Ireland is a country with an incredibly rich heritage. Steeped in folklore and legend, with roots that stretch back through the centuries, there's such a romanticism about the lush, verdant landscape of the Emerald Isle, that it can be of no surprise that so many tourists choose to holiday here each year. Whilst there are many ways to explore Ireland's many attractions, there are none that quite compare with the experience of orienteering. Whether you're new to the area, or even if you're a native who's lived here for years, orienteering is a fantastic way to truly experience all that the Irish countryside has to offer.
Orienteering is a chance for people to get back to basics, and escape the often dizzying pace of modern-day living. Away from the relentless beeping of mobile phones and the flashing of computer screens, there's something about retreating into nature that allows us time to step back from ourselves, and our lives, and just 'be'. The breathtaking views and diverse species of wildlife, some of which are indigenous only to this land, provide the perfect backdrop to anybody looking to escape from the pressures of modern life. The oxygen gets the synapses firing, which can bring with it clarity of mind and fresh perspectives. The peace and quiet allows people the space and time to find solutions to everyday problems and obstacles in their lives. When outside in nature, surrounded by greenery and wildlife, and gulping in huge lungfuls of fresh, unpolluted air, it's hard to imagine a place more tranquil, or completely removed from the stresses of urban living. This is just part of what makes orienteering such an enjoyable and deeply rewarding activity.
It's also great way of maintaining both mental and physical health. Whether you choose a gentle route, or a more challenging hike through the countryside, any exercise that increases the heart rate is known to stimulate endorphin release, which is a chemical that promotes a sense of happiness and wellbeing. This is why orienteering can be an extremely effective way of helping people overcome all manner of psychological issues, from anxiety and low self-esteem, right through to clinical depression and addiction to various substances or behaviours. It provides people with a sense of achievement, when they step out of their comfort zone and successfully develop new skills and overcome new challenges. However, orienteering isnít just about reuniting city dwellers with the wild natural beauty of the Irish countryside. For people who are suffering from serious afflictions such as addiction, it can also play a vital role in their rehabilitation. Working together as part of a team is a very effective means of building trust and developing relationships, which for many addicts can be a crucial step towards reintegrating into society.
It's both a fun and inexpensive activity that the whole family can get involved in, and you don't have to be super-fit as there are courses to suit all ages and abilities. It can be just as mentally challenging as it is physical; you'll have to rely on using your brain just as much as your body, so it can actually help improve mental agility. However, at the top level it is a highly competitive international sport, with an annual world championship that is televised in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
For the younger, 'digital' generation, traditional orienteering is also a rare opportunity to learn how to use a good old-fashioned map and compass. Due to the increasing dominance of satellite navigation systems, the age-old skill of map reading seems to be sadly in decline. Orienteering is a way of not only keeping this traditional practice alive, but also a chance to pass these essential survival skills down to the younger generations.
However, for all those tech-lovers out there who just can't bear to leave their gadgets at home, there are many ways in which technology can be utilised so as to actually enhance the experience of orienteering. For this reason it's a sport that tends to attract as many tech enthusiasts as it does nature-lovers. For example, times and locations can be electronically recorded, and then instantly generated on a computer, whilst GPS systems can be used to track routes, which can then be uploaded for comparison. Additionally, technologies such as GPS, Lidar and drawing packages are often used to produce orienteering maps. Such digital advancements can save much in the way of time and effort, offer us new insight into the geography of a location, and ultimately allow people to further immerse themselves in the outdoor experience.
Orienteering in the Irish countryside evokes an incomparable sense of escape, freedom and adventure. The landscape is constantly evolving, so it can reveal many secrets and surprises about the ever-changing environment, and for local people it's a fantastic way of not only exploring, but also staying connected with the area they call home. The unspoilt wilds of our country have endured for so long because of her people's innate love and reverence for it. To walk through the forests, alongside the babbling brooks, the mighty trees and thriving wildlife is an unforgettable experience, which continues to inspire people, both home and abroad, to come and experience the rugged natural wonder of the Emerald Isle for themselves.
Article by Jenni Cryer, Photos Val Jones, Paul Smyth, Martin Flynn