CUOC: An Historical Perspective

In relative terms at least, I'm coming towards the end of my time here in Cambridge, and given the amount of time I seem to have spent orienteering since my first CUOC race (the 1995 SprintO, memorable for leaving three club members manning an AlcO control behind in Epping…) I thought it would be interesting to have a look back at the past history of the club.

While my memory may be long, it's not that long, so it was a happy coincidence that Chris Thorne's recent office clearout has furnished me with more than twenty years' worth of CompassSport and Points East, and the club with his collection of newsletters dating back to the very first.

Orienteering is a young sport, particularly in this country, with the first club founded in 1964 and the national association a year later. [1] Perhaps not surprisingly given the terrain on offer, East Anglia was slow to get involved, and when CUOC was formed in 1970 there had still to be any proper races in the region, and there was no regional association, nor most of our nearby open clubs.

The founders of the club were John Coxon and Martin Brown, who met in the queue for physiology practicals! [2] This was in autumn 1969, and the two entered a few races that year as 'CUOC,' though the club did not formally come into being until the following year. John had a London taxi, and was keen to get permission to keep it in Cambridge…

The first CUOC race was therefore their introductory race, held on 18th October 1970 on a copy of a 2.5'/mile OS map covering the fields immediately west of the city. [3] Won by Martin in just under an hour, there were a healthy 31 competitors, more than in many more recent years. Later that term the club travelled to other races at Reigate Hill, Slough and Limpsfield Chart.

Apparently, our introductory races don't count because the 'first ever true East Anglian race ' was 'a score format on the same ground as Icenian III, north of the Little Ouse river' on 5th March 1972. [4] This has remained one of our areas since that 1977 Icenian, and is in line to be resurveyed again for next year's as Santon Warren; will any of those original participants be returning again then, I wonder?

That the Icenian was an established annual race by that stage reflects well on the club's members, and particularly the mappers in an age where the hand drawing of five-coloured orienteering maps required great skill, and there were few hard-and-fast rules. Icenian I (the roman numerals were used until the mid-1980s) was held on 16th November 1975 at Mildenhall Wood, as a direct result of a decision that the club 'should play a more active part in the development of orienteering in the region.' [5]

Since that first Icenian at in 1975, it has continued every (academic) year since, moving to its current January date in 1988, making it one of the oldest named races in the country. While I haven't discovered why the title was chosen, it's derived from the Iceni tribe who inhabited East Anglia at the time of the early Roman Empire, and rebelled unsuccessfully against the Romans under Boudicca in 60 AD.

The move away from November was as a result of the start of our other annual institution, the SprintO. Those readers with personal experience of the organisation of this unique race might be interested to know that the decision to hold the inaugural edition was made all of two and a half weeks before the race itself, as the result of a drunken conversation in the Maypole (between Steve Nicholson and Ricky Baxter).6 Unsurprisingly our contribution to the list of race types, the AlcO, also made its first appearance; Ricky was also responsible for suggesting the addition of an Elite class, which made its debut in 1996.

While our races might leave the biggest impression on outsiders, what makes the club is its members, both the top-class competitors and those with a more social interest. Of the former we have been lucky enough to have many over the years, a point illustrated by the winners of the recent British Championships, Dan Marston and Heather Monro, both having been active members of CUOC in the early 1990s. Some more thorough research is needed before I try to list all those who have gone on to similar success (or in some cases achieved this while actually at Cambridge) but the current strength of the club suggests that this may well continue.

There are many more details that I could add, and indeed might in some future journal, but in the interests of brevity I shall leave it here - I hope that the history is of some interest, that those of you about to leave have enjoyed their own part in it, and that those with time on their side enjoy the years to come.

[1] Disley J., Orienteering, Faber & Faber (1972)

[2] Coxon, J., Personal correspondence [with Dr Thorne] (Jan 1991)

[3] CUOC Newsletter 1 (Nov 1970)

[4] Points East 26 (Jan 1978)

[5] CUOC Newsletter (May 1975)

[6] CUOC Newsletter (Nov 1987)

Written by Mark Collis

© 1990–2024 CUOC Sitemap