exuberant love of this place is infectious. We notch up another post and then run blinking into the glare of a sandy glade. Dense gorse and buddleia forms a thicket around us. Forest Fight! Andrew points into the greenery: “Somewhere under there are the remnants of an Iron Age roundhouse. And that huge ditch is called Faesten Dic. It was built by the local Saxons to keep out the Londoners!” This must be the most breathless guided tour I’ve ever had – it feels like speed-dating with a wood. “Post!” I yell suddenly as it looms from the brush. I’ve learnt my lesson by now, and have been mentally ticking off features as we pass. I think I’m getting the hang of this. A stretch of wide forest track gives me a chance to quiz Andrew about orienteering culture. “The sport is really easy to take part in,” he says. “All you need is a compass, trainers and a downloaded map. We have people aged from eight to 80 competing at our club, and we run lots of family events.” Standard orienteering pace, he tells me, is about 1km every ten minutes. I glance at my watch. We haven’t quite cracked it, but I don’t mind. Today was more about exploring the hidden corners of this beautiful place. Ahead of us, a mammoth oak splits the path in two, fat-bellied and glorious. I spot ropes hanging from its limbs and wonder about the children who’ve clambered there. This queen of the forest has seen some adventures in her time, and we pause briefly so she can share in ours. Then, all at once, our race is run. I don’t know whether to hug the post or high-five Andrew, but I’ve loved every minute of our adrenaline-fuelled quest. Orienteering is a unique way of exploring the great outdoors, and I can’t wait to give it another go.
Orienteering oracle Andrew Evans keeps you on course:
NOW HAVE A GO
Orienteering isn’t just about racing: it can add variety to a family walk or spice up your woodland jog. You’ll find links to courses and events at britishorienteering.org.uk/goorienteering. The map for Joyden’s Wood can be downloaded free at dfok.co.uk/permanent, and other Woodland Trust woods with permanent courses include Hainault Forest in Essex, Martinshaw in Leicestershire, Elemore Woods and Low Burnhall in Durham and
Carnmoney Hill, County Antrim.
This is a great article! British Orienteering would like to take this opportunity to thank both Andrew Evans (DFOK) and Allison Page (DFOK) for their work involved in generating this fantastic article. Special thanks must also go to The Woodland Trust in raising the profile of the sport of orienteering with their 200,000 members.
Does your club have Permanent Orienteering Courses on any Woodland Trust sites?
There may perhaps be an opportunity for you to engage with the Woodland Trust and put on some future orienteering activities.