We had an uneventful flight up to the OMM and were only delayed briefly at Prestwick airport whilst Alamo tried to find the keys for a car (we said we didn’t mind if it wasn’t clean!). It was still well and truly dark when we arrived at a caravan on the outskirts of Newton Stewart. From there it was a short drive to the event centre to register and indulge in some last minute shopping.
My alarm went off at six the following morning and we attempted to force down some breakfast whilst listening to the rain drumming on the roof of the caravan. When we reached the event centre we were directed to drive on until we reached the marshal who would direct us off on to the forest tracks to park (the intended car park field being waterlogged). Having driven over a mile and reached the end of the line of cars who had obviously ignored these instructions and parked on the verges, we pulled in to a small layby. From there it was still a twenty minute trudge back through what was now a torrential downpour.
It was soon our turn to head through the start and climb aboard a bus that would take us 40 minutes around to the west side of the area where we would really begin. Rather bizarrely, we punched as we alighted from the bus at what was supposed to be -3 minutes although you could start running immediately or, as I did, join the toilet queue! When given the map, the first thing we did was check the control descriptions. A total course length of only 25km and 1730m climb could only mean one thing: tough terrain. We also had just four controls allowing for some significant route choices.
As a nice warm-up we started with a couple of kilometres along a forest track before propelling ourselves in to a felled area and then out on to the boggy hillside. Ever the optimist, I was on a straight-line route but lost my nerve when the rest of our bus just disappeared in to the mist. We started to climb and fortunately were able to relocate quickly on a series of crags stacked one on top of the other. As we left the control it was comforting to meet the masses still milling around further up the hillside!
Skirting around Kirriereoch Hill, we headed north for five kilometres along a rain swept ridge going first round one hill and then over the next. This allowed us to follow the end of the ridge down and find the ancient stone circle that marked the second control without any difficulty. Periodically though I would hear a cry from behind and turn around to see Neil on hands and knees having found yet another pot hole. This was starting to take its toll on his ankles making for slow going over the rough tussocks. It was therefore particularly annoying to discover we could have headed straight down the hill from the control and then along an unmarked track rather than picking our way through the rocky hillside.
The leg to number three had the added interest of a couple of significant streams. It was possible to jump the deepest part of the first (I let Neil test this first!) but the second (Eglin Lane) was nearly ten metres across. As we slipped in to the cold water we were relieved that it was only thigh deep. The current was still strong though and we clung to one another as we side-stepped across the boulder strewn stream bed to the far side. The planner had then considerately laid on a steep climb to the control to warm ourselves again.
For the fourth control we decided not to take the direct route over the tops and, because of Neil’s ankle, take the longer track route. We were lucky that there was then a good path climbing up the side of the plantation leading us nicely over the top and down in to the control. The route down to the finish was mostly along forest roads although initially these were too rocky to get up a good speed. Neil put on an impressive sprint though for the last 500 metres down to the overnight camp on the eastern edge of the map.
As we pitched our tent for the night and started on our marathon eating session the results started to go up. These seemed to bare no resemblance to actual times taken and it eventually became apparent that they were from the first control. The rumour was that the punch as we disembarked the coach had not been working although the website now appears to be blaming competitors for not using it. Annoying as I’m sure many teams wasted more time on this first leg than we did. Still, we were in a respectable 25th place overnight.
Sunday brought with it entirely different weather. At one point it looked as if there would be nothing but blue sky. This didn’t last but at least it was set to be fine. Less promising was the size of Neil’s ankle, approaching that of a large grapefruit. Fortunately we had missed the chasing start by just over ten minutes which meant we weren’t off until our scheduled start time of 9:28. This meant that for most of the day we were able to follow elephant tracks left by earlier starters and those from the previous day.
The first control was impossible to miss as you followed the stream of people straight up from the end of the forest track. For the second, we ended up too high, largely as a result of having climbed to make the most of a sheep track running around the hillside. Neil’s ankle didn’t enjoy the mudslide down to the River Dee but at least there was a bridge to cross at the end. We didn’t take the track route round to the side of the third control as there was once again a well trodden path straight up Cairngarroch.
Although still with four controls to go we were nearly two-thirds of the way round at this point and had taken only just over two hours. We were a little lucky with the fourth control: as I was stood on a knoll about to start scratching my head, someone pointed out that the flag was just three metres away beneath my feet. From there a good path contoured around the hillside to the fifth control. It’s debateable whether we should have continued to contour round further to number six but it was good to be able to let your legs go and run down the hill even if it meant climbing the other side.
The descent to the final control was another mud bath which Neil really wasn’t enjoying. It was at this point I realised why my left foot appeared to be moving around in my shoe – there was a big gaping hole from arch to heel where the upper had become detached from the sole! I should give a special mention to the Hilly Super Racer Plus socks though which, for the first time ever, left me with no blisters at the end of a mountain marathon. We finished in an impressive time of 3:45, only a quarter of an hour down on the fastest run of the day and, once a few non-functioning controls had been allowed for, we now appear tenth in the results. Well done Neil!
The event was a good one for orienteers with wins in all of the non-score classes. You can read all about how GG beat us on the B on his blog. Special mention should also go to fellow JOKers Ben Stansfield and Pat Bartlett who triumphed on the long score. It was also a good weekend for Christine’s family. Cath and Steve were first mixed pair on the A, Helen and John were sixth on the short score and her parents were first mixed veterans on the medium score.