diamond geezer

 Friday, August 25, 2017

If you're looking for something new to try in the Olympic Park, how about orienteering? That's the sport which combines mapreading with cross-country running, where the aim is to visit several control points around a course but how you navigate between them is up to you.

British Orienteering hosted the British Sprint Championships in the Olympic Park last summer, part of the legacy of which is a permanent set of markers dotted all over the site. Six separate courses have also been established, three in the North Park and three in the South Park, which can be completed on a non-competitive basis.
•• Yellow North and Yellow South are suitable for beginners as an introduction to orienteering, are about a mile in length and should take 15-35 minutes to complete.
•• Orange North and Orange South are suitable for families with young children who are familiar with map reading or have done orienteering before, are a little longer, and should take 25-50 minutes.
•• Red North and Red South are suitable for those who are familiar with map reading or have done orienteering before and are looking for a longer activity, are about 1.5 miles long and should take 35-60 minutes.
I walked Red South, that's how non-competitive I was feeling, and it took just under an hour.

Each course nips round approximately 14 control points, and each course follows a different route. However, many of the control points are common to more than one course, so once you've done one of a set of three, you won't get much fun out of doing the other two. Select your level of difficulty carefully before you begin.

Each control point is a small wooden post with a slanted top and a plaque with an ID number, a QR code and a letter of the alphabet. You know you've found the right post if it has the correct ID number, and you prove you've been to the correct post by writing down the letter. Don't expect the letters to spell out a well known phrase or saying, it's not that kind of puzzle.

Unless you have the right app, the only way to follow the course is to get hold of a map. You can't simply download these, the British Orienteering website insists on taking some personal information before emailing them to you in pdf form. Alternatively, hard copy maps are available from the information point opposite the London Aquatics Centre, on the bridge next to Westfield, which is open daily from 10am - 3pm. Here I picked up all three South maps for free, and decided to try the most difficult of the trio because I'm already familiar with the park's layout.

It's not giving too much away to say that the first post for Red South is by the playground to the north of the squirty fountains. It's in the flowerbed - a lot of these posts are in a flowerbed - and fractionally obscured by vegetation - ditto. A key claim made by British Orienteering is that each course is suitable for people in wheelchairs, and this first post certainly is, which is a nice touch.

The key reason why the Olympic Park is ideal for orienteering soon becomes clear. The park is on several levels, including bridges, raised areas and waterside, whereas the map can only show locations in 2D. The challenge is often to work out whether you need to be up or down, and then to decide the best way of getting between one level and the other. Good map reading skills are also key, specifically matching the symbols and shading to the area around you as you narrow in on the next control.

Two issues.

The course was mapped out in 2015, and the Olympic Park is an ever changing place. The routes have been carefully chosen to avoid the oft-closed podium around the stadium, but for the last two months two of the control points near the Orbit have been out of bounds thanks to World Athletics back-of-house facilities. Only this week has the fencing finally been removed, making the Orange and Red courses possible to complete. Meanwhile a sign on the fence near control point 5 warns that the main route from Fish Island will soon be closing for house-building purposes, and when that happens the challenge may become impossible again.

More disappointingly, one of the control points isn't accessible to people in wheelchairs. Red South 4 is in a planter on a path down to Carpenters Road, but can't be seen from the path, and can't be reached without rumbling over a broad strip of rough vegetation. Perhaps things were different in November 2015 when the course was surveyed, but the (very) poor positioning of one marker instantly wrecks the accessibility of the entire course.

Whatever, these courses are certainly an enjoyable way to become more familiar with the wider backwaters of the Olympic Park, and to keep fit at the same time. If you have children this might be a fun thing to try as a kind of treasure hunt, not necessarily running, maybe as a filler activity in the last week before schools go back. Or you could take up orienteering more seriously, because 'intelligent jogging' is a lot more engaging than repeatedly panting down to the bottom of the street and back.

» Permanent Orienteering Course: QEOP
» British Orienteering
» Orienteering associations in SE England
» London Orienteering Klubb
» Chigwell and Epping Forest Orienteering Club
» South London Orienteers

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