Orienteering, the Champion Sport for Families

I have recently found the perfect way to get children outside for a spot of exercise. Orienteering seems to have the magic formula to keep my young boys sufficiently entertained while getting a long walk in.

My two sons out and about Orienteering in Tollymore Forest in Co. Down, with their Tollymore Orienteers proudly on.

We usually go on the yellow course, which is a two to three kilometre loop. Along the way, there are around ten controls marked by red and white flags, which the boys affectionately know as ‘beeps’. I’ll read the map, and direct them along the trails, while they get exceedingly excited when they see the control in sight. When they arrive at the flag, they put their hired dibbers into the box, which gives them that satisfactory beeping sound they want. The hunt for the flags helps distract them from the forty-minute walk they embark on.

Eldest son doing a bit of mountainside orienteering on Meelbeg in the Mournes.

Last year, we had the good fortune to have a new orienteering club operating for the summer months. Tollymore Orienteers is a satellite club for the Belfast-based Lagan Valley Orienteers (LVO). Under their guidance, Tollymore Orienteers run weekly courses suitable for beginners at 6.30 pm in Tollymore Forest during the summer months. It gave many of us confidence then to join in with other Irish Orienteering events. We’ve orienteered, as a result, as far south as Waterford while on a weekend break.

Eldest son map reading and navigating through a forest of Foxgloves.

Orienteering has also helped us go on our first camping trip. LVO every year organises a weekend away in Tollymore Forest, with a sprint course on Friday, a Northern Ireland colour series event on Saturday, and a score event on Sunday. We brought the whole family along, camping with the other fifty or so other orienteers while indulging in a BBQ and campfire sit-around after our events.

Night Orienteering with the youngest son before the LVO Christmas dinner.

The social aspect is probably one of the greatest draw to orienteering. LVO also organises a Christmas dinner, which typically involves a bit of night orienteering before tucking into food and drinks. The highlight for the kids was, of course, wearing torches on their heads.

Sometimes the Orienteering gets a bit much, and youngest son needs a bit of a lift.

Recently, it has occurred to me how much time and commitment goes into organises such orienteering events. Tollymore Orienteers recently held a planners training session to teach four of us how to plan courses using Condes software. It was brilliant to finally break down the courses and realise the exact type of skill each course tests. It also made me understand the amount of energy goes into planning a course on a desktop and the time taken to go out on to the ground to check and tag control sites.

As they kids get older, I hope they’ll be finding the controls on their own.

So if you’re looking for a family-friendly way of getting some exercise in, orienteering could indeed be the sport that you’ve been searching for. Tollymore Orienteers will continue running sessions for the month of July, but check out Northern Ireland Orienteering or the Irish Orienteering Association for other events near you.

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