Soggy Feet and a Damp Bottom in Stanmore Country Park

After our last, not so enjoyable, caching day out (see A bad day at the office), it was with renewed hope and a small amount of trepidation that Shar and I made plans for a few hours of caching last Thursday. We decided to head off directly after the school run and try and get back in time for lunch. I had identified a small series of four geocaches in Stanmore Country Park and, along with a couple of others that were also in the park, this seemed like the ideal morning filler.

Despite there having been a lot of rain the day before, as we made our way to Stanmore, just a few miles to the south of us, it was cloudy but thankfully dry. A handy car park was attached to the park and as we left the car and headed into the trees along a path, we were already feeling more positive. Stanmore Country Park is what you would call an open space rather than a park. There are no paved paths, or playgrounds or mown sports pitches. What there is, are lots of woodland and small meadows and clearings, with natural trodden paths and only minimal signs of human interference – the ideal place to hide a few geocaches.

Following the directions on the cache page and with the help of a provided waypoint and the gentle advice of “if in doubt, stay on the path,” we enjoyed the fresh air and solitude as we ambled over the undulating terrain towards our first cache, SCP #1 – Fallen Tree (GC2TPYK). We were hardly out of sight of the car when the woodland residents started showing their faces. Squirrels were to be seen everywhere scampering around the ground and up into the trees. We stopped and watched as one ran up a tree and leapt from one to another as if performing for us in a private squirrel circus.

With both of us still getting to grips with our new phones and as a result of the nature of the terrain and tree cover, we were at times unsure of exactly where we were meant to be heading. The advice of staying on the path was good though and soon we were within metres of GZ at the top of a moderately steep bank. We started down the bank and as we got half way down I commented that my phone was reading 0 metres. Not trusting the reading and unsure where on the bank the cache might be we carried on, stepping carefully over some logs as we went. Well I am sure you read that and thought, “hang on a minute… stepped over some logs? Err, you wanna think about that for a second?” Once we had reached the bottom, we both agreed that we were now about 10 metres from GZ and it was back up the slope…. Near the logs! We made our way back up and upon reaching the logs, had a brief forehead slapping moment before we plucked the cache from its hiding place amongst the logs.

Heading towards our second cache,SCP #2 – The Pimple (GC2TQ1Y) Shar was having a lot of problems getting a consistent distance reading from C:Geo and I was having issues getting a bearing that I could trust. We continued to heed the advice of following the path and between the two of us we were able to count down the metres to GZ. We still hadn’t seen another soul as we steadily headed through the trees and gained in elevation. As we neared the cache site Shar’s phone started being a bit more consistent and when we eventually reach the hide which was on the crest of a hill, it occurred to me that our poor GPS performance was probably due to the fact that for the last 30 minutes we had been in somewhat of a gully, which with relatively high sides and a dense covering of trees would have caused not an insignificant amount of problems when trying to secure a solid and reliable GPS signal.

Shar stands in amongst the trees smiling at the camera

Good to be back in the woods

It took us only a few minutes of searching to locate the container thanks to the name of the cache and a tree that seemed to have a bad case of acne. We signed the log and then made a note of the bonus number that was also within the cache. I have neglected to mention up until now that the series of four caches is in fact three caches and a bonus; the means for locating which can be found inside the first three containers in conjunction with answering a few simple questions on the cache page. We were lacking just the remaining code number from the third cache now as I had previously answered the necessary questions whilst at home.

Upon leaving this cache and heading towards SCP #3 – Forked and Intertwined (GC2TQ3K)we took a noticeable turn to the left indicating that we were indeed making our way around in a large circle which would, hopefully, lead us back towards the car after finding the bonus. Having reached somewhat of a peak at the previous cache we were now dropping in elevation as we made our way along the woodland path. On the way we “big stepped” across a couple of small and pitiful streams which might be a bit more daunting later on in the winter, but at this stage presented us with little problem. Once at the GZ of number 3, we made quick work of searching for an appropriate hint item and soon had the cache in hand and were inspecting the contents. I couldn’t resist snagging out a little pull back Dalek from the container with the intention of giving it to Sam on returning home… no honest, it was for Sam.

With all bonus numbers now secured we were now able to calculate the coordinates of the final cache. Before we went for this one though, which would take us almost back to the car, there were two other caches in the park and seeing as we had found all the previous ones with relative ease we were keen to press on and grab a couple more before heading back.

The walk to SCP – (S)PInELESS (GC3RRGG) took us through more of the woods and up and down a couple of hills again, although it felt like we kept going up and down the same hill to be honest but this is where the path took us. It also led us through a couple more clearings where the grass had been allowed to grow wild which was now around shin height and sopping wet. Consequently by the time we had crossed the clearings and despite the fact that we were both wearing walking boots, our feet were now soaking wet. My next pair of boots will definitely have waterproof uppers as the merest of strolls through grass longer than an inch tends to leave my feet damp slightly squelchy. On the way we spotted a cool looking tree that to me conjured up visions of medusa’s wild and poisonous hair. The cache itself was to be found not too far away from this at all, on the other side of the path in the bowl of a tree. Shar made the find and another smiley was added to the pile.

The walk to the next cache, SCP – Logged Out (GC3RRA6) was longer than expected and this was mainly because we followed slightly the wrong path and ended up taking a diversion that we didn’t need to. The diversion involved going up and down the biggest hill of the day and upon finally reaching the GZ of logged out, we realised that we could have avoided the hill entirely had we gone the right way. To add insult to injury, no amount of searching could find us the cache and we were left slightly baffled as to where it could be if indeed it was there at all. We spent 15 minutes around a very distinctive tree that had grown in and out of the ground like a serpent which was referenced in the hint but still had no luck in finding the cache. We did find some awesomely large fungi though.

Large Fungi

Monster Magic Mushrooms

Having admitted defeat we dialled in the coordinates of the bonus cache, SCP #4 – Chip’s Challenge Bonus Cache (GC2TQ50) and made our way there along a wider and much more used path. This turned out to form part of the London Loop, a series of footpaths and walks that circle London. The cords led us to a point on the path that was flanked by two massive oak trees and the hint confirmed that we did indeed need to be looking around one of these. Feeling confident that we were in the right place it was frustrating therefore that 15 minutes later we still didn’t have cache in hand, although I had had a lot of dirt, leafmold, bark, mud and slugs in my hands during the search around the base of both of the trees. We read past logs and it just didn’t seem to make sense. The coordinates and the log seemed to favour one in particular of the trees but there were little or no places to hide a cache at ground level near this one. I sat down on part of the tree that had fallen and wondered what to do while my trousers slowly soaked up all the moisture from the tree…. Wet feet and a damp bum… nice. Finally Sharlene exclaimed that she had found it and that we had been on the wrong track all the time. It was the right tree but no one had ever said it was supposed to be base of tree. Low and behold a few feet up, there was a narrow slot in the massive trunk and when I finally managed to get close enough to it to stick my hand in, I was astonished to find that the tiny hole opened up like a huge cave inside the tree. There nestling in the hollow was a decent sized tupperware box.

So all in all it was a good couple of hours in the woods. We enjoyed the caching a lot more than we had on the previous occasion even though we only managed to find 5 out of the possible 6 caches, had wet feet and I for one had a damp bottom.

Posted in Finding Geocaches, Geocaching | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

A bad day at the office!

Every once in a while, things just don’t seem to pan out the way you thought they might, or be as much fun as you thought they were going to be, or any fun at all for that matter. I could, of course, be talking about any aspect of life but this being a geocaching blog, I am referring to a recent caching day out. The day in question was Tuesday the 4th of November and it was the first time for quite a while that Shar and I were heading out on our own.

For whatever reason, and I will list a few, it turned out to be a bit of a dead loss. When I look back and realise that we actually did find 8 caches on the day it surprises me that I still think of it as a bad day but we just weren’t having fun. We had travelled to Wigmore, which is not far from Luton Airport on the border of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, to do the Wigmore Wander series of caches. I’m gonna keep this blog entry relatively short as in my head it just sounds like a lot of whinging and I don’t wanna be “that guy”, so here is a summary.

1. Both Shar and I were experimenting with new phones, which sounds great but it left both of us confused at times and not trusting what our devices were telling us. I am still not entirely happy with my 4s as the compass seems way over sensitive and needs calibrating every 5 seconds. Shar’s new S3 mini reports the direction of the cache well enough but seems to go a bit weird and misreport the distance quite often.
2. Within 2 minutes of being out of the car, we were in the mud. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t mind mud but we didn’t get eased into it, just straight into the mud.
3. Also straight out of the car we weren’t exactly sure which path to take so not a great start as we now didn’t trust our phones, weren’t sure which path to take and were ankle deep in mud.
4. I slipped down a bank at the first cache and got covered in dirt.
5. We couldn’t find the 2nd cache despite looking for 20 minutes. We really must get a pocket book of trees as neither of us knew what a hazelnut tree looked like.
6. The local farmer was spraying pesticide on the fields right next to us which provided a fantastic aroma of chemicals.
7. I seemed to walk into every low branch. I am not sure if there was something wrong with me or that the trees in question just had lots of low branches but I seemed to find them all with my face.
8. After 4 caches we both needed the loo and there was of course none and the surrounding woodland / fields were too busy and too exposed to “get back to nature” until about an hour later, by which time my back teeth were practically floating!
9. At 40% battery remaining my iPhone decided to shut down and refused to power up again until I plugged it into my charger.
10. We had another DNF along a bridle path that involved 20 minutes searching a thicket of trees and bushes.
11. We were grumpy
12. The hides were nothing special and whilst this is probably a disservice to the series as I am sure if we were in a better mood we might have enjoyed it, but on the day we didn’t.
We did have a brief respite around lunch time where we found a nice spot to sit, eat lunch and even enjoyed a little sunshine, but we both knew it was too little too late. Two more caches on and we both agreed that neither of us had the stamina, or inclination to carry on and so we cut our losses and took a direct path back to the car.

A crips winter scene through the trees across a field. The later autum colours are visible

Shame, looks like a nice place

It’s a shame really as under the right circumstances I reckon we would have enjoyed the series but on that day with all the above going on it really did just seem like a bad day at the office. Maybe when we return to finish off the series we will enjoy it a bit more… hopefully.

Posted in Finding Geocaches, Geocaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Royal Box at Sandringham

On the day Sam and I were due to leave Norfolk and head back home, there was just time for one more sneaky geocache. We decided to make a royal occasion of it and headed to the woods around Sandringham House which is one of the Queen’s residencies. She traditionally spends Christmas and the whole of January there but it was a little too early for her to be there when we visited. The estate consists of a large amount of parkland and woods which is open to the public all year round and there are a couple of geocaches placed in this area. There is a great night cache which Sam had found as his 300th find when he was staying with my mum in the summer but I will have to wait for another, darker, day for that one. So, instead, we went in search of The Royal Box (GC2QNY8) which was a decent sized container hidden in the woodland a short distance from the visitor centre. After making the find we stopped for a spot of refreshment but alas, as I said, Liz was unable to join us – maybe next time.

Mum and Sam inspect the contents of the Royal Box cache in Sandringham.

The Royal Box

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Caching in Norfolk and some waffle about blindness

Last week was half term and we had made plans to head up to Norfolk to visit my mum for a few days. This time it was just Sam and I, leaving Shar at home for a well-earned rest from being mum and carer to the two of us respectively. Having introduced my mum to geocaching last year and seeing that it is a fantastic way to get out and enjoy the East Anglian countryside, there was soon talk about whether we could fit a day’s caching into our plans while we were there, and of course there were no objections from me.

We decided to tackle a series of 11 caches near the village of Tottenhill which is a cluster of just under 100 dwellings around 5 miles from the town of Kings Lynn; a short drive of 30 minutes from where my mum lives. On the drive there we took a small diversion to find VS#29 West Newton (GC4FXNF). As well as being a fantastic chance to grab a smiley we were also there on a mercy mission for the CO, Norfolk12, who I am Facebook friends with and when she realised we were heading up to my mum’s, had asked me if we could replace the container which had been broken. We were happy to do this and with a bit of roadside improvisation, a length of black insulation tape and a magnet the job was done and we were back in the car heading for Tottenhill.

The series, Wandering Around Westbriggs, is laid out in a cross shape with 3 to 4 caches placed on each leg outwards from a central junction of two quiet country lanes. Three of the 4 legs are on lanes and the last stretches along a footpath. This is rather a strange arrangement for a series and studying the map revealed there was no alternative way to approach the hides other than to walk out along each leg and then back to the centre to start another. The distances involved meant that this wasn’t really a problem as the hides themselves looked to be no more than a couple of hundred metres apart.

Along one of the lanes lay the parish church of St. Bartolph’s and this provided a good place to park the car. For some reason, known only to those that built the church and the houses in Tottenhill, the two are not particularly near each other. The village lies on the other side of a main road about 1km from the church and all the caches we were attempting today were placed in peaceful, deserted and uninhabited countryside. Well that is not entirely true. The countryside was inhabited by quite a lot of animals but as for houses, I think there were a total of 2 in the area where we were caching and one of those we couldn’t actually see, believing it to be there only because there was a track leading away from the road at one point with a wheelie bin skulking to one side.

Sam and Nanny search for the first cache with phones out.

Let’s Get Caching

As Sam, mum and I left the car behind and headed down the lane to start our caching the skies were peppered with light clouds and the winds were gentle. It was a good day to be out in the open exposed flat lands of Norfolk and we were eager to clock up some finds. The caches were actually quite new, having only been published in September this year. They had been laid to commemorate a previous series of caches which, whilst very popular, had recently been archived. Our first stint took us towards the road junction and across onto the footpath along which we found our first five caches – 11 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1Q3), 7 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5B6Z0), 4 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C4E), 6 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5B6YD) and 5 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C4T). The hides were all good, making use of trees or stumps and bushes and the CO had taken the time to use some pretty fun containers. Amongst The first five caches these included a plastic pelican, a spider with a nano hidden in its abdomen, a crazy frog on a skateboard and a rubber train.
Sam holds a plastic spider that hides the nano cache container in its abdomen

“Boris” the cache guardian

It was interesting to be caching without Shar who normally acts as my guide when we walk. However, both Sam and mum were happy to guide me or lead me when I needed it. It was also quiet enough that most of the time I could make my own way, following the sounds they made and their blurred shapes moving ahead of me. Sam is learning how to lead and guide me and I must say he is doing really well. I expect that sounds a bit strange, but although Sam has grown up knowing that I am blind and always having to accommodate and work with it, it hasn’t been until recently that I have called on him to guide me, as this carries with it all sorts of responsibilities and requires a decision making process that is developed to consider more than just the individual. It isn’t something that comes with instinct, and it is not something that you can just learn out of a book. Guiding and leading someone in a way that is comfortable for both people is a skill that takes a long time to develop. Shar and I have gradually tweaked and modified our methods over years and now we know what works and what doesn’t. As a result we can now slip into and out of gentle guidance and authoritative distinctive control as and when we need to without hardly even thinking about it.

Due to linear placement of the caches we opted to employ the skip every other cache method whilst walking along the footpath which meant that on our way back towards the road junction we still had one cache to find. After completing this leg we decided that this was a good time to take a break and get some food. We headed back towards the car and upon retrieving the lunch, found a very handy bench in the churchyard. Tottenhill is not much of a hill but, to be fair, the church is most definitely positioned on the highest possible ground around. It might just be a few metres in vertical height above the surrounding landscape but from a distance the vista of the village is as dominated by the shape of the church as it would have been hundreds of years ago when it was built, most probably at the edge of an estate by the wealthy land owners.

The church is framed center shot in teh distance visible across a field. The picture is flanked by the trees that line the lane.

St Botolph’s, Tottenhill

As we ate lunch sitting outside the small, locked church the sun poked out from behind the clouds and added a little warmth to our picnic. It was quiet, so peaceful… I really got a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world which is a feeling I love when being outside. A ham and pickle sandwich in hand and the delicate heat of the sun on my face I could have quite happily spent the afternoon just sitting there, doing nothing, listening the distance sounds of life going on around me.

Most of our senses can be tuned and filtered to simplify the information we receive and to try and ensure that the important data gets through to us. For me the most notable sense where this happens is my hearing. Not being distracted by visual stimulus my focus is much more on what I hear and I can consciously tune in or tune out sounds sometimes, a practice that everyone does without knowing it. I tend to notice sounds a lot more… that is not to say my hearing is improved. The idea that a blind person somehow has super hearing is utter rubbish and has no scientific evidence to support it as a theory as far as I know. But when you take away vision, you rely on your hearing a lot more, you put all your concentration into trying to determine what useful information you can gain from all the sounds entering your ears. This is as opposed to ignoring a lot of “noise”, as sighted people do as they try to focus on what they are seeing. Experimenting with my hearing and passing the time by just listening and trying to decide what I am hearing is a pastime that I am quite happy to do if I am sitting somewhere comfortable, preferably with the sun shining on me and a sandwich in my hand.

When you choose to focus your hearing it is surprising what gradually comes into the foreground, as it were. What Sam and Mum experienced whilst lunching at the church was exactly the same thing but from a visual point of view. It started with Sam spotting a ladybird on his hand as he was eating. This was followed by seeing another one a few minutes later. When the third one was spotted, again by Sam, he then tracked its flight to the church wall where it landed. As he stood and looked, mum joining him, he started to see a few more ladybirds. Then mum started seeing them and after a minute or so or looking at the wall, they realised that there were hundreds of them sunning themselves on the warm stone. It was a question of changing the filter or shifting your focus or a phrase that I am sure you have come across before, “getting your eye in”. Whilst they were doing this I noticed the strangled moo of a cow far away to the left, the roar of some industrial works in the distance ahead of me, the tweet of an unknown bird up to my left, the low hum of the main road behind the church, a lorry passing by us just a few metres away pushing aside the low tree branches as it went down the narrow overgrown lane and the very distinct and loud sound of a military jet banking and dipping in the skies above. And then I unfocussed it all again and enjoyed the peace and quiet as I slurped on a cup of hot chocolate, drunk from a proper mug… my mum knows how to do a picnic!

After lunch we set off to find Church Micro 300 – Tottenhill (GC1EYJ4) which actually wasn’t that close to the church. I guess the reason for this placement was that it would have been hampered originally by the proximity of one of the caches that made up the series that was being homage by the hides that we had been finding today. All the caches in the Church Micro series are numbered and this one was 300. This sounds like quite a high number but when you realise that the Church Micro series is the singular biggest geocaching series in the world and that the new caches being added to the series are numbered in the six thousands, then it transpires that this is actually quite a low number in the series. A look at the placement date reveals it to be August 2008. Seeing that the first CM was place in November 2007 you can see that Tottenhill was quite a new addition to the series. I think it is the earliest numbered CM I have found although Sam thinks he and my mum found a lower one earlier in the year when he was staying with her.

The walk to GZ took us along the lane away from the church and the junction that marked the center point for the other caches in We found the cache at the side of the road in amongst the bushes. It was hidden under a rather cool fake rock that had been halved and hollowed out underneath so that a piece of metal could be glued in and attached to this was a magnetic 35mm pot. Strange to see the extent the CO went to enable the container to adhere magnetically to the rock but a good idea for keeping the cache secure.

Once we had signed the log we replaced the cache and retraced our steps along the lane, past the church to the junction of roads. We had two legs left to do now, 3 caches along the road to the north and 3 along the same road to the south. We headed north first and Sam made a quick find of the Gorilla with a log sheet up its backside at 8 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1MH).We skipped number 9 so that we would have a cache to find on the walk back to the junction and headed to 10 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1PN) where we were greeted by two groups of bulls, thankfully they were secured behind gates and electric fences on both sides of the road. They did seem to take a great interest in what we were doing which for me was mainly sinking my foot into a puddle up to the ankle. There was not much at GZ in terms of obvious hides and we spent quite a long time wandering around and generally failing to locate the cache. In the end we put our faith in the coordinates and spent a few minutes getting as close as we could to 0 metres, whereupon mum stuck her head in a bush and located the coffee jar sized cache.

Sam is pictured on a country lane holding a plastic gorilla.

The Gorilla was just as “Relieved” as we were to find the logsheet.

A large bull stands behind a gate and eyes me with interest.

That is a load of Bull

Sam again came up trumps as we walked back towards the junction when he spotted 9 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1P3) which was hiding around the back of a tree up a bank. It was a surprise for sure to see a colourful parrot perching in the branches of the tree but on examination we discovered that it was only the guardian of the cache and after a little indiscrete fumbling with the plastic bird, the log sheet was extracted.

With an overwhelming sense of De Ja Vu, we walked back through the junction of roads for what must have been the 4th time and continued straight on to pick up the last three caches which didn’t present us with too much of a problem. We had to pause our searching for a short while as a muggle in a car was loitering near the GZ of 3 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C45) and we spent a little longer than necessary searching for it as some of the previous logs incorrectly warded us away from a nearby barbed wire fence when in fact the hide turned out to be at the base of a tree that was slap bang touching the thing.

We walked right to the end of the lane to pick up 1 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC568E5) which mum found hanging from a twine that was dangling into a gully at the side of the road. Then we turned tail and headed back towards our last cache of the day, 2 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C3T), which turned out to be a cute plastic teddy bear who had the log safely tucked inside him.

With all the caches found and no pesky DNFs, we made our way back to the car and headed for home for tea and cake. All in all it was a great days caching in fantastic surroundings with great company. Happy Days.

Posted in Blindness, Finding Geocaches, Geocaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Eiderdown and Quackered – Team PugWash take on the Aylesbury Ring

It seems kind of strange to be writing this blog entry now as the day in question, October 11th 2014, was almost four weeks ago. Why the long delay I hear you ask. Well the day after the caching adventure in question I was hit by a rather nasty bout of flu or some other such virus that literally had me bed bound for a week during which time I was able to do nothing except stare into space, cough and groan. It has taken me a further week to build up my energy levels again and put back on some of the 8 pounds I lost in weight – I do not recommend this as a method for weight loss, trust me. And then it was half term and Sam and I went to Norfolk to visit my mum. So, finally, here I am, feeling vaguely human again and trying to remember the details of the PugWash adventure where we took on our first section of the Aylesbury ring in the vicinity of the small town of Dinton in Buckinghamshire.

The Aylesbury Ring is a long distance walk that, as the name suggest, encircles the town of Aylesbury. In total it stretches for 30 miles and in 2013 some bright spark decided it would be an excellent idea to place a series of 140 caches all along it. Rather than lay a power trail that would be designed to be tackled in one hit, albeit by people who were utterly mad, the decision was made to split the walk up into seven smaller chunks and place a variety of cache types along each section. To ease the workload the sections were shared amongst a handful of cache owners. Each section is designed to be approached separately and as well as trads you will find a large amount of letterbox hybrids, multis and puzzles. There are code numbers in the caches that will lead you to a bonus cache for each section and somewhere in each leg there is a golden egg bonus number and when you collect all these from the whole ring you can go for the super duper big bad boy bonus cache. So far we hadn’t found any caches on the ring except for a solitary trad that we happened to be passing when we were out in search of a cake themed cache to drop our Cake Race TB in at the beginning of the year.

As far as we are concerned there are two slight problems with the Aylesbury Ring. The first is that all the caches are Premium member Only (PMO) and Sam is as yet still only a basic member. In some circumstances this is not a problem as many cache owners don’t mind basic members logging their PMO caches if they are out caching as a family where someone in the group is a premium member. In this particular case however, although some of the Cos who have placed the Aylesbury Ring caches are of this mind set, one in particular is dead against this practice and has been known to delete the logs of basic members attempting to claim his PMO caches, and wouldn’t you know it, this CO is the overall big boss of the Aylesbury Ring and actually maintains not one, but two of the sections. I won’t get started on PMO caches, I feel I have ranted about the concept of these before and don’t want to go over old ground, suffice to say that I generally do not agree with them… I do agree with the concept of premium membership, just not caches that are only available to some players of the game and not others. OK, moving on.

The other inconvenience of the Aylesbury Ring is that all its sections are linear. That is to say that whilst the whole thing is a big circle, the individual sections are laid out and can only really be tackled in a straight line.
This means that after taking on a section of the ring and completing all the caches on it you will find yourself a good few miles away from where you started and, more importantly, the car. There are, of course, ways to approach these sorts of cache trails. You could opt for the “miss every other cache out” approach whereby you don’t attempt to find alternate caches on the outward bound walk so that when you turn tail and retrace your steps you can find them on your way back to the car. This works well for trails where the caches are close together but if they are slightly more spaced out then skipping every other one can make for some pretty long walks in between caches. This method also has another major drawback if the caches you are locating are multis as there is generally a logical way to approach these caches and if you try to tackle them in reverse you might find yourself walking past the final, as you won’t know it is there, to get to stage one only to have to back track to the final when you have discovered the coordinates.

The other method is quite simply to have two modes of transportation. The simplest solution is to have two cars so you can drive both of them to the end of the section then all pile in one car and go back to the start. Then you cache your way to the end of the section where the car is waiting, whereupon you drive it back to the start to collect the other car. This of course could be duplicated with a car and bike or bikes, driving to the end of the section then biking it back to the start. You could either then bike/cache your way to the car or just leave the bikes at the start to collect later.

And so without any further ado, because let’s face it, the last 5 paragraphs of waffle is enough to get Captain Birds Eye worried – it is time to get on with an account of the actual day’s geocaching.

Sam was at a Scout camp on the weekend in question which means it was just Shar and I. With this in mind we agreed with our friends, Smokeypugs, that we would tackle the “Eider” section as this is one of the above mentioned legs where the CO will not allow basic member logs under any circumstances. In case you were wondering about the name “Eider”, all the sections of the ring are named after ducks… Mallard, scoter, Eider etc.

We met up in the small village of Dinton and leaving our car there, all piled into Geoff’s and drove to the beginning of the Eider section which was a couple of miles away in a village called Kimble Wick which seems to be noteably famous for horses, to the extent that there is a bit that was first made there and is therefore called the Kimble Wick Bit… fascinating!

With Sharlene still suffering a few twinges in her back after a recent fall and myself waking that morning with a distinct impression that I was on the verge of getting a cold, we were barely “match fit” as it were, but we hadn’t had a Pugwash adventure for ages and had done very little caching at all in the previous month so we were chomping at the Kimble wick bit to get out and find some tupperware. The weather in recent days had been quite wet but the forecast for today was only a shower or too and as we left Geoff’s car behind it was warm and dry.

The eider section has quite a few offset multis and therefore it is quite important to walk the route in the correct direction to avoid unnecessary back-tracking. None of the caches had hints of any kind and the CO in question is notorious for making his hides quite tricky. Our first cache, AR 01 Eider – Kimble Wick Multi (GC4N09B), was just one of these offsets and even though we managed to park almost on top of GZ, we started out with very little clue as to what we were actually looking for. We knew it was something placed by the CO with the final coordinates on it, but we weren’t sure if we were looking for a container or something else entirely. Nevertheless we started poking around in the bushes and along the fence lines at the side of the deserted country lane hoping that something might jump out and grab our attention. After a few minutes of searching, exactly that happened when Geoff spotted a small lollipop stick with the coordinates on it, affixed to the fence at the side of the path. As he passed it to me after making an ote of the numbers, I marvelled at how small and inconspicuous it was and found myself wondering if it was going to be one of “those” days, where everything was just a little bit trickier than normal… I had no idea how accurate that thought would turn out to be!

The final coordinates led us further along the lane until it eventually turned into a footpath just beyond a small group of houses. The search for the final container took us to a fence and gate at the side of the path and it wasn’t too long before we were retrieving the container and signing our first log of the day. It felt a bit like we had done two caches already, what with the search for the physical stage previously but it was only one, and we had been going about20 minutes already. At this rate it would take us a long time indeed to complete the 13 caches on this stretch, but I felt positive that we were just easing ourselves into it and soon we would find our “mojo” and speed things up a little.

Shar and Geoff are pictured at the first GZ. FGeoff is holding the container and Shar is talking to him

Geoff and Shar at the first cache

AAR 02 Eider – Kimble Wick Letterbox (GC4N098) was our next target and as the name suggests it was a letterbox hybrid cache. Letterboxing is a hobby that has been around even longer than geocaching and essentially it involves locating a container in which you will find a log book and an ink stamp. The idea is to use the stamp to record your achievement in your own personal book and then add your own mark, using an ink stamp that you carry around, to the log book in the cache to prove you have been there. The Letterbox Hybrid can be any type of cache type; trad, multi, puzzle and in addition to the normal geocache bits and bobs, in the container you will find the rubber stamp so you can complete the letterbox requirements. It is not essential to do this and the hides can be treated purely as geocaches for those that do not partake in letterboxing, but for those that do then you can treat them as both. We haven’t got ourselves a stamp as yet but we had only found one letterbox prior to this and so on our adventure today the letterboxes we found were simply treated as normal caches. This particular one was just a straightforward traditional. Once at GZ which was a bit further along the footpath it wasn’t long before the container was spotted by Geoff as he made his way across a rather slippery narrow railway sleeper type bridge. We were happy to have made a quick find here and I was now feeling a little more confident that we might be able to get round the section in a couple of hours.

We hadn’t started our walk until around 11 so even though we were just a couple of caches in my tummy was starting to think about lunch. Despite this we decided to push on and get a couple more finds under our belt. The walk to AR 03 Eider – Unzipped Letterbox (GC4N095) took us along an easy footpath which was wide enough for me to walk unaided – just following the sound and shape of the others. The weather was holding up and the sun was even trying to make an appearance. Spirits were high as we reach GZ which turned out to be a small wooden bridge across a stream. This was an obvious place to start searching and we all got down and commenced scouring the sides of the bridge as well as underneath it, being careful not to fall in the water. After 5 minutes our confidence was starting to fade and we were scratching our heads as to where the little bleeder was. Knowing that this was a letter box cache we knew that the container had to be at least of a size to be able to store a decent sized log and a rubber stamp so it wasn’t like we were looking for a nano in a haystack or anything, it had to be a plastic box but we just couldn’t see it. Geoff eventually gave up on the bridge and widened his search a bit to a stile that lay beyond and after a thorough search he came up trumps, pulling the plastic lock n’ lock container from its sneaky hollow in one of the stile horizontal beams. These hides were proving to be anything but simple and we really started to feel like we were having to work for each one.

If there was a prize for the number of minor mistakes made whilst doing a simple field puzzle cache then team PugWash would be up for it for the protracted cock up that was our next cache, AR 04 Eider – Spinny Field Puzzle (GC4N08X). First off we had to find stage one which would reveal to us the instructions to the next part. This seemed to take a long time but eventually Geoff came up trumps again. We discovered a note containing the instructions and photographed it and dictated it to my voice recorder to be sure. In the note it said we had to first add some numbers to the published coordinates and proceed to that location where we would be searching for a forest animal 6 foot up in a tree. Well we messed up the first step and were looking in the wrong place for starters. We were hungry, grumpy and not focussed. We collected ourselves and checked the numbers again, and noticed our mistake and after correcting it and making another search we spotted the little bleeder up in the tree. The two key pieces of information here was the type of animal and the colour. Once you knew these, you wrote them down one after another and then assigned a number to each of the letters in the traditional A=1, B=2 method. Well first of all we couldn’t decide on the colour of the thing, was it x or y.? Then my brain couldn’t decide on how to spell the name of the animal, was it one “R” or two. Then Geoff wrote them down in the wrong order on the page which would trip us up next as then we had to assign letters to our numbers on the paper in a linear A through Z method and then use a formula to get the coordinates. For fecks sake my brain is melting even now trying to recount how many cock ups we made. Time was slipping away and I was a gnat’s wing from eating one of my own fingers I was so hungry by now. Eventually, we corrected our errors and derived a set of coordinates that seemed vaguely plausible. Lord be praised! Lunch!

15 minutes later with our bellies full and our stress levels back to normal we packed up and set off on the trail again. We had spent so long and my brain had got so mixed up working on this cache, that I assumed we were heading for the next one now. Shar and Geoff reminded me that we still had to actually find the final of AR 4 first and I groaned. We hiked along the edge of a field towards a tree line in the distance whereupon we passed just beyond the trees onto a wide footpath with a metal fence flanking it on one side. Quite strange really to see a 6 foot metal fence along the side of some trees out here… what exactly is it enclosing, what don’t they want us to see. We arrived at GZ and commenced a long and fruitless search of both sides of the path and after 20 minutes I was starting to swear openly including the name of the CO to illustrate exactly who’s fault all this was. Reluctantly we gave up and headed for the next cache in the series. However as we were trying to determine the route we realised that there was a possibility that we were on the wrong side of the treeline and Geoff decided to double back a short way on the other side of the trees just to have a quick look. Bingo, he was calling out to us in a matter of seconds that he had found the cache and finally we could scratch this exasperating cache experience which had lasted around an hour, off our list.

Geoff is pictured pointing into a field.

Trust me… it’s over there!

AR 05 Eider – Horse field Multi (GC4N08T) was another offset multi and after a short walk along the edge of a field we made a relatively quick find of the “lollipop stick” which revealed to us the coordinates of the final. On our way to the GZ we did indeed have to walk through the horse field as mentioned in the name and we were forced to linger at a stile before crossing as a rather feisty horse was being led around by a woman who was obviously trying to break it in. The horse was having none of it and was rearing up dramatically and creating a certain amount of nervousness amongst our little group. Eventually the woman managed to coax the animal further around the field and we quickly scurried to the other side where we found the cache at the site of a stile. That is one thing I can say about this trail… there were a shed load of stiles along the footpaths. I reckon we must have traversed around 20 of them during the day. It was also notable that someone needs to get out and maintain their footpath infrastructure along this walk as a lot of the stiles and gates were in poor condition and also quite overgrown with thorn bushes which did a good job of hiding all the barbed wire that flanked them. I say it did a good job, but in all honesty it didn’t stop me from finding the barbed wire at nearly every GZ in the most painful of ways.

Unbelievably at this stage we were only 5 caches in and had been on the go for around 3 hours! AR 06 Eider – Aand Another Letterbox (GC4N08M) was our next cache and it is classed as a multi. Just in case we were getting bored though, the CO had introduced a puzzle element to the cache. You may have noticed the spelling irregularity in the title of the cache… you may not have, you might have skipped that line completely or you may not even be reading this line in which case I am wasting my letters. Anyway for those that are making the effort to read, the title gave us the clue that we would be looking for an AAND which is an Aluminium Alpha Numeric Disc. This is a metal disc about the size of a jam jar lid that has on it letters and corresponding number values (e.g. A=5 B=3). Using these values you can work out the final coordinates using a formula provided on the cache page. The AAND is normally fixed to a fence post or gate or other similar wooden structure and constitutes a physical stage in a multi cache. This is all very well and good but could we find the AAND? Could we buggery!

We spent around 15 minutes searching all the wood in site at the stile at GZ and the fence adjoining it but no luck. Then we thought we might be able to find an image of the AAND on the internet. There are only half a dozen different AANDs and if we could find out what the letter number combinations were then we could produce a series of possible final locations and most likely the correct one would appear obvious to us on the map. No dice, we couldn’t get a good enough internet signal to try that and when we did we couldn’t find them. Upon reading some of the logs we found that we weren’t the only people not to be able to find the AAND and indeed one cacher had continued on and searched likely hides and managed to find the final. We did a bit of maths and worked out that due to the limitations on how close caches could be together, that there was a stretch of footpath about 30 metres long where the final had to be. So with only a small amount of hope we made our way towards the next cache. When we reached the section in question we found that there were a number of stiles in quick succession along the path and these were really the only potential hiding spots. We found the cache hiding in the bushes to the side of the last stile and felt very smug with ourselves, even a little like we had got one back on the CO who had tortured us so much at number 4.

The sun was now shining down on us and although the heat it provided was fairly minimal this being October, it was still a most pleasant day to be walking through the British countryside. By this stage we would have killed for a simple and straight forward traditional cache but it was not to be. AR 07 Eider – Memorial Multi (GC4N47F) took us out of the fields and along a quiet country lane in search of a war memorial where we had to retrieve a series of numbers in order to calculate the final. After doing this we headed along a busier road a short distance to the GZ where the road crossed a river on a stone bridge. We searched both sides of the road around the bridge but no luck. We started to doubt our calculations and Geoff jogged back to the memorial to check the numbers. On returning he told us that we had got it right and that the GZ was definitely the bridge. In the end we resorted to using a PAF on this one and a quick call to Norfolk12 revealed that she did indeed remember the cache and was happy to point us in the right direction. She also warned us that she had been unable to find the next one in the series which was also a multi. Oh joy, another difficult multi… we were so happy!

Geoff and Paul pose at the memorial that was the source of the infor for the final coordinates

Memorial Multi

The walk to the first stage of AR 08 Eider – Bridge Farm (GC4N47H) was only a short one thankfully as by this stage in our day energy levels were starting to flag. I could tell that Shar was nearing the end of her resolve and I was starting to feel decidedly knackered. But this is the problem with linear geocaching trails… once you get to a point you have just about as much ground to cover in either direction and so stopping and going back is not really an option. The only real course of action is to carry on and see it through to the end. A frustrating search at stage 1 didn’t reveal the numbers that we had hoped it would and eventually we decided it was time to move on. We walked to the end of the road which then turned into a footpath across some cow fields and we discussed amongst ourselves that this at least ruled out the possibility of the final being here. At the far end of the field we could see a break in the hedgerow and another field beyond and once we had waited for a cow to make its way through, we did the same. On a whim we decided that this was the first possible hide for the final of the cache we had just given up on and made a half-hearted attempt to search the hedges. To our utter disbelief Geoff pluck the container from its hiding place almost immediately. Shocked and surprised we grinned and Geoff called out a loud fanfare of celebration just as a cyclist came through the hedgerow and greeted us with somewhat of a startled look on his face. It has to be said that Geoff was on fire during this caching adventure finding nearly all of the hides, without him I don’t think Shar and I would have got past the first cache.

Our flagging energy levels had been boosted by the joy of still maintaining a clean sweep of all the caches so far today, despite the fact that they had pretty much all been complete buggers to find. We marched on through the field in search of our next cache, AR 09 Eider – Cows Aand Calves (GC4N47P). Did you spot the name of the cache? Yep we were looking for another AAND… “Groan!” But hang on a moment, Geoff had already attempted this one last year and after an initial mix up now knew which AAND was being used. Even then we did the cache properly and Shar made not only a quick find of the AAND but then also was the one to pluck the final container from its hiding place too and now with only 3 more caches and possibly the bonus to go the end was in sight.

The weak sun crawled across the fields as it started to dip towards the horizon reminding us just how long we had been on this series already but we weren’t giving up now… well no way we could in fact having to walk to the car in any case so looking for the caches on the way was the polite thing to do. Oh my god! AR 10 Eider – Field Maple Letterbox (GC4N47V) was a traditional… oh sweet traditional how welcome you were. And to make it even more rewarding it was actually me that plucked this one from its hiding place. My first touch of tupperware of the day, and it felt good. We had been careful to check all the caches for bonus numbers on the way round and had even found a golden egg bonus number as well. We were a couple of letters short and only two caches to go and we were hoping and praying like hell that the missing information would be found.

Luckily we had a secret weapon up our sleeve for the next cache, AR 11 Eider – Three Stage Multi (GC4N484). Smokeypugs had actually got the FTF on this cache when it had been published in 2013 so with the occasional nudge and a prod from Geoff, Shar and I were able to locate the stages with relative ease and then it was just a matter of dialing in the cords and locating the final and we were heading for the last of the trail, aside from the bonus, with smiles on our faces and tired and aching legs… and feet… and pretty much everything else.

The CO apparently has some mercy as AR 12 Eider – Nearly There! (GC4N487) was another trad letterbox hybrid and didn’t pose too much of a problem to us. We were delighted to find the last of the bonus numbers giving us a full set and as the skies started to darken, a result of the promise of impending rain rather than the fading light, we headed back towards the car which happened also to be in the same direction as the bonus cache, AR 13 Eider – The Bonus (GC4N48E). My legs screamed at me as we passed the car and walked further up the lane towards the GZ of the bonus but we had come so far today, worked so hard, that there was no way we were going to leave without looking for the bonus. At GZ we found a massive tree and hint in hand we set about searching. After 5 minutes though we had turned up nothing and I simply didn’t have the energy to go on. I moved to the side and declared that I was done. Sharlene wasn’t long behind me and eventually with a shrug and a sigh Geoff admitted that the bonus would have to wait for another day. Slightly deflated but relieved to be heading for the car finally we trudged the few hundred metres along the lane as simultaneously the clouds gathered darkly and the sun, low in the sky, shone brightly upon our faces.

As we drove the short distance back to the start to collect Geoff’s car the heavens open and the rain splattered down in big lumps onto the windscreen of our car. Both Geoff and Sharlene exclaimed at the same time as a glorious and vivid double rainbow blazed across the sky and as we turned the final corner we mused at how one end of it seemed to be right at the point where Geoff’s car was.

A stunning double rainbow

Somewhere over… (photo provided by smokeypugs)

Looking back on it now I can say that whilst it was probably some of the most difficult geocaching we have ever undertaken simply because of the deviousness of the hides and the amount of multiple stage caches there were, it was a real sense of achievement to be able to return home knowing we had completed the whole of the Eider section of the Aylesbury Ring in one hit. Not even the disappointment of failing to find the bonus weighs too heavy on me as when we go back to start the adjacent section we will be starting at the end of the Eider leg and be able to pick up the bonus then. It has to be said that whilst Shar and I certainly didn’t shirk our caching duties and got in amongst it as much as everyone else, Geoff was totally the star of the day finding the majority of the stages and finals and generally being a legend. As ever the combining together of Washknight and Smokeypugs resulted in a fantastic day out and did not fail to well and truly produce a true geocaching adventure. Happy Days.

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Interrogating an utterly bonkers caching couple

Another interrogation for you now, and this one is a real treat. There are amongst the geocaching community many people who are content to start with their closest cache and gradually work their way outwards generally tending to cache no further than 10 or so miles from their home. The couple under the spotlight today are not, I repeat NOT, those sort of cachers.

Mark and Donna are from Warickshire in the UK and cache under the name Delta68. Their blog is a fantastic collection of stories about their geocaching adventures. They have over 17,000 finds, are currently the top cachers in the UK for webcams and have attended every piratemania and UK mega event since 2008 – one of only a handful of people to do this. Their antics, which take them not only all around the country but abroad as well, are interesting, thrilling and laced with humour and leave you with no doubt that they are utterly bonkers. Click on through to find out <how Mark and Donna answered the questions.

To quickly find all the posts listing the other bloggers that have taken my challenge use this tag search – Articles tagged with Washknight Interrogates.

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Back to the Caching (take 2)

Whilst the Interrogation of fellow geocaching bloggers is a lot of fun, I am sure that regular readers to my blog are wondering if I have been doing any caching of my own lately. Well in the last couple of months it has been a bit thin on the ground due to a lot of family sickness, but fear not there are some geocaching blog entries in the pipeline. A couple of weeks ago just before I was struck down with the flu we did go on a pugwash adventure to aylesbury and that report should be coming soon. In addition, Sam and I are heading to my mum’s in Norfolk for a short break starting tomorrow and there is a plan for some caching there too. So stay tuned and in the meantime please do enjoy the Interrogations :)

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