The cache with ants in its pants!

There is something quite exciting about getting the chance to log a special type of cache that very few people, relatively, will ever get a shot at. Such an opportunity presented itself recently when Jacob’s moving cache #1 popped up in the local area. A moving or travelling geocache is different from normal caches in that each person that finds it, picks it up and then moves it to a new location. Once they have hidden it, they post the new coordinates in their “found it!” log on the cache page and then the search is on again for others to locate it. The reason that these mobile caches are so interesting is that Groudspeak no longer allows them to be created, so only those that already exist remain… when they go then that will be it, no more moving caches. For this reason lots of people have the remaining ones on “watch” and competition to get them is very fierce. Jacob’s moving cache #1, which was originally placed in the West Midlands in the UK in 2002, barely spends anytime out in the wild because it is normally snagged up within minutes of it being rehidden.

The appearance of it in the area was first discussed on the Beds, Bucks and Herts Facebook group about a month ago and it passed on by briefly before heading north almost in the blink of an eye. Lots of people thought that it was gone for good but a little over a week ago a local cacher and member of the BBH group managed to snag it and since then it has been moving amongst other locals. There is an element of “who you know” when it comes to these caches – if you know the person who has it then you are likely to get a heads up on its new hide location. In this vain the cache has been bouncing amongst BBH members but I didn’t expect I would get a chance to have a crack at it as even with the head start you still need to be like lightning to get to the cache before someone else does and that sort of caching just doesn’t fit our circumstances.

That was until I got a message last night saying that a friend had it and did I want it “to be hidden somewhere convenient?” I didn’t need to be asked twice and a couple of hours later I was able to ask Sharlene to “have a look in the bushes on the boundary of our front garden” to see what she could find. And so it was that we came to have Jacob’s moving Cache #1 in our possession. It turned out to be a lovely sized container stuffed to the gills with good quality swaps, something that is getting rarer and rarer these days. I rehid the cache under my pillow and then let Sam make the find in the morning so he could log it too :)

The cache container approx the size of a large sweet jar, is open on the table wiht all sorts of swag piled in front of it.

Swag Fest

This morning, it was time to set it free and hide it for the next person and true to form there were people pleading for it to be hidden in certain places or moved in a specific direction. We were only going to be able to hide it locally as we didn’t have much time today and I noticed that one person who had missed out on it yesterday, before I had it, had mentioned that they worked not too far away from where we live. We took a nice walk to the local park, waved farewell to the cache and hid it in the bushes, whereupon I then posted the new coordinates in my found it log and then a bit later messaged the person to alert them that it was up for grabs, or did I do those last two things the other way round… I can’t quite remember ;)

It appears that a lot of the finds made on this geocache are made with a helping hand, or a head start and as I said there is an element of “who you know” involved in getting hold of it. Some people may say that this is not in the spirit in which the original cache was placed and, indeed, this may be one of the reasons why Groundspeak don’t allow these types of caches anymore, but there are any number of valid ways to play the game and, personally, I don’t have a problem with playing it this way… but then I would say that, I have just logged my first, and very probably only, moving cache! :)

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Hatfield for our 700th

On Wednesday Shar and I had to take a trip to Hatfield train station to drop off my niece Laura who, after staying with us for a week, was heading to Norfolk to spend a week with her nanny. We needed to be at the station at around 10:30 and seeing as we had nothing lined up for the rest of the day, I planned us a couple of diversions on the way home to, you guessed it, do a little geocaching. The weather is starting to get quite hot over here and so I was careful not to suggest any long walks through open fields. My plan was to make three stops on the way back home, each time picking up a few caches, that way never being too far from the haven of the air conditioned car.

Our first stop was a little way south of Hatfield not far from North mimms. My chosen parking spot was at the edge of an industrial estate and it was just a few metres from the first cache, Ginger Bread Teddy @ Work (GC4DQHB). Next to the car there was a small patch of trees that separated the industrial estate from some houses and our guess was that it was in there. We tried about half a dozen likely looking hides before finally Shar found the container nestling in an ivy covered tree. After signing the log we replaced the cache and headed off on foot towards our second cache, Great North Way (GC2J62P).

The walk took us along a cycle path next to the industrial estate and because of the position of the sun it was blissfully in the shade at this time. Apart from the occasional cyclist – how dare they cycle on a cycle path – we saw hardly anyone at all as we strolled along in the direction the phones were pointing us. The cache page was very descriptive about the position of the hide, giving instructions to take 10 paces north to find a fir tree behind the metal fence and search on the bottom rung of that. You would think that with guidance like that, it would be just a few seconds until we found the cache. After locating the main fence posts and searching those first I then had to resort to slowly checking under the lower metal rung heading further and further away from the fir tree. For some reason I focussed on heading south along the fence and after 10 minutes still had no cache in hand. Stopping once to allow a muggle to pass and then a minute later failing entirely to stop as another bemused muggle walked by, I eventually decided to head north from the fir tree and found the pesky thing about a metre from the tree. For a cache page with so much assistance it was a complete farce that it took me so long to find it, but find it I did… eventually.

This smiley would take us up to 699 and as we located the footpath to take us to the next cache, we were aware that it was to be our 700 milestone, whatever it may be. I have planned some of our milestone caches so far and others I have just let roll by. I can’t be arsed organising a whole trip or rejigging things just to make sure we get a certain cache for a milestone at least not at 700 anyway. Maybe at 1000 the story will be a bit different. Having said that I was interested to see what fate had in store for the auspicious occasion.

First things first though, we had to make our way to GZ. The footpath was wonderfully tree-lined that meant the whole walk was in the shade although it was a little difficult under foot at times with so many roots encroaching onto the path. We came across some horses after a short walk and stopped to say hello and take a picture before continuing on. A short way down the path we could hear a swarm of flies buzzing away in the bushes and in hindsight it was probably one of these that bit me causing my upper arm to swell up rather alarmingly later in the evening.

Sharlene is pictured standing in front of a metal fence. Beyond the fence and to her left is a horse.

Oi! Horse! Your fly bit me!

Blissfully unaware of my impending swellage we carried on down the path and in another 500 metres we found ourselves at the GZ of Jock Nash’s truanting days (GC4HR11). According to the cache page the container had been hidden as a memorial to a dear grandfather who had passed away last year and who had, in his youth, played truant from school in and around these fields. After around 5 minutes searching Shar spotted something and directed me to a well concealed hollow in a nearby tree from which I extracted a wonderfully constructed fake log cache. The log was around a foot long and the top swivelled off to reveal a recess big enough for an official Groundspeak micro container lovingly sealed in a plastic bag. The log was bone dry and as I posed for a picture with our 700 find I pondered on the care that had been taken to procure and hide this lovely tribute to an obviously much loved relative. Fate had been nice to us, this was a great cache to log as our 700th and I was happy to give it a favourite point, as much for the well-constructed container as for the sentiment that it demonstrated.
Paul is pictured proudly displayin the fake log cache with the official groundspeak micro container that fits inside.

Our 700th Geocache

Unsure if there was an alternative route back to the car we opted simply to retrace our steps the 1.5km back to the sanctity of the air conditioning. It was heading towards lunchtime but we decided to drive on to our next stopping point and see if the surroundings were a little more conducive to a picnic than the industrial estate… not that we haven’t eaten lunch in this sort of place before whilst out geocaching.

The next parking point was in London Colney, a few miles down the road and with a name like riverside, it conjured up images of pleasant environs for a well needed energy boost. We weren’t disappointed – the parking was in a lovely, quiet tree-lined area, next to the river. We parked in the shade and opted to eat in the car where it was cool and we could listen to the radio.

There were four planned caches at this stop, all pretty much following the river as it headed towards the concrete snake that is the M25. I seem to be blogging a lot lately about the motorway… we just happen to be caching near it quite regularly. The first cache took us a short distance in the opposite direction from the others along the river but it was a very pleasant diversion. The walk along the river bank was in the shade of trees with the water burbling along to one side and ducks quacking away around us. As we approached GZ we passed under a road bridge and almost immediately after the phones told us it was time to start searching. There was no hint and it was only then that we realised that the last three people had not managed to find it. With a sigh we got down to it. I focused on the railings on the side of the river and started feeling for a magnet micro stuck somewhere on that. Shar spotted a footpath sign half hidden in the trees and I fought my way in there and stroked some spider webs for a few minutes but no cache. Our hopes started to fade as we drew blank after blank and Shar headed under the bridge whilst I kicked around in the bushes not really sure what I was looking for. I did find some old fence posts that were being absorbed by nature and tried at the bottom of these but no luck. I came across a tree in between the posts and half-heartedly crouched down and fumbled around at the base. As I was about to stand up again my brain started screaming at my consciousness that my hand had just touched something unusual. I focus back on what I had touched and realised it was a slither of plastic… on the bottom of a small rock…hang on… this is it! I picked up the fake rock cache and not quite believing I had found it, called out to Shar to come join me. It was only then when she emerged from under the bridge that she noticed the tree I was searching… “oh… it’s a willow tree,” she said and then it clicked in my head – the name of the cache was ‘Wind in the Willows (GC4MG7T)’.

Paul is pictured standing on a footpath next to teh river colne. The trees are displaying their full summer colours and he looks happy and hot.

Caching next to the Colne

As we walked back in the direction of the car which was on the way to the next cache we allowed ourselves a short period of smugness at finding the cache after 3 DNFS. This feeling didn’t last long though as very soon the focus switched to the next geocache and the glory of the last one was forgotten. The next one, Colne Ramble (GC4NEJY), took us along the river and through a small piece of parkland in front of a very inviting pub. When faced with a bridge and an arrow that wasn’t being definitive about which side we needed to be on I made an executive decision and decided to stay on the side we were and so on we walked. 5 minutes later we retraced our steps to the bridge and crossed over to the other side!

Although some of the walk to the next GZ was under the cover of trees the general air temperature was starting to rise now and with the walking we were doing, Shar was starting to find the heat to be a bit oppressive. She was glad to break off the path and head into the trees when we reached GZ and it wasn’t long before she had spotted the ice cream container that was the cache and we were soon signing the log.

Looking at the next one, Colney Conundrum (GC3HHZ5), which was the final of a puzzle that I had solved the day before with a very helpful nudge from fellow cacher WizzardPrang – thanks Steve:) – we saw that it was only 220 metres away and Shar said that she reckoned that would be ok but after that she would like to call it a day. we made the short walk further along the path towards the GZ. With the help of the hint we made the find quick and easy in a stump right at the side of the path and after signing the log we turned tail and headed for the car.

We left one cache out on the second leg but I reckon because of its location we should be able to return there relatively easy and park at a different place to make the walk to GZ shorter than the one we had done. The third diversion would have to wait for another day too, which seems to be par for the course with the caches I had planned. Last year we did a series called the Shenley Loop and had found all the caches except for two, which turned out to be missing anyway. The containers were replaced by the CO promptly an I have had them on watch for the last 6 months or so and they have both been found many times. On a number of occasions I have planned to go and wipe these DNFs from our tally but it never seems to work out for one reason or another and it looks like they will stay as DNFs for a little longer… but we will get them eventually… we will get all you pretty little caches eventually. Muwahahahahahahaha > :}

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Educating a muggle, woodland sculptures and miniknight’s 250th find at Chorleywood House

My 20 year old niece, Laura, has been staying with us for a week and as promised we took her out to demonstrate the fun of geocaching. We chose to go to Chorleywood House where there were a handful of caches that would serve our needsas far as educating a muggle! :) Whilst she enjoyed her day caching with us I don’t think she will be rushing to take it up as a hobby when she returns to Minnesota. For one thing she seems to be rather allergic to the Minnesota air and so spending any amount of time out and about in the wilds is not too appealing for her.

As well as the geocaches, we stumbled upon a most enchanting sculpture garden that was obviously still a work in progress. The detail on the carvings was quite something to behold and it was great to be able to get up close to them and feel the sculptures
A wood carving of an owl is perched atop a tree trunk approx 5 feet tall.
a number of sculptures can be seen placed around the edge of a pond in amongst the woods.
A fairly standard caching day for us really, we found 5 caches, got hot, had to contend with a hill or too and got a little lost But one thing that was extra special was our second find of the day which was Sam’s 250th find on his own account (miniknight). We are so proud of him and considering he reach his 100 back in November that is some pretty impressive going.

MiniKnight with his 250th find

MiniKnight with his 250th find

Sam brandishing his 250 geocache find certificate and pin badge

Sam brandishing his 250 geocache find certificate and pin badge

We are fast approaching a milestone too and by the end of the day our find count was 697 so it won’t be long before we will be logging our 700th find. Happy Days :)

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10 Tips for blind geocachers

Here are some tips and tricks that I have picked up for blind and partially sighted people who want to participate in geocaching.
1. Find an app that works for you. There are apps that will voice distance and direction to waypoints. Ariadne GPS is the one I use.
2. If you do go solo caching, then make some “found it” notes beforehand. A short printed note, the smaller the better that states that you have found this cache and couldn’t sign the log because you are blind. I have done this and scribbled the date on the paper before putting it in the caches I found for the next person to discover. I left an email address and on the three occasions I used this system, people were kind enough to email me to say that they had added my name to the log sheet in the cache.
3. Dress appropriately. Wear decent walking boots. The likelihood of you stumbling and tripping are high when out on the trail and having decent boots that support your ankles is very important. Wear long trousers and a top with long sleeves. There are lots of nettles, stingers, branches and brambles out there so protect your exposed skin. This can be tricky when it is very hot but don’t be tempted to go caching in shorts or a skirt. Wear a cap or hat with a brim as in addition to protecting you from the sun these also have the added bonus as acting as a buffer for obstructions. Lots of times my hat has taken the majority of an impact from a branch or rogue bramble. Take gloves. This is part of your caching kit anyway but for a blind person who will be putting their hands in lots of places without seeing what is there a good pair of gloves will protect you from stinging nettles, brambles and thorns. Try to get the strongest and thinnest gloves you can. Thick gardening gloves won’t let you feel things properly.
4. Put your iPhone on a lanyard around your neck. This will allow you to refer to it quickly without having to constantly take it out of your pocket. As a cane user you have one less free hand and if you are holding onto someone else as well then you have no spare hands so having your iPhone around your neck is the best bet. You will need to get a case with a lanyard attachment as the iPhone does not have a method of attaching one otherwise. I modified my Griffin Survivor iPhone case by drilling a couple of holes to allow me to attach some loops for a lanyard to clip on to but I am sure cases with in built lanyard loops are available.
5. Make sure you have enough battery life on your phone to get you through the day. If you rely on technology don’t expect it to last all day if you are draining the battery using the GPS. If you use an iPhone then dim the screen, turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and use a three finger triple tap to enable the screen curtain which will drastically increase your battery life. You can also buy external power banks that will charge your iPhone in the field. I carry one of these in my bag whenever we go caching after getting rather panicky on the occasion that both mine and Sharlene’s phones died when we were out in the middle of nowhere and due to collect Sam from school with no way of knowing where the car was.
6. Use the voice memo function on your iPhone or take a voice recorder to make notes and record bonus numbers whilst out and about. Just because you can’t write doesn’t mean that you can’t be in charge of recording important information.
7. Work out a system with the other members of the group who will be leading and guiding you. Tell them what works for you and what doesn’t. Experiment with different methods of holding hands or arms until you find something that makes you feel safe and also doesn’t overly restrict the movement of you or your guide.
8. Use your brain. When arriving at GZ ask about what features are around, think how you would hide caches and suggest places where it could be. Think about the name of the cache and the hints. Those with sight are often “blinded” by what they can see and don’t always stop to consider what the Cache Owner was trying to tell you with the hint.
9. The long white cane is your friend. Choose your tip with care. A pencil or ceramic tip is going to be a pain as it will continuously get caught on roots and uneven ground. Consider a jumbo roller disc or, my favourite, the roller tip which in my experience is very sturdy and can still be used for a constant contact method of sweeping in the most rugged of terrains. A long white cane is also very handy for holding back nettles and brambles, poking around in bushes and as a passable walking stick for those steep hills. The tip of your cane can be used to find caches too as the sound of it knocking against a plastic container is very distinctive.
10. Don’t be afraid to get amongst it. Keep your head down, lead with your cane and slowly work your way into the bushes or wade through the river, or even climb that tree. I have done all of these things and as long as you take precautions and work with your guide and take your time then you can too… and have lots of fun doing them as you realise that you too, are now a geocacher.

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Can a blind person geocache – one year on

In 2013 I wrote some blog entries on the subject of whether a blind person could geocache (see Can a blind person geocache, A must-have app for blind geocachers, Can a blind person geocache – part 2 and Washknight walks 1). Now, a year later, I thought I would revisit the question to see what I have learnt in the last twelve months.

First off let’s be clear about what is meant by the term ‘blind’, as it isn’t as straightforward as you might think. If you haven’t had cause to consider the matter before then you could be forgiven for believing that all blind people are completely without sight. Initially is seems like a very reasonable assumption but in reality it simply isn’t the case. Of course, there are people who have no vision at all but a large percentage of people who are “legally blind” still have some useable sight. The level of residual vision a person has varies greatly and can take a number of forms. These can include light perception, shape recognition, movement detection or having only central or peripheral vision. I describe my level of sight as being able to see shapes and detect movement. I have almost no colour vision and cannot see facial features, no matter how close I get. I cannot read print, not even large print, cannot make out anything on a smartphone, tablet or pc screen and these days spend more and more time relying on my other senses to get by day to day. I walk using a long white cane which keeps me from coming to harm most of the time out on the streets but cannot navigate on my own without help of another person or by using clever technology. And yes… I am ‘blind’, well and truly beyond the threshold of what society considers ‘severely visually impaired’ which is what they call it these days, although I personally still prefer the term ‘blind’.
Understanding my own level of sight loss might help provide some context for my answers to the question, ‘Can a blind person geocache?’ I can’t truly consider the situation of someone who has no sight at all and their ability to cache but in all honesty I think it would be very difficult, and most likely require an awful lot of assistance from both technology and other people. The answer to the question is still ‘yes’, and when it comes to my situation whilst there have been challenges and obstacles, we have worked out ways of overcoming them and now geocaching is very much a part of our family life which is evident by us having found nearly 700 geocaches, at time of writing, since we started in June 2013.

The question actually needs to be broken down into two more distinct ones. Firstly can a blind person take an active part in geocaching with the help of sighted assistance and secondly can they cache on their own. The answer to both questions is ‘yes’ but in the case of solo geocaching there are a lot more caveats that go along with that answer. When you geocache alone as a blind person you need to consider not only how you would find the actual cache, but also how you would travel to the location where it is hidden and how you are going to sign the log if you find it. Urban geocaching would probably be your only realistic option if you were solo caching purely because streets are laid out in a clearly navigable way and with the assistance of walking sat nav software you could find your way to the location of the hide. Out in the countryside it is a lot harder for a blind person simply to work out where they are and how to get from A to B. I have solo cached 3 times and in all cases I was successful in finding the geocaches but I can tell you that it takes a lot of planning… an awful lot of planning before you even step out of the door.
In order to demonstrate how a blind person can geocache it would probably be helpful if I explain how our family goes about tackling a geocaching adventure. For those that have not read my blog before, my family consists of my partner Sharlene and our 10 year old son Sam.
First off there is the planning. You would think that, as the sighted person, it would be Sharlene that would plan the geocaching adventures that we take on, but you would be wrong. I choose the caches, try and work out the walking routes between them and figure out where we are going to park the car. I have a desktop CCTV magnifier that allows me to zoom the screen of my iPhone so that map details can be blown up as big as my head onto a 19” inch monitor. This allows me to spend hours studying maps of geocaches and trying to work out how to get from one to another. It is still quite a difficult process for me and if my eyes weren’t already buggered before I started sitting with my face 6 inches from a large screen for hours on end then they certainly are now as a result. I don’t see colours hardly at all and have to use the magnifier in a mode that converts everything to either black or white so some of the map details are lost to me. This can present problems sometimes especially with rivers being almost entirely invisible to me, but I generally get by. My iPhone also talks to me thanks to the Voiceover function which is built into most modern Apple devices. This allows me to read cache descriptions and logs and hints which all helps when planning our caching days out. My PC also talks to me using a program called JAWS and whilst it is not perfect I can use it to do most things I need to on the computer. So the process of choosing the caches is done using the standard geocaching app on the iPhone along with other general mapping apps such as OS Map Finder which allows me to examine the more detailed Ordinance Survey maps.

After I have chosen a group of geocaches for us to do I then have to get the coordinates into a different app so that I can actually track the caches when we are out and about. Unfortunately the geocaching app has a couple of flaws when it comes to navigating to the cache for a blind person and so I use a different app, called Ariadne GPS, that gives me clear spoken announcements of the distance and direction to a cache. It does this by referencing my current GPS position against the coordinates of the geocache which I have to load into it. It will then instruct me using the clock face as to the location. For example it might say that the cache is 36 metres at 10 o’clock. On the basis that 12 o’clock is always directly in front of me, 10 would be approximately 60 degrees to the left. I can get the coordinates of the geocaches into Ariadne GPS in a number of ways. First I can just enter them manually which is a massive pain in the arse so I don’t do it. Secondly I can open the cache in the geocaching app, then use the feature to view the cache on which it will do in safari the Apple browser, then I can use the gpx download link on the cache page to transfer the coordinates to my phone. When I do this it asks me which app I want to open the gpx file in and I choose Ariadne GPS whereupon it imports the coordinates as a waypoint that I will be able to use later when out searching for the cache. This is fine for one-off caches but can get a bit tedious if we are intending to try for a whole series. My other option is to use a pocket query to import a large number of caches into Ariadne GPS in one go. I can configure the query on the geocaching website, selecting the criteria I want, and then produce a gpx file with all the geocaches in. When we do a series I will choose one of the caches that looks to be near the centre and then tell the query to find an amount, spreading outwards from that cache, so if the series consisted of 20 geocaches, I might tell the query to find the nearest 40 caches to the centrally located one just to make sure I get all the ones in the series. I then get this pocket query emailed to me and I can dropbox it to my iPhone and from there, open the file and export it to Ariadne GPS and all the caches will be ready for me in a matter of minutes. I have a pocket query that runs automatically every week that includes the closest 500 unfound caches to my home. I import this into Ariadne GPS every week so that if we are out and about locally and fancy a bit of unplanned caching, I will have them loaded and ready to go.

Next, there is Sharlene to consider. I tend to email her a list of the GC codes and she stores them in c:geo which is the app she uses on her Samsung Galaxy Ace Android phone. I can also send gpx files to her phone by copying them onto her memory card if we are doing very large loops but she is pretty speedy at adding them and so a list of the GC codes tends to work best for her. Sam doesn’t have a GPS or smartphone, yet, so that is one less device that I need to worry about.

Finally I work out some convenient parking coordinates and then I enter them into a text file and save it onto a USB thumb drive. When we go to the car, Sharlene can put this pen drive into the car’s USB socket and import the file containing the parking coordinates into the car’s sat nav system. When done all the imported coordinates appear as POIs (points of interest) within the system and Shar can navigate to them in the normal way. This generally works brilliantly except when for some reason I get the coordinates wrong either by incorrectly converting them or by making typing errors when adding them into the text file wrong. Then we go on a magical mystery tour to god knows where. When dealing with decimal coordinates it is important to remember that north of the equator is represented as a positive number and south as a negative one. Likewise east of the Prime meridian is positive and west is negative. If you accidentally leave off the minus sign from the Longitude coordinate then you can be travelling along way from where you want to go. To be fair to me I have only done this once, and it was the very first time that I used this method to transfer coordinates to the car. Luckily I realised my error when the sat nav told us our destination was over 50 miles away when I was sure it was only supposed to be a couple of miles down the road.

In addition to the above we do all the normal planning and preparation for a geocaching adventure that anyone else would do. Making sure we have snacks, water, pens, essential first aid items, tweezers, etc.

Once we are out on the trail I use Ariadne GPS to guide me to the cache and Sharlene uses C:GEO on her android phone. We have a number of ways of walking depending on the environment and we have learnt what works best in each case. If the paths are wide and easy then I can walk with Sharlene or Sam, with my cane in my left hand and holding their hand with my right. This allows them to guide me around obstacles if needed. If it is really easy going then I can walk on my own using my cane to keep me safe. If the paths are narrower then we will resort to single file where I can use a combination of my ability to recognize people sized shapes in front of me if the light is right and the sound that they make as they walk, to follow in their steps. If the trail goes off into the woods and more caution is required then we have developed a system whereby Sharlene puts her hand behind her back and I hold it and walk directly behind her. This does require me to shorten my stride a bit so I don’t keep treading on her heels but this allows us to still move quite smoothly keeping me safe. Sharlene will call back any helpful warnings of particularly uneven ground, or things to step over or duck under. It would be a perfect world if she was the same height as me because as she is 10 inches shorter, she doesn’t always notice the branches that will be a problem to me. If we go wandering through open fields then I also walk on my own using the sounds the others make to keep me in the group and the cane to keep me from harm. When we get close to the cache and it is time to search then we often split up and get on with it. Sharlene will warn me of any real dangers such as large ditches or rivers but otherwise she trusts me to be safe. I spend quite a bit of time getting up close and personal with nature and tangled in tree limbs and bushes but despite my sight loss I still manage to find a good share of the caches. I don’t have a fear about getting my hands dirty and that helps. I will stick my hands into tree hollows and in amongst root balls where Shar and Sam might not. Sure I get a few scratches and stings and insect bites but I see that as all part of the fun.

I can use the geocaching app to read the hints and logs on my iPhone if we have a problem finding caches so am pretty much on a par with the abilities of sighted people when out in the field. I can’t see photos attached to logs which is a pain but then Shar can look at those if we need to. As I mentioned I have no fear when it comes to getting amongst it and this is often when I feel at my most useful as part of our little team. Often Shar won’t want to venture in if the stingers are too bad or if it looks like it could be home to a ‘million’ spiders and so she will guide me by talking to me as I venture into places she won’t go. I am also the tallest of our group so that comes in handy too. With care and patience, despite my sight loss I can take a very active part in finding the cache. Whilst I do have enough sight to maybe see the big tree that we are heading for, when it comes to actually searching that tree, it is all about hands on and I don’t use my vision at all. Sometimes I realise I even have my eyes closed as I am searching every gnarly knot and cranny of an ivy covered tree.

Once we have the cache in hand Sharlene signs the log, Sam sifts through the swag and I take the opportunity to snap a picture or two. Yes I know what you are thinking… the blind man takes the photos? If you can hold a camera straight and level then you can take a picture. I take a lot and quite a few are average at best but sometimes I get some real corkers. I am no David Bailey but I think it is important that we remember our geocaching adventures in the future and whilst they might not help me remember, sighted people will appreciate them. I also make any notes of memorable things that have happened on the way to the cache or of any trackables dropped off or picked up so that I can be accurate when I write the logs and my blog entries later.

Once back at home there are logs to write. Unlike a lot of geocaches, I actually like this part a lot as I get the chance to recount our adventures for others to read. Quite often I will write a more extensive blog entry to go along with the logs too, but if you are reading this then I guess you may have already read one or two of those. If not, why not? Doing the logs and blogs is made perfectly simple with the aid of the JAWS program I mentioned earlier. This runs on my PC and speaks most of what is on the screen which allows me to use the website to submit logs like any other geocacher. My blog is hosted on which is pretty accessible when it comes to blogging sites so I have no problem with that either. Any photos we have taken get transferred to the PC and I take the time to go through them with Sharlene and Sam and we rename the files with short descriptions telling me what is in the photo so I can refer back to them or include them in my blog or logs later.

So that is the process of geocaching for our family and I have to say that I feel as included in the hobby as Shar or Sam do. I am by no means along for the ride, having my own unique and useful talents to bring to the group and whilst sometimes my sight loss is an annoyance when out caching, 99% of the time I love every cache we go for… well maybe not those pesky ones that we have to log as a DNF (Did Not Find).

Why not check out my Ten Tips for Blind Geocachers.

Posted in Blindness, Finding Geocaches, Geocaching, Personal, Tech | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Our Wall Hall caches go live and are found

After a couple of minor hitches our Wall Hall caches have been published tonight. We had to take out a reference to an external organisation in one of them and then we had to move another as it was to close to an existing cache but otherwise all the others were fine. They went live at 8pm tonight which clashed with a local monthly event so a lot of the normal FTF suspects were otherwise engaged. We didn’t plan it that way, when you submit a cache unless you stipulate a specific time or day you want caches published they will go live whenever the reviewer gets round to looking at them, which is pretty quick with our reviewer, Red Duster.

At just gone 9pm I got an email to say that the first one had been found. Shortly after more notifications started coming in as each of them were found in turn. -V1PER- got to the caches first and they were very helpfully logging their finds whilst they were out and about. This is a very useful guide for other potential FTF hunters so that they know within a very short period of time that someone is out there and doing them. The light was fading as the time passed and although they were not posting full logs, they noted that they would do that later, they did put little notes in every now and then and they were finding it more and more difficult as it got darker. We were surprised that they pushed on, especially as the latter ones in the series are in the woods and the darkness would be even more total here. Slowly, one by one all the notifications came in and they found the last one at just gone 10:15pm. Congratulations go to -V1PER- for getting all 12 FTFs, it must have been rather tricky as the darkness rolled in.

As a cache owner whose hides have just gone live it is a great feeling of excitement and relief the first time they are found. Just to know that your coords were good, and the containers didn’t go walkies in the first few days and that your hints were sufficient. Happy smiley faces all round tonight.

The caches can be viewed from this Wall Hall Bookmark List

Posted in Geocaching, Hiding Geocaches | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Philosophy and something Squidgy – caching in Abbots Langley

A map showing 10 caches in a rough circular route with the motorway of the M25 cutting the route in two from West to EastOn Wednesday, Sharlene and I went out for our weekly geocaching fix. The plan was to try for 10 hides laid out in a circular route in the Abbotts Langley area. Seeing as it is not too far from home and an even shorter distance from Sam’s school, we packed a lunch and set off with the intention of heading straight to the first cache after dropping him off. The caches weren’t part of a series as such, but I had spent some time the previous evening with my face 6 inches from the magnifier studying maps and I reckoned I had identified a walking route between them all… with a few grey areas that I am sure we could work out on the way.

Things started off well, Shar found us a parking space within 100 metres of the first cache, Leavesden Country Cache (GC4WFFJ), and we were on foot and rummaging around in the bushes in Leavesden Country Park before it was even 9.15. This is probably the earliest start to caching we have made. A few early morning dog walkers were the only people around, with the school children all locked in their classrooms already we had no hindrance in signing the first log of the day. And then things got complicated…

We headed back out on to the road where the car was parked, passing it by as we walked in the direction of an old country lane where the next cache was. The only problem was that the grass verge, which had started out at about 1.5 metres wide, soon started narrowing until it finally vanished completely leaving only the road to walk on. This particular road is quite a busy cut through and has lots of blind corners so despite the fact that our goal was only about 400 metres away from us there was no way we were going to get there on foot, at least not down this way. After we had fended off the calls of a busy body woman who demonstrated an amazing ability to state the obvious by warning us that the road was very busy, we headed back to the car to rethink. We decided to try and park closer to the lane where the cache was but as we drove past there was only one place to park and there was already a car there. So we drove on but found nowhere within walking distance beyond, and then we came out onto a Dual Carriageway and had to take a detour of a couple of miles just to get back to the original parking spot so that we could stop and rethink… again. We both brought up maps on our phones so that Shar could study them and using a combination of the Ordnance Survey map on my iPhone that didn’t show the caches but did show footpaths and bridleways etc, and Shar’s phone with C:Geo displaying a Google map with the caches and roads showing but nothing else, Shar managed to identify a footpath that would take us to where we needed to be without running the risk of getting mowed down by some yummy mummy in her Chelsea tractor returning from the school run.

It turns out that this footpath was not far from the cache that we had just found. So we walked back into the park, waved at the cache as we past it and then located the footpath and were at the GZ of our second cache a mere 30 minutes after our first one, the walk between them being about no more than 5 minutes. It was at this point that I got a feeling it was going to be one of those days.

At the GZ of You cam hear the M25 (GC2Z6ZW),which was on an old lane, now very much only open to foot traffic, we were presented with not much other than a lot of chunks of concrete at the side of the road. A systematic search of the slabs revealed the cache nestling underneath one of them. It seems that this neck of the woods does not get visited very often as I had noticed that most of the caches had not been found recently. I wonder though whether our perspective of what is recent” might be somewhat different to that of other people in other parts of the country or indeed around the world. Because we live in a densely populated part of the UK, it stands to reason that the possible number of geocachers is quite high. Couple that with the fact that Geocache Series’ are our favourite type of caching and seeing as these probably get visited more often than the “odds and sods” it is quite unusual for us to find a cache that hasn’t been found in the last month or so. This has got me thinking as to whether there is a way to look at your stats and find out how long it was that any particular cache remained unfound before you logged it. The short answer is I don’t know. The longer answer is that I expect it must be possible… generally someone somewhere has already thought about everything in the geocaching stat universe and so if it is possible then I expect someone has already figured out how to do it. I have put out a couple of feelers on the interweb thingy and we shall see.

A huge boulder stands in the entrance to the footpath from the lane

Just along the lnae from the second cache in the entrance to the footpath was this enormous boulder. Just a bit odd really. Where did it come from, why is it there?

Meanwhile back at the ranch… where was I? Really? Only the second cache of the day? Well, after replacing the container we turned tail and headed along the lane in the direction of the M25. The weather was clear and sunny and dry… it was lovely. That is to say I love that sort of weather. Shar on the other hand doesn’t like it too hot and in these sorts of conditions is in constant search of a breeze or shade. In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, the M25 is a motorway, and not only a motorway but a bloody massive one. In most places it is 4 lanes each side plus a hard shoulder and runs all the way around the outskirts of greater London. In terms of roads it is quite new… I can remember a time without it, in fact I can remember being on a scout camp back in the 80s and out on a hike and having to turn back as the footpath on the map no longer existed because there was a massive ditch stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see in front of us. In hindsight I now realise that this was the M25 being built. Although geocaching in the vicinity of a huge motorway doesn’t sound very appealing it actually can turn out to be pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly at the point the motorway came along it would have changed the landscape and infrastructure of the land around it, drastically, in some places evidence of a time gone by is often visible, if you stop to look, like old roads that have been severed by the carriageways. The second reason is that the motorway can tend to take people past places very quickly and therefore the areas close to the motorway can become abandoned or lightly populated and this increases the chances of visiting places that aren’t often seen. It certainly felt like that as we made our way along the old lane towards the giant concrete snake in the distance. It was surprisingly quiet until we got almost on top of it… care had been taken to construct the motorway in a bit of a cutting and woodland had been encouraged to grow to either side of it… or more likely the motorway ploughed through the woods that was already there, and this had the effect of shielding us from some of the noise of the cars. We made our way along the lane that ran through farm fields, the elevation rising as we got closer to the motorway. We found the third cache, On the way to next one or from last one (GC33AFA) hidden snugly at the base of a post under a large piece of flint.

Crossing the carriageways of the M25 on the footbridge was loud, you experience almost a sensory deprivation as you go, not being able to communicate as the road noise blots most everything else out so you just shuffle on. Not being able to hear anything other than the cars is a bit of a hindrance for me as I can’t see much either, but I can make out the blur of the traffic rushing beneath us and I have always found it slightly surreal to be on a bridge over a fast road, akin to having an out of body experience.

After leaving the bridge behind it wasn’t more than 5 minutes walk before the noise had faded to a distant drone and we were able to chat and, for that matter, think again. Our next cache,The cache with a view of south east Hertfordshire (GC2RN0B), was not far from the bridge and at GZ we found a massive amount of nettles and had no other option but to get amongst it. I waded in, cursing the fact that I had short sleeves this time but at the end of the day it wasn’t worth getting too precious about. It took some battling to find my way through the surface nettles into the less dense part of the bush and after a lot of tapping around I found the tupperware box nestled in amongst tree stumps and large chunks of rock.

This picture is taken from inside a bush. branches and nettles encroach on the picture. Sharlene can bee seen on the ground signing the log.

Seeing as it was such hard work to get into the bush where the cache was, I opted to stay there while Shar signed the logged. I got bored so I took a photo from my nettle prison.

From here we headed further way from the busy M25 along a footpath through farmland in the direction of a wood that I remember seeing on the map and Shar could now see in the distance. As we left GZ we forgot to check out the view that was alluded to in the name of the cache and for that I apologise. There is quite often a very good reason why a Cache Owner names their hide in a certain way and if it says there should be a good view then there normally is. Sorry about that. The sun was getting hot as we worked our way through a cluster of farm buildings in the direction of the wood. We were at the south of the wood and the cache, Beechy Walk (GC2ZQ5B), was located at the north but the maps showed no obvious paths or tracks that would allow us to cut through so we had to make a choice about heading round to the west or east in order to reach our destination. We chose east and leaving the footpath in favour of an almost deserted lane started our long and slow incline up and around the wood. We hardly saw any other people as we walked apart from one car and a woman riding, probably the biggest horse Shar had ever seen. Eventually the lane bent north and we were pleased to be in the shade of the trees now, although the path was getting steeper. This caused me to pose a deep and probing philosophical question to Sharlene – Would you rather walk up a steep hill in the shade or along flat ground in the sun? She thought about it for a moment and then opted for uphill in the shade but noted that it was a close thing. I confess I am not bothered either way. It reminded me of a conversation that I had once had with my father about whether they drove on the Left or the right side of the road in Malta. He had chuckled and simply stated, “depends… they drive in the shade!”

A little further up the lane Shar spotted a path leading into the woods to the west and the phones confirmed that this would lead us in the general direction of the cache. We had the best of both worlds now as we were no longer going up a hill but we were still in the shade, but it was muddy in places. This prompted me to pose another philosophical question to Shar as to whether flat, shady but muddy was better or worse than flat, sunny dry under foot? Without pausing she told me to “shut up and stop being weird”… quite right too. Philosophy had to take a back seat anyway as we were approaching GZ and there were more important things to consider, such as where the bleeding container was. The answer turned out to be far more elusive than pondering the previous philosophical questions and we spent about 20 minutes in search of it. We ended up splitting up and searching different places, me fighting with a tree and lots of stingers over one side of the path, nearly doing myself a mischief on some handy barbed wire that had obviously been laid to catch me out, and Shar was… well god knows where she was. When I was almost lying flat on a huge tree trunk stretching down to the forest floor on the other side feeling around, I heard the distant sound of Shar saying something. I extracted myself from nature with as much dignity as I could muster and emerged from the trees swearing and straightening my clothing. She hadn’t found it, but was just telling me about how it wasn’t over where I was because of something she had read in the log. I grunted something and she went back to searching whilst I removed a strand of bramble that had attached itself to my leg. A couple of minutes later and whilst I was still standing on the path, Shar called again and this time I recognised the relief in her voice… she had found it.

I made my way over to her by the sound of her voice and with the assistance of a few trees and a large ditch in between. As she was signing the log she commented that it had been ages since this one was last done, in fact it had been just over a year. My ears pricked up at that, having heard something about “resuscitation challenges” that involved you finding a cache that no one else had found in at least12 months. Our excitement was dashed though as when Sharlene looked on her phone at the recent logs it appears that someone had found it in December but for some reason they had not actually signed the physical log. Bugger.

From here we carried on, following the path to the west and eventually we joined up with the path that we had left in favour of the lane a while back. This footpath soon turned into a lane and gradually, buildings started appearing as we approached civilisation again. We briefly joined the Busy Bedmond Road but were relieved to turn off it and onto a much quieter country lane again which had the extra bonus of being downhill too. This road, East Lane, would take us back towards the M25 where we were due to cross it, this time using a tunnel instead of a bridge. Before we did that though there were two caches to find. The first, Manner House Walk (GC2G9JM), took us off the lane along a nice footpath beside a wooded area. We were enjoying the easy walk through the field but when we got down to 10 metres away we realised that we were never going to get any closer. Both our phones were pointing 10 metres into the wood and there was no way to get in due to it being too dense and the fact that that there was a fence that made an improbable bush whack an impossible one. We backtracked to the lane and finding no other alternative, opted to step over a fallen fence and into the woods. This was obviously a route many had taken before and although the trees were quite dense we only had a couple of hundred metres to go. Well after a couple of hundred metres having been attacked by almost every tree in the wood I was feeling a tad battered. The search for the multi trunk tree mentioned in the hint then commenced and after eliminating a few we were left with a rather ominous looking holly. Dumping the rucksack I started working my way towards the trunks through much holly. Ow… ow. Ow…oh for f-f-f-f, what am I doing here, squatting on my haunches with holly up my jacksie and at full stretch trying to find a piece of tupperware? I finally reached the trunks, having lost my cane somewhere on the way in through the holly and failed miserably to find any cache. “It could be that multi trunk tree over there”, Shar said. I said nothing and simply waited, embedded as I was in the clutches of my new best friend, Holly. “Yes, here it is”, she called out. “Oh this makes much more sense; this tree was much easier to get too”. No shit! After extracting myself from holly’s over-bearing embrace, I don’t expect she will call or write, I made my way over to where Shar was pointing at the container hidden in the bowl of the tree. Occasionally whilst geocaching, you get those, “What am I doing?” moments that normally are accompanied by thoughts such as “I am starving ” or “ I am busting for a pee or I just wanna go home and this was definitely one of those. Having said that, things always get better as soon as you find the cache and after signing the log the route back out of the wood seemed far less “forest of doom” and much more “Enchanted woods”.

Back on the lane we continued and as the road narrowed even more we started to hear the rumble of the motorway again. Whilst it was ever present we were somewhat below the carriageways this time in terms of elevation and the sound was significantly dampered. Although you could technically drive down this lane I would not want to as it just kept getting narrower and narrower. Then we saw the tunnel that would take us under the M25 but before that there was a small concrete turning point in the lane and I quickly found our next cache, Bones8 The Tunnel (GCTT0C), off to one side of that. Shar then found an old hand axe on the ground, which just added to the weirdness of the day.

The picture shows the tunnel that leads underneath the M25 motorway.

Squidgy Tunnel

We made our way into the tunnel which was about 30 metres long, 3 metres high with a curved roof. The shape of the low ceiling made for some impressive echoes as we shouted and whooped our way through. As we approached the middle, Shar’s whoops changed to Shrieks and suddenly she was running and dragging me out of the tunnel. “I dunno what I just stepped on in there, but it was squidgy and not good. Not squidgy in a mud way, but squidgy in a… yucky way”. Apparently telling her “It was probably just a dead rat or something” was not a helpful thing to say, and then adding that, “at least it wasn’t a dead person” strangely, really didn’t help her calm down at all. She slowed a little as we got clear of the tunnel but her hands were shaking for a good 5 minutes afterwards. What better way to take your mind off a potential corpse in a tunnel, than to search for a geocache, so that is what we did.

This whole area south of the M25 was of some interest to me as it used to form part of an old Lunatic Asylum. Opened at the turn of the 19th Century it existed and housed nearly 3000 patients right up until the mid-1990s. The original building is now luxury flats, of course, but all around the area is evidence of out buildings and other infrastructure that used to serve the Hospital. This next cache, The East Lane Bunker (GC2P599), is one such site as it is believed to be an old water tank that used to supply the hospital. The cache itself was hidden on the path opposite the bunker and after a scramble up the bank was uncovered after a systematic “stick your hand in and feel around” session.

Bunker? water Tank?

Bunker? water Tank?

Further on down the lane we broke off onto a footpath to the right to try and find The view across the horse field (GC4KM5W). Unfortunately this was a DNF for us. Strange how we can negotiate 200 metres of dense wood and locate a cache with almost zero GPS coverage and we couldn’t find a cache on a path with perfect coverage and the knowledge that it could only be on one side or the other. After finally admitting defeat we backtracked to East Lane and turned right towards our final and most intriguing cache of the day.

Hornet’s Hide 5 – Spooks up East (GC4FAE) was located in the overgrown cemetery of the mental Hospital. Having so many patients that were often without any family or next of kin at all, the hospital buried those that passed away in its very own graveyard on the north side of the hospital grounds. Since the Hospital closed down the cemetery was left to overgrow and when 3 Rivers District council acquired the land they were required to leave it exactly as it was and so when you fight your way through the bushes to get in you are presented with the most eerie and atmospheric sight of hundreds of grave stones peeking out from the grass and trees. It truly is a spooky and interesting place. I expected the graves to be those of patients from the 19th century and some indeed were, but others were as recent as the 1970s from what Shar could make out from the markers. Even in the light of day it was a place that sent chills down your spine as we worked our way through the headstones in search of our cache. We found it with relative ease but the geocache had almost become a secondary interest now to that of the memories and lives of those long dead buried beneath our feet. Not a place I would be too happy to visit at night, especially when you find out that Aaron Kosminsky, one of the prime suspects of the Jack the Ripper murders, was a patient at the hospital and is believed to be buried there. Interestingly, a ledger that would confirm or refute this fact has gone missing, some might suggest to protect his grave from possible tampering by ghoulish ripper fanatics.

Gravestones poke out from the long grass and trees in this disused cemetary.

A grave end to the day

Our caching for the day now at an end, and with Lunchtime well and truly upon us, we left the cemetery and heading down east lane made our way back into the park where we found our first cache. We reflected on what an interesting, bizarre and generally weird day it had been, a fact that we were both happy about. The graveyard cache at the end of the trip was what a true geocache should be like, not all about the cache but more about where it is. All in all, we both felt that we had had a real geocaching adventure. Happy Days.

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