A small but select group of CHIGs went to Hathersage at the end of March for a training weekend. Ros West, Derek Jenner and Josh Jenner went up during the day on the Friday, collecting Peter Allen on the way, so were able to settle in to the Scout hut at leisure, and reserve the best corners of the hut for their sleeping arrangements. I took Kostya Lutsenko and Helen Hampton up, leaving in the evening, so Kostya and Helen could both do a day’s work, thus boosting the nation’s economy and helping the cashflow necessary to keep my pension going at the rate to which I am accustomed. Harold Wyber had an over-full diary, and so had to attend a couple of leaver’s drinks on the Friday evening before rushing to a quiz night, and came up by train the following morning.
The following morning saw us shivering, partly from the cold, and partly because we were looking at the steepness of the slope in front of us, at the foot of Wincobank. This is a small area in the suburbs of Sheffield, consisting of both sides of a steep ridge, with spectacular views of Sheffield, and Hillsborough Stadium in particular, if you were capable of appreciating the views having struggled to the top. We were joined by a number of orienteers from SYO, and Graham Gristwood, who came along to give us advice, rather like getting Rio Ferdinand to a coaching session for the Red Lion pub Sunday soccer team.
The slopes of Wincobank were covered in forest, mostly runnable, with a few thicker sections, plus an area of intricate pit and spit detail. If BOF had a standard symbol for burnt out domestic appliance, the mapper could have put in quite a lot more point features.
We had three exercises to tackle. I started with the line run, just following an intricate line around the slopes. This I found quite challenging, as I normally take comfort from control points, as there you know exactly where you are. With this exercise, you had to be quite sure where you were without that security blanket, and it forced me to study the map and try and visualise it more than I am used to. Graham was out in the forest, and theoretically available for advice, but in practice was a flaxen-haired blur who had disappeared by the time I had formulated the question I wanted to ask. I was quite pleased to get only slightly lost once, and badly lost once, but both times I was able to relocate and finish the run on the line.
The second exercise was a corridor event. This was a bit easier, in that I had my security blanket of control kites in the places I had to reach, but Josh had cut off all the useful features, such as paths you could run to, run along, and then run from, forcing me to go in more-or-less a straight line, ticking off the features as I went along. The final exercise was a simple long legs run, but the map was a version without paths, just to provide extra challenge.
After the runs, I was able to ask Graham what his route choices were on some of the legs. I was quite pleased to discover that I had made more-or-less the same decisions. The only difference, then, between a World Champion and a humdrum M60 is that the World Champion runs twice as fast, and (probably) thinks three times as fast, not that there is anything I can do about either of these deficiencies. Graham gave some useful advice on contour detail, which I always find a problem. I remember once looking at Loughton Camp with John Pearce. John carefully explained how all the brown squiggles on the map related to the features on the ground, and it was magical how the brown squiggles slowly metamorphosised into a picture of spurs, gulleys and depressions. Then John stopped talking, and the picture slowly reverted to brown squiggles again. Anyway, the useful advice was that brown features that go up are easier to see than brown features that go down, so when faced with that sort of map, focus on the knolls and spurs and worry less about the depressions and small re-entrants.
I had the opportunity to put that into effect in the afternoon, at Burbage Mines. This was an overgrown quarry, so brown features was all there really was. We started off with a couple of line runs, picking our way through the narrow valleys, and up and over spurs; keeping in touch with the map at all times, because if you did not, relocation was tricky, to put it mildly. Having got the hang of the map, we then had a short control picking exercise, than a long legs run, where route choice was particularly important.
Those of us who finished those exercises had the choice of doing nothing, or tackling a “proper” orienteering course using a map which incorporated a chunk of surrounding moorland as well. I obviously had a go at this, and was able to manage an error which almost certainly has never happened before in the history of orienteering. I found the first four control sites on the moor without to much trouble, and set off for control five which was a small pond. Although the pond was not visible, the map showed a small earthbank behind it (possibly excavations from the pond, I thought), so I headed for the visible earthbank. When I reached it, there was no sign of the pond, and when I checked the map, I found the earthbank had moved – on closer inspection, I discovered that a tiny piece of dead bracken, exactly resembling the earthbank symbol, had slipped into my map case, and there was no mapped earthbank at all.
As I had only a hazy idea of where I was, and I had discovered that the marshes on the moor were definitely not dried out, and it was getting late, I decided that it was maybe time to head for the finish rather than finish the course.
The following day found us at Loxley Common, another small area almost within the city bounds. This was a “simple” 5.6k line event, with 27 controls, in very varied terrain. The top of the hill where we started was mostly rough open, with patches of forest, but falling away to the south west into a slope covered in tress and boulders, falling away to the south east into a housing estate, and falling away to the east into an intricate area of knolls and re-entrants, so we could see whether we had learned anything from the day before. I took just over 90 minutes, probably my slowest ever mins/k, the primary problem being the ferocity of the terrain. I only had trouble with two controls. I arrived at what I thought was the site of control 4 to find Pippa (a SYO competitor) had already not found it, and we were shortly joined by Helen, Harold and Ros. Plan A – run to the control had clearly failed – and Plan B – run in ever increasing circles until you stumble across it – failed soon after. There was nothing for it but to try Plan C – wait until someone better turns up and finds it for you – and Kostya soon obliged. However, he attacked the control from a different direction, so it was possible – we all felt – that he had found it by luck rather than design. The other control that caused me a problem was the first control in the housing estate. I was so pleased to be running on an even surface, and downhill as well, that it was a while before it struck me that I ought perhaps to look at the map, at which time I discovered that I was on the point of running off it. And even worse, retracing my steps was uphill!
All in all, it was a great weekend. The orienteering was enjoyable and varied, and I feel that I have learned to deal better with contours, at the least. I would like to thank Josh for organising everything, Ros for sorting out the catering, and Helen and Kostya for helping put out controls for the courses. In fact, the only disappointment was on the way home, when I decided that we would stop and look at St Mary’s church in Chesterfield, the one with the twisted spire. I thought we might be unlucky and be unable to get in to it because there was a service on, but a church closed – on a Sunday!