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A short history of the British Relay Championships

This year marks the 50th British Relay Championships - for most classes, that is – but not all!

British Orienteering’s historian Clive Allen – with Simon Errington’s help on statistics – takes us through some of the history of the event, and how it has evolved over the past 50 years since it’s inception. All extracts of The Orienteer are copyright of CompassSport Magazine and reproduced here with kind permission.

First BRC in 1972

But back to the beginning! Whereas the first JK Relay was held in 1969, the first BRC was organised by the Scottish Orienteering Association in 1972 at Newcastleton, close to the border with England. Winners of the Open classes were Interlopers (men) and University of Newcastle (women). The second edition was held in Clipstone Forest (Notts) and the third in Puddletown Forest (Dorset).

Four areas have been used for BRC twice: Brown Clee (1993, 2016), Clipstone (1973/85), Holmbury (1981, 2013) and Mytchett (1989/98). Mulgrave was used in 1978 and will be the venue again this year.

1973: unusual layout

The Clipstone event in 1973 had an interesting and unusual layout. The start was in a hard-surface clearing in the middle of a complex intersection of several forest tracks, with the changeover and finish some 100 m down one of these. At the mass start, first-leg competitors were brought into a defined circle in the centre of the clearing, not knowing their direction to the first control. This also varied between the three courses run in different orders by each team. Watching the action at the start, as runners struggled under pressure to decide their routes to control 1 and get their bearings (not always correctly) was a fun experience!

The changeover was special too: the last control on the edge of the clearing, the run-in funnel down the track to the hand-over point, a parallel run-out funnel back up the same track to the start in the clearing. The finish down a separate funnel parallel to the changeover funnels. A great event for spectators, with all the action focused on one small area. Derwent Valley Orienteers won the women’s trophy that year and the long-defunct south of England club OK Nuts won the men’s Open, with Mike Murray (still winning trophies in M80) on the anchor leg. Below is a snippet from an article in the 1973 issue of The Orienteer which features a report about the competition. 

Download the full article about BRC 1973 here

1974: “beautifully organised” by SWOA

George Foot was the Planner for the 1974 event in the at-that-time “supremely runnable” Puddletown Forest, where the start, changeover and finish were all sited deep in the forest. “The move [into the forest] was entirely successful and added considerably to the atmosphere of the event,” wrote The Orienteer editor Roger Smith, who had clearly enjoyed the event “beautifully organised by SWOA”. OK Nuts retained the Guinness Trophy and Reading OC won the women’s Open.

Organisation of the BRC rotates around British Orienteering’s 12 constituent Associations; East Anglia and Northern Ireland have staged BRC only once. This year’s event will be organized by the North Eastern OA at Hutton Mulgrave and Skelder Woods near Whitby on Sunday 14th April.

Another feature in the 1974 issue of The Orienteer which includes a report on the British Relay Championships. Download the high resolution version here, and the map of Puddletown Forest here

2021: Forth Valley Orienteers save the day!

COVID had its effect on the British Relay Championships (BRC) as on all other events, and in 2020 and 2021 they were not held. But at relatively short notice in the autumn of 2021, Forth Valley Orienteers offered to stage the Open Men and Open Women classes at Fairy Knowe and Doon Hill, as part of an open relay event they were organising. A notice about this appeared on the British Orienteering website:

Men's Premier and Women's Premier Relays: British Championships 2021

We are pleased to confirm that in the absence of a full British Relay Championship being staged for 2021, we have agreed with Forth Valley Orienteers (FVO) that their existing open relay event in the Stirling area on Saturday 13th November will be used to contest the Men's Premier and Women's Premier classes.

We are grateful to FVO for their help in making it possible for us to award these two titles for 2021. Further details including entry information will be issued to club captains soon, and will also be available at

As it turned out, all the entries were from Scottish teams (men’s won by FVO, women’s by EUOC), but it means that for these two classes, 2024 is the 51st BRC.

South Yorkshire Orienteers top the tables with title wins

South Yorkshire Orienteers (SYO) is way in front in terms of Open titles, with 9 men’s victories and 15 women’s, total 24. No other club has won more than 9 titles in total! Second place in the men’s list is shared between Interlopers and Sheffield University OC (both 7), followed by Forth Valley with 5. Seven is also the number of women’s titles won by second-placed Edinburgh University OC. Both Cleveland OK and Derwent Valley Orienteers have won 4 women’s titles.

SYO won both men’s and women’s titles in 1994/8/9 and 2000. Their women’s teams between 1993 and 2007 achieved a fantastic 9 victories out of the possible 14 (there was no event in 2001 because of Foot-and-Mouth), including 4 times in succession, 1998-2002.

Present day

Last year's event was organised by Berkshire Orienteers, Thames Valley Orienteering Club, and supported by the rest of the South Central Orienteering Association. Weekend Coordinator, Paul Fox gave us an overview of the event in this blog

This year, it is the turn of the North East Orienteering Association to host the event in what is a very special year for the competition. There is still time to enter the event, and we invited all to do so via this link

With thanks once again to CompassSport Magazine who have kindly granted permission for the extracts of The Orienteer to be published in this article.