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Have a go - Orienteering

VCAC Member Stephen Wells has been a fan of Orienteering for many years. Here, he explains just what it involves and how it works.

Orienteering is an exciting and challenging outdoor sport that exercises mind and body.

The aim is to navigate between control points marked on an orienteering map.

In competitive orienteering the challenge is to complete the course in the quickest time choosing your own best route. As a recreational activity, it doesn’t matter how young, old or fit you are, as you can run or walk making progress at your own pace on the courses planned to suit you.

Courses can range from 1 or 2 miles, for the youngest or inexperienced, advancing as you improve, up to 7 or 8 miles for the more experienced.

Orienteering is a fulfilling sport for runners and walkers of all ages who want to test themselves mentally as well as physically, or who want to add variety to their leisure activities. The beauty of the sport is that the events can take place anywhere from remote forest, open moorland and countryside to urban areas, parks and even around our city streets. Each offers different landscape and challenges.

Events are often run by local regional groups and take place all year round.

Orienteering kite with an electronic control.

Historically, participants had a manual dibber to clip at each checkpoint to prove you had

been there.

Nowadays micro-chips are involved, using a 'dibber' worn on the finger and

dipped into a hole at the control point, which records various information, controls visited and lapsed time.

This is downloaded at the end of the event and you receive a print out of your own results and times.

A typical map layout, where the aim is to navigate from the Start position to Point A and then follow through the letters to a finish point.

Sometimes, routes are obvious, eg. along a direct path, but sometimes you have to cross open areas and find the best route possible. Thus honing your skills of thinking whilst running!

To aid the runners, various points of information are held on the map - types of vegetation, from open land to forest, land forms & contours, earth works and quarries, etc.

There may be man-made features, rivers, streams and marshes to rocks and boulders.

Each letter in this map has a written description to aid identification of the marker.

In competition the descriptions take on symbols.

These can be used to help you quickly understand the map and to spot features that might slow you down and you might wish to avoid.

A map from an Urban Orienteering event held in St Albans.

For this event, competitors were set off at intervals, with a time limit of 45 minutes each to visit as many of the control points and return to the finish point.

After 45 minutes points are deducted for each minute over the allowance.

Orienteering really is open for all. If you want to give it a try, without committing yourself to joining an event, there are many permanent courses available for you to try around the country - you may have seen the little red and white triangle signs on wooden posts in parks if you've been put for a walk or run. You can try these courses for fun - you can often download the maps for free or pick them up for a small fee.

For a list of Permanent Courses see

For more details in general, visit and look for a local club or event nearby.

Good luck and have fun!

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