The parable of the orienteers

When I was a teenager I went on a school trip to the Yorkshire Dales.  A day packed with exciting and adventurous outdoor activities beckoned. The first activity was orienteering. Working in pairs, the task was to locate a series of plastic canisters which had letters written on their side, note down the letters as proof of location and get back to start point as quickly as possible. Pairs would start at timed intervals and the team with the lowest time would win.

My friend John and I were excited to be picked as the first pair to set off. We committed that we would go as fast as we could and not let any of the  following pairs catch us. Off we hared and each plastic canister was duly located with minimum fuss and in good time. However, in our excitement, we had not heard, or had failed to listen to, the final crucial instruction – ‘When you get to the final canister, which is behind a cairn, retrace your steps to the start point”.

We found the final canister, which was indeed hidden behind a cairn, but instead of turning back we continued to career across the tractless fells. I don’t know where we thought we were going but we were heading there as fast as we could. For a little while we kept on congratulating ourselves as we saw that there was no-one on our trail – weren’t we doing well! A little longer and doubts began to creep into my mind – how was it that there were no other teams in sight? Were we really going the right way. I’m sure John had the same misgivings but neither of us voiced them and we plunged further and further into the bleak countryside.


After a couple of hours we stopped for a drink at a cool stream and ‘came to ourselves’ – we admitted that we had inexplicably gone astray. A little way off we spied a lone cottage – surely the householder would be able to point us towards a short cut back to our start point? The resident of the cottage, a gnarled old Yorkshire man, glumly informed us that the only way back was the way we had come – back across the fells and moors.  We retraced our steps and in our tired state found the going more arduous and less exciting than our original journey. After three hours we arrived back at our base, hot sweaty and exhausted and were ‘welcomed’ by concerned teachers. We were glad to be safely back in the company and fellowship of our friends and found that we had arrived just in time to board the bus back home. We were back in safety but we had paid a price, while we were wandering we had missed the abseiling, the rock climbing, the canoeing and the picnic.



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