Chiltern Challenge, Great Hampden Woods

Level C

20th May 2018

Organiser's Comments

Perhaps my main mistake (when offered use of the grass car parking field at the top of Kop Hill for the April event) was to accept the offer! The received advice was to avoid bussing if at all possible. In the end, the bussing seemed to work well for the re-arranged event. This was despite one coach struggling with a long first gear haul up the hill behind various cyclists. That bus was replaced almost without my knowing. Thank you to Harris Coachways for their excellent service.

Grateful thanks, also, to Princes Risborough School for providing their excellent parking and Event Centre facilities to use on the day. And, of course, thanks to the two land owners.

Unlike most of you, I felt I got my exercise for the day without actually competing. My decision to tape a walking route back to the school from the top bus stop via the Ridgeway was well-rewarded by the many takers of that option. And at least four people used this route to get up to the event! But, taping the route, and collecting the tape after, required two runs up the hill. The second run was less-enjoyable, despite the sunshine and commanding views!

Many thanks, of course, to TVOC for their help at the event. The club's Team Leader system is so incredibly important. And thanks to all the members of the club who provided their help. I couldn't have done it without you, particularly given that a number of our stalwarts had made the long journey up to Scotland.

And thanks, too, to those of you with metal studs who had to slip your shoes off to travel on the bus. I only became aware of that need very late in the day. I hope my offer of providing extra tape to take with you on the bus alleviated some of the hassle in taking your shoes off and re-tying them.

Finally, thanks to you, who came along to enjoy the event. Great Hampden and Whiteleaf is a very different place to how it was in April, I can assure you!

John Dalton

Planner's Comments

I'd like to take the opportunity to say thanks to Mark Thompson who updated the Great Hampden and Whiteleaf map. The update not only sorting out some issues with the existing map but also including an new 400 meter square block of new wood in the South East corner (Barnes Grove). All this was achieved in the short time between the end of the shooting season and end of March.

The organiser, John Dalton, was always available for assistance with anything that cropped up. Acting as a sounding board for event layout, suggestions and just sorting things out. He has dealt admirably with the postponed event requiring a different assembly site, which then necessitated busses.

It was great to have such an experienced controller as Mike Edwards (RAFO) for the event. He brought a relaxed and supportive presence to the event and highlighted a couple of course items which were quickly resolved. I agree that one of Mike's best orienteering purchases is the motor home. It's very welcome to have an immediate mug of tea after six plus hours in the wood looking at control sites, rather than having to drive home first.

Courses at Great Hampden and Whiteleaf

Great Hampden and Whiteleaf is split into two very contrasting areas as many of you found. To the South of where the start was positioned the area is mainly flat with good runability. Tall beech and fir trees with minimal ground covering, pheasant pens and road. Also to the East is a significant slope with ground coverage though only the Orange and Light Green courses went there.

To the North going from the 150m gap by the start location the ground starts gently rolling, though the ground coverage here is more significant and tougher to get through. This area is Sargents Wood, some of which has been recently felled. Going further North past the Near Finish and last control of the long courses we get to Whiteleaf, which is a significant bowl with many long wide reentrants and big climbs.

Starting location:
Needs walking access accessible by the paths so either Whiteleaf, Sargents wood or the Southern area. While possible to start in Whiteleaf, the White and Yellow courses almost certainly will end up going down the bowl and result in a 50m-75m climb which makes the climb at the 5% limit. The shorter courses will end up contouring around the slopes as opposed to going down through the wood can be very steep. This issue with starting around Sargents wood is that the area is physically tougher and again has a restricted path network for White and Yellow. Starting in the Southern area has the advantage of a flatter area for all the short courses and a reasonable path network for White and Yellow.

A restriction from the land owner needs to be mentioned. Previously we have been able to route competitors around the Eastern side of the bowl field, however this access has been removed. This resulted in the only route between the South and North areas as the 150m wide gap between the Start location and the edge of the bowl field.

The combination of the terrain and 150m gap restriction fixed the general placement of the courses. The shorter courses would occupy the Southern flat area and finish South of the gap. The longer courses would take in some of the Southern area before proceeding through the gap to the more physical Sargents Wood and Whiteleaf. A second finish was introduced in the Northern half so that competitors only transitioned from the South the North in one direction, reducing the numbers traversing the gap.

The downside of the course routing for the longer courses is that the flat section comes first and most of the climb is loaded into the second half.

Looking at the course lengths and climb, they were comparable with other similar events this year such as Ace of Herts at Burnham Beeches (HH) and the Concorde Chase at Star Posts (BKO)

What happened?

Given the circumstances we faced, perhaps Nearly all the courses were a bit too long. I believe the five week postponement caught us out somewhat.

The amount of growth in the wood from being very wet in the early spring combined with the warm weather was quite remarkable. Previously in mid April most of the deciduous trees were still bare. The stinging nettles and ferns were non-existant. The ground coverage was down, especially in Whiteleaf.

Five weeks later and the beech trees had full coverage, the stinging nettles are knee height and the ferns are starting to branch. Some rides have almost disappeared due to the fullness of the greenery.

How have did these changes affected the orienteering ?
- The visibility through the wood for long range sighting has been was reduced.
- The ability to see distant features has been was reduced.
- The shape of depressions/pits are were harder to see with more ground cover.
- The ground cover prevented you seeing what your feet are running over. Particularly the 6-8 inch cover on the steep slopes in Whiteleaf.
- The thicker greenery pushed you off the compass line.
- The thickets on the map that could have been to be used as attack points, blended into the general green.
- The denser deciduous canopy reduced the ability to see the high up veg boundaries.

All the above reduced the speed through the wood, and accuracy of position. Added to this was the temperature on the day. Quite warm at about 20C. This all probably contributed to an extra 15, 20, 25 minute running time on most courses.

With hindsight what should have been done?
- Possibly re-plan all the courses to take 15-20 minutes out of them. (Climb or Length). Though a simpler solution may have been to shift all the courses along one.
- Drop the Black. Relabel the Brown as Black, all the way to Very Short Green becoming Short Green, and then create a new Very Short Green.

A fortuitous but ultimately sad note to end on. Those who were super observant in the South East corner of the map will have noticed trees with bright pink and orange spots on them. A forestry company was granted permission to start thinning this area of the estate within two weeks before the event. Thankfully they did not start work. However this will have been the last time to see this area of the woods in such a fantastic state for a number of years. I hope you will retain some fond memories of the area, and of our event!

Robin Bishop