Once upon a time, a long long time ago, back before the legends began, in the good old days of days auld lang syne, there was a great tradition of the peoples of this land. Through the dark days of winter they eagerly awaited the coming of spring, heralded by the lengthening of days and the leafing of trees. The great mathematicians studied the stars to set a date for the Gathering, and decreed that two days before the first Day of Sun following the Vernal Equinox, the many tribes of British Orienteering would travel from afar and gather at a place of learning. But on that day no learning was to be performed. Nay - on the Day of the Gathering, we gathered to sprint.
But for the past two years of plague, there had been no Gathering, as the people huddled in their bubbles, visiting only local events. And two years before that were wasted, being purely tests of speed around army encampments. Finally, after 5 long years of waiting, the people were granted what they had been waiting for - a JK sprint on a decent area.
Orienteers came from far and wide and descended onto Swansea University, with a good number of DrongOs joining. The weather was perfect for a day split between sprinting fast and sitting on the grass. The arena, start and finish were almost identical to what was used in 2014, which gave a huge advantage to more experienced competitors, who already knew the exact best line to take on the run-in. The courses were nice and technical, with plenty of route choices and places to make mistakes, and a change of terrain into ornamental garden near the end just to be extra tricksy. Top elite performances of the day were from Fiona Bunn coming in 5th James Ackland (CUOC) in 10th, and Ben Windsor in 14th. Further up the age categories there was success from Mary Ockenden who took the bronze in W60.
After the race was run, we all left for the long drive to the bunkhouse. Jeremy and Zuzka were already there, having decided that a sprint race wasn't tiring enough and they would rather runwalk 30k over the hills from Abergavenny. We had 16 Drongos staying at the bunkhouse, along with a motley crew of friends and relations to make up the numbers. After a great feast of veggie chilli, we sat around drinking tea before getting some well-earned rest before Day 2.
Morning dawned bright and not particularly early, because we were staying quite close to the Middle area. After a frantic rush of cereal eating and sandwich making, various cars left at various times filled with various people, and headed over to a lovely industrial estate that looked rubbish for orienteering. Luckily, the organisers arranged for the bus to take us to school, where the assembly was. We had a very nice south-facing grassy slope to sit on, overlooking a very nice looking running track (if you're into that sort of thing). Seems like the people of South Wales take their athletics seriously.
From the school, it was only 1 warm-up-distance up a farm track to the very tasty terrain of Clydach Terrace. Decades of mining had left the landscape torn up and scarred, which was good for us because it made lots of nice contours. It was great for a middle distance, with lots of detail almost everywhere, and decent runnability for most of it. Today's top individual performace was again by Fiona coming in 6th, but in the team race James found himself starting two minutes in front of eventual winner Sasha Chepelin, and intriguingly also finished two minutes behind. Of course, the author would not like to insinuate that all of James's performance was due to his position in the start list: he also had a boost from his extra grippy new shoes, bought after accidentally leaving his old ones at the bunkhouse. Slightly further down the list, Helen O was 12th, hon.Dron. Phil 11th, Ben W 16th, and Paul and h.D. Rona in 20th and 23rd, just slipping into the list of people to be given GPS tomorrow.
After the race we stopped off in Crickhowell and had a stroll around looking for ducks. On the way to ducks, we found icecream, honey, chocolate eggs and a castle. Rather predictably, the ducks were to be found in the river, where there was a nice bridge. However, most of the party decided to get in touch with their more primal selves and paddle across instead. Those who weren't paddling tried to find an answer to the question "Do you think you could hit a duck by skimming a stone". Through a careful scientific method of aiming far away from the ducks, every now and then a stone would miss its target, thus going close enough to a duck to lend weight to the answer "yes".
When we were bored of the river, we turned our attention to grass beside it, with some people playing chasies while a less mobile group thought up new things that DrongO could stand for. The best suggestions include: "Dominate Relays, Obliterating Not Good Orienteers", and "Drongo Rongo Ongo Ngo Go O".
When we got back to the bunkhouse, some people cooked a nice curry, while others drank tae. We managed not to cook far too much, only making a bit too much, which was good. After dinner Paul and Luke got out their muscle torture devices, and everyone had a go hurting themselves until they felt fully recovered, and ready for a relaxing night's sleep.
On the third day we rose again, ready and excited for a Long day to come. After the standard morning routine, we headed off for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Blaenavon, where even more mining used to happen than at Clydach. Here, mining used to happen on an industrial scale. So much mining, that the Pit might even be described as 'Big'.
Today's race was at Pwll Du, which the reader may remember fondly from a previous DrongO report as the relay area from 2014 (the word 'may' here is used to invoke a sense of uncertainty - I've not looked that far back in the archive, so don't know what that report said). Back then, courses stuck to the fast grassy sections around old mining spoil heaps, but today's race would be ever so slightly tougher. Once again, the courses were excellent, with a good variation between shorter legs in terrain similar to yesterday's, and longer yomps across the heather and tussocks. There were some strong DrongO performances again, with Fiona improving her position up to 4th, and James taking 8th to show that he actually would have done pretty well yesterday regardless of start time. Ben W came in 10th, Helen O in 14th, and Luke in 15th.
After the race, Richard, Mark and Zuzka went on an exciting trip into the Big Pit, and everyone else headed back to the bunkhouse to shower and eat biscuits before dinner. We then headed over to the local pub, where they didn't do draught beer but they did do quite nice food. Jeremy managed to eat all his food, further proving that he was no longer full from pancakes.
When it was dark enough that we definitely needed torches to get home, we walked back, with Ben S's prize from Cyprus leading the way. But when we arrived back, the bunkhouse was under embargo for the top event of the weekend - the Easter Egg Hunt, organised by Helen O and Paul. Once everyone had arrived in the porch, the hunt began, and soon enough, impressively enough, every egg had been found, even the one hidden inside an orange. As the old saying goes, Once you've got eggs, it's time to go to bed - so we went to bed.
On Monday we had to leave, which was sad, because it meant we had to clean. We had breakfast, made lunch, cleaned the house, and gave everyone far more uneaten food than they wanted, or could comfortably take. The relay area this year was Caerwent, a military base near England, which promised a small amount of forest mixed in with a bit of fast grass, and some more fast grass. The courses made decent use of the area, but due to constraints of the area, were pretty heavy on the fast grass, which is great if you're a cross country runner. SquaDron Gold were 11th and Large HaDron Gollider 32nd in the Men's Trophy, with Outer Drongolia 13th in the Women's (although n/c due to an non-Dron imposter). Sadly, the best results from Drongos were not for DrongO, with Fiona and Helen O coming 2nd and 4th on EUOC teams.
And so the four days of revelling ended, and the peoples returned to their homesteads. Their normal lives returned, punctuated by normal weekend events. Already the scholars have convened to determine the date of the next Gathering, and proclaimed it - on the ninth day of the fourth month we shall meet again, in the county of Cumberland (or possibly Westmorland or Lancashire). See you all there.