This year the British Orienteering Long Distance Championships were held on the Queen’s private estate at Balmoral. Not a dash around her ornamented gardens of course, but let loose on her private hills and woodlands of Royal Deeside – a terrain many will be familiar with from the Scottish 6 days. Sadly I didn’t attend the Scottish, nor have I taken part in any BOC Long’s before, so this was a bit of a treat. However I am not wholly unfamiliar with Scottish mountains, having spent a large part of my University life ‘compleating’ the Munros. Lyra, on the other hand, had high aspirations of doing well as a first year W12. I just wanted to get around, without making too many mistakes. Sadly her Majesty had other engagements, in the form of a royal wedding.
On the morning of the BOC, Lyra was up and dressed with sandwiches made by 0730 so we were on site at Balmoral long before any club tents were erected. We took a sneaky view of the castle in all its baronial splendour. Pre-BOC technical training alerted us to the existence of three main hills, all adorned with delightful memorial cairns. It was clear that the junior courses would tackle the eastern hill, so I made sure Lyra had memorised the landscape by making a simplified sketch map with contours, linear features, paths, and she had done her research on where she could cut corners, and could recognise all the key features. I knew that the western cliffs would come into play for me and the existence of a heather covered passageway between the crags. The multitude of boulders though appeared baffling, and the lack of decent attack points, and a complete dearth of linear features in some quarters made me wary.
The weather on the day was simply stunning. In all my time in Scotland, I know that such fine weather is a rarity, and the apparent absence of midges [I say apparent as I got bitten to shreds, and had 5 tick bites at the end] was a bonus. The red start was located some 2km+ to the west, past the Queen’s irascible ponies, and up the steepening heather on to a path. The atmosphere was good, and the scent of the heather and pine filled the warm air. The BBC were filming, interviewing runners, drones buzzed overhead, and we were told to expect video cameras throughout. We were also alerted to the expert planners, so I expected a tough challenge from the start.
My first 4 controls focussed on the western hill, Canup. Control 1 was probably the hardest one. It required a choice of either heading up under the crags to find the heather passage, and then using that to find the re-entrant leading eastward to a boulder [of which there were many], or a slightly different approach of traversing and hoping to pick up the defined vegetation boundary with several glades [near ~5], before heading over the main ENE spur to locate the boulder. I took the second route, and overshot, with the quarry acting as my catching feature to return back north. I initially planned to follow the crags, but they were out of sight, and I didn’t fancy early unnecessary climb for the sake of it. This was a weak leg for me, but I located the boulder without too much delay. Incidentally the M40L winner did exactly what I did, and also overshot. I am not sure how I would approach this again, except to better locate the re-entrant with the glade to the west of the control.
Control 2 was either up and over, or around. The fact that my previous control proved that I was no expert on contouring and pacing, I decided I fancied the climb, and quickly located the heather band through the crags. From there the fence acted as a catching feature, and provided my bearing was accurate, I picked up the vegetation boundary and located the boulder.
3 and 4 proved no real problem. I opted for following the southward ride until the bend, and then on a bearing checked off the spur to find 3 and returning a similar way to 4.
I didn’t fancy climbing back over the hill for 5 so descended to the path, picked up the aforementioned quarry and via a bearing to 1, again located the glades that I had visited, with the control in a cluster of boulders. 6 was on a straight bearing, but messed up 7 heading too far to the north, which was sloppy, although cost little time.
At 8 I met the cameraman, so made sure I kept running, used my SIAC expertly and moved on, just for the camera, as I never do that normally. When out of sight, I stopped and caught my breath, then planned the longest leg to 9, with more photos taken on the bridge.
I simply hate path running, and especially tedious forest tracks that ascend gradually, but this was no time for a meandering fell walk over the tops. I put my head down and trudged along to the path junction just south of 15. Here we met all the juniors, and I began to think about Lyra. I stopped to help a girl as I descended the path over the broken wall, and used the boulder at the western edge of the green compartment to guide me to 9, which I missed. I ended up at a different control, overlooking the blue start. By this time I was feeling a bit jaded, and took it easy through 10 and 11, passed a statue of John Brown [which I stopped and read]. Thought briefly of Billy Connolly sneering at the wimpy English runner, and readied myself for the final circuit of the eastern hill, Craig Gowan.
My attack point for 12 was Prince Leopold’s cairn on a crag overlooking the castle; my first sound of the finish line and the commentator. It was really hot, and I was trying to keep up with the toddlers on their white course. For a brief moment I collapsed on my knees among the carpet of wood sorrel, before descending through the light green to the spur at 12, which came surprisingly easily. 13 was all contouring and compass work via the path junction and using the linear glade/ride to guide me in.
14 was to ascend via the col, and down the moss covered boulder field and through the first real boggy section. I took on some bog water which was delicious, and convinced myself that as it was the same colour as Lagavulin, it would be very drinkable – it was. The route to 15 perhaps could have been better, along the path and up the re-entrants, but I knew full well where the cliff to the SE by the path was near 15, as I had been there before. So I trudged around again by the track. From here on it was all largely downhill, but I couldn’t switch off. I overshot 16 and followed the spur to its terminus at the path and had to re-trace, but then took the direct route through light green to 17, and down the ditch to 18. 19 was sneaky, making you think to the end, and then bounded into the finish delighted with my run, and having completed.
I am not as fit as others, but I am a lot fitter than I was, and struggle in the heat. I made no serious navigational errors, but still need to work on traversing up and down a slope to find a boulder, and the short legs that require careful pacing. I wasn’t in the top 10, but even our SW champs came 5th, so I was pretty satisfied. Of course Lyra bounding up to me at the finish, and then finding she had won Silver, was the highlight of my day. However the freedom of the Scottish woodlands, the scent of the heather, the revellery of the competitors and the chance to traverse the moss covered wood sorrel uncrusted boulders of the Queen’s back garden, will be what persists in my memory. Well worth the effort of travelling north of the border.