• Forvie, credit: ActivNorth


  • Balmoral Castle

    Balmoral Castle

  • Edinburgh Castle map

    Edinburgh Castle map

  • Stirling Castle map

    Stirling Castle map

Intro to Urban Orienteering

A Beginner’s Guide to Urban Orienteering

Race the Castles is a footrace without a route. To complete the course, you will spend about an hour rushing around in Central Edinburgh or Stirling. Orienteering involves using a map to find checkpoints.

Ali McLeod, Edinburgh OrganiserWhat's it all about?

Race the Castles is Urban Orienteering

An orienteering competition is a race that does not follow a set route.  Instead you just have to visit a series of checkpoints. Your challenge is first to decide what you think the quickest route will be between the checkpoints and then to find your own way along that route using a map. The checkpoints are not hidden, but they may be down small alleyways or behind trees.

Since it is a race your aim will be to visit all the checkpoints in the correct order in as fast a time as possible. To do that, you need to pick the quickest route, which may not always be the shortest. Is it quicker to go over a hill or round it ?

Urban orienteering takes place in city streets and parks, the route you take will be mainly on tarmac roads and paths. There may be some sections of grass.

For Race the Castles the courses will be set around the streets and castles of central Edinburgh and Stirling, each course could take up to an hour of racing.

The photo shows Ali McLeod, organiser of the Edinburgh race, whilst competing in Perth.

It looks a bit hard?

Perhaps the map looks a bit complicated, but it is specially made to highlight what is important in finding the quickest route. It shows buildings, paths, streets, open ground and high walls or fences.  There are no street names. There are extra details, like trees, statues, contour lines, and kerbs but really all you have to do is keep track of where you are and keep the map orientated so that you know when to turn right or left. Some people find a compass is helpful in keeping the map the right way round, but it isn't essential to use one. It helps to be able to judge the distance. Map scales are large: e.g. 1:5000 , which means that 1cm on the map is 50 metres on the ground.

How far?

Choose your course between 2 to 8 kilometres. (1.5 to 5 miles) But remember, this course distance is measured in a straight line between the checkpoints. You will have to run round roads and avoid obstacles so you might run half as far again to complete your course.

What kit do I need?

Trainers, t-shirt and shorts are fine. You can use a compass or you could even use a GPS, but few people use these.

How does the race work?

The race is a time trial, which means that people set off one at a time and race against the clock - instead of a head to head where everyone would start together.

A number of competitors may start together but they will be racing different courses. Once you get out on course you will see other people racing, but they may be on a different course to you so if you follow you could end up in the wrong place, make sure you know where you are going. The public will be out and about town and cars will be on the roads, so take care.

So that you can show you have been round the course correctly we provide an electronic timing stick, which you use to register at each checkpoint. And of course we provide you with a map, which has your course marked on it.

Who can take part?

We have courses suitable for all ages and fitness. There will be under-tens and over-eighties competing.

Urban Orienteering explained video

Take me through an example?

This map shows the start (triangle) and the first 5 controls in an Urban Orienteering race. Red lines connect the checkpoints numbered 1-5. Yellow is grass, green is trees, beige is roads/pavement. The main rules are common sense – for example, you can’t choose a route through houses (grey) or private gardens (olive green) or high walls (thick black lines). The full set of symbols is online here

Look at map extract. The start is at the triangle, so head west along the path and across the grass until you see a carpark on your right. In the far left hand corner is a small alleyway between two houses: your first checkpoint Is just down there on a bush. To get to number 2, go back to the carpark and out the exit road. Right at the T-junction, round a left hand bend, then turn left. Run to the T junction and turn right: the checkpoint is on another bush on the left hand side of the road. Can you see a shorter route?

How do I practice before the big day?

SOA urban League logo

Find a club in your area, and you will always get help at Scottish Orienteering Urban League Facebook page or Facebook Group and get more details and when the next events are on the Scottish Orienteering Urban League website


Last edited: 16th May 14