After the second lockdown we had a two-week reprieve of being able to meet and train together outdoors again – time for one last Not a Bootcamp and World Sports Club before the winter break.
I spent a couple of days rifling through the World Sports Encyclopaedia to find sports that could be played in the dark and with minimal shared equipment. In response to my slightly frantic messages the day before it had been suggested that perhaps goalball could be a good option, or other sports that don’t require sight, but finding a ball with a bell in it at a day’s notice seemed tricky at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic…
Thankfully the encyclopaedia, as always, had an answer – orienteering! By happy coincidence I remembered Rachel telling me about a keen local orienteer who’d shared a trail they’d made for their children around Greenbank during the last lockdown. Perfect! I e-mailed out our new meeting location – the corner of Emlyn Road and Greenbank Road, 07:00, wear a red carnation.
We convened in the dark trying not to look too suspicious – four creeps in trainers, minus one who was sensible enough to sleep through their alarm, with two compasses between us. I’d stayed up the night before desperately watching YouTube videos on how to take a bearing so I think we were all relieved to have Rachel there, with her experience of navigation and willingness to teach.
Our first clue led us on a happy trot up to the mosque but this came to a slippery end on the path through Rosemary Green, which was steep and greased with the night’s rain. It levelled out though and we were soon back up and running with our torches strafing the grass, searching for a gap in the far fence. The next clue was a symbol that Amy described as looking like a cottonbud, and we had to find the stick in the middle – the cutting through the embankment!
As we ran along the outside of the cemetery Lotte told us about “dropping” – the Dutch predilection for dumping children in the woods on their birthdays with an instruction to find their way home. I’m not sure what felt more cruel – that or meeting at 07:00 on a winter morning for a run in the rain. Still, it should harden us up, in the Dutch-Spartan tradition.
We paused under the old viaduct for the next clue. The sky was brightening a little and the arches loomed as patches of more solid darkness, occasionally lit by the headlights of the passing cars. The road was flooded and the water lapped over the edge of the pavement where we stood consulting the map. We ran away from the main road, down a squelching track towards the allotments, past a rolling stream, and then straight up a contour line via steps that took us from the mud and shanty-like sheds to the fresh bricks of a new estate.
We ran in the road, glancing in at the people in dressing gowns making their breakfast lit by Christmas lights, and talked about treasure hunts, then cut back over the Royate Hill reserve. We stopped at the mosaic and I remembered what Yaz had said on our Christmas walk last year – how this marked the first time a compulsory purchase order was used in the UK for the protection of wildlife. Every pocket of green space in the city has been fought for, and I felt appreciative of the fact they were there for us to thread together on our route.
We ducked through the hole in the railings and ran back through the cemetery. By now it was alive with dog walkers and the morning’s events felt like a strange dream. The feeling grew when I got home and began my work day – a secret adventure under cover of night. It’s like there are multiple cities – the night city and the day city, the city of the roads and the city of alleys, the housing estates and the allotments, the way to work and all the other ways… Orienteering broke our nodal urban experience into glorious, pointless meanderings and the contrast of that with the monotony of lockdown made normality feel richer. I was back at home but the house was somewhere else.