A VERSION OF THIS APPEARED IN THE OCTOBER 2020 SCOTS MAGAZINE
I have always thought of orienteering as something of a nerdy pursuit – all about peering at a compass and map. Surely yomping up a mountain, camping in the wilds or paddling a kayak is more fun?
Actually, it is great fun; like a mini-expedition with the challenge of navigating your way over unfamiliar ground, looking for marker posts (often called controls). To put it another way: “It’s like a treasure hunt but without a sticker or sweets at the end,” observed 10-year-old Eric before we set off.
We had chosen one of the easier courses at Beecraigs Country Park, above Linlithgow; there are a host of different options from super-simple routes to incredibly difficult ones involving virtually impenetrable forest. Competitive orienteering is designed to complete a course as fast as possible but we had also decided not to go too quickly as we were just learning our way.
Some studying of an incredibly detailed map showing the route – printed from the British Orienteering website – and we were off. The first post (with a plate containing red and white triangles and a code number) was south of the car park, so provided a simple introduction to the compass, especially as the map uses magnetic rather than true north.
The second post was found by following the map along a track but some searching was needed as it was partially covered by a low-hanging tree. More map work identified a ruined wall and stream and the next couple of posts were quickly found, boosting Eric’s confidence. The map was a particular source of interest, especially a path that appeared to end in the middle of the forest. “That leads nowhere. I like that, it’s cool,” declared Eric.
More posts ensued (and a quick snack to boost energy levels) before the most intriguing decision of the day. The easiest way between two posts seemed to be up a path and track but the shortest route was straight ahead. Eric chose the latter, ploughing through gnarled roots and fallen branches before reaching an open patch of ground. “Looks like we will be going through knee-high grass – what happens if a snake bites me?” he worried. Informed that there were no snakes (probably) he charged on and learned another lesson when confronted by a burn flowing along a deep ditch, something he hadn’t noticed on the map. A huge jump followed and a path was reached. I then decided to take the easiest way to the post, leaving Eric to make his own way across a dense thicket. Some time later he emerged through rosebay willowherb, towering above his head. “Your way was more boring – my way was more interesting but slower. And, I like wading through all that stuff,” he announced.
It was an easy walk back to the start and the words every parent likes to hear were spoken by Eric: “That was fun, can we do another one?”
PANEL – TOP TIPS FOR ORIENTEERING
Orienteering maps are much more detailed than the usual OS ones, they also show magnetic north, making compass reading easier. So, familiarise yourself with them before setting off.
The quickest route between posts is not always the shortest, hence the need to read the map properly in order to avoid obstacles such as dense forest or rivers.
Trousers or leggings are a good idea if going over rough ground to avoid ticks and brambles.
Trainers can be worn but sometimes tougher footwear is needed.
Pick an easier course to start with and work your way up to more challenging routes.
PANEL – WHERE TO GO ORIENTEERING
Orienteering is done across the country from built-up urban areas to the wilderness of the hills.
A good way to get started is to get in touch with a local club and the British Orienteering website https://www.britishorienteering.org.uk/home has a comprehensive list.
Many competitions are held, using temporary courses with entrants timed to see who is quickest around each course.
There are also permanent courses where you can go anytime, printing a map out before you go. Again, head to the British Orienteering website to find out a course near you.