Orienteering for families

A teacher at secondary school introduced me to orienteering, a sport which combines cross country running with navigation skills.  In the intervening years I’ve dabbled with it a few times, but have never been seriously involved with the sport. However, after taking part in a “Try Orienteering” event recently I’ve remembered just how much I enjoyed it all those years ago!  It’s a great way to get outdoors, and as there are courses available for all abilities it’s a sport the whole family can take part in.

Courses are often set in woodland areas, although you’ll also find them in parks and around towns. My event, organised by Thames Valley Orienteering Club, took part at a location used for outdoor laser quest so there were some interesting additions to the usual woodland scenery, namely helicopters, rockets and old jeeps!

A rather unusual control!
A rather unusual control!

Orienteering courses can be permanent or temporary for one-off events. Either way, the aim is to navigate your way around a set of controls marked on a map in the quickest time possible. Controls are marked with orange and white flags or wooden posts on permanent courses. You record you’ve found each one by either clicking with an electronic timing chip (dibber) or writing down the letters on the posts.

Checking in at a control
Checking in at a control

Upon arrival at the orienteering event you need to register and choose which course to complete. You’ll receive a pre-printed map for the course you’ve chosen and a list of control descriptions. The courses are colour coded to indicate difficulty, ranging from white (easiest) through to brown (challenging and long). For a beginner family group I’d suggest starting with a yellow course; these are usually up to 2 km long and the controls are located in obvious locations along tracks.  At beginner events you’ll find plenty of club volunteers to help you choose a course and decode the map.

Orienteering map, compass and dibber
Orienteering map, compass and dibber

As you’ll see from the picture above, the map looks nothing like an OS map as the scale, colouring and symbols are all different. Most walking OS maps are 1:25000, orienteering maps are much more detailed and have a scale of 1:5000 or 1:10000. If you’re used to walking maps this can mean you sometimes travel much further than you need to, at least until you get used to them.

The colours indicate how easy or hard the terrain is to cross – yellow and white are easy but avoid dark green areas unless you fancy fighting with dense vegetation! The map symbols are more detailed than usual with, for example, icons to represent pits, tree trunks and telegraph poles.

Orienteering control
Orienteering control

You should visit the controls in the correct order. The control descriptions on the map give you an extra clue to help you find them, for example “north side of path”. Before clicking your dibber on the control double check that the numbers or letters match those on your map. If you register at the wrong control you’ll be disqualified!

At the finish it’s important to check in at the final control, and then hand back your dibber. You’ll usually be given a print out of your results and can check your placing on the relevant club website later in the day.

The finish post
The finish post

So how was my course? I had a great time completing it, although couldn’t find one of the early controls which was rather annoying. Even more so when I eventually located it and realised I must have been near enough standing next to it about 10 minutes previously. I also realised how tricky it can be running whilst negotiating fallen branches, brambles and muddy spots. I was very glad I’d worn old clothes!

 More info

  • To learn more about orienteering visit the British Orienteering website.
  • There are orienteering clubs all over the UK. The event I attended was run by TVOC, details of their further events can be found here.
  • Permanent orienteering courses are usually administered by the local orienteering club. Maps can usually be obtained from the club, visitor centres or sometimes downloaded off the internet. A list of courses can be found on the British Orienteering website linked above.

Cost

  • Fees vary between events. I paid £5 for the entry above, children were £2. This covers the purchase of the map and rental of the dibber.
  • You don’t need any special gear to take part, just old trainers and long sleeved clothes. Once you progress onto the harder courses you’ll need to buy a decent compass, these cost around £20.
Share this:

High wire adventures at TreeRunners, Andover

I was browsing Trip Advisor for something to do at the weekend and came across TreeRunners, which offers courses similar to Go Ape. I was pleased to find they were suitable for 6+ years (subject to a height restriction), and as they’re based in Andover, Hampshire only an hours drive from home.

Ten minutes later and I’d booked us onto the TreeRunners Junior Adventure for the following day. This course is aimed at the under 10’s, although older children and adults are welcome as well.

Next morning found us driving along a dusty farm track which eventually took us into Harewood Forest. It’s certainly not a place you’d just stumble upon. We parked and then went through the registration process, signing away all liability. It also involved confirming that our children weren’t pregnant!

The session started with a short safety briefing and then we were shown how to put on our harnesses. TreeRunners use a special clip on system so once you’re clipped in at the start you don’t need to keep re-attaching yourself as you do at Go Ape.  I was rather glad of this as it meant I didn’t need to keep checking the kids were safely secured.

Clipped on and ready to go
Clipped on and ready to go

We started with the white course, which is the easiest one, at around 3 metres off the ground. Youngest son has always been pretty fearless so I was rather surprised when he decided he couldn’t do the first obstacle. Older sister had whizzed across the balancing logs without a thought but it took a lot of encouragement to get my son over.

Eyeing up the next obstacle
Eyeing up the next obstacle

Once past the balancing logs he picked up confidence and the next couple of obstacles were very straightforward.  We reached the first zip wire and again there were a few wobbles about launching from the safety of the platform (ah, OK that was just me).  After you jump though you realise that you just have to trust your harness and go for it!

End of the zip wire
End of the zip wire

There is another zip wire at the end of the white course, and by the time we reached this we jumped off without hesitation. I think the smiling face in the photo says it all!

The start of the yellow course at TreeRunners
The start of the yellow course at TreeRunners

We moved on to the yellow course, which is higher and a little harder.  It starts with a climb up a rope tube and moves onto a rather tricky zigzag plank walk.   I could feel my legs trembling on this one, so was glad to get to the other side.  It was much harder than the photo below suggests!

Zigzags at TreeRunners, harder than they look!
Zigzags at TreeRunners, harder than they look!

The zigzags were followed by a  rope net and balancing wire obstacles.

Rope net at TreeRunners
Rope net at TreeRunners

The kids both enjoyed the rope swing, where you have to sit on the rope and swing over to the wooden platform opposite.  We did somehow manage to get a bit caught up in the ropes and wires though, which took a little sorting out.

We managed to go round the courses a couple more times before our time was up. Due to safety restrictions, we did find there were a few bottlenecks whilst we waited for those in front to complete obstacles but nothing too major.

The courses for 10+ looked exciting with levels ranging from green, red and blue to the extreme black. These were much higher, and with some rather unique obstacles, including a bicycle and a snowboard. I’d loved to have gone on the zip wires, but I think I’d have been pretty scared on the black run.

So, what’s my verdict?  The kids had a great time and after a few initial nerves found that they could step out into the unknown and survive! The white and yellow courses are very much designed for children, and as an adult I found the supporting wires were at the wrong height which meant I had to rearrange myself on some of the platforms.  Whilst TreeRunners state that adults don’t need to go on with the children, I do think the younger ones need a parent on hand to help the first time if necessary.

Kids view:

It was brilliant, I recommend it to everyone.  The zip wire was best because it was fast.

More info:

  • The toilet facilities are very basic, in part of an old paintball course. Whilst the rest of the site has had a lot of money spent on it can I just say that leaking toilets and slugs on toilet seats do not create a good impression!
  • The kiosk sells drinks and some snacks. You can also bring your own picnic.
  • Further details at www.treerunners.com

Costs:

  •  The Junior Adventure costs £15 for 1.5 hours.  Older children (10+) pay £20 and adults £25 for the harder courses, although this is for 2.5 hours.
Share this:

Top tips for walking with kids

Before children we used to spend much of our free time walking. We were members of a local club, and every month we’d head to the mountains, exploring Snowdonia or the Lake District. We knew things would change when the kids came along but naively assumed that after a few years they’d be accompanying us on our trips.

boots

How little we knew! As our children have grown, they’ve developed their own likes and dislikes. Walking has never featured strongly on the ‘like’ list, but as I’m keen for the children get out and enjoy the countryside, we’ve worked out ways to keep the whole family happy. Our top tips for walking with children are below, if you have any other suggestions please do leave a comment.

1. Food works wonders

Pack a picnic, take plenty of water and snacks and finish your walk at a tea room. This last suggestion is for my benefit, rather than the kids, but everyone deserves a slice of cake after a walk!

2. Choose child friendly routes

Woods and streams offer paddling, tree climbing, den building, log balancing and stick collecting fun. Long treks through featureless fields or along the edge of main roads should be avoided.

3. Incorporate a challenge

Try geocaching, practise map reading skills or have a race up a hill. Any distraction away from the act of walking works well for us.

4. Know your limits

You’ll know how far your kids can walk, and how fast (or slow) they’re likely to be. On average, adults walk around 3 miles per hour on flat ground but this will reduce substantially if you’re walking with a toddler! Similarly, if you’re heading out into mountainous or moorland areas ensure you are confident in your map reading and route finding abilities.

5. Take a camera

I always enjoy seeing the photographs my daughter takes. Whereas I’m the one taking classic landscape photos she’ll be snapping away at a bug, or more usually, herself whilst pulling a funny face.

6. Plan an expedition

As the children have got older, we’ve been on a couple of  ‘expeditions’ with them and both times they’ve gained a great sense of achievement. We walked up Snowdon (the highest mountain in Wales) a couple of years ago.

snowdonia
Misty view from Snowdon

Last year we took them to Black Sail Youth Hostel in the Lake District for an overnight visit, made more exciting because it’s only accessible by foot.

7. Escape routes

When planning your walk, work out how you could shorten it if the weather takes a turn for the worse, or it ends up being too difficult or long for the children.

8. Let the kids plan the walk

I can still vividly remember route planning for my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. Whilst our kids aren’t at the stage yet of planning full scale walks, they’re certainly old enough to learn how to use maps, and help with decisions on route choices.

9. Get friendly with nature

Take an I-spy or Usborne nature spotters book with you and see what wildlife you can find. If there are no obvious large animals or birds to identify, look at flowers, mosses or small bugs instead. The Woodland Trust Nature Detectives website is also a fabulous resource with lots of suggestions for activities in the great outdoors.

10.  Get the gear

Plan for the weather and conditions you’ll be walking in. All in one waterproof suits and wellies are great for young children out for a walk in the woods. If you’re taking older kids into more remote areas they’ll need decent waterproofs and walking boots. Remember hats and gloves too!

11. Walk with friends

Your kids will be too busy playing and talking to the other kids to notice that they’re walking as well. As a bonus you’ll also get to spend time with friends.

And lastly…..

12. Don’t mention you’re going for a walk

Just about any other terminology is preferable. If we tell our kids we’re going for a walk they’ll often groan. Tell them you’re going on an adventure instead.

Share this:

Uptonogood 2013

For our review of the 2014 event read here. Otherwise read on to find out what we thought of the 2013 one.

I’m not a fan of heavy rain. After running Reading Half Marathon in atrocious conditions earlier this year I’m firmly of the opinion that my enjoyment of outdoor activities is weather dependent.

When the other half decided to enter a local mountain biking event, Uptonogood, I held off making a decision until the day beforehand so I could check the weather forecast first. Despite very windy conditions there was no rain predicted so I signed up too.

The event was family friendly, with 5 and 12 mile off-road rides alongside 25 and 45 mile routes for adults.  Eldest daughter and other half entered the 12 mile ride with a mid-morning start time. My son had other activities early on so we opted for the 5 mile ride starting at 1.30pm

Fast forward to the morning of the event and the Met Office had sneakily updated their forecast to one showing an 80% chance of heavy rain, hail and thunder at 1pm. Aargh!

On the way to Uptonogood
On the way to Uptonogood

My son and I left at noon to cycle to Upton, where the event was being held. Despite setting off in sunshine there were some ominous clouds in the direction we were heading, and I was glad we’d brought waterproofs.  We arrived in time for a BBQ lunch and homemade cakes, and met up with the other half of the family who’d just finished the 12 miler.

Burger before the start
BBQ lunch

The rain started a few minutes before we set off. It was pretty light to begin with, but soon progressed to a torrential downpour.

Ready for the start
Start of the 5 mile family ride at Uptonogood

The first part of the ride took us out of the village towards the Ridgeway.  After a short road stretch, we soon headed upwards onto the Downs.  I know the area well, and it’s a lovely cycle ride, but the downpour did spoil things a little!  We tried hiding under trees for a few minutes, in the hope that it would pass over, but we’d have been waiting quite a while.

The route was well signposted, and on good tracks.  A short section through a field was incredibly slippy, resulting in a few of the kids parting from their bicycles.  The rain was unrelenting, and all of the riders were soaked through with mud streaks up our backs; we looked like proper mountain bikers!

Still smiling, despite the rain
Still smiling, despite the rain

The last part of the ride was on tarmac, albeit most of this had disappeared under streams.  We cycled through deep puddles as we were already so wet it didn’t seem like it would make a difference.

As we rode down the track back into Upton the rain started to ease and by the time we finished blue sky and sun had reappeared. Still, getting off our bikes was a very uncomfortable experience as we were soaked to the skin and had squelchy shoes. Despite the weather, we had a fun time.  I’d certainly enter again, hopefully on a longer dry ride next year!

More info: http://www.uptonogood.org.uk

Share this: