In the last couple of weeks our geocaching has been confined to local urban ones in and around Watford, which serves to feed our desire to cache but falls a little short of the full-on countryside caching experience that we love. In an effort to rectify this and based on the recommendation from a fellow geocacher from the Beds, Bucks, Herts Geocachers Facebook group, we set out today to tackle a series of caches in Hockeridge Woods near the Village of Ashley Green on the border of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire.
As we parked up and found the footpath that would lead us away from the country lane and towards the woods I was already feeling elated and happy to be “out amongst it” again. A short walk down the footpath and our first find of the day, Ashley Green – Snowhill (GC3K963) was in hand within just a few minutes of getting out of the car. I always think it is a bad omen to struggle on the first find of the day and god forbid you have to log a DNF on it, you might as well get right back in the car and go home. None of that today though, Sharlene plucked the magnetic container from the bottom of the kissing gate and was signing the log even before I had properly arrived at ground Zero. We were almost muggled though as we had not been paying attention to others around us and a couple of dog walkers were almost upon us before I realised and managed to warn Shar who was cache in hand at the time.
Leaving the first cache we headed across open fields in the direction of the woods which stretched out in front of us. Now this was more like it. The weather was dry although the air still had a chill to it, but the sun was trying its hardest to break through the clouds to bathe us in its weak heat. Before us lay Hockeridge woods, boasting over 50 species of tree, some native to the region, mainly beech, and others from much further afield. The Woods were originally own by someone for a long time and then they died and sold it to someone else, blah blah blah and then in 1950 something it was bought by Mary Wellesley, the great grand daughter of the Duke of Wellington. She rescued the woodland from many years of neglect before finally gifting them to the Royal Forestry Society in 1986. How rich do you have to be to be able to just give away a forest?
For the last few weeks I have been reading the Song of Fire and Ice books by George R. R. Martin which inspired the Game of Thrones TV programme. With all these tales of knights and Kings and battles and horses fresh in my head it was easy for me to imagine the woods that lay before me playing host to outlaws or brigands just waiting to relieve us of our Gold and horses as we carried out the king’s business of geocaching. Our second cache was just inside the woods which lay at the bottom of a hill…. Yes a hill, this is the Chilterns after all. It wouldn’t be the Chilterns without hills. As we passed to the left of a kissing gate that seemed somewhat pointless as there was no fence to the side of it so it was just a gate in the middle of nowhere, the arrow on our phones was pointing us left in the direction of the base of tree hide, Hockeridge – Back to Baseics (GC3D8CT). Even I could make out the likely tree for the hide as it was very large and set apart from its neighbours a little. Sharlene asked me if I wanted her to tell me that she had found it or let me look for myself. I don’t go in for pity caching and don’t want people to wait for me to find them myself if they can see where it is. I don’t get upset about not finding more than a handful myself each outing. I let Shar retrieve the cache whilst I got down to my usual tasks of snapping a few pictures of whatever happened to be in my way at the time and recording a note of the find on my voice recorder so I can remember what the hell I am talking about when it comes to writing these blog entries. I have a critical mass of remembering about half a dozen caches so if we plan to do more than that then the voice recorder comes in very handy. Thankfully we weren’t pounced on by a band of marauding bandits as we signed the log.
The path to the next cache took us along the edge of the pretty woodland and for a short while it felt like we were being teased. The woods full on were just a few yards to the right of us but the path just kept skirting along the edge of them. I could just have imagined Jim Bowen exclaiming, “Look, here’s what you could have won”. Sorry, that was an extremely obscure 1980s TV game show reference that anyone from outside the UK is unlikely to get. Although I would be interested to hear if anyone from around the world did get Bullseye. If you didn’t, you have missed a real gem, a game show with the main premise revolving around darts. It was responsible for launching a whole host of wonderful catchphrases including the epic, “stay in the black and out of the red, nothing in this game for two in a bed”
True to CaptainJack form this next cache,Hockeridge – In Plain View (GC3D8CY), was less than 200 metres from the previous one and it wasn’t long before we had arrived at GZ and were searching. The hint led us to believe that the container was going to be just above head height in a tree and so we systematically started hugging trees, or at least I did. The path was quite narrow here and it was lined on both side with trees of all sizes and shapes. After about 5 minutes of groping the likely candidates though I had achieved nothing other than almost disappearing into a gully at the side of a tree and dirty hands. To start with our search had focussed on the left side of the path as this was where our arrows were pointing us but when we moved back to the path and started looking the other way it wasn’t long before Shar had spotted the little beggar and was able to direct me to reach up and grab it. This one was so small, I am surprised that people find it at all, but they seem to. Can you spot it in this photo?
The time spent walking to the next cache, Hockeridge – Fallen (GC3D8D9),which again was not too far, was spent thinking about what dinners we fancied having next week. It being the weekly food shop tomorrow, we generally spend some time on Thursdays thinking about what we want to eat the following week. As we often go caching on Thursdays, this means that we can often be heard discussing meal ideas as we hack through woods, climb hills, ford streams and all the other fantastic geocaching stuff. I find this a wonderful example of how life is so not like a movie. Sure do the exciting things, climb trees, wade through rivers and all that but just remember that you need to decide if you want shepherd’s pie or beef casserole next Monday at the same time. Actually it is neither… next Monday it is Ribs, and because the walk to the next cache was so short that was pretty much the only culinary decision we managed to make before arriving at GZ. With a name like Fallen, it was pretty obvious where I needed to be sticking my hands and it wasn’t long before Sharlene managed to direct me off the path to the left to find a couple of likely looking fallen trees. Sure enough under one of them I found the small lock n’ lock container and threw it over to Shar to sign the log. On the return throw she managed to score a direct hit and land the cache neatly in my outstretched hands. Not bad considering it was about 15 feet away and I am not able to make any adjustments if the shot goes wayward. I was so shocked to feel the cache land in my hands that I almost dropped it in surprise.
Still keeping to the tree line we followed the woodland path towards the next cache, Hockeridge – The Heart of it (Gc3D8DN). The Weatherman had forecast showers for today but so far it was remaining dry and the sun was still trying to make an appearance. By the time we arrived at the next GZ it was 40 minutes since we left the car and already we had 5 caches under our belt and a decision to have chicken Salad for Dinner on Thursday. An easy find in the bowl of a tree for Shar and I dropped off a GPS TB that I had picked up whilst doing the royal Stand of England series a few weeks ago. We headed off to the next one crossing a narrow country lane on the way. Once on the other side we joined a public footpath that ran just to the side of the woods so now we weren’t even in amongst the trees anymore. The path flanked a couple of fields and the views looked pretty expansive leading to more woodlands to the north and west and finally the sun broke through for a few moments and it was agreed that it would be Curry on Saturday night. Initially Hockeridge – Post a Field note (GC3D8EC) gave us some problems. Having done an ever increasing number of CaptainJack caches you get to know what you should be looking for and this seemed to imply a simple base of post find. However after searching every post we could find in the vicinity of GZ we were left scratching our heads. There was nothing else for it but to start searching them again and assume that this might not be as straight forward as we first thought. This time Shar found a length of string tied to the bottom of a post and upon pulling it revealed the cache lying in amongst the undergrowth. A very simple, but effective way to add a twist to an established premise. Nicely done!
Hockeridge – Hollow(GC3D8EQ) was the next cache and it similarly had us scratching our heads again until we realised that we were looking too hard in all the wrong places for this one. Gz appeared to be just beyond a kissing gate and the hint implied that we were looking for a hollowed stump. No amount of looking revealed the cache until we realised that we had come too far and once we backtracked to the kissing gate, Shar was able to make a quick find to the right of the gate in amongst the bushes. Just as an aside… does anyone else kiss at kissing gates? I don’t mean with random strangers… that would just be weird, although a good way to meet people. No, I mean when you are out walking with your other half / partner / wife / lover / escort etc., do you stop with one either side of the gate and kiss? Do you even know what a kissing gate is? If not, read here. I just read that and was devastated to find out that the name owes nothing to the practice of kissing at the gate but instead to the manner in which the hinged middle part of the gate “kisses” the sides. How dull and un-romantic. Well knickers to Wikipedia and what the truth is, Shar and I will still continue to smooch on our way through, even if it means holding people up… so ner.
Spaghetti Bolognaise on Wednesday.
The walk to the next cache took us on further along the footpath until we met Northchurch lane which forms the northern most boundary of the wood. By this point we had been on the trail for over an hour and spent almost none of that time actually in amongst the trees but we weren’t complaining. The surroundings are very pretty, quiet and had been relatively easy going under foot so far. We turned right along the lane and then after a bit of car dodging nipped back into the trees to collect Hockeridge – Within Reach (GC3D8FA) which turned out to be just within reach down inside a hollow tree. It was one of those just stick your hand in and don’t think about it moments, something I am happy to do only because this country has very little that has a tendency to latch on to you with fatal consequences.
As we continued along the lane towards our next cache, occasionally stepping up onto the verge to allow cars and vans to pass, we found a most idyllic cottage set back from the road right in the woods. What a fantastic place to live that would be. I curse myself for not taking a picture. As I was standing there listening to Shar describe it, all I could think was wow, that would be so awesome. Now that I sit at home and think about it again I fear that whilst it must be a beautiful place to live the threat of a tree falling on your house must be very real and call me pedantic but I don’t relish the thought of waking up one morning with a huge bloody tree blocking the view of the TV and a family of squirrels scampering around the bed looking for nuts.
Once we arrived at the GZ of Hockeridge – Denny’s Lane (GC3D8AW) we quickly found the cache lurking at the base of a metal pole and I promptly retrieved it and picked up a nettle sting on my fingers for my troubles. Having reach our furthest north point of the walk and with a brief stint of cursing and a decision to have Lamb Steaks on Tuesday we backtracked a few metres and headed down John’s lane to find our next footpath that would lead us to our penultimate cache, Hockeridge – Remains (GC3D8FP). This path took us through the woods proper now and it was a most enjoyable walk. The trees are not particularly dense which is great and the paths are well defined and easy to follow. There was a bit more mud here than there had been so far on the walk but nothing too bad. The description said that we were looking for the remains of a tree trunk here and so once at GZ we got down to searching out anything matching the hint. We found lots of likely looking stumps, some intact and some rotten almost to nothing but no cache. I had my arm pretty much up to the shoulder in the remains of one trunk but still nothing. The GPS coverage was a bit patchy to say the least under the trees and upon reading the logs we found that a lot of people had logged DNFs on this one. Some people have found it and nearly all of them commented what a very difficult and cunning hide it was. The logs also revealed an alternative set of coordinates and even a spoiler photo and armed with these…. We still didn’t find the cache. Having found 8 up to this point in just under 90 minutes we spent the best part of half an hour trying to find this one before finally admitting defeat. The threatened showers looked like they might just arrive soon and it was heading towards lunchtime which meant we were both getting a bit grumpy or “Hangry” as it is known.
We felt a few spots of rain from above as we tried to put the DNF behind us and move on to our last cache before lunch. Thankfully we made a nice quick find at Hockeridge – Triple Trunks (GC3D8G2) which is an excellent way to restore your faith after a frustrating failure. As we left the GZ and squelched through a small stretch of muddy path to meet up with one of the main footpaths running through the wood, we slotted Roast Chicken in on Friday and decided that on Sunday, which is Mother’s Day, we would go out for Pizza. The path took us back to where we had found our second cache of the day and from there it was a short walk back up through the fields to the lane where we had parked. We did manage to take one minor wrong turn and ended up coming out of a footpath into a pub car park but we soon worked out where we needed to be. I personally needed to be at the bar with a pint of ale in my hand but alas that was not to be and it was back to the car for hot chocolate and sandwiches and a slice of ginger cake.
We had a second loop of another 10 or so caches planned out in the woods but we decided to leave them for another visit and instead head back home. 10 caches found with one frustrating DNF and a most enjoyable walk through the attractive surroundings of Hockeridge woods. Good times.