For the Easter holidays we had arranged to travel up to Norfolk and spend sometime with my mum. Our breaks up to the Norfolk coast are always a joyful mixture of relaxing and interesting days in the great outdoors along with excellent company in peaceful surroundings. There simply is no other hospitality quite like that provided by your own mother! As an added bonus she is also a keen geocacher and we try to organise at least one caching day during our visits.
Last Sunday was to be our day out and we headed over to the small town of Litcham to take on the Litcham / Lexham Loop which consists of 12 caches with the opportunity to pick up a few church micros on the way round. For those of you that might not be aware, the Church Micro series is the largest geocache series in the world with currently over 5000 caches in it, most of them in the UK. No prizes for guessing what the nature of the caches are although the micro part of the name is a bit misleading these days as they can be any size and indeed any cache type just as long as they are near a church and include information about the church in the cache description. For more information check out the Church Micro Website.
We parked up just on the outskirts of the town of Litcham in a convenient car park that was not too far from the first cache. Straight off the bat we knew this was going to be an interesting walk as we were greeted by a herd of wild ponies and a sign warning about the existence of Adders in the area. The adder is Britain’s only poisonous snake although bites are very rare and only occur if you try to handle them. The last fatal bite in the UK was over 30 years ago so that is ok…I guess. I feel a total fraud if I try to over dramatise the possible chance of being bitten by an adder as compared to a lot of places in the world that have snakes, spiders and all sorts of other thing that will kill you lurking under almost every rock the chances of finding one of these elusive adders is almost zero. I have never seen one… although I am blind, but before I lost my sight in my 30s I had never seen one although I do have a very dim memory of my dad finding one possibly in the sand dunes whilst on holiday somewhere but that could be wrong. You know how childhood memories can sometimes get messed up. What I remember to be a life and death wrestle with a 10 foot long spitting adder before my dad hacked its head off with a blunt biro, probably was more likely to be him finding a grass snake and squealing like a girl when it wriggled in his hand.
After making our way through the ponies we got down to the serious business of caching. Our first one, Litcham Loop – Lost and Mound (GC40A7G), was an easy find and purported to be in the region of some Bronze Age earthworks but alas nothing is visible anymore, at least not on the ground. Mum found a TB in the cache which when we got back home and looked It up turned out to have a slightly weird history. It was not logged as being in the cache at all and in fact was logged as being in a different geocache in Norfolk and had been there for a year. No one had ever logged it as having been collected from that cache but someone must have as it moved to this cache and here we were finding it a year later. I expect the owner of the TB will be somewhat surprised to see it back in circulation after such a long time probably assuming it to be lost.
The sun was shining although the wind was cool when it blew and finding shelter from it was the trick. Luckily the walk took us into some very pretty woods in search of number 2 which was appropriately named Litcham Loop – walk in the woods (GC40A3Z). The cache container for this one was quite nifty, it being a lump of wood about 10 inches long that had been cut in half and the two parts pinned together so that they can swivel apart to reveal the log hidden within.
Number three, Litcham Loop – Exit, followed by a bear? (GC40A85) took us further through the wood along the side of the river Nar. Thankfully the weather had been dry recently as it was plain to see that the terrain would get muddy quite easily, however it was not bad today. We found the cache hiding in a crab apple tree and while Sam and Shar set about retrieving it and signing the log, mum got all excited about the large number of butterflies that were emerging into the sun in the grassy field ahead of us. One in particular, The Orange Tip, caught her eye. Along with Geocaching, butterfly spotting is another pastime that my mum and her husband Peter enjoy, a hobby that can take them all round the country in search of elusive specimens.
Our walk took us into the field where the butterflies were and alongside the wood where we could hear lots of pheasants calling out from time to time. This was turning into a real wildlife adventure. The geocaches were taking us along the Nar Valley walk which on this stretch is a very easy going wide path that was a joy to wander along taking in all the sights and sounds. We made a quick find at Litcham Loop – last post? (GC49Q4T)> before turning left and then right in a big dog leg taking us alongside a quiet road to the site of our next cache, Litcham/Lexham Loop – Take cover (GC49PX9). Which was buried in the hedge just as we approached the edge of another wood.
The next two caches in the series were slightly more spaced out but we didn’t mind as we pottered along the wide footpath which still followed the route of the Nar Valley Way. Mum recognized the bird song of a black Cap although she couldn’t quite see it at the top of one of the trees. We also saw a buzzard flying in lazy circles above us which was slightly ominous. Further along the path we were treated to the site of two hares frolicking around and dashing in and out of the trees, they move so fast there is almost no chance of getting a photo of them. Both the caches were found quite easily, the first, Litcham/Lexham Loop – Head for the trees (GC49PYN), was in a hole in a rather large tree at the side of the path and the next, Litcham/Lexham Loop – A stylish cache? (GC49PZC), being hidden around and old stile that was rapidly becoming consumed by the undergrowth.
Litcham/Lexham Loop – Drive carefully (GC49Q09) was the last cache that we did before our scheduled lunch stop and both Sam and I struggled to find it. It was up a bank at the side of a road somewhere on a very large tree and despite getting well and truly in amongst it for a few minutes we had to admit defeat. I extracted myself and almost knocked myself out on a road sign as I made my way to the other side of the road to sit down and take a break while mum and Shar had a crack at finding the cache. As Sam and I were sitting there two people rushed past us in a blur and as they went the man called back to us, “You must be MiniBbillKnight then?” This being the name that we were signing the logs as today, I could only assume therefore that they were cachers too and had been following us around. We didn’t really have time to find out as the couple sped on saying they would skip this one. Well it was nice to meet other geocachers… I guess… they seemed in such a hurry, hardly time to enjoy themselves at all it looked like, but what do I know?
Meanwhile the ladies came up trumps and found the cache and we headed off down the lane at a much more leisurely pace towards to small village of East Lexham where we found a very pleasant chilldrens playground with some picnic tables. Glad for the chance to take a break, having walked about 4km now, we broke out the sandwiches and sat munching away listening to the sound of a man strimming his lawn. The playground was very tastefully done and did not look out of place in the middle of the village. It was provided and maintained entirely by the locals and any donations left in a metal box by the gate are put to good use keeping it looking nice and more importantly safe and insured. Being on the Nar Valley way I expect it sees quite a lot of foot traffic.
Feeling refreshed and revived after lunch we went in search of our first Church Micro of the day, Church Micro 3109…East Lexham (GC40EFE). The church at East Lex ham can only be described as quaint. The small unobtrusive structure sits nestled in around the few widely spaced houses that are here and is surrounded by a meadow graveyard that is only broken by the fenced path that takes you up to the entrance. The reason that the path is fenced is that the graveyard is lovingly tended by a flock of sheep who mill amongst the graves trimming the grass. The other remarkable feature of the church is its round tower which is thought to be the oldest of its kind still standing in the UK dating back to approximately 900A.D. The cache itself was fairly unremarkable but to be honest seeing the church in its rural surroundings was reward enough. Shar was the one that located the container, passing through the gate in the fence and entering the graveyard in order to sign the log. She was warmly greeted by the sheep who trotted over to see if she had any food. Sharlene was slightly spooked saying that she had grown up with sheep and knew how they could turn on you. To me they all looked cuddly and fluffy and very amiable but Shar insisted that any one of them could snap in a heartbeat and rip her throat out.
After leaving the church Sam became somewhat distraught at the realisation that we had to walk almost a whole kilometre for the next cache. I guess we are pretty spoilt in this country with the cache density and we do tend to choose circuits that have caches spaced not too far apart so normally the longest distance we have to walk is around 400 to 500 metres. So to be honest I wasn’t too impressed with having to walk a kilometre either but being an adult and a parent you learn to temper your disappointment and always look on the bright side and find yourself saying things like ‘it isn’t that far really’ and ‘the sooner we get going the sooner we will get there’.
The walk took us along a quiet country road that saw only the occasional car travelling down it. To the left of us the woods stretched into the distance and to our right the estate of Lexham house covered the ground from the road off towards the South where we had walked earlier today. We had left the route of the Nar Valley Way now and were for all intents and purposes, heading back in the direction of Litcham and the car.
We located the cache, Litcham/Lexham Loop – Bridge of size (GC49Q1Z) stuck to a bridge that was nestled in a valley having enjoyed the gentle stroll down the hill to get there with only minimal whinging. Astute readers will have course realised that if we walked down a hill to get to the bridge then it stands to reason that we had to walk up a hill to get away from it. As we made our way to the next cache, Litcham/Lexham Loop – Pipe Dreams? (GC4B11R), we saw our second group of geocachers for the day. A family of mum, dad and daughter came past us with the girl holding a GPS device out in front of her. The good weather of the recent weeks was definitely starting to bring out the cachers… the fact that it was school holidays no doubt contributed too. Eventually we found the break in the hedge that we had been looking for and were able to get off the road and continue our walk along the edge of farm fields. The hide for this one turned out to be rather inventive. It was located near a water trough and where there were water pipes coming out of the ground there seemed to be one rather odd extra one that on inspection turned out not to be a pipe at all but in fact a holder for the cache.
Now that we were off the road, the walk was even more relaxing and the sun continued to warm us as we made our way to the next cache, Litcham Loop – 1st class post(GC49Q3F), which we found after turning right along a tree line that led us away from the road. After locating it we turned tail and retraced our steps back along the tree line to re-join the footpath at the edge of the fields in the direction of Litcham. Our next was to be the second church micro of the day, Church Micro 2846…Litcham-Methodist (GC3R0DF). In order to get there we could either break out onto the road or we could stick to the field and have a slightly more peaceful walk. As we walked though, the path became less defined and after a while houses started appearing and we were basically walking at the back of people’s gardens which felt a bit weird. Keen not to have to back track and take the road route we pushed on and prepared ourselves to adopt the clueless out of towner attitude if challenged. If we had not walked the way we had though, we would never have seen this.
I am sure there are stranger places to see an elephant but I would be prepared to bet not many. There is a possibility that Shar and Sam had actually seen this elephant before. In 2010 a load of similar elephants were placed all over London as part of a giant treasure hunt and after it was all over the elephants were auctioned off for charity. We can only suggest that the person who lives there bought one.
As we trudged on, now only a few hundred metres from the church, we couldn’t quite work out how to get out of the field. We almost turned back at one point but decided to carry on a bit more and see if there was a way through. Thankfully as we turned the next corner and followed another tree line we noticed a gap in the houses and emerged onto the road just a few metres from the church. When we got to GZ there was a family chatting on the other side of the road and we had to do a very stealthy search and retrieve of the cache but we pulled it off with practised ease pulling the log from the fake rock container.
For the last cache in the series, Litcham Loop – Bridge of Signs (GC4B12Z), we strode through the small town of Litcham towards the bridge over the River Nar where Shar made a quick find of the magnetic key holder whilst I gave my mum a heart attack crossing over the road to take a picture.
A short walk and we were back at the car for hot chocolate and a well needed sit down.
We had just one more cache to find and this one had been on our DNF list for over six months. During the summer last year we came to Mileham to do the Mileham meander, one of the first series that we ever did and we had to admit defeat on Mileham Meander #3 – Nether Mill Farm (GC387R9) as none of us could find it. I never thought we would get the chance to come and have another go but here we were, less than a couple of miles away and I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity like that. After we had spent a little while driving in the wrong direction, we corrected and finally found ourselves pulling into the small road where the GZ was. We were all keen to get out and vanquish the DNF and it was almost a race once the car was parked as to who could get there first. A few short minutes later and Shar announced that she had found it tucked away on the other side of a railing on a small bridge and the ghost of the Mileham DNF was finally put to rest.
Tired and a little weathered but happy we piled back into the car and headed for home. The Litcham Lexham loop is an extremely nice geocaching series and it was made all the better by the pleasant weather and the delightful company that I had on the way round. Caching in Norfolk is always enjoyable and doubly so with mum. Happy Days.