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Sitting in a tent in the middle of Epping Forest at silly o’clock in the night in a checkpoint, I wondered if I could get any of my other group, Redbridge 18 Plus, to have a go at next year’s event. Roll forward a year and I’d managed to interest/cajole/con Elliot and Will into our first attempt at the legendary Rodings Rally (it only took 56 years – why the delay?).

One thing about taking part in the rally, it means you’re banned from the “joys” of check-point plotting, so you don’t gain any unfair advantage over the other teams. So having had a forest free autumn, I was looking forward to returning from “exile”, having missed the camaraderie of c.p. plotting, early morning starts, falling over in the mud, and most importantly, scrambled egg on toast at the cafe!.

Arriving at Loughton station first, I waited or the others to arrive. Will was next, but carrying very little for a night in the forest, no food, drink or torch even. However, it turned out he was not feeling well and was going to join us for a pre-rally drink and was then going to go home. Fortunately, Elliot was fighting fit, so it would be just the two of us, so now our team name “Trev’s Trudging Trio” was a teeny bit wrong.

Arriving at High Beech and having confirmed the starting point, we ventured to the nearby pub for a couple of beers to fine tune our sense of direction. But alas, it was closed for a private function. This was not a good start, a man down and the pub shut. Un-deterred we re-assessed our plans and made off to the Wellington, as did a number of other teams who we saw there. 10 o’clock came and it was time to depart for the start. We said our goodbyes to the sickly Will and left him to meet his friends/ get attacked by an owl/ get run over in the dark of the forest (for those of a nervous disposition he did get home safely).

Arriving at the check point, we were greeted by some friendly faces, given our clues and card, and then spent the next 5 or so minutes huddled over the map checking co-ordinates to see which best matched the clues. Most were ok, except the last one, check-point 8, where 2 locations referred to bridges, so we plumped for the one which seemed most likely.

We then set off towards check-point one, along a forest track, and could see a couple of walkers on the same track in the distance which gave us some encouragement. Arriving in the vicinity of checkpoint 1, it was like a scene from a Disney film, with dozens of torches all twinkling in the forest, searching for the tent. We continued down the hill for about 300 metres before bearing right into the forest. There was no sign of a tent, and not a lot of other torches either, Retracing our steps we found a track leading off into the woods which looked promising, and following this, we came across an increasing number of other teams, and there across a clearing was the tent. Our clue sheet said the tent would be illuminated, I was expecting a light display more similar to Blackpool at its best, rather than faintly glimmering lamps, nevertheless we’d found it. 1 down, 4 to go. Susan and Lynne signed our card and we set off for cp 5 (2nd in the 5 cp event). This is where it started to go wrong.

Having in previous years done check-point plotting, I know we normally use compass bearings to get back to a path. My brilliant idea was much easier, simply retrace our steps, using the incoming torches as a guide back to the track. After about 15 minutes of falling over tree-stumps and going round in circles we finally found our way back to the track which we came in on. Having found our way back to the road, we decided to follow it round and after a short time ended up back at the start point. Yes, I’d missed the turning. A re-check of the maps and we decided we’d follow the roads to the next cp (number 5). After a mishap free half hour (blimey!) we were at the horse ride leading to cp 5, a brisk stroll down the path, again with a fair number of teams about, and a quick foray into the woods and there was the checkpoint. Is this Jim and Sue’s house? I enquired. The reply confirmed it was. 2 checkpoints found, I wouldn’t be frog-marched out of Efog at the next club night! This time we used the compass technique to get out, heading west and were back on the road in no time.

The route to the next cp looked straight-forward, follow the roads skirting the forest and then up Strawberry Hill, to the cp, after all who can get lost on the road? Answer – we can, and did. Somehow, we’d ended up in the outskirts of Loughton. After half hour or so exploring Loughton and avoiding the temptation of a late night kebab, we found the road to Strawberry hill and an incredibly busy tea-point. The third checkpoint should be just along the track and to the left. After 5 minutes crawling through some of the densest undergrowth of the night, there was the checkpoint with Val and Eileen. We made our way back to the tea-point which was now much quieter. After some much needed refreshment we pushed onto the fourth check-point (cp8).

After a starlit walk along tracks and Fairmead Hill we arrived at the horse ride and following this, the check-point should be to our right. However, we couldn’t see anything, other than trees, not even torches twinkling in the dark. We’d gone too far, instinct was telling me. We retraced our steps and after a short while glimpsed a track to the left, which looked likely. We wandered along this to about where we’d marked the spot on the map. “It should be around here” I said, by this stage fearing we’d got the wrong co-ordinates, “lets give it 20 or 30 minutes”. By now though, people had begun to venture into the forest. Either, we were right, or they were equally lost and just following us. But after a few minutes, behold the 4th checkpoint. Card signed by Fred or Dave (we only saw a hand), we made our way back to the track and after a celebratory high-5 headed to the village hall.

Following the road back to the village hall was straightforward (even for us!), we arrived back shortly after 3 a.m. giving us a time of just under 5 hours, and were very grateful to have a sit down, a cup of tea, a chat with the Efoggers who were on duty at the hall, and a much needed early breakfast.

It had been a good night, the weather had been almost perfect, quite mild with little wind, and chatting with some of the competitors on the way round, they also enjoyed it. Oh, and somehow, we’d found all 5 checkpoints (I was not expecting that). I’m glad we had a go, perhaps next year, we’ll have 2 teams. I’d like to thank all the EFOG members and past members who make it possible and Elliot for being willing to have a go and not losing the scorecard. It’s a night like no other, and despite our mishaps was challenging and fun!

There’s something quite strange about choosing to spend Saturday night wandering about looking for tents in the forest on a late autumn night, when everyone else is in bed, warm and asleep, but maybe that’s part of the magic of the event.

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