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.
The Rules of Orienteering and Competition Rules C - Sprint, F - JK Sprint, L - YBT and S – Ranking have been updated effective 1st January 2019 and should be applied as soon as reasonably practicable.
Click here to view the rules.
Why not try your hand at orienteering with Forestry Commission England in the nation’s forests this winter to test your navigation skills around the woods. The aim is for everyone is to move between control points marked on an orienteering map. If you are a little more competitive the challenge is to complete the course in the quickest time.
Children will love the Gruffalo Orienteering course available at 14 Forestry Commission sites across England. A fun, navigational challenge using a simple map to find 12 Gruffalo markers hidden in the deep, dark wood. Children can choose to run or walk the course through the woodlands and can time themselves against the clock if they want to increase the challenge.
Find your nearest course here.
With the urban disciplines completed, the WOC 2018 competitors moved inland to the town of Sigulda. Situated on the Gauja river, the remaining races of the week will all take place around the town, across the valley carved through the local sandstone by the Gauja River.
Tuesday saw a return to the individual disciplines with the Middle Distance race, and it was the Women who began proceedings yet again. The hot temperatures which they had experienced in Riga seemed to abate, and rain met the Women as they began affairs. The courses weren’t quite as predicted from the model terrain. All reports from the model areas were that they were tough, grotty forests, which were hard to pass through easily. In contrast, though the visibility was low, the runnability was vastly superior to the model terrain. Additionally, the expected steep slopes of the Gauja governed the first half of each course, before a flat, vague section on the rivers reedbeds in the middle of both courses, which required competitors to alter their technique (and which many failed to do), and which many may have been unprepared for.
Charlotte Watson was the first Brit into the forest and started strongly. The first control would cause havoc across both races, but Charlotte spiked it, already catching and passing her 2-minute woman. Accelerating through the next section, she was solidly positioned at the first TV split. Behind her – starting just 4 minutes later – Megan Carter Davies had also started in a similar fashion, taking the lead through the first TV split at control 6. Through to control 9, and the start of the flatter section, both ladies were keeping the pace high and running well. Here though, Charlotte’s race began to come unstuck, losing contact in the vague contours and falling out of contention. Megan managed to hold her nerve though, and although she made a small error on the 11th control – the second TV split – she was holding her own.
Around them, many were losing their heads, though home favourite Sandra Grosberga kept in control over the second half to post a leading time which Megan would fail to better, slipping to second as she finished. It was at this point that the main favourites got underway, one by one they began to make errors in the forest. Sara Hagstrom of Sweden performed well and would post a leading time which would stand for a long time until Isia Basset of France stormed down the run-in to post a new lead and a first time under the 34-minute barrier. Catherine Taylor of GBR had an equally solid start to her two compatriots, but suffered on the steep slopes, struggling to hold her lines. She would eventually run with Marianne Andersen of Norway, who after early errors, was running strongly, and behind them, Marika Teini of Finland (the European Champion) was struggling to get onto terms with the group which had formed at the 6th control. Teini though would hold her own out there, and finish well, besting Basset’s time by 24 seconds. It was assured at this point that favourite Tove Alexanderson of Sweden would take yet another gold medal, but disaster struck her run. After a miss on the 2nd control, she failed to find the 3rd, going to the 4th control first, thinking that (we assume) it was the 3rd. This was the start of a near 18-minute error from which she would never recover, and never find the 3rd control. She didn’t quit though and admirably finished the course. This opened the door to a new champion, and it was Natalia Gemperle of Russia who would seize the opportunity. So many times, she had stepped onto the podium, only to have been bettered by Alexanderson, but not today. By the finish, she had taken out 1.30 on Teini and had done enough to seal a maiden individual title at the World Championships.
Megan had done enough to hang onto 20th place, her first World Championships top-20, with Cat in 26th and Charlotte in 53rd on a very demanding day in the forest for everyone.
Turning to the Men’s race – which had already started in the final hour of the Women’s action – the and the course would play havoc with everyone; though at least the rain had abated. The early pace-setting was done by Matt Doyle of Australia. Making his World Championships debut, Doyle would hold the lead for an hour, before first being bettered by Krepsta of Lithuania, before the 2012 champion and home favourite Edgars Bertuks came into the lead, the first man to break 37-minutes. And begin to bring the times closer to the predicted inning time of 33-minutes.
Alasdair McLeod was the first British man into the forest with, but had a tough start to the course, struggling in the first half. He settled after the 6th control, but it was too little too late, and the damaged had been done. He pushed well for the second half, but it was far from what Ali had hoped for. He was not the only one though, with numerous favourites making errors, so many in fact that we cannot list them all here; it seems unlikely that any runner at the Middle could claim they ran a perfect race.
Behind Ali, his teammate Ralph Street was on for a fantastic run. Like so many others, he made an early mistake on the first control. After this, however, he was completely clean. Losing nearly 2-minutes on the 1st control, he was running at a similar rate to the medallists for the remainder of his course, and would eventually finish 13th, a mere 1.58 down on the gold. It is a fantastic confirmation for Ralph that he is now amongst the best in the world, and on his day, he is capable of a top-10 and even more.
In the fight for gold, it was even more thrilling than the Women’s race. For a long time, it looked like last year’s silver medallist, Oleksandr Kratov of Ukraine would take home a gold medal that has proved elusive to him. Arguably the best technical orienteer in the world, he was holding leading splits throughout, but would just fall short in the final loop after the other runners accelerated in the final kilometre. Big favourite Olav Lundanes would throw his gold medal chance in the vague reedbeds which had cost so many others – including last year’s bronze medallist Fabia Hertner of Switzerland. Hertner’s teammates though had no such issues. Mattias Kyburz made early errors but caught Hertner and the two flew around the second half, and after being behind Krativ, beat the Ukrainian by 16 seconds in the finish. It would get even tighter from there, with Kyburz compatriot Florian Howald backing up his European Champs medal, flowing through the terrain and pipping Kyburz by 9 seconds. Behind him though, the final two starters were on his tail. Eskil Kinneberg avoided the mistakes of Lundanes and by the 2nd TV split at control 12, had taken the lead. He would hold it from here to the finish, kicking on and holding his form to take 14 seconds out of Howald, who suffered in the final 400 metres. Despite early mistakes for Sprint Distance champion Daniel Hubmann, he posted solid splits throughout and surged through in the final kilometre to take the silver medal, just beating Howald by 8 seconds but it wasn’t enough to deny Kinneberg his first individual World title at senior level.
1 Natalia Gemperle Russian Federation 32:02
2 Marika Teini Finland 33:32 +1:30
3 Isia Basset France 33:56 +1:54
20 Megan Carter Davies Great Britain 36:58 +4:56
26 Catherine Taylor Great Britain 38:15 +6:13
53 Charlotte Watson Great Britain 44:58 +12:56
1 Eskil Kinneberg Norway 32:59 0:00
2 Daniel Hubmann Switzerland 33:05 +0:06
3 Florian Howald Switzerland 33:13 +0:14
13 Ralph Street Great Britain 34:57 +1:58
52 Alasdair McLeod Great Britain 42:01 +9:02
The racing will get back underway on Thursday with the Men's and Women's Forest Relays. Well done to all our athletes today!
Report by William Gardner