Article for CompassSport - October 2012 - David Brodie
Though I have family roots in West Wales, I haven’t actually lived here very long. Big mistake. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful - I should have come sooner.
I can walk out of my house onto the hills, or I can run down to the Dyfi estuary, or if I fancy a longer exercise, to the beach and dunes at Ynys Las. All of these have now been featured in BBC Springwatch and Autumnwatch, complete with ospreys, dolphins and kinds of orchid that make botanists go gooey-eyed.
There is just one problem. Not enough orienteering. Or, more accurately, not enough orienteers, with the consequence that there are tracts of land that have never been mapped, though they offer intricate upland challenge. So I was keen to bring more and more quality orienteering to my own doorstep, and that Croeso 2012 should be held in western Mid Wales. So keen, in fact, that I agreed to chair the coordinating committee.
You wait a month or two for an event around here, but Croeso 2012 means that six will come around all at once. And not any six, but six of the best.
Selecting the areas for Croeso 2012 has been one of the most enjoyable tasks that we, as a team, have taken on. Our first step was to work out our criteria. Fortunately we had, amongst us, one of our experts on rules, guidelines and all things technical, in the form of David May of SLOW. Like me, David had quite recently, and equally sensibly, moved westwards. Mark Saunders of BOK added further weight to the small group charged with scouting the best areas.
The team shared a desire that our areas should be both enjoyable and technical. Now, there is plenty of forest around here. Some of it is good, some is even excellent in places, but the rest is mostly green, green, green. It’s good for falling over, for eye hazard, and for scratches. But not for orienteering. We know. We looked. But there are more good open areas around here than you can shake several sticks at.
Amongst the candidates were northern areas, towards Dolgellau. There is Gwanas, used before for VHI relays and various other significant events, and the JK98 areas of Tir Stent and Tan y Gadair on the northern side of Cadair Idris. These areas provide quality orienteering, so that put the pressure on us to decide on the event centre. I initially favoured the smaller town of Machynlleth, accessible by train and in a beautiful setting in the lower Dyfi valley. The town is not too far from those northern areas, but other voices spoke up for the use of Aberystwyth, with the University as the event centre.
The quality of the facilities there was just too good to dismiss – Sports Centre and swimming pool on site, with access for orienteers, and an Arts Centre with bars and cinema, as well as the Guild of Students (Students' Union) and, of course, plentiful accommodation. The adjacent school as campsite made it all too much to resist. Alas the likes of Gwanas and Tir Stent were too far to be part of a 6 day festival without imposing too much travel on competitors.
This was not a problem, because we knew of the quality further south, close to Aberystwyth. We looked at Pumlumon (or Plynlimon), but as part of a conservation project the numbers of sheep and cattle there have been cut very greatly in recent years. There are still large interesting areas, but there are also dreaded tussocks in quantity too great to allow all courses to avoid them. The entire mountain was rejected.
We looked at Ynys Las, a wonderfully complex sand dune area at the mouth of the Dyfi, big enough for a high quality Middle Distance event. Alas it was our turn to be rejected, and despite several meetings the Countryside Council for Wales refused permission.
And we looked at Llynnoedd Teifi, Carn Owen, Foel Goch and Moel Y Llyn. They are all large areas, with Llynnoedd Teifi being truly vast and easily enough for two days’ competition. It also has more crinkly bits than you’ll find on large tracts of the Moon, and is not troubled by strength-sapping heather, by areas of ugly tussocks, or other nasties. The rocky ridges of Carn Owen have a significant area of uninviting marsh protruding into them, but nothing that the planner can’t work around. The Foel Goch – Moel Y Llyn ridge is beautiful, not only for its folds of rock features and contours but for the views over the Dyfi Estuary and Cardigan Bay.
There was another little gem, not far from Llynnoedd Teifi, nestling in the Ystwyth valley. It’s the site of a mansion, demolished some decades ago by the Forestry Commission, and one of nature’s quieter corners. The area has been used before, most recently for the Welsh Middle Distance Championships in 2010. Some of the south-facing slopes are brambly, but elsewhere there is runnable woodland with plenty of navigational interest - a complex of ditches in one area, spurs and hills in another, crags elsewhere. The best parts are not big enough for classic races, but plenty enough for Middle Distance. That was five days sorted.
The sixth? It was under our noses. Orienteering has changed. Once it was one-dimensional in terms of distance and winning times. You could have any kind of course you liked, as long as it was, well, long. Now, led by elite competition and by many multiday events overseas, variety has arrived. And Aberystwyth, as a smallish town complete with two beaches, harbour, castle, woodland and, of course, the very pleasant hillside University campus, has plenty of variety – just made for a middle distance Urban race. Now the week’s winners would have to show themselves to be all-round orienteers, chasing glory in a thrilling final day.
Thus the programme for Croeso 2012 was constructed. We’re proud of it, as we are proud of the area where we live, and we hope you’ll join us.