Saturday, 28 September 2013

Quantock Long-O Day 1 (and a Yeovil Parkrun Recce)

Compass in one hand, dibber in the other!
Less than two months ago I was talked into entering the OMM (a two day adventure race in mountainous terrain). Shortly after that I had a super little introduction to orienteering as I was invited along to a casual club event. It was a 30 minute urban score, which means you have 30 minutes to get as many controls (check point thingies) as you can, in any order you like. 
My girlfriend (and OMM partner) wanted to suss out my navigation skills and I think she was quietly impressed as I navigated successfully around the course. She wasn't as impressed by my sense of humour, "What does that little green cross mean?", "That's a significant bush". With significant bush to find, my new love of orienteering was born and I set about finding other events to enter. I spotted a two-day event in the Quantocks/Exmoor which described itself as "ideal training for the OMM". It also described itself as "not suitable for novices" but with my singular orienteering success behind me, I thought I'd be just fine.

Everyone hiding from the rain before the start
Day 1 didn't start until lunchtime so I had plenty of time to make my way to Somerset. It made perfect sense to go via the new Yeovil parkrun at Montacute House and break up the journey with a 5k run. 

The house itself is a marvelous sight (even in the rain) surrounded by spectacular ornamental pathways and courtyards. I only had time for a little investigate before heading over to the start area. Disappointingly, you don't get to run through/around any of the interesting stuff; the course takes you on a little lap and then a big lap of the grounds. The whole route is on grass and although it isn't hilly, running on soft grass certainly does sap the energy out of the legs! One of the best things  though about having a parkrun in the grounds of a National Trust property is that the toilets were positively luxurious, what a treat!

You don't run through this...
...or this

A glorious 25% road led up through thick fog to a flagged car park. On any other day I would be wishing I was on my bike with hills like that to play on, but not today, today I was excited for an orienteering adventure. Day 1 was a 3 hour score event with 21 potential controls to bag along the way. The whole thing was pretty much being run out of a van, and displayed in the window of the van was a version of the map without the controls. My heart sunk; the features were scarce and the contours were abundant. Being that my previous orienteering experience was on an urban map with very easy roads and obvious paths to follow, this was definitely going to be a bit more err.. challenging!

I set out keenly, jogging along an obvious path and past controls that were set out for the kids. Just past one of the controls was a sign with a sad face on it, I hoped that this wasn't some sort of secret orienteering language that meant 'don't go this way'. I headed across rough, gorse-covered moorland looking for my first control, I couldn't find it. I ran around a few times and went back to the path to get my bearings again. I could see another orienteer in the area but it looked like he couldn't find it either. Not being a patient type of character, I decided to ditch this one and try to find another.

The next one was on a steep bank that led down to a river. The entire bank was covered in ferns that were chest height on me and try as I might, I couldn't find this one either. It was not a good start. I ran back to the path and navigated around the edge of the forest looking for a "significant tree" to locate my next control. To be honest, all the trees looked significant, it was a forest! By this point, 45 minutes had passed and I started to wonder if I would find anything at all.

I delved into the forest proper, hoping that the river and some big tracks would lead me to success. I was looking for a point where two paths met next to the river. When I got there, I looked up to where the control should be. It was up very steep hill with no sort of path. I trudged up very steadily, grabbing hold of trees as I struggled to keep traction. Out of nowhere, there was a teeny platform with a control on it. I was so elated to have actually found one, it had only taken an hour! After just about managing to stay upright as I skidded back down the bank, I went on to have a mini string of success as I took some bearings, did things properly and baggsied another two controls.

Description should be "small rock", not "crag" #justsayin
From here I only had a couple of choices. The scoring system meant that I could only go for controls that were of equal or greater value than my last control. I jogged along a good track through the forest, making a beeline for a 30-pointer that was located by a "crag" on a steep bank next to the path. According to the contours, the crag should be around 10m lower than the path, easy to spot, surely? I ran up and down looking for it, nothing. Exploring the steep bank was treacherous and I was falling all over the place but I was absolutely determined to find this one. Eventually (about 30 minutes after I'd started looking) I spotted something grey through the trees and fell over twice as I headed for it as I didn't want to take my eyes off it for a second! It was absolutely not a crag. What is more amazing than actually finding it is the fact that someone else came upon this tiny feature in the middle of a steep-sided, tree-filled bank to put it there in the first place!

Orienteering really is a bit bonkers; it's like going on the most confusing trail run ever crossed with a very difficult treasure hunt. It's a true adventure sport, they have you going over all terrain regardless of how impassable it first appears. I failed to find the 40-pointer I'd hoped to find near the finish, arriving back with plenty of time to spare and a new found respect for orienteering.

Bring on Day 2!

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