Rodings Rally, Epping Forest, Saturday 18th

Words and pics contributed by Rachael.

Only four of us from the IOG were keen to do the Rodings Rally night-time orienteering event in Epping Forest this year. Perhaps the reports of the cold, wind and rain from last year’s Storm Angus had put other people off. However, this year it was forecast to be dry and clear, perfect conditions for visibility in the dark.

It was the 61st time this event has been held by the Epping Forest Outdoor Group and the fourth time I have taken part. The full route covers approximately 12 miles and there are 10 checkpoint tents to find within an eight hours time slot. We entered with a team consisting of me, Torben, Pete and Glen with the team name, “We don’t know what to go for!”

One evening before the event we had a training session around Orwell Country Park orienteering course to test out our skills and equipment. This orienteering course is pretty old with posts overgrown with brambles and the map I downloaded was very out of date. It is also very compact but proved to be a convenient place brush up on the skills required; taking bearings, pacing, navigation through undergrowth and team work. This test of equipment was definitely worthwhile as we discovered Torben’s compass was out and Glen’s torch was definitely not ideal. However our new LED shoe laces worked brilliantly!

We set off from Ipswich around 6pm and headed to the Harry Green restaurant at High Beach, which is situated very close to the start point in the middle of Epping Forest. After a very filling meal we were feeling slightly sleepy in the nice warm pub. The cold air soon woke us up though as we headed out to get ready for our start at 9.50. We soon spotted Robin with his team who had a start time of 9.52; this was the first of many encounters over the next few hours.

One of the hardest things for me with this type of thing is to know how many layers I should wear. With freezing cold temperatures especially in the early hours of the morning, it can get very cold when walking around searching, but too many layers when running between points can mean too much overheating and steaming up of glasses.

Having signed in and collected our coordinates it was back to the car for the first few minutes to plot the maps and solve the clues. For each checkpoint you are given three sets of coordinates and a cryptic clue. For example our first clue was “Holy Jet” and the (b) set of coordinates plotted a point next to church plain, so that was where we headed first.

We soon started to warm up as we ran along the road, passing Robin and his team on our way. Our first location was straightforward to find. We took a bearing from the track junctions which led us down to reach a dry stream ditch which we followed to reach the tent after 100m. Our first “Pudsey!” This was our code word for when we found the checkpoint. We decided it wasn’t best to shout out “Found it!” when other teams might overhear. The name came about as I had been Morris dancing dressed up as Pudsey bear all morning for Children in Need.

This find was a real boost to our confidence and we eagerly headed north to rejoin the track and onto number two. Unfortunately somewhere between checkpoint 1 and the track Glen managed to lose his map. We backtracked and had a brief search for it but we decided there were more important things to search for as we had three other maps. As we passed Robin on our way out we asked him to pick up the map if he found it. Although it takes more time to plot the coordinates on multiple maps at the start, it saves time later when people can individually take bearings on their own maps and reduces chance or errors if we can all confirm the same.

Most of the main tracks through the forest are well surfaced so other than for a few muddy patches and steep inclines we were running on these then walking when we headed off into the trees where we had to closely follow the bearings and pace it carefully. We had completed check point three in just over two hours which was a huge improvement on last year. This boosted my confidence that we actually had a chance of being able to complete the course this year which was my main aim.

Check point five proved to be a little more challenging than the others. The trees/shrubs surrounding the checkpoint were densely packed and so keeping to our bearing proved tricky. We wandered around for a bit but ended up reaching the ditch beyond where it should have been so knew we had overshot and had deviated too far south. We decided to retake it from a different reference point further along the stream and after a couple of minutes it was another “Pudsey!”

We almost had a major disaster when Pete suddenly got cramp whilst jumping across a muddy patch on the path. Fortunately he was able to walk slowly for a while and the pain eased off enough to be able to continue. We saw a familiar face again at the half way point tea stop but unfortunately he had not found Glen’s map. We were very glad of refreshments here and the opportunity to change our torch batteries.

Numbers, six, seven and eight were all found relatively quickly and we still had over an hour and a half to find number nine and get to the finish checkpoint. However we were not convinced by the answer to the clue for number nine. We had three possible options here to check out. We eliminated two relatively quickly but the third was in quite dense trees again and it was difficult to keep to our bearing when pacing it out. We tried from the south, then from the north but nothing was found. The grass was now crispy with frost and I was beginning to get cold and hungry. One more try from the south, and we wandered round and round at the destination. We were convinced this one was the right one but found nothing. With half an hour left we reluctantly had to give up and get to the final checkpoint so as not to be penalized for going over our eight hours.

This final run was the toughest part of event. My hands and feet were numb and painful and legs stiff with cold; they just about came back to life as we reached the final checkpoint. The hot cup of tea and cooked breakfast were just what I needed. I really enjoyed it and was pleased to have got our best ever score but disappointment not to have got all ten. We shall have to save that for next year!