2nd Report - from Sarah Clough
Night orienteering: this sounded like an exciting concept. A friend of mine who orienteers in Yorkshire has been night orienteering a few times, but they were urban events. This was in Haldon Forest, not somewhere I have ever explored, but it certainly sounded pretty hardcore by comparison.
To make matters more interesting, I had been suffering from vertigo for 5 days which was a problem with driving at night let alone running, but (with the doctor's approval) I wasn't going to let it stop me - I made sure the staff were aware of my condition, filled out my entry and started off. The first couple of controls were straightforward enough, although that's not to say I found my way perfectly, I was still getting my head into the setting, not being able to draw on a familiarity of the area. To get to control 3 I followed a track marked on the map which was actually a narrow, winding mountain bike track deep in the wood, which was quite novel. I found the control pretty easily, in a stream ditch down to the left, then rushed off to the next one. Control 4 was a whole different kettle of fish. I got to the track nearby, expecting to cross it and dive straight through the woodland to the control, as the terrain was marked as walkable woodland. It was only crouchable though, with pine branches sticking in my face, not something that was feasible to move through for more than a few metres. I tried running up the track to where there was supposed to be a break along a ruined earth wall, but in my limited-light view didn't look any different to the terrain I'd already looked at, so I wasn't inclined to try and follow it, especially not being on my own Instead I ran down the track to a indistinct stream marked on the map and followed this - there was actually a vague path along it, which helped. I counted steps for a set distance, then broke off north expecting a change in foresty type - there was, bingo! Then sure enough there was a second stream a little way on, but alas no control. I hadn't seen anyone for ages, but I saw a few lights appear in the distance, then vanish again, perhaps I'd imagined them - the night can do that to you. I checked the various extents of the stream and ditches for a while longer, but couldn't find the control. I was starting to wonder whether I'd be stuck in the woods until the course closed, going slowly more mad - this is where it started to get real! Looking at the map again I suddenly twigged that I'd overshot - just past the control there were a whole series of parallel irrigation ditches cut into the woodland and this is where I was. I haven't been deep in that kind of terrain before. I backtracked a little to near where I had seen the lights and more by luck than judgement I spotted the control in the gloom ahead of me - thank god! My split for that control was 20:45, as opposed to 4:13 for first place, and my next longest split was 14:23.
There was no one way out of the woods better than another, so I took a bearing through the lines of trees straight to the track near control 5. I realised I was struggling a little with my torch - it's a bright torch (Petzl Nao+) and was on its highest setting but still didn't seem to be illuminating much ground ahead of me. I would just have to accept that and do the best I could with it though. It didn't seem to be disturbing the wildlife much - there were owls hooting around me. There were quite a few woodland rodents too, I definitely saw at least three. One was a small mouse, the other was a larger, sleek creature with a white belly that bounded over some tree roots. The third was a mouse that couldn't find a hole to disappear down so I followed it for a little bit for fun, watching it in curiousity. I saw a lot more movement out of the corner of my eyes, but I think that was the night playing tricks on me.
The controls started to get more straight forward again after number 5, there was just the issue of spotting the actual control when in the right area, I got lucky with some (6, 7 and 9) but not with others (8). I started to see a few more people after this, at long last. I yo-yoed with a chap who was on the jade and still getting used to the map scale. I also passed a family or 4 of 5 who said I was brave being on my own, for once I was inclined to agree! As well as the owls there were other birds screeching overhead, and the wind was howling through the pines as well. I came round corner on a large track to a loud, eerie crackling noise and looking ahead I could just see the outline of a pilon in the gloom. I couldn't see which way the wires went, but I could head them spitting immediately above me as I ran along.
It was all slightly terrifying. Terrifying because of the dark and the unusual and amplified noises. Terrifying due to being along. Terrifying due to the vertigo... I had been swimming earlier in the day and my symptoms had completely eased so I had hoped the same would be true when running but no such luck. But somehow the whole didn't add up to more than the sum of its parts, I actually felt in control of all those aspects, and therefore I wasn't scared, I was excited. In actual fact I loved it. How much do we do in life that really challenges us? We compete against others in events but aren't really testing our abilities against ourselves. I was doing that here, and it felt right.
Having said that, the vertigo combined with an extended period of concentrating was making me confused. Control 10 should have been super easy, but leaving the main path I mis-counted my steps and got some easy map symbols mixed up so I ran in a whole circle before seeing it right in front of me, exactly where I imagined it.
After the last control I suddenly broke out back into civilisation and there were paths and roads and car parks everywhere and I suddently had no idea where I was on the map and I couldn't find the finish control, my brain had given up. I ran to the tent and thankfully they were kind and sent me back in the correct direction. It was 19:38, 8 minutes after course closure even though I'd started early. I had no idea that much time had passed, the last time I looked at my watch it was 18:30. The results say I came last. I'm not surprised, I had some issues to overcome! But I didn't enter to compete for a place. The personal challenge was much more satisfying.
Many thanks Sarah -pleased you enjoyed it! And as we have added your report to the club's webpage, you are entitled to a free run at your next event.
NB. The photograph is from a previous event.
Our next event is at Hound Tor on 9th February. Details here: Events
Click the image for a larger version.