A beginners’ guide to Scottish Orienteering events

Are you new to orienteering but not sure where to start? Claire Ward, SOA Performance Director, put together this guide, as featured in the latest issue of SCORE.

You can read more articles like this in the latest issue of SCORE, which you can download here:


Where to start orienteering

You can choose a course suited to your current ability, while some of the bigger events also have age categories which you can choose to join.

All events are run by volunteers, newcomers are welcomed, and people are happy to help you get started!  But what do the ‘levels’ mean, and what sort of orienteering experience will you get at a ‘Local’ event compared with a ‘National’ event?  Here’s a quick guide:


These are club training sessions, put on by clubs primarily for their members.  Often including both a physical training element as well as a navigational training element, these are a good place for newcomers to start.

‘Local’ Orienteering Events

‘Local’ events are informal orienteering events held by a club, with the aim of attracting members of local clubs and newcomers. The easiest orienteering courses are well catered for (white, yellow and orange) and there will be offerings for more experienced orienteers as well.

The hosting club will have experienced orienteers on hand to explain how the event works, and offer guidance.  These events are often held on weekend mornings, or midweek during the summer.  Typical terrain would be local parks, so are usually convenient to reach, and good for beginners as the parkland is easier to interpret, with more paths, tracks and open areas to navigate off.

Local Night Events

If a local event is held midweek during the winter months, it is likely to be a night event. Night events typically start 6:30-7pm, with orienteers running with the aid of a head torch (back up head torches are usually required to be carried).  The reduced vision makes accurate navigation very tricky – it’s an intense challenge and excellent fun, but perhaps not suitable for complete beginners!

Regional Orienteering Events

Urban and Sprint orienteering

Two types of events that fall into the ‘regional’ event category are urban and sprint.  Both urban and sprint events happen in town and city centres or university campuses, navigating an urban landscape.  A ‘sprint’ event is very intense, with a winning time of approximately 15 minutes, and the longer ‘urban’ averages 40 minutes plus.

The advantages of these events are that you can often get there via public transport, you don’t get too muddy, the fast and furious racing of a 15-minute sprint is excellent fun and you are likely to be fairly close to a café for a post-run cuppa.  The BTO Solicitors Scottish Orienteering Urban League (SOUL) runs throughout the year, incorporating many of the urban and sprint races on offer. 

Forest orienteering

Another type of regional event is forest, which usually provides the competitor with a full range of ‘colour coded’ courses, from the short and easy white, to the long and tricky brown.  The forest event is likely to be held in a more remote location compared to a local event, but the longer drive is made worthwhile, especially for the more difficult courses, due to the more interesting navigational challenge posed by the trickier terrain – more contours, heather, mud, and fewer paths and parks.  Competitors will come from further afield, and British Orienteering members will get ranking points for regional and national events.

National Orienteering Events

CompassPoint Scottish Orienteering League

The CompassPoint Scottish Orienteering League (SOL) has been running for decades, and is the most prestigious orienteering league in the UK.  The Scottish orienteering community (and often many from further afield) comes together at these events to compete over the toughest and trickiest terrain Scotland has to offer.  SOLs offer a full range of colour coded courses, so navigationally easier courses are always provided.  Though competitors can choose to enter whichever course they like, those who wish to compete in the league must run the class stipulated for their gender and age. Most years there are seven races in the league series, of which the best four scores count.  The sponsor, CompassPoint, is an orienteering trader, often attending the event, and the Scottish Junior Orienteering Squad often runs a fundraising cake stall too.

Other races that are held annually, and open to all orienteers, include:

Scottish Orienteering Championships

The phrase the ‘Scottish Championships’ usually refers to the ‘long distance’ forest orienteering championships (with a winning time typically around 60 mins) that usually take place on the last Saturday in May, followed the next day by the Scottish relay championships.  Teams of three club members compete in the relays, which are run over a variety of distances according to the competitor’s age.

There is also a Scottish middle-distance championship (winning time around 30 mins) which took place in March in 2019, Sprint and Night championships that take place early in the year, and the Scottish Score championships which take place in Autumn.

Score Orienteering is where you have a set time limit in which to visit as many controls as possible.  Again, you can come along to the Scottish Champs and run out of your age class, but your results will not be considered for placing.

Inter-club competitions

The CompassSport Cup is an annual inter-club UK wide competition, sponsored by CompassSport Magazine.  Clubs compete against each other in heats in March, with the clubs that do well qualifying for the UK final in October.  There is also a Scottish junior inter-club competition – the Jamie Stevenson Trophy – held each year in June.  Your club can provide you with further details of these.

The Junior Inter Areas

Scotland is divided up into three areas for junior development – East, West and North – and an inter area weekend long competition (relay and individual) is held every Autumn.  Again, your club can provide future details of training and competing within your area.

The Scottish 6 Days

The Scottish 6 Days orienteering event is a biennial week-long orienteering competition that takes place in early August in odd years (2017, 2019, 2021…).  Thousands of people come from all over the world to compete (in a rather laid-back fashion), many staying in the specially arranged event campsite, and enjoying a variety of social activities during the evenings.  The Scottish 6 Days 2019 will be based around the Perthshire village of Comrie on 28th July – 3rd August.

This is just a rough guide, but I hope it gives you a few ideas of where to let orienteering take you next.  If you would like additional information about these, or any other, events, please speak with your club leaders.  If you feel ready to expand your orienteering event horizons, you will find Scottish events here: https://www.scottish-orienteering.org/events/fixtures-results/.

Read more articles like this in the latest issue of SCORE, which you can download here: