JK & other Easter O musings

“Are you going to the JK?”.
“Sorry? The what?”
It is spring 1976. Martin Mulligan, one of the founder members of UCDO, asked me this in the college library. I had only really started orienteering the previous year and I had never heard of Jan Kjellstrom or the JK, the big British event named in his honour. Of course I’d have loved to go to the Lake District but, sadly, you had to enter the event in advance and I had missed the deadline, so I’d have to wait another year. In the meantime, though, I had the opportunity to run in my first Irish Championships at Stranahely in the Glen of Imaal that May – orienteering in the summer meant that I had to buy a T-shirt (bright blue, with a big Guinness logo on the front: T-shirts weren’t a thing in Ireland in those days!), followed by my first Welsh 3-Day O-Ringen a week or two later, my first time orienteering outside Ireland.

In 1977 I managed to cadge a lift to the JK at Godalming in Surrey from two staff members from UCD, travelling by ferry, crammed with my rucksack into the back of a Mini for the long drive. But what an event! Thousands of people, sunshine, runnable beech forests, orienteering gear on sale – wow! I ran M21B (the equivalent of M21S nowadays) and the weekend included a “training event” on Friday where you make up your own course from the controls on the map, the individual at Leith Hill on Saturday, a Relay on Sunday and a “warm-down” event on the Monday. The maps were
printed on the new wonder-material, “Tyvek”, a synthetic paper which unfortunately tends to get disculoured and difficult to read when you get blood and mud on it! Wally Young and Eileen Loughman were both 5th in the top Men’s and Women’s classes – a fantastic result.

The Jan Kjellstrom or “JK” is a major event on the UK orienteering calendar, running since 1967 to remember a young Swedish orienteer who helped the sport to get established in Britain, but who tragically died in a car crash. Jan was the son of Silva compass founder Alvar Kjellstrom. I thought this was a great way of spending Easter so I organised travel and accommodation for a
busload of Irish orienteers for JK78 in Sheffield: the numbers were boosted by a group from Queen’s University in Belfast when there was a ferry strike and they had to come via Dublin. In order to help the students claim their costs back, everyone gave them their bus tickets and receipts for an expenses claim from QUBOC. We followed the overnight ferry to Liverpool by a coach trip, watching the country wake up and the locals coming out to cut their grass and wash their cars.

Again, JK78 provided a training event, an individual with a steep, muddy field for assembly at Wharncliffe, and a relay at Strines. This was my first time (but not my last!) to see the difficulties that weather can cause the organisers, particularly for a relay, where all the runners have to be on site early and at the same time.

In 1979 the event moved to Exeter and I organised another ferry and coach trip via Liverpool. More sunshine and long courses – by now I had moved up to M21E, if I remember right. Unfortunately drinking and very rowdy behaviour on the part of one group in the party soured the experience and I
chose not to organise any more trips like this again. On the way back to the ferry, the coach broke down on the motorway and, luckily, we had a group of Army cadets on board and one of them lifted up the hatch in the floor and fixed the engine, and they held the ferry for us so we made it by the
skin of our teeth.

After a few years the JK’s all tended to merge into a blur, although it became the normal way to spend Easter. In those days, before Ryanair, it was always a ferry and car trip, to England, Scotland, Wales – all over the UK. Things which spring to mind for various reasons were sleeping in a huge draughty, cold animal shed at Shepton Mallet; running in fantastic open terrain in sunshine in Snowdonia; delayed starts because of the combination of snow, narrow roads, muddy fields and traffic.

It has always been a great weekend although it’s not always family-friendly if you have small kids, as there can be long walks in bad weather from parking and to starts, struggling with muddy buggies. The format has evolved over the years: 4-man relay, 3-man relay, two-day individual (from
1980), and now four days with sprint (from 2006), long, middle or long, and relay. The mini-relay for small kids is always fun to watch: I remember seeing a large group of kids running along a racecourse from the start and one lad stopping to look at his map. One of the parents/spectators shouts out “Don’t look at the map! Follow the others!” – not advice everyone would agree with!

At one JK relay someone sounded a hooter before the mass start of the JK Trophy (elite) relay and all the runners took off like the start of the Grand National and it was impossible to get them to come back – how could you predict something like that?

For many years paper or Tyvek control cards were used for punching. At one JK I punched the last control and ran 400m downhill to the finish before realising that my control card was no longer attached to my wrist: I looked back up the finish field and saw it fluttering in the wind, still attached to the pin-punch at the last control. There was nothing for it but to turn round and run back up and back down again. Lesson learned – always check!

Some years are less attractive than others, so the run of JK’s has been broken from time to time, with other interruptions due to other events like the World Irish Dancing Championships. In 1995 the World Masters Championships at Murcia in southern Spain was an attractive option: sunshine, seaside, very dry terrain (where I discovered that running in new O-shoes isn’t always a great idea if you want to avoid serious blisters), fresh lemons to slake your thirst at the finish and great orienteering. In other years, the extensive pine forested sand dunes of south west France beckoned: my favourite terrain. Interestingly, in one of these years the English-speaking competitors all arrived before Easter for the first event on Good Friday, but we couldn’t find any orienteering activity. Eventually we found the event centre and discovered that the English information said the
event started on Good Friday, but the French information said it started on Saturday, which it did! Better to be a day early than a day late, I suppose.

The sun doesn’t always shine at Easter, though: one trip to the Czech Republic saw the extended Irish Junior Squad under the leadership of Greg McCann running in knee-deep snow for a training camp and multi-day competition near the Polish border, although the first day – which was actually in Poland – was in beautiful, runnable, sunny, snow-free beech forests. It was interesting to see the contrasts between the traditions on both sides of the border where, in Poland, Easter was celebrated with families dressing up and visiting all the churches and having parties, while on the Czech side, Easter in the religious sense didn’t exist. On that topic, actually, one of my fond JK memories is of Máire Walsh’s uncle, Fr. Aidan, saying mass on Easter Sunday in the open air in various forest locations, for a small group from his school and other interested orienteers – a really spiritual experience.

Eventually, in 2011, the JK came to Northern Ireland and I was involved in a small way, as assistant controller for the Relays on the dunes of Tyrella in Co. Down. It was revealing to see how much thought and work goes into the event from the inside, from issues of mapping, land access, accommodation, prizes, equipment, course planning – you name it. Planner Philip Baxter and
Controller Andy Lewsley were very dedicated and produced a memorable relay event. It doesn’t always go according to plan, however: the weather can have a big influence, with organisers needing to be flexible and imaginative in dealing with issues like sudden snowfalls, putting start times back, cancelling or switching days around, having tractors to pull cars out of car parks, dealing with casualties and even fatalities at the event, or the effects of foot and mouth disease which forced the cancellation of the JK in 2001, or this year with Covid-19.

This year, actually, two alternatives to the JK presented themselves: Slovenia or Latvia. I had entered for an Easter event in Riga and booked flights, accommodation and car hire so as I type this I should be running in Riga, but we’ll be back to orienteering in the future. Incidentally, I should mention Easter orienteering in Ireland, as for some years the ever-enthusiastic Seán Cotter and Bishopstown OC in Cork have run a low-key 3-Day event at Easter in Munster.

You can read about JK’s and other historical aspects of Irish orienteering in the IOA archive of “Leinster O-Clubs Newsletters” and old issues of The Irish Orienteer” here.

Maybe some others would like to add their Easter orienteering memories? Please contact Debbie on comms@orienteering.ie

Happy Easter, everyone.
John McCullough
Easter 2020.

Images: Map from British Orienteering archive and cover photo courtesy of Robert Lines.

O Birthday Trip- #JK2019

Last October, I turned 40 years old. People celebrate this milestone in different ways – for my main birthday gift, I was handed an envelope containing an IOU note for entries to the Jan Kjellström International Festival of Orienteering in the UK. I was both pleased and surprised. I had dragged my family (over the previous few years) through doing the occasional Sunday event, to eventually competing (and having fun) in most of the big Irish events, from the various regional champs, to the Irish Champs, and cumulating in last years Shamrock O-Ringen. I hadn’t thought that they were ready for a big international road trip – but here we were!

For those who don’t know – the Jan Kjellström International Festival of Orienteering (otherwise known to all as the JK) is the UK’s largest multi-day orienteering event, held annually in different parts of the country on the Easter weekend. It usually consists of four competition days:

  • A sprint event on Good Friday (short, usually urban environment, but fast)
  • A middle distance race on Saturday (typically 35-40 mins winning time)
  • A classic distance race on Easter Sunday (90+ minutes on the senior courses)
  • A relay event on Easter Monday (teams of three, various classes, mass start)

The event normally has a large number of competitors (over five thousand this year), and is often used as a selection event for most of the national teams. In terms of scale, it’s a major event, and bigger than anything you’ll find at home. As a junior orienteer in the 90s, I had attended several large international events such as the Scottish six-day competitions, but I hadn’t run abroad in years, so my memory of these events was hazy at best. I was looking forward to getting back into it, and this time, with my wife and kids to enjoy it as well.

Anne-Marie had already arranged most of the trip by the time I knew about it – we were taking the car by ferry to Wales (courtesy of Tesco tokens) and driving to a cheap and cheerful hotel in Fleet, on the M3. This location was very convenient for three of the four event days, and only 45 mins drive to the other one. We booked our entries for the events via the usual Fabien4 website, following the directions on the (very thorough) JK website. No need for Sport Ident details – this year, the entire event was being run using EMITtag, the contactless version of EMIT – we would be allocated these at the event.

As the competition approached, we downloaded all the final detail documents from the website. This booklet contained literally everything you needed to know about all the events – days, locations, arena layouts, course details, special instructions, the works. They really made sure that everyone was made aware of everything you needed to know. Some of the Irish orienteers who were travelling to the event started a Whatsapp group, so that the various travelling groups could stay in touch and organise stuff during the weekend.

Finally, the day came and we drove to Rosslare. The kids were very excited to be taking a ferry somewhere, as I had avoided this for previous holidays. However, I must admit it was very convenient to be able to take everything in the boot of the car. We got to our hotel later that day, after several hours of driving, and relaxed for the evening. We travelled on the Wednesday, so we had a full day off before the orienteering started. We filled this with a day trip to Chessington, for a series of roller-coasters and fairground rides. We got an early night, ready for the four days of racing ahead of us.

Friday morning – up early, and the forecast was for sun. Suncream on everyone, pack up our gear, make a few sandwiches and we were in the car, headed to Aldershot for the sprint. When we did our JK entries, I had elected for late start times – this meant we had several hours before we needed to start. This suited me fine, as I like to have a look around and chat to everyone, but the kids found it a bit annoying – in hindsight, I’d stagger the start times in the future, with the kids going early, and me going later. As it was, it was fine since Anne-Marie wasn’t planning to run, so she was taking care of getting the kids to the start and meeting them at the finish each day.

We arrived and pitched the CNOC tent in the club tent area, next to the IOA tent. It was useful to have a few tents – it gave space for everyone’s bags and gear, and  kept all the Irish hanging out together, and let everyone socialise and help each other out. We collected our race numbers and our EMITtags from a large stand at the registration tents. There was even a small model course where everyone could take their new tags for a spin and see how they worked. Eventually our start times arrived and we strolled up to the start area. The start area was a “Silent Start”, as the events were officially world ranking events for the elite classes, which meant once you passed the call-up point, there wasn’t meant to be any talking in the start lanes. Anne-Marie was able to go through with the kids though and make sure they got in the right lanes, and got the correct control descriptions before they started. Once they were started, she was able to stroll back to the tent to see them on the run-in to the finish from the last control, and collect them after the download tent.

Everyone had a good run in the sprint. Conor and Aoife were happy enough with their runs in W10 and M12, and I finished in around 20 mins, 5 mins behind the winner in M40 – about midtable in the results. I found the courses were technically very easy, so they really leaned on the “sprint” part of sprint-o – not my forte 🙂


Saturday morning brought even warmer weather – we drove over to Old Windmill Hills, using the directions in the booklet, and got the tent setup for the day. Every day this year, the starts were a short distance from the finish arena, so no need to allow 60 mins to reach them. Anne-Marie elected to use our free time on the day to do a light-green entry-on-the-day course. She found it technically difficult, but got around in less than an hour and finished mid-table also. Aoife had a great run on this day, winning her course (W10B) by a few minutes – she even got back to the finish before Anne-Marie, having left the start at the same time! Conor (like several of the Irish juniors) had some issues with his navigation here – it was a complicated area with a multitude of paths, some more distinct than others so he did well to finish in a reasonable time. We also don’t have a lot of open deciduous forest like it at home, so it probably all seemed a bit foreign to them. I had a decent run, didn’t pace myself great but I was pretty clean and finished middle of my class again. I did end up with a whopper of a (burst) blister though in the heat, so I had that to take care of before the long event on Sunday. We hung around to cheer on Fionnula Rowe at the sprint prizegiving – she had taken second place in the W10 sprint class on Friday.

On Sunday, the weather continued to be amazing, but I had a long course ahead of me, so I would have preferred some cloud cover! We got to the arena at Cold Ash in good time, setup the tents as usual, chatted with all the various Irish orienteers, and got ready for the event ahead. The kids headed off on their courses (slightly longer than usual), and I started pretty late in the day. My main goal was to be finished before the prize-giving at 15:30 🙂 Kids got around ok – Aoife finished second in her class and Conor had an ok run, a few mistakes, but relocated ok, and finished well. My course was long (I ran 14.9 Km in 107 mins) but I enjoyed it immensely – made very few mistakes and paced myself well, so that I was able to kick it on a bit when I turned the final bend into the arena, heard the Irish cheerleaders and the shouts of “Come on Daddy!” I was just about to hand in my EMIT tag at the download when Olivia Baxter yelled at me to stop – I had been press-ganged onto an LVO relay team for Monday. Thankfully, I only had to run an orange leg, so I was happy to oblige.



Monday morning – a short drive over to Minley, setup the tents and got ready for the various mass starts for the different relay classes. Turns out my LVO team was actually Dave Richardson, myself and Eileen Young, but we were in the Mixed Ad-Hoc category anyways, so it was reasonably legit. Anne-Marie vetoed my plan to paint my body in the LVO colors in lieu of an o-top. Everyone cheered on the runners at each mass start, and cheered them on again on the run-in to the change-over. The Irish may not have won many medals, but we definitely won the cheering competitions. After the relays were run (fake-LVO finished 14th out of 64), we attended the prize-givings for days 2 & 3 combined – Aoife got a certificate for winning W10B overall, and Niamh Browne got a medal for finishing second overall in W10A. We packed up our stuff and said our goodbyes to everyone heading off to make their way home.

We had a final free day of London sightseeing before packing up on Wednesday and driving back to Fishguard for the ferry home. The weather finally broke, and we saw this funny wet stuff falling from the sky – I have since found it is called rain.

So, all-in-all, we found the JK to be a great family event – it might be large scale, but it’s no less friendly than your normal event – everyone trying to help people and make sure they have a good time. As usual, it’s great to see all the Irish orienteers and hang out and chat during the weekend. The kids had a great time, the courses were no harder than what they would do at home, and they are looking forward to JK 2020 – although Aoife wants to make sure I enter her in W10A (to be fair, when we did the entries last year, she could barely read a map – she’s come on a lot in a few months). It also gave them something to work towards – both Conor and Aoife did a fair bit of jogging around the green outside our house in the last few months, and I think it greatly added to their enjoyment of the event. For me, it was a chance to run in some quality events on great terrain, against some of the best orienteers in the UK and further afield – and most importantly, I didn’t come last.

If you’re thinking of going along to an event like this or even the Irish champs, I suggest you just dive straight in – it’s really no more complicated than regular events, and people will go out of their way to make sure you understand whats going on – and very soon, it’ll all be second nature!

Dave Masterson  CNOC

I have been reliably informed that since writing this piece Dave and family have already made reservations for next years festival! 🙂 Looks like they’re hooked.

JK 2019 – the Jan Kjellstrom Orienteering Festival

Photos courtesy of Robert Lines and others- Thank you!

JK 2019 – the Jan Kjellstrom Orienteering Festival.

The JK is one of Britain’s most prestigious orienteering competitions, run every Easter in different parts of the UK. This year’s event was run in the south central region, around Aldershot, west of London. Fast running, excellent maps and courses, and good organisation with parking close to the arenas all led to an excellent weekend’s orienteering. The JK has four races: Sprint, Middle Distance. Long Distance and Relay. As usual there was a large Irish contingent who achieved some great performances this year. The only downside of the event was problems with electronic timing and results processing which delayed prizegivings and caused exceptional numbers of disqualifications which are still being resolved.

There were notable Irish performances in age classes right across the board from junior through senior to veteran.

Sprint: Top-ten places were recorded by Ruairi Long (UCDO) 10th M20E; Cliodhna Donaghy (GEN) 8th W18E; Emer Perkins (UCDO) 8th W20E; James Logue (ex NWOC) 1st M50; Frank Martindale (3ROC)

8th M80; Trina Cleary (3ROC) 9th W75. In addition, IOA Chairperson Mary O’Connell finished 11th in W55.

The Irish W10’s

really shone, with Fionnuala Rowe (GEN) 2nd, Niamh Browne (GEN) 4th and Aoife Masterson (CNOC) 9th in the sprint.




In the middle-distance race, UCDO’s Kathryn Barr finished 10th; James Logue and Bill Edwards finished 1st and 2nd in M50L; Aaron Coughlan (CorkO) 6th M18L; Ciaran

Kearns (FIN) 2nd and Eoin Riordan (UCDO) 3rd M20L; Oisín Wickham (AJAX) 1st M18S; Fiona O’Brien (KerryO) 7th W45S; Heather Cairns (LVO) 3rd & Nora Perkins (BOC) 7th W55S; Frank Martindale 4th M80; Trina Cleary 3rd W75; Sinéad Kearns (FIN) 2nd W16B; Maeve O’Sullivan (BOC) 4th W14B; Niamh Browne 2nd and Fionnuala Rowe 9th W10A; Aoife Masterson 1st W10B.





In Sunday’s Long Distance race, the UCDO trio of Kathryn Barr, Emer Perkins and Clodagh Moran finished 9th, 10th and 11th in W20E; Aaron Coughlan (5th M18L) and Eoin Riordan (2nd M20L); Conall Whelan (UCDO) 1st and James Haynes (ex DUO) 2nd M21S; Toni O’Donovan (CorkO) 8th W40L; Oisín Wickham 1st M18S; Olivia Baxter (LVO) 2nd and Maebh Perkins (UCDO)  4th W21S; James Logue 1st and Bill Edwards 4th M50L; John Riordan (3ROC) 4th and Brian Rowe (GEN) 10th M50S; Rachel Collins (LVO) 2nd W18S; Julie Cleary (3ROC) 4th, Mary O’Connell 5th and Nora Perkins 9th W55S; Helen Bater (LVO) 2nd W60S; Sinead Kearns 3rd W16B; Gerry Browne (GEN) 5th M12A; Maeve O’Sullivan 4th W14B; Fionnuala Rowe 2nd and Niamh Browne 8th W10A; Aoife Masterson 2nd W10B.

Other great runs in the Long race from UCDO’s Ruairi Long (12th M20E) and Niamh Corbett (13th W21E).


In Monday’s Relay the UCDO team of Aoife McCavana, Róisín Long and Niamh Corbett finished 8th in a top class field; LVO (Olivia Baxter, Sophie and Stephanie Pruzina) finished 8th in the Women’s Short class; also finishing 8th in the Intermediate Men’s race were the Irish Junior Squad team of Eoghan Whelan, Daire O’Brien and Darragh Hoare. The IJS team of Gerry Browne, Maeve O’Sullivan and Oscar Rowe finished 6th in the Mini Relay and the 3ROC team of Aidan, John and Clíona McCullough also finished 6th in the Mixed Ad Hoc class.


Exposure to high-class maps and competition is essential for our competetive orienteers, particularly juniors, to  motivate them to train and improve. The numbers taking part at home are small, so running against thousands of other orienteers teaches us that we have to keep running and trying our best to get to those big international competitions like the JK, the Scottish 6-Day and big events on the continent like the Swedish O-Ringen or the French 5-Day.

JK2020 will be in Yorkshire at Easter 2020.

And, by the way, there is still a vacancy for a Junior Representative Orienteering Officer on the IOA Executive!

John McCullough (3Roc)





Orienteering in Ireland
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