An all-inclusive sport
PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 July 2014
Modern pentathlete Heather Fell grabs a map and compass and sets out to discover how technology has transformed the sport of orienteering
As a child I never needed an excuse to get out onto Dartmoor to enjoy the freedom and space. This was partly due to living in the middle of the moor on a farm and to being a keen horse rider - there is no better way to keep horses fit than galloping up to the tors.
When I reached my teenage years I discovered I lived in the perfect place to get myself fit too, using the natural terrain for many running sessions. Due to my natural affinity with the outdoors I always found it slightly baffling that people would want to trace steps of those before them and search under rocks to find a letter box. I could not understand why these walkers needed to get a stamp in a book to motivate them to enjoy the stunning scenery.
Many things have changed recently: I no longer have a horse to keep fit and I do not have any races I need to train for myself. One factor that has not changed is my affinity with the outdoors but sadly I often feel I need a reason to go out and enjoy it. When at home the dogs make for the perfect excuse but I need something more permanent and I might have found the solution.
Ironically I discovered the sport of orienteering whilst abroad at a sporting convention. It seems it has a large international presence but, more importantly to us, it has a large local presence too. The Devon Orienteering club was started 35 years ago. It is reassuring to see that the club and the sport have not remained in the seventies. The Devon club boasts a significant increase in membership over the last five years, especially in the younger age group. That said it is not a sport that discriminates in any form and it is one of the most all inclusive events available in our county.
I have foggy memories of traipsing around playing fields and woods in the rain carrying a soggy piece of paper and a pencil whilst on a school activity camp looking for certain landmarks. The weather might not have changed but my feelings towards orienteering have. The sport has moved with the times and an electronic tagging system is now used to track how long you are on the course for as well as ensuring all checkpoints are reached.
The mention of technology and tracking could all sound a little daunting but it could not be further from the truth. There are not many competitions that you can turn up to with no previous training or experience and actually participate. As long as you are dressed in comfortable clothes, possibly a waterproof and have suitable footwear everything else required can be borrowed on the day. All ages and abilities are welcome with courses of varying difficulties and lengths available - there are classes for the under ten years through to the eighty plus. Maps are drawn up by the organisers with specific keys and symbols that are clearly explained; for the very young a small course with a rope to follow is used.
The Devon Orienteering club uses a few permanent courses for its events spread across the county as well as a variety of other venues and terrains. The majority of the events will give the participants an opportunity to discover different countryside; whether that is woodland, moorland or even coastal terrain but if getting your feet muddy does not appeal there are events held in parks and urban areas as well.
If running or walking sound a little on the tame side it can easily be spiced up. Several night events are held across the southwest and there’s even the option of doing specific races on a mountain bike. If I was still in search of an excuse to enjoy the outdoors orienteering has to be an exciting solution.