Where shouting “pancakes” in the middle of dense woodland is the only sensible course of action…
By Katie Garner
Traipsing through Epping Forest at 8.50pm on a brisk November evening may not be everyone’s idea of a Saturday night out, however venturing forth, LED torches in hand, is definitely just as fun as donning the glad rags if not more so. This year saw the Epping Forest Outdoor Group host their 57th Roding Rally, which is an annual all night orienteering / map reading competition that takes place across all the paths, tracks and forest scrub of Epping Forest.
With about 90 teams taking place in this year’s event, the forest was set to be packed with hikers of all ages and abilities, decked out in winter wear and waterproofs. This would include the two teams from Wychelm. The Badminton Brigade was headed up by experienced navigator Mike Fleming who lead myself, my fiancé Dan and my sister Jess through the pesky holly laden woodland. Our second team, The MAN Team, was under the dictatorship of hidden orienteering weapon Nick Lyne who frogmarched Martin and pal Andy around the forest. Meeting at a nearby pub for a friendly drink, I have never felt more out of place bundled up in woolly layers standing next to girls in body con dresses and skyscraper heels.
The aim of the game is to find checkpoints in the forest. Sound a simple principle, but believe me, it’s not. Firstly you have to choose whether to do the 12 mile, 10 checkpoint course or the 6 mile, 5 checkpoint course. We opted for the 5 checkpoint course for the main reason that you only have an 8 hour time limit to find all of the checkpoints. To locate the checkpoints, you are given a page of clues, with three sets of co-ordinates for each clue. Using the clue and your handy map, you have to then work out which of the three locations is the answer to the clue, and therefore where you will find the checkpoint. An example would be “Perhaps we should make this checkpoint a habit” and the corresponding location had “nun” in the name. Another clue read “Look for the designer beards” and the matching location had “stubble” in the title.
You have to go to the checkpoints in order so you can’t do all the ones near each other first, meaning that there is a lot of ground to cover between each checkpoint! The final checkpoint is the High Beach Village Hall, where you stumble gratefully into a buffet-clad room and provided with steaming cups of tea or coffee as you scoff your weight in sugar. There is a refreshment stand in the middle of the forest at the halfway point, where you can treat yourself to a hot beverage and a chocolate bar if you so wish. As I was munching happily on my Twix, one of the volunteers in a Halloween mask decided to sneak up on me, placing his hand on my shoulder. Thank goodness for Dan’s subtle warning that something was behind me otherwise I doubt Epping Forest would had survived my fit of shocked screaming!
What makes your mission of finding the checkpoints even more difficult, is the actual checkpoints themselves. They are small, dark green tents that sit low in the scrub. The one lit tent had a small candle inside which emitted such a faint glow it wasn’t much good to man nor beast. The rest of the checkpoints where all unlit, which meant you had nothing to guide you to it except your own vision and guesswork. As you get near the checkpoints, you occasionally stumble across other teams, which could have between 2 or 4 people in them, so you then have to bring on the sneaky to not let on that you know where the checkpoint is. Mike came up with an ingenious method of disguise when he randomly shouted “pancake!” Being such an in tune and capable team, we instantly knew that Mike had found the checkpoint, and we sent Jess in with our team card so that the volunteer within the tent could mark down our time. All of the times for each team were recorded, as at the end of the day, this is a competition, and there are plenty of trophies up for grabs each year.
So, you’re probably wondering how we all fared in our mini muddy adventures. With Mike and Dan expertly lasering routes through the forest using their maps and man instincts, Jess and I did the more intelligent stuff like stamping on nettles and…yeah, stamping on nettles. We set off at 8.50pm while The MAN Team left the start line soon after at 8.56pm. We arrived at the finish 4 hours and 18 minutes later at 1.08am, although the long-legged boys had beaten us back as they completed the course in 3 hours and 41 minutes to reach the end at 12.39am. Martin and Andy looked a tad brow beaten by secret competitive spirit Nick but on the whole, we all had a fantastic night. It’s such an unusual and unique event, I really would recommend it to everyone and I sincerely hope that more teams from Wychelm take part next year. Getting stuck in mud, whacked by branches and blinded by LED torches is much more exciting than you would imagine. Trekking through the forest overnight is a whole heap of fun and I’m so thankful for Mr Mike for suggesting it and arranging it for the past 2 years. Sign me up for next year!