North-East night orienteering championships

It’s a constant source of bafflement to me just quite how rubbish I am at Orienteering. It’s certainly not, as the phrase goes, through want of trying. I could talk to you endlessley and, yes, knowledgeably, of handrails, pacing, relocating, attack points and what have you, and yet, and yet …

So there we were, trundling down the A19, me and 3 fellow Northern Navigators towards Thirsk for the North East Night Orienteering Championships. I had weeks of night orienteering practice under my belt from our regular Thursday night training sessions at Low Burnhall and I’ve orienteered in the dark before, and knew what enormous fun it could be. Oh yes. I asked my fellow faster orienteering travellers what tips they might have for the evening ahead. The answers came quick, fast, and concise. Pacing, Accurate Compass Bearings, and there’d be lots of negative features. Ah yes, negative features. I nodded in what I hoped was an intelligent manner but as it was already dark, my self-conscious nodding was totally wasted on all present. “So, what’s a negative feature, then?”. Well, apparently it’s a hole in the ground. Or a ditch, or a depression, or a pit. Or, a hole.

Soon we were parked, registered, and carrying a large jug of soup and some buns along a track towards the start. 15 minutes later, at the Start, we transferred the soup jug to the Starters and one by one, we made our way into the pitch blackness. I went first, but it wasn’t long before I was being passed by later starters. Sometimes I knew who they were, but only because I recognised their Petzls.

It was really really hard. I tried to tell myself that I was enjoying myself but there was far too much luck and not enough judgement, skill or confidence in my finding of the controls. Out of the forest and onto the moor. What were the choices here? Solid compass bearings and pacing. And when you got to where the control should be, and it wasn’t there, what could you do? Re-locate, identify a new attack point, take a fresh bearing, calculate pacing, and try again. But in the middle of a moor, with the mist down, and no features, where did you relocate to?

I checked the map for control 9. It was in oh guess what, a bloody pit. Who knew? I took a bearing, checked, worked out my pacing, and thought, let’s go for it. I went for it, but it had gone. I stood where Control 9 should be, but it defied me by being somewhere else. In the right place probably. I looked at my watch and realised that there was no way I was going to get round the remainder of course before it closed in an hour’s time. In a sudden flash I realised how I could solve this dilemma.

Once the decision was made it was a simple matter to find a path that took me all the way to the finish. I shrugged off the “Well Done’s” and admitted that I bailed. They said “Well done anyway!”. They were very kind! In orienteering one missed control is an automatic disqualification, so why miss one when you can miss 8, that’s what I say. It was first time I’ve ever given up in an orienteering competition.

Back to the registration area, where hot soup with a swirl of cream was on offer and I was slightly reassured to discover that even the good guys had struggled. Big time. Orienteers far faster and more skilled than me had overshot, relocated and got quite lost. Not as lost as me though. They’d completed the course and finished, including David Aspin who is usually on the other side of a camera taking so many of the great photos that often appear on our website. I heard the organiser ask one competitor whether he’d be back tomorrow to which he replied that he’d be at one of Dave Parry’s races. Clay Bank West. I’d fully intended to be back on Sunday for more orienteering but right now a nice uncomplicated fell race sounded quite attractive.

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