Review by Jeff Pakes
Jeff Pakes ran at the first three days of the six-day long festival centred around Aberystwyth, taking in some fine weather and scenery in South Snowdonia...
My twin stars of form and fitness finally aligned late in the season, I needed more O action. It felt like a good time to sample a multi-day orienteering festival for the first time. Thank goodness then that the aptly named Croeso festival, Welsh for ‘welcome’, was also coming into view on its four-yearly trajectory. It's a high quality ‘six-dayer’ hundreds of miles nearer than the usual venues of the Lake District, Scotland and France. I only became aware of Croeso a fortnight or so in advance, luckily hitting on the website. Then with my permission slips at work and home duly returned and signed I was cleared to go!
My first impression of an orienteering festival as a first-timer was one of muted awe. I actually walked to and from the Day 1 event at Gwanas, approaching the event field from the Torrent Walk, nr Dolgellau. In the near distance I caught sight of a large gleaming white metal structure with multi-coloured turrets, seemingly dumped randomly on the side of a beautifully sunlit green Welsh mountainscape. It could have been a space ship to my addled eyes, surreal streak lent to it by sleep deprivation after a lousy night at the campsite (blame noisy neighbours and a 45 degree slope) than the reality. On closer inspection the “alien visitor” to this tranquil landscape was actually two very large white marquees on top of a sloping field of hundreds of cars and dozens of vibrantly coloured club banners. Long banks of portaloos, stalls and burger vans completed the scene.
My pride at having arrived by foot soon faded into sheepishness caused by having to change into my O-gear in an open field containing half the entire orienteering-world (or at least 2000 members of it from 25 nations). Fortunately, I was soon after rescued by familiar faces…thank you, Andy and Rosie, up for the week in their campervan. They kindly let me store my kit in the van and I joined them for sandwiches. Preregistered online to run at specified times, I now had just the formality of picking up my ‘race pack’.
Provided: an A3 colour brochure with event location map, a complimentary slate coaster, a superb photo-O tour of Aberystwyth, a social events programme and numbered athletics-style bibs. But no safety pins? “they’ll be in the grass,” said Rosie, noticing that I’d “opened” my unsealed envelope upside down!
Next, retail therapy. Yes, orienteering traders firmly believe in taking the ‘mountain to Mohammed’. After months waiting for a chance, I got to try on some size 12 Innov-8 shoes after my constantly crushed feet nagged me that I could no longer pretend I was a petit size 11.5. A patient young Norwegian father smiled philosophically as I approved the fit- he had also sought this particular size, the last in the shop. But that summed up the spirit of the festival for me. Friendly and not distressingly competitive.
The terrain? Absolutely great on this and all three days, pretty much like Dartmoor on days 1 and 2 (forest for day 3, my last) and with glorious weather. Navigation was tricky on long legs because everything looked samey (heathland with lots of rocks and crags), but the contours and dried up linear marshes with dark reedy grass were useful to navigate by. My only gripe is I wish had had the legs to run a longer course. The walks to the start had wonderful views to compensate for their length- one hour on Day 2 at Foel Goch for those like me doing the longer courses, though portaloos and water were provided near the start.
Highlight? Both runs on the ‘Dartmoor days’ momentarily had stunning, clear views of sandy estuaries twinkling below on the way down from the 500m plateaus we had climbed up to. First was Barmouth Bay, overlooked by Cadair Idris, at Gwanas, followed by the Dovey at Foel Goch. Each day had a ‘finishing strait’, along which you could either coast in or do a ‘Hollywood’ finish in front of the watching O-world, camped along the sides. I chose the former, until a puffing and panting late middle aged chap loomed into view on the final 100m...
Aberystwyth University, it’s halls of residence and campsite provided official accommodation to 1,000 of the event-goers. Like some others, I based myself in the retro Borth Youth Hostel with its squeaky, slamming fire doors and heavy snorers. I used the festival’s ‘social programme’ to fill my evenings. ‘A Life in the Hills’, a talk by a local farming character whose family had worked the nearby hills for generations, was humorous and very popular and a talk on the geology of the area in which we were running set the scene on Day 1. The folk music was a bit hit and miss. Though it beat listening to metal-detector wielding “Big Dave” and his endless stories of treasure troves and coin values back at the hostel.
After having safely guiding myself through the equivalent of three Blue courses in three days, I felt very pleased and rewarded myself with the slow road back home, passing the full length of the sun-kissed Brecon Beacons. My orienteering summer had been prolonged and ultimately rescued.
- Jeff Pakes
Who went and how did they do?
|Rosie Wych||W50L (as a W55)||33/49|
|Sue Gard||W50L (as a W60)||47/49*|
Judy Craddock ran W65L non-competitively.
Each runner's top four scores counted.
* only ran two times on this course