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BOK Urban Series

By Graham Hartley

Graham, Portishead (Bristol Urban Series)

Graham, Portishead (Bristol Urban Series)
Credit: Steve Rush

Last edited: Tue 31 Jul 2012

Graham, who continues to do well at the urban form of the sport, describes how he got hooked on orienteering through street, campus and parkland during a recent annual summer series run by our neighbours Bristol OK...

Graham H

Graham H

Last year, I did the first BOK urban event, but the next day met with a very unfortunate accident involving a garden implement and a very thin soled pair of trainers… so I didn’t run again for a few weeks.

This summer I was determined to make the most it and cleared my Wednesday evenings for the next few weeks. I discovered that it was just possible to get from work, leaving at 6pm, to be in Bristol by 7 to start an event.

And what an escapism it was! I normally associate orienteering with windy autumn Sunday mornings on the Quantocks. Running in an urban event is completely different. I think that I appreciated more the utter absorption of running on a weekday evening, when it is normally harder to distance oneself from the day’s events after a day at work than at the weekend.

So to the events themselves – there were eight in all of which I competed in seven. The first two were classic urban terrain – Bath University and The University of the West of England - campus locations where there were 30 closely distributed controls. My times for both were just over 30 minutes so obviously many controls were less than a minute from the previous one. The skills needed are of course route planning – but in urban conditions this means avoiding dead ends and doing a bit of Pythagoras in your head to calculate the shortest distance.

University of the West of England

University of the West of England
Credit: Routegadget

At this point I should mention that my age, or at least the condition of my eyes, has put me on the cusp of needing to have a change of prescription. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to switch from detailed map focus to long distance viewing. For these events, it was essential to be able to spot the tiny gap between buildings, or the staircase down to the next level, or the un-crossable wall/fence. Mostly it was okay, but often later in the evening reviewing the map at home with a beer, at close range, with my glasses off, the optimum route became far more obvious. There was also the significant matter of the weather – this was the rather cold and wet spell in late April, and reading through rainy spectacles is never easy.

University of Bristol(?)

University of Bristol(?)
Credit: Routegadget

I missed the third event – sadly the closest to home in Wrington, but the next was back to North Bristol to Bradley Stoke. This was longer and more of a mixture of urban (housing estates and crossing minor roads) and parkland, so there was the odd control in the woods. There was also more of a shape to the landscape, unlikely the previous ones which were effectively flat.

The fifth was undoubtedly my favourite – back to the centre of Bristol and a run round the university area. As a Bristol graduate, I was really looking forward to this one. I have lived in the area ever since, but I’ve never really spent much time in that precise area. Running past my old lecture theatres, past where I graduated, ticking off the all the pubs I used to go to (I counted seven) and finishing past the Maths block and into Royal Fort gardens where my graduation ceremony was held. I think there were one or two areas of local knowledge to my advantage but not a great deal.

One part of the run covered a dense housing estate, with very few roads and I had a brief panic as I had just lost my place on the map forgetting where I was and running off in the wrong direction. I managed to relocate. This was a real highs and lows day. My map reading badly let me down at one point where I failed to spot a short cut down an alley way and through a narrow gap and I ran right round the block. I wasn’t the only one.

But I was considerably cheered up later when three of us were running together – a BOK runner, who was slightly older than me and clearly a good runner, and a much younger student runner. Half way up a steep bit of hill, I heard a gasp and long out-breath. The youngster wasn’t fit enough, and we left him behind, not to be seen again until the finish – most satisfying!

One of the impressive facts about the events was how many younger competitors were attracted to the competitions – M21s and W21s with a student discount. Of course there were lots of students at the student events. I usually finished half way up the field, but to cheer my self up I count the number of people older than me who beat me. I am pleased to say there weren’t too many.

Graham H

Graham H

Frenchay- the cross-river control on Blue

Frenchay- the cross-river control on Blue
Credit: Routegadget

The sixth and seventh events were both in areas of Bristol that I was completely unfamiliar with. They were also within a few days of each other, and in very hot conditions as the weather had completely switched by the time. St Georges and Troopers Hill turned out to have the most delightful parks and green spaces and I thought this course was particularly well designed. There were lovely runs along river banks, through allotments, up to the top of a hill with magnificent views and back through some streets with interesting back alleys and narrow paths. At least at this stage of the series, my fitness was getting better as the temperature was still high teens even around 8pm.

I was hopeful of a decent result in the final event at Frenchay which was part of a regional urban series, since I felt I had been improving. The day was glorious, blue skies and a blazing sun, and even starting at 10 am it was already warm. There was a warning on the website to wear protective clothing, but I was envious of those who hadn’t read it, since I would happily have exchanged the odd sting and scratch for the chance to run in shorts.

I started well with a few close controls in the grounds of Frenchay Hospital. But I made a bad decision on the longest leg of the course, failing to spot a side exit from the hospital grounds and taking a longer route to get round. By the time I had got to the next control, I had been overtaken or at least caught up by several other runners. I was moving well though, but the course itself didn’t to have much in the way of route choices (not after my earlier mistake anyway).

We were taken down to the river for one control and you could almost see the next control on the opposite bank, but we had been told clearly not to cross the river and had to take the obvious long detour. Some rural running took us back to an urban section, across more fields and finally into the grounds of the hospital again. This turned out to be fiendishly tricky as it was easy to mistake different buildings for each other – some were Nissen huts, other pre-fab buildings (the ones we used to call “terrapins” when I was at school) and some modern hospital buildings.

Frenchay Hospital on the Blue course

Frenchay Hospital on the Blue course
Credit: Routegadget

Maybe I was getting tired by this time, but I always seemed to be going the wrong way round every single structure. My time for that one was an hour and 9 minutes (half way up the field again), but it was easily the 19 longest course. It was 4.5 km on the map, but the optimum route was advertised as well over 10km.

So how do I feel about urban events? Well I was interested before, but I’m hooked now. It’s a long way to get to Bristol for most QO members for a Wednesday evening. It was quite a way even for me from Cheddar. But it is worth the drive if you can get there.

What did I learn? It’s worth taking a few extra seconds over route planning the longer legs of the course, as it can save a lot more in time and energy (yes but you knew that already, as it applies to any orienteering really). Look for the shortcuts. And not to beat myself up too much when I review my dodgy route planning later.

Am I going to need bifocals for next season? Almost certainly! My vanity is winning at the moment, but it’s sure to be overcome by cold logic sooner or later. The strategy of looking under my glasses isn’t going to work forever.

I am very grateful to BOK for running the events, for creating a number of new maps just for this series and for providing me with some excellent entertainment and distractions every Wednesday evening since Easter. The organisers were very understanding when I pulled up at 6:59 with 7:00 as the last start.

—Graham Hartley

taken from the QuOnicle 145, September 2012

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