Twenty Years in the Woods with the Rayleigh Rockets

The Rayleigh Rockets began competing as a team in the Rodings Rally in 1989, although one of us can remember running from bullocks (shrieking mock -hysterically) in a close on the forest fringe on a Rodings night as early as 1978. Those were the days when one used to receive YHA stamps at the end of the rally to add to one’s collection. Ah, the innocent days of one’s youth....

The Rockets were named after a long-defunct speedway club in Rayleigh, Essex, and are a loose grouping of ‘lads’ (now pushing 50 years of age) from the Rochford/Rayleigh/Leigh area of south-east Essex who mis-spent their youths gaming and hanging out together at sixth-form college, and who have been firm friends since.

The original three have been joined over the past twenty years by other friends, and in turn, their friends (at university or work) from places as far away as North Norfolk, Leicester and Kent. Some have dropped away, but others have stayed, and a new generation of sons and daughters have been ‘blooded’ and, we hope, will continue to renew the ageing Rayleigh Rockets ‘brand’.

We are not runners, and do not belong to orienteering clubs, and were, to begin with, happy just to find all the checkpoints and return to the youth hostel before the eight hours were up. In those days, we were younger, and rather relished late starts, and tired teams often saw the cold, grey light of dawn before they arrived, muddied (and sometimes, bloodied) from head to foot at journey’s end. It wasn’t long, however, before we began to achieve top-ten or even top-five placings, and by fissuring to lead separate teams, have several times challenged for, and occasionally, won, the group trophy. Our traditional rivalry in this with The Alchemists (previously known as the Cockney Nimrods) has been fierce, but latterly our results have been mixed, and we have been eclipsed by a dramatic improvement in their times (some secret weapon, or foreign players, we suspect) and by recent incomers, the Cam Racers. Naturally, we are not complaining, but we have noticed an increase in the incidence of lycra moving at speed around the forest on Rally nights!

Above all, we want to be in the forest at night, soaking up the atmosphere, hearing the owls call, snuffing the tang of wet leaves, and trying (and often failing) to avoid the slap of holly branches in our eyes. We revel in the coded calls around the checkpoints (occasionally, in the attempt to confuse other teams with one’s own fake calls), and in the sheer, joyous juvenility of being abroad in the deep, dark woods when sensible folks are long abed.

Of course, we also crave the competition, the excitement of chasing down other teams, the fear of being caught by them, the exhilaration of finding that tent dead on your bearing, and even the despair of wandering fruitlessly around the checkpoint area as other teams arrive and depart.

Competing against other teams is important. However, what we really live for on a Rodings night is the opportunity to achieve bragging rights over the other Rayleigh Rocket teams. The most consistently quick performers have been Colin Smith and his crew, and the chance to get one over them and be the top Rayleigh Rockets team is the drive that forces the rest of us through the Rodings mud.  Last year was a particular triumph for a sons and dads team, finishing in a respectable tenth place, just twelve minutes faster than Colin’s team, but this year Colin reasserted his hegemony.

So, ‘thank you’ to the organising committee and to all the volunteers on the night (though this year, we did not bother those in checkpoint nine) and for all those of the past twenty years. The Rally is not only a consummately well-organised and exciting sporting event; it is also a fixture on our social calendars, as immutable as Christmas and far more enjoyable. Long may it continue!

Tom Townsend




Camping and Cycling at Fakenham

A group of EFOG members met up at Fakenham Racecourse  for a weekend of cycling and walking in the area over 2 days.

Starting on Friday 21st August 2009 the Epping Forest Outdoor Group had a camping and cycling weekend, including several walkers who followed their own route. We stayed at Fakenham Racecourse campsite, in Norfolk.

Bill and Inger were already there and had set up in a large field normally reserved for horseboxes.  Other EFOG members arrived and tents, large and small, were duly erected.

17 of us spent a pleasant evening sitting in a circle with our meal, next to B+I's tent and van, catching up  on everyone's news and plotting Saturday's ride and walk.  The next morning was fine and warm but we had to 'fight the good fight' with abundant flies and wasps who were more than willing to share our breakfast !

Inger led the pelaton out from Fakenham, through Toftrees and on to Helhoughton. The last match of the Ashes Test was on today so Bill's radio travelled with us and we caught up with the score during every break.  We had lunch by a lake-sized pond, complete with fishermen, in the picturesque village of Great Massingham ; the view was straight off a chocolate box.


fakenham_090822_p8220036_smallPausing during the cycling weekend

The countryside was gently undulating with plenty of small woods and copses to add interest. We passed through Weasenham St. Peter and Weasenham All Saints, Titteshall,and Whissonset.  We had a short stop (What's the score, Bill?) and than made a final push for home, via Colkirk and Hempton. We had covered almost 28 miles

As counties go, Norfolk is not over-demanding for cyclists and it has lots of pretty villages and quiet lanes once you leave the main roads.

Our evening of food and bonhomie was repeated , though our cricket fans spent some of the time in the clubhouse catching up on the day's play. After dusk it became noticeably cooler and we eventually retired to our tents for a well-earned night's sleep.

On Sunday we drove to Swaffham , our starting point. We rode south of the town, through Beachamwell, and passed Oxborough Wood, a well-known Nature Reserve, and Oxborough Old Chapel.

Highlight of the afternoon was a pleasant tea-stop at Gooderstone Water Gardens,where a tributary of the river Whissey runs through the grounds. Lots of beautiful plants and trees - a real haven from the busy world. Then on to the village of Cockley Cley. This was known as Cleia in the Domesday Book (1086)--a place with clayey soil, though it can also mean a "wood frequented by woodcock "....yer pays yer penny and yer takes yer choice ..."

Some wayside plums were discovered on the homeward route , which divided the company--those who saw the plums and stopped to pick them, and those ahead who didn't see them.....

The plums were later shared out to all, however. Late afternoon was taken up with striking camp and departing, but we were a bunch of 'happy bunnies' as England had The Ashes.   Howzat ?!

Jill Domeney

Sue Stirling has seen a Bittern at last!

After a family boat trip on Hickling Broad recently, Sue, Fergus, Jacob and Callum went to the Broad's hide and a Bittern flew past! They were also treated to views of young lizards and - so says Sue - possibly the Great White Egret which is reputed to inhabit the area.

Yeh - well, that sounds as likely as seeing a Common Crane at Debden Camp Site!