Peter Palmer’s autobiography

Peter Palmer 21 years old in 1953 just after he finished National Service at the RAF.

Peter Palmer 21 years old in 1953 just after he finished National Service at the RAF.

It is just over 13 years now since Peter Palmer left us. For many orienteers, his name is synonymous with the annual Junior Team Relay. But who was he and why was he so important to Orienteering in Britain?

In his remaining years he penned an autobiography which his son, Stephen Palmer, recently found again and has generously agreed to offer it in return for donations to the Orienteering Foundation.

Peter Palmer introduced the sport of orienteering to generations of juniors and, as quoted in the December 2003 edition of CompassSport Magazine, was affectionately known as the 'Father of British Orienteering'.  

He first became fascinated with orienteering in the 1950s and early 1960s, and, together with Chris Brasher and John Disley, was instrumental in establishing the sport in the UK.  He founded Walton Chasers Orienteering Club, organised and planned the first British Schools' Championships in 1967, he was BOF Director of Coaching, he formed the British Schools Orienteering Association of which he was the first chairman, he formed the National Navigation Award Scheme, he wrote many books on the teaching and coaching of orienteering.... the list of contributions to the sport goes on.

The 260 page book is available in soft copy as a PDF.  To receive a copy:

  • Make a donation to the Orienteering Foundation via the Donate page (suggestion of at least £5, but please give generously and remember to allow GiftAid if you are eligible).
  • Forward the email receipt from MyDonate to Stephen Palmer  as evidence of the donation, who will email the PDF (1.6MB).

To give you a taste of his book, we have reproduced some excerpts from Chapter 10 which is on Orienteering, by kind permission.

Chapter 10 - Orienteering - Not Just a Sport - More a Way of Life

For over 30 years orienteering has formed a colourful thread in the tapestry of Palmer family life. Perhaps it even started with the chasing and hide-and-seek games of my childhood. Variations on a running theme have always exercised my imagination and I still enjoy planning orienteering courses and activities today.

Daughter Mary felt at one time that orienteering had taken over our lives. Even now when my competitive endeavours are reduced to Trail O for the disabled and my school and squad responsibilities have almost gone, orienteering still bulks large in the weave of my life.

In 1964 John Disley the Outdoor Advisor for Surrey LEA produced prototype red and white canvas markers from canoe canvas bought at a Teddington shop .Then he took me to the Wards' shop in Westminster Bridge Road near Waterloo Station, where we bought self-inking marker-stamps for printed control cards. Biscuit-tin markers soon became a thing of the past. John had a profound influence on my thinking in these early days. John always claimed that the most important thing with orienteering was to plan good courses and to ensure that controls were in the right position. He held that sport could never be totally fair. He went on to argue that if we try to make it completely fair we destroy it. I think he was right on both counts.

..... This was the first and last full English Orienteering Championship. The choice of Farnham Railway Station as reporting-point was interesting. Competitors were asked to show their entry receipt to a station porter who would then inform them of the exact location of the car park three miles away. It was considered vital in those early days that the exact venue of any competition be kept secret to stop reconnoitring beforehand. Fortunately, this regulation has now gone. Quite often, the most difficult part of an orienteering event in those innocent days was actually finding it and many were the irate competitors who toured country roads looking for orienteering direction signs. 

16th Nov 16