To Aberystwyth, From All Points on the Compass

Dave BrodieThe organisers of the Croeso 2012 International Orienteering Festival, based in Aberystwyth in July, are over the moon. “With more than five months to the event we already have 1200 competitors, most of them taking part in the races on all six days,” says the Taliesin-based Co-ordinator, Dave Brodie.

“What’s more, almost a quarter of them are coming from overseas, almost all visiting Wales for the first time”, he says. “There are no fewer than 64 runners from Switzerland already! Ireland is sending 34 so far and Germany 33. We even have representation from Russia and the USA. We’ve had to re-plan some aspects of the competition to cope with the numbers, since we are now expecting well in excess of 2000 by the time entries close.”

Croeso is a four-yearly orienteering festival held in a different part of Wales each time. This year’s event is using Aberystwyth University as its event centre, and many of the participants will be taking advantage of the accommodation and the packed social programme based on campus.

Most of the races will take place in the superb upland terrain that the region offers. Orienteering is an adventure sport, and hillsides with complex patterns of slopes and rocks are ideal territory. Average times on the senior courses are usually well over an hour, so it’s about stamina as well as speed and, of course, the challenge of technical navigation using specially prepared maps produced by professional surveyors. There are courses for just about every age – from 10-years old upwards. So far there are twelve competitors – six men and six women - on the courses designed for those in the 80+ age bracket.

The complex Croeso maps have been produced to international standards with grant support from Chwareon Cymru / Sport Wales. In return, Croeso provides an opportunity for more local people to see the countryside from a new perspective, brings in people who otherwise wouldn’t be aware of what Wales has to offer, and with them it brings their spending money. Croeso 2012 will be worth more than a million pounds to the local economy.

That’s not bad for an event that is run entirely by volunteers, except for the mapping and the professional safety team – Merlin First Aid of Carmarthen – who will be in attendance each day. Robert Griffiths, a former Forestry Commission employee, has taken on the task of arranging the mapping. And Robert has worked with local vet Kate O’Sullivan to obtain the essential and much appreciated permissions from the area’s landowners to allow people to run over their land for a day. Meanwhile Gabriella Walsh, assisted by husband Steve and by Rose Phillips, has been making all the necessary arrangements for competitor accommodation and entertainment at the University and elsewhere. Others contributing to the event, such as by planning courses, come from across Wales and beyond, such as from Bristol and Shropshire.

So between 21st and 28th July, more than 10,000 individual runs will take place in the local countryside, each timed to the second by computer equipment taken out into the field. The immediate benefit to the tourism industry is huge, and hundreds of people will be going to go back to their home countries to spread the word about the stunning coast and hills of West Wales.