Edinburgh Southern Orienteering Club


Doctor-O: Problem 4

Problem: Can you suggest how I can improve my recall / interpretation of control descriptions? I can get confused between them and features on maps.

Doctor-O's response: I assume this refers to the IOF (International Orienteering Federation) pictorial descriptions that, although initially confusing, are relatively straightforward and as you progress through the different levels of courses, you will gradually build up your “vocabulary”. A map can use up to five colours, but control descriptions are limited to one, so there are quite a number of symbols to remember, although most are intuitive if you are familiar with the map legend.  The system uses eight columns to “describe” the control and each column serves a particular purpose, with different symbols used for the many features that can appear on a map, as well as the position of the control marker relative to the feature.

The best advice is to get hold of a copy of the Pictorial Descriptions card, produced by the Scottish Orienteering Association (SOA), which is available free at ESOC Level D (Local) events (speak to the registration team on the day). This explains the specific purpose of each of the eight columns and gives a list of the majority of features you are likely to visit in the UK.  It is important to understand the specific purpose of each column, especially as a symbol can occasionally mean different things dependent on which column it is in, e.g. X can mean crossing if it is in column 6 (as in path crossing) or man-made object if it is in column 4. 

So, in summary, get hold of a pocketsize SOA Pictorial Description card at the next ESOC Event, spend some time understanding the type of information given in each column and gradually build up your knowledge of what the symbols mean as you become more experienced.

And finally, if you are in the forest and just can’t interpret the symbol for the next control, don’t panic – look at the centre of the control circle. With your knowledge of the map legend and control description symbols, there’s a pretty good chance of success ;-)