Moray is set to welcome over 3,500 visitors this July. They’re coming for a sporting event which despite being established for almost 40 years is still one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets.
The Scottish 6-Days Orienteering Event has been a 2-yearly festival of outdoor adventure since it began 36 years ago, the year after Moray hosted Britain’s first-ever World Orienteering Championships in 1976. It’s become an award-winning visitor magnet, with recent events receiving Visit Scotland accolades, most notably the Scottish Thistle Award for “Tay 2009” based in Perth. Orienteering is all about navigating at speed. The aim is to complete a set course as fast as possible by finding your way to a series of electronically-tagged checkpoints in a specially mapped area. Orienteering these days can take place in all sorts of terrain, ranging from remote rugged hillsides and forests to country parks, community woodlands and even city centres. One of the best-attended events so far this year in Scotland had runners discovering the most intimate nooks and crannies of the Royal Mile!
The previous 6-Day event, Oban 2011, brought Oban almost to a standstill with orienteers packing local restaurants and other attractions. On the mid-event rest day the Mull Calmac ferry staff were having to turn people away, such was the demand to see more of the legendary island that runners had seen in the distance as they ran amongst the hills overlooking the sea during the first three days.
Returning to its Moray roots ten years after last descending on the Royal Burgh of Forres, Moray 2013 has already attracted 2,300 entries with 5 months still to go until the closing date. “The Scottish 6 Days has got a huge following across the globe” said Scottish Orienteering’s Regional Development Officer in Moray, Mike Rodgers. “Many of our regulars had booked their accommodation two years ago, knowing that they’re going to get much more than just the fabulous orienteering that we have here in Moray.” But despite its popularity amongst the sport’s converts, the event remains part of a ”Secret Scotland” that, like many of the jewels in the Scottish crown, amazes and delights those who discover it for the first time.
The event thrives on its Scottishness. As well as six days of competition in the sunlit sand-dune forests of the Moray Coast, and the tougher inland areas in neighbouring Nairnshire, the organisers are laying on an entertainment programme celebrating Scottish culture. Ceilidhs, pipers, whisky tasting, bowling nights, open air theatre, traditional Scottish beer, dolphin watching, eco tours and a whole host of other attractions are lined up. The 6 days is partnering up with a multitude of activity providers in the area, all of whom aim to give competitors a memorable week.
From “Day Zero” on Saturday 27th July when competitors arrive in Forres to pick up their event pack ups, the sporting visitors will find that they are more than just holidaymakers. Local tourism chiefs are determined to make them feel part of the close-knit Moray community for the week. VisitNairn spokesman Iain Fairweather is looking forward to the boost the event will bring to the area
“The Scottish 6 Days Orienteering Event coming to the area in is another welcome boost for Nairn and Moray. On behalf of VisitNairn we wish them well and look forward to giving them a very warm welcome to Nairn.”
Already, local groups are lining up to put on activities that will appeal to the orienteers. Forres Harriers are arranging a ‘friendship run” to the area’s iconic viewpoint on Califer Hill, while the Forres Soccer Sevens club are hosting the traditional 7-a-side football tournament that always proves popular with the younger element, especially from the Scandinavian orienteering clubs.
Multi-day orienteering festivals are common all over Europe and beyond. The best known of all is the Swedish O-Ringen that attracts 20,000 competitors. The O-Ringen is the week before Moray 2013, but Scotland’s reputation has persuaded many Swedes to forsake their home event for the attractions of Malt Whisky country. With the famous Malt Whisky trail passing through the area, it’s no coincidence that the 6 days have chosen a whisky still as their event emblem. There’s little doubt that local distillery visitor centres are set to do some brisk business! Commenting on the orienteering event, Cameron Taylor, one of Forres Area Community Trust development officers, said.
“We are looking forward to welcoming the orienteers to Forres. Events like this help galvanise the local tourism industry and community members to work together to make sure that our visitors get the best possible experience.”
Historic Brodie Castle, the ancestral home of the Brodie family, is a 16th century tower house set in magnificent grounds between Forres and Nairn. This splendid setting will be the temporary home to 800 campers thanks to the National Trust for Scotland. The NTS have teamed up with event organisers to make Brodie the official Event Centre, and castle staff are pulling out all the stops to lay on a programme of special festivities for the international band of orienteers. From their central base within easy access of the main Inverness to Aberdeen road, competitors will be within 30 minutes’ drive of all six competition venues, ranging from Lossiemouth in the East to Arderseir in the West and the more rugged hills of the Lethen and Belivat areas to the South.
But the orienteering itself isn’t just for the super-fit men of the mountains. The beauty of this sport is that it offers something for everyone. Toddlers can discover the secrets that lie in wait in the woods by following doing a special ‘follow the string’ course that takes them on their own little adventure. The string ensures they don’t go off line, while the more mature competitors can discover whether they’re “magic with a map” by tackling one of a plethora of courses set at varying technical difficulties and length. With so many people taking part, start times are spread across a 4-hour window, so anyone intending to take it easy can simply come early. The big start window means that families can have ‘split starts’. Mum can have a run early while dad looks after the kids, or supervises them while they do a course themselves. Then duties are swapped over a coffee at one of the event traders, and dad goes off to try to prove that the male of the species are better map readers. There are many failures! Because nobody’s competing head-to-head, it’s only afterwards, when everyone’s electronic timings chips have been read, that the truth emerges and the inquests begin “Why did I go that way? How could I have been so stupid!” are common complaints, even amongst the experts. Even the best navigational brains can go walkabouts when you deprive them of oxygen!
“It’s a hare and tortoise sport if ever there was one” said Mike. “If you can interpret a map accurately, you don’t need to be a runner to do well”. Mike recalls the day 20 years ago when he was first invited to try the sport. As seasoned cross-country runner and a navigator in the RAF, he scoffed at the prospect of doing a 6 Km course. Two and a half chastened hours later, having covered more like 15 Km and dented his professional pride, he realised that perhaps there was more to this than just running, and that map reading on the run was every bit as challenging as navigating from 500 feet in the air at 400 knots!
Orienteers are intensely proud of their sport. There are clubs spread the length and breadth of Britain, and there are few things that please their members more than seeing new people have a go at the sport. At Moray 2013 there are age-category competitions for under-11s to over-85s, and for people who aren’t competitively-minded there are a range of “colour-coded” courses that newcomers can tackle – the darker the colour the harder the course. “It’s a bit like skiing” explains Mike. “You don’t do a black run if you haven’t mastered your snowplough turns”. The White course is the entry level which is perfect for children where they will find a control marker at every decision point on the course. The colours progress through Yellow to the intermediate Orange standard where participants can start taking short cuts across country. The more technical courses are Light Green where most of the distance is off track, and Green where the technical standard is as difficult as possible, but still at a manageable distance of around 4Km which will take the best competitors about 35 minutes to complete.
Moray 2013 takes place between 28th July and 3rd August 2013. The event has a comprehensive web site that tells you everything you could possibly want to know. Whether you’re a hare or a tortoise, or have the map-reading skills Chris Bonnington or Mr Bean, you can be sure of a warm welcome. Like many others you’ll wonder why you’ve never tried it before.
For further information please visit the Moray 2013 website