Pigsticking

(From an article I posted to the O-Net in December 1996.)

John gives me an ideal opportunity to provide a tribute to Willie Rushton, who died recently. His book “Pigsticking, A Joy for Life” provides brief details of how to participate in nearly every sport imaginable, and includes a section on orienteering. I quote:

I thought it consisted solely of sprinting cross-country through the Pilgrim’s Progress with only a despondent A-Z of Slough to bring you solace, a sport designed for clean-living militant Christians.

At international level it is the survival of the fittest, not only the fittest but an even rarer breed who can also read intelligently on the trot through unknown terrain. In the broader view, it is car-rallying for pedestrians. The Swedes invented it to alleviate the boring nature of running. I can only run 50 yards at best, and am bored stiff in that short time. If I was doing The Times crossword, however, at the same time, I would be arse over elbow in the first five feet, but interested and amused. That is orienteering. Armed with a map, a compass and a list of control points, the competitors set off at one-minute intervals into the unknown, and unknown it is. Not only is the course a total secret until the start, but its very location also is until as late as possible. It is quite often composed under the guise of a NATO operation or such. So bang goes the obvious device of having your family, the more elderly, the children, line some part of the fast lane, to wave Swedish flags, shout encouragement and point vigorously in the wrong direction. Better that they enter. It is an ideal occupation for both tortoise and hare.

To this end, competitors are offered a choice of routes, the classic alternative is “over or round”, and while the young and virile can pick a swift belt down a sheep-track for a mile, some of us may well prefer to make our own way less actively to the same objective through a couple of hundred yards of light jungle. The speediest mind wins. The experts consult their maps every two seconds while moving at pace. One move in the wrong direction and you’re doomed. The forests echo with the distant cries of failed orienteers.

That’s always struck me as a pretty good summary of the sport. Can anyone provide an earlier example of a comparison with doing a crossword whilst running than this 1977 example?