Click here for a video or read on….
Well….. the basic idea is to navigate your way around a course, usually in the woods, using a specially drawn map which shows features such as streams, fences, boulders and crags. You have to start at the Start (!), finish at the Finish (!!) and visit a series of control points along the way, but it’s entirely up to you how you get from point to point and whether you run hell for leather or bimble round with the kids and dog and have a picnic en route. If you like treasure hunts, the outdoors, running or any combination of these then give it a go.
Where do events take place and how to find them?
Our fixtures list shows what’s happening where and when and gives you a link to a map online so you can find us. When you get close to the event car park you’ll probably see red and white orienteering signs to show you the way. The summer events are particularly ideal for beginners being either in or close to Aberdeen and hopefully warm enough that it doesn’t matter if you take a while to get into the swing of it.
What to bring?
Trainers or lightweight boots and tracksuit bottoms or similar that you don’t mind getting a bit mucky; a compass if you have one for orientating the map; a drink/snack for afterwards; a few £’s to pay for your map.
What to expect at your first event….
Having parked, look out for a queue of people by a car or tent waiting to register. You’ll be asked for your name (so we can keep track of who’s out there and the time taken for keen competitors) and which course you want to try. Don’t be afraid to ask advice about which course is the best for you. To begin with try the easy/medium or yellow/orange courses as they are based on tracks or other linear features such as walls. Eventually you’ll work up to a light green and beyond where things start to get a bit more technical. You’ll be issued with a map, a set of control descriptions and usually an electronic timing device called an emit brikke (the system comes from Scandinavia.)
The map…. will look a little strange at first with colours and symbols that might as well be hieroglyphics, but you should be able to recognise tracks, paths, streams and contours. There should be a legend printed down the side to explain the other features but for beginners courses you’ll be using linear features so make sure you know what a track, path, stream, fence and a wall look like and forget about the rest for the time being. The other thing you should note about your map is the scale – we use 1:10,000 or 1:15,000 scale maps to get the necessary detail in. That means that 1cm on the map represents 100m or 150m on the ground respectively. Imagine what the 100m dash looked like on the school playing field and that should help you judge the distance you need to go between controls.
The control descriptions…. will show a list of controls and you must visit them in that order. Control sites are marked by special orange and white “kites” to make them easier to spot at a distance. Each control on the list will have a number or letter code next to it. When you actually reach that control, it will have a code physically attached to it so you know you’ve got the right one. The list also gives a brief description of the feature that you’re looking for, e.g. path/stream junction, fence bend, to help you home in on it once you’re in the right area on the map. The descriptions are in the form of a pictorial code – just ask someone for a translation or ask for one of our cards explaining the different symbols.
The brikke…. should be attached to your finger using the strap and fits snuggly in the palm of your hand, orange side facing outwards. Every time you get to a control, including the Start and Finish, place the brikke onto the base plate, orange to orange, and make sure that the red LED on the control flashes. At the Start, as soon as you lift your brikke from the control, any previous timing data is wiped and the timing starts for your run. (So don’t punch the Start again by mistake instead of the Finish if you’re bothered about timing!) Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help on the use of these – there is always someone hanging around to help beginners.
Starts…. generally you can start whenever you like after you’ve got your brikke and map but there will be a last start cutoff time and also a time when all courses close, as obviously the people organising would like to get home sometime the same day! If you want you can leave your car keys at registration before setting off.
Finish…. once you’ve punched the Finish control, go to the download point (often the same place as registration) and hand in your brikke. You will be given your time on a slip of paper which also shows how long it took you between each control. IMPORTANT – Even if you don’t finish your course, you must still go to download to hand in your brikke – this is the only method we have of knowing that you’re back safe and sound and we don’t need to call out International Rescue.
Here’s another article courtesy of the OS explaining the basics if all that above isn’t enough words – best way to explain is to come along to one of our events and we’ll show you.
What should I wear?
A pair of trainers or lightweight boots and jogging bottoms or similar will do fine to begin with. You might also want to bring a light cagoule if it looks like rain and something to change into afterwards as it can be a bit muddy at any time of year.
Do I need to know how to use a map and compass?
A rough idea of what North is all about should be more than enough. Although we use compasses, we don’t take bearings the same way as hillwalkers do – rather we use the compass to make sure that the map is orientated correctly relative to North as there are special lines on an orienteering map that represent magnetic North. Ask for a lesson on how to do this when you register or have a look at this online guide to using a compass.
Who can take part?
Pretty well anybody can take part in normal orienteering events – there is usually a short course of 1km or so on main paths aimed at kids plus a series of courses getting progressively longer and more technical. We have a couple of ladies who manage to get round quite rough stuff with the aid of sticks and although not as fast as they used to be they still enjoy the navigational challenge. There is a special brand of orienteering originally created to allow the physically disabled to compete on an equal basis called Trail-O, but these are specialised events that don’t take place that often.
Is it really competitive?
Yes and No! If you find that you and orienteering click, you can progress to the level where you compete nationally or even internationally. On the other hand, probably 50% of Gramp’s members are more than happy to take part for the simple pleasure of being outdoors and getting a bit of exercise both physically and mentally.
How much does it cost?
Local events typically cost £4 per adult per course, bigger events £12 upwards (unless you join a club in which case you get a discount.)
Entry fees are usually advertised in the event details. If you want to join Gramp then there is a small annual fee – see the joining post – or contact the membership secretary for details.
Is it always the same kind of courses described here?
Generally, yes, but there are other variations on the theme such as Night-O, relays or Score events where you have a time limit in which to find as many controls as you can in any order you like. There are long distance events in moorland/mountain terrain, mountain bike O, park races and street events . For the summer series, Gramp members get really creative and put on all kinds of inventive courses to try and give a simple area a bit more of a challenge for experienced orienteers.
Can I practise anywhere else apart from the organised events?
There are several Permanent Orienteering Courses (POCs) in the Gramp area and also some up the Deeside valley which are looked after by another club, Maroc. And Bennachie FC visitor centre can supply you with maps for the semi-permanent courses always available there, details on the POCs page.
Where can I look up all these new terms and abbreviations I keep coming across?
Try the most excellent Jargon Buster courtesy of SOA – sorry that’s jargonese for Scottish Orienteering Association – and Fixture List De-Bunker.
Prompted by a good bit of feedback from a beginner regarding the lack of a legend on the Tyrebagger map (sorry about that) here is a useful link to a page explaining map symbols and control descriptions side-by-side put together by Brsitol Orienteering Klub.
(NB these are for forest maps. There is a different set for urban maps which I’ll post in the autumn for our Urban Sprints Series.)
TIP There’s a lot to take in on that page so concentrate on the basics…
Map symbols – concentrate on the linear features first:
– streams, ditches
– fences and walls
Once you get more confident and start to go “off piste”:
– start to read the contours (ask at Registration for a quick lesson if you find this hard at first)
– use the vegetation information to avoid the thickest trees and bracken and boggiest marshy bits
Control descriptions – concentrate on the symbols described as being in Column D:
– paths, tracks
– streams, ditches
– fences, walls
And the symbols in Column F:
Got those sussed? Good. Now add the symbols for the following to your control symbol vocabulary as these are often used on easier courses where they pop up next to linear features:
– depression (small hole in the ground)
– knoll (very small hill)
Worry about the rest later when you get onto the medium/harder courses – looks like loads when you look at that BOK page but you’ll only need about a quarter of what’s shown. And if you don’t recognise a control description just ask at Registration or go on a mystery tour and see what you find when you get there!
Next time you are, point the enquirer in the direction of this dynamic piece written by Mike Rogers. Evocative stuff, eh? Could you use it somehow at work or with other circles of friends and acquaintances to entice others to come and try orienteering sometime sooner rather than later?
Do you have any other ideas to get the idea across? Something a bit more dynamic and engaging than the rather static descriptions of the technicalities we normally tend to use?
Sam and Jess would love to hear them so don’t be shy and share your inspiration next time you see them.