Using TinEye to identify images for puzzle solving

If you have ever spent anytime squinting at images on a puzzle cache page trying to work out who the heck a particular “celebrity” is or what breed of sheep is displayed then TinEye could be your new best friend.

The premise behind www.tineye.com is a simple one. You upload an image to it and it searches the internet to try and find where it has been used before. If it does come up with a match it will display the names of the images and the sites where they appear. But, how does this help you solve puzzles? Well, crucially this information may help you work out what is in the picture and armed with this information you can tackle the remainder of the puzzle. In nearly all picture puzzles that I have come across, the first thing you need to do is work out what is in the image. And that is where TinEye can help.

You can try it with any image, but it works best with commonly used pictures. I did try it with the image I use as my WordPress profile picture, just out of interest and low and behold it returned a match to someone else’s blog where I was listed as one of the blogs they follow.

So how do you get the images out of a cache page and into TinEye? For starters, you will find this easiest if you are doing it on a PC, Laptop or Mac as opposed to a tablet or smartphone. The exact steps may alter for different operating systems and browsers but the principle is the same. In this example I am using Internet Explorer on a Windows PC.

1. Open Geocaching.com in your web browser.
2. Find the cache you are interested in solving.
3. right click on the image you are interested in and select “save picture” from the menu.
4. Name it and save it somewhere on your computer.
5. Go to www.tineye.com
6. click the browse button and locate the file you just saved on your computer.
7. Search.

Try it with the image below if you like. Save it using the instructions from step 3 onwards and see if you can work out what breed it is from the TinEye results.
Cow

This works fine if you are dealing with a single image, but cache owners try to get clever and create a side by side montage of images and when you save these you end up with an image that tineye won’t match. There is a way around this and that is to follow steps 1 to 4 above and then load the image into a picture editor program and crop the images so that they become single images. I use the image editor that comes with Microsoft Office 2010 to do this, although this is the step that I personally need someone with eyes to help me. If the montage includes 3 pictures, you need to load the image in, crop it to show just one image then save it as a different name. Then repeat the process, loading in the original image again, cropping a different portion of it and saving it as a different name. This is a bit more time consuming but sometimes it may mean the difference between solving and not solving a puzzle.

Good luck!

Posted in Geocaching, Tech | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

PugWash Walks The Widgeon

We started the Aylesbury Ring back in October last year with the Eider section. Since then we have made another two visits, finding parts of both the Mandarin and Pochard sections making for a total of 40 finds. Seeing that the entire ring contains around 140 geocaches, we still have quite some way to go.

All our previous visits have been undertaken with our caching friends Smokeypugs under the Team name PugWash, and this visit was to be no different. That being said, as we set out to take on the Widgeon section on Sunday, there were two minor tweaks to the team. First, Mel had elected to remain at home with Smokey the dog, as she feared the forecasted warm temperatures coupled with the walk being predominantly across open fields would be too much for him. Secondly, we took the Cache Owner along with us. The ring is not the responsibility of just one geocacher, but instead the task of placing and maintaining the sections has been taken on by a number of different people. Graham, a.k.a. Happy Hunter HP20, has two sections and The Widgeon is one of those. When we were making plans to have another PugWash adventure he suggested that he could come along as he needed to do a maintenance run on the caches.

As the name suggests, the overall series is set out in a circular orientation but due to its size it is broken up into linear sections which means cache owners are face with a similar problem to the geocachers when doing maintenance runs. You either have to walk the entire section, there and back, or you need two cars. Seeing as Team PugWash would be taking too cars anyway it was a perfect time for Graham to come along. Of course with the CO along there is the added bonus that you will always be able to find the caches. That being said, he made it perfectly clear to us that we would have to lead the way and he would only assist if we got completely stuck on a hide. We were still expected to work for our finds… quite right too.

After meeting at the end of our planned route and doing a bit of car shuffling, we left our car there and drove to the other end of the route, which was in the village of Hardwick. The parking spot was just a short distance from the first cache in the series and keen to prove our worth, Shar and I forged off the pavement and into the bushes to search for the cache. Sam hung back and actually made the find proving that it is sometimes better to be a slow moving pre-teen. Of course he neglected to tell Shar and I he had found the cache right away, instead allowing us to poke around in the bushes for a bit while he, Geoff and Graham chatted on the footpath. We laughed off his cheekiness. It was, after all, the beginning of the walk and energy and tolerance levels were still high.

The first 5 caches on the series were all puzzles which Geoff and I had separately solved beforehand. The first one, AR01 Widgeon: Just go to these coordinates (GC5XHBZ), was simple but clever and involved littering the cache page with coordinates. Some were visible, some used hidden text and others were tucked away as part of the name of the cache owner and various other places on the cache page. All you had to do was find the correct ones. There was a geocheck on the page which meant you could try out alternatives. Due to my blindness and the fact that I have a computer that talks to me I landed on the correct set of coords almost straightaway. I won’t give it away but needless to say I was very smug that my disability actually helped me solve a puzzle. Of the 5 this was the one that Geoff found the hardest and I even had to give him a nudge, but I saw that as fair as he has helped me on many puzzles before.

The second puzzle, AR02 Widgeon:Hardwick Marriage Act (GC5XHGH), was solved by extracting some “out of place” text that had been hidden within the description which took the form of a list of marriages. As an interesting aside, Hardwick was not only the name of the village where we were, but also the title of Philip York, the first Earl of Hardwick whose most notable achievement was the passing of the 1753 Marriage Act. In a nutshell this act made it extremely difficult, though not impossible, for people under the age of 21 to get married without parental consent. It was the introduction of this act that led to the popularity of eloping to regions not governed by English law such as the Isle of Man or border towns in Scotland like Gretna Green.

Our route to the final of the puzzle took us right past Hardwick church and seeing as there was a Church Micro multi there, Church Micro 6452… Hardwick – St. Mary the virgin (GC5DPKJ), also owned by Graham, we took a few minutes to wander around the churchyard collecting the necessary information. It was still early in our caching day and this probably explains why initially we started heading to the wrong side of the church and then focussed on the door to the church rather than the entrance to the churchyard. These simple errors could have been easily avoided if we had simply read the cache description properly. It was somewhat embarrassing to make such schoolboy errors in the presence of the CO. After getting our act together and finding the cache, Graham pointed out to us a very interesting gravestone that had been placed to honour those that fell during the battle of Aylesbury during the English Civil War in 1642. He then informed us that the bodies that it was actually eluding to had not died during a battle, indeed it is disputed whether there had been a battle at that location at all. It is suggested that the stone unwittingly honours the bodies of over 200 poor souls who had died of the plague. When the mass grave was discovered in the 19th century it was erroneously thought to contain those that had died during the Civil War battle and thus the gravestone was erected in the churchyard. It was proving very educational having Graham along, a bit like a historical guided geocache trail… now there’s an idea.

A photo of a church

St. Mary The Virgin… the church

After our interesting diversion at the church it was back to the Widgeon. At the GZ of AR02 Widgeon: Hardwick Marriage Act (GC5XHGH) I was sent in to explore the prickly multi trunk tree but after a few minutes it was concluded that I was actually at the wrong tree and by the time I had extracted myself, somewhat painfully, and returned to the path, someone else in the group had made the find. A few more scratches for the hands… there goes that career as a hand model.

Graham has a rather strong fear of cows and therefore It was somewhat amusing to see that for AR03 Widgeon: Don’t have a cow, man! (GC5XHQR), the puzzle had involved some bovine identification. Pictures are my worst nightmare when it comes to puzzles. I can have a crack at most types of puzzle caches and in a lot of cases figure them out but if a picture or pictures are involved then I am at a total loss. A website called TinEye can be a very useful tool in these cases and with a bit of help from Sam I was able to solve the puzzle. Ironically as we walked across the field towards GZ there was not a cow in sight. Graham was surprised, stating that this was the first time ever that he had not encountered his bovine nemesis in this field. There was a lot of evidence of cow existence though and Shar did her best to help me avoid stepping in any of it.

As we reached the far side of the field I noticed something that gave me pause for thought. A make shift bridge had been made using some heavy planks to breach a ditch that separated the two fields. There was a step up onto the planks and then on one side there was a barrier to climb over before you could cross, similar to a stile. I can only imagine that it has been placed there to stop cows from crossing from one field to the next. Cows that were able to step up onto the bridge and then walk across and down the other side? Those are some super smart cows, perhaps Graham was right to be afraid of them. They obviously outsmarted the farmer though as they were nowhere to be seem, perhaps taking a holiday somewhere… at Cowes?… on the isle of Wight.

The cache itself was found with relative ease, no thanks to part of the hint though. “Bacon and Eggs MTT” was what we got. The MTT bit fair enough, but bacon and eggs? Even after we had found the cache, and Graham had explained it to us, we still didn’t get it. It was what I call a “hint for three people”, as it is unlikely that there are more than 3 in the world that will ever get it.

Sam, Shar, Geoff and Graham

Sam, Shar, Geoff and Graham


A fairly straightforward walk across a field and over a road took us to the GZ of AR04 Widgeon: The Glasgow Incident (GC5XHXH), a puzzle that was very cunning indeed. It took the form of a narrative which I often find the hardest type to solve, other than picture ones. Thankfully the hint was pretty good an Graham had given me a slight nudge, so its elegant solution soon was discovered. Without giving it away, I will say that I am constantly amazed at how we humans have developed a number scale for measuring almost everything. From intensity of earthquakes and strengths of winds to the consistency of one’s own poo. The latter is the Bristol Stool Scale if you are interested and discovering it has irreversibly change my “private time”. For the record the solution relied on none of these systems.

At GZ I was volunteered to do the retrieve and so was allowed to fumble around at the nearby kissing gate for some time before being directed to a likely looking tree next to it. A bit of scrabbling around and I soon had cache in hand, and seeing as it was a good size and close to a road, both Geoff and I decided to drop off TravelBugs we had been holding onto. Why would it matter if the cache was close to a road? Well TBs generally like to move as much as possible, so putting them in a cache that is in the arse-end of nowhere that only gets found a couple of times a year is not a very helpful thing to do. On the other hand a cache that is near a road is likely to get a reasonable number of visits, as it is “cache and dashable” meaning that the TB is more likely to be moved on in a timely fashion.

AR05 Widgeon: Witches of Weedon (GC5XJ0A) was the last of the puzzle caches on the section and, being a fan of Terry Pratchett, I found it very easy to solve. To get to the GZ required us to leave the farm fields and walk along the quiet lanes of the hamlet of Weedon. I was last to make my way from the road to the hide at GZ and therefore have no idea who actually found it or where it was hidden. By the time I arrive at GZ, everyone else was turning tale and heading back onto the lane to get to the next cache.

AR06 Widgeon: Coomb Hill North (GC4Q38X) was named after the field where it is hidden. This is rather confusing as Coombe Hill is actually over 12km away from there, but I am sure there is a good reason for it… maybe. Geoff made the find of this cache, hanging inside a pole similar to one of my own caches and whilst he admitted to understanding the hint, he was the only one that did, so I was happy to generously classify this one as a “hint for 4 people”.

The next two caches were hidden at field boundaries, there was little other option for the CO to be honest. The first field was an uncut wheat field with a narrow path that twisted and turned through it like a drunk on his way home from the pub. At the boundary of this field we found AR07 Widgeon: Hollow Coombe (GC4QK9Z).

This picture shows a crop field with a path winding through it. Sam and Shar can be seen in the near distance and further away are Geoff and Graham, all with their backs to the camera, walking away.

Wait for me!


The second field had been cut and the ground was covered with straw which had a smooth slippery texture, a bit like walking on poo. My team members assured me I wasn’t actually walking on poo and I had no option but to believe them. As Sam made a super quick find of AR08 Widgeon: Short Leys (GC4QKAP), it was decided that the shade afforded by a lone tree at the field boundary looked like a good place to stop for lunch and so out came the groundsheet and the sandwiches… one to sit on and one to eat. Over lunch, Geoff reviewed the bonus numbers that we had already collected and said that he had enough to calculate its final location. This was good as we had both spotted the gaping hole between Widgeon 08 and widgeon 10 when looking at the maps and now we knew why.

Another field, another boundary and Geoff was soon in the bushes, returning moments later having found AR09 Widgeon: The Bonus Cache (GC4PG3V) and also contracted a nasty case of googly eyes.
Googly Eyes
Another stile, another field and then I was offered up as a sacrifice to retrieve AR10 Widgeon: Near Deadman’s Ford (GC4QKBT). I enquired as to whether the cache was named in honour of the dodgy drum brakes on a mark 1 Ford Cortina, but Graham assured me that it wasn’t. Shar had spotted the hide, but I was “allowed” to retrieve. She directed me thus:-
Shar: “Put your hand out, on top of the fence.”
Paul: “Ow, that’s prickly!”
Shar: “Yeah, it’s covered in thorns.”
Paul: “Great!”
Shar: “Down a bit.”
Paul: “Ow, ow!”
Shar: “A bit more.”
Paul: “Ouch, for f-f-f!”
Shar: “Go in a bit.”
Paul: “What? Oh, OK. Ow, ow! Are you doing this on purpose?”
Shar: “Almost there, down a bit.”
Paul: “Ow, I better be.”
Shar: “There. Grab it!”
Paul: “OUCH!”
Shar: “No, the cache, not the thorns.”
Paul: [whimpering] “Got it.”
We make an excellent team! After a bit of maintenance from Graham and the dutiful signing of the log, it was time to put it back again. *sigh* As we placed the cache back, Graham told us to take our time walking to the next one, and so saying dashed off ahead to do some much needed maintenance on it before we got there.

After Shar had removed a few needle sharp thorns from my hand, a task that she is contractually obliged to do under the “Boo Boos and Ouches” section of our Relationship agreement, we stopped to make use of the “facilities” and then I limped (no particular reason, just for extra sympathy) to the next cache. We dawdled along chatting about this and that. Shar and Geoff were a short way ahead talking and when I asked what the topic was, Geoff replied, “We’re talking about getting married.” This was news to me, you’d have thought if my other half was going to get married to another man that she would at least have the decency to tell me. I asked if I could be best man.

AR11 Widgeon: Under Powered (GC4QKDB) was a clever hide but as Sam, Geoff and I fought our way into the bushes to search for it, we all recognized signs of a cache type we had seen before. A torch was what we found at GZ, but the log book was retrieved not by means of shining its light, in fact, it didn’t even work!. In moments we had the log book in hand and then we made our way back to the path. Sam and Geoff effortlessly picked their way through the undergrowth and up a slope while I stumbled and staggered and exploded out of the bushes like an elephant fleeing a mouse armed with a flick knife.

Consistent with the missing cows from a previous cache, AR12 Widgeon: Beware of the Bull (GC4QKFD) offered its warning without cause it seemed. There was no sign of the bull, perhaps it went on holiday with the cows… well you would wouldn’t you. We did, however find the cache and thankfully the retrieve was a little less painful for me this time although getting it out from under its wooden structure did require me prostrating myself before it like some sort of crazed stile worshipper.

Paul stands in a field posing and pointing into teh distance like some sort of catalogue model / idiot

Geocacher at C&A


The breeze had dropped and the temperature was creeping up as we made our way to AR13 Widgeon: Fen Leys (GC4QKGR). At the gate, Sam made a quick find and therefore got to choose the replacement rubber stamp that would go into the letterbox cache. He chose a teddy bear. Passing through the gate according to Shar’s guidance of “step to your right” – [I bump into gate] – “oh no sorry left”, we started towards our next cache. At this point Geoff floated his hypothesis that It’s a woman thing isn’t it? They generally seem to have problem knowing their left from their right. There was a silence and then I assured him that I wouldn’t tell his wife, or indeed any other female, that he had said that. A slight nervous chuckle accompanied his voice as he thanked me.

With the increased heat it was good to know that there were only two caches left at this point. Any more than that and I think there would have been some rumblings amongst the rank and file. Our penultimate cache was one that I have absolutely zero recollection of. I couldn’t tell you where it was, or who found it or how we got there. I remember leaving Widgeon 13 and having the “left from right” conversation with Geoff and then I remember walking to widgeon 15, but nothing at all about AR14 Widgeon: Fen Close (GC4QKHX). I can only assume that Geoff did a “Men In Black” thing on me to erase the memory of the recent conversation but got his calculations wrong. Either that or I was abducted by aliens and probed or whatever it is they call it. *squirm*

AR15 Widgeon: Manor Farm (GC4PQK2) was a multi cache. According to Graham, he had elected to do it this way to help guide people through an area where the footpath is not particularly well marked. Collecting the information was relatively straightforward once we had read the cache page properly. At the GZ we found a handy guard rail which Graham, Geoff, Shar and I sat on while Sam retrieved the cache from the bushes with the occasional “ow”. After signing the cache we made our way to the nearby car and then drove back to where the other two cars were parked for a well-earned slice of cake. Mel might not have been with us in body but her presence was most definitely felt in the form of another fantastic cake. All said and done it was a very enjoyable and productive day and there are already plans afoot to tackle Graham’s other section of the Aylesbury Ring, Mallard, at the end of the month. Happy Days.
Sam and Shar stand at a gate
This caching adventure took place on Sunday 9th August and took our total geocache count up to 1228.

Posted in Finding Geocaches, Geocaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Swallow Holes and Improvised Techno – Caching in Brookmans Park

After our not so fulfilling time at the Mega event last weekend, we were keen to get out and do some “proper” geocaching.

As part of Groundspeak’s 2015 Road Trip there was now another souvenir up for grabs. For this one we would need to either attend a CITO (Cache In Trash Out) event or find an Earth cache. The latter was definitely the better option for us so I got searching and located one not far away in Brookmans Park. If you have been keeping up with my blog lately, that name might sound familiar to you. Back at the beginning of June, Shar and I did the BP Stroll series (see Moonwalking in Brookmans Park). At the time the cache owner had hinted that there was another section of the series to come and checking the map showed my chosen earth cache was slap bang in the middle of these newly published caches… I love it when a plan comes together.

Being too tight to pay the £2.50 parking fee at Brookmans Park railway station, we found a spot on a residential street a short distance away and headed in search of our first cache, 13 BP Stroll – A Quarter Turn (GC5X37W). With a bit of a struggle we eventually found the correct footpath that ran to the side of the train tracks. At GZ we left the path and spent a frustrating 10 minutes searching the trees and bushes. The hint was no help at all being far too cryptic… one of those hints that you only understand when you actually have the cache in hand. Sam finally found the cache although in a pre-teen moody moment elected not to tell us and allow us to search for a bit longer which result in us getting more and more frustrated. Kids… don’t you just love them. Even when we did find the cache…. the hint still didn’t make sense. Our little team was a bit grumpy and this would never do.

The route of the walk, meant that we had to backtrack a short way to get to our next cache, 14 BP Stroll – Hanging Around (GC5X3DV) which I am glad to say that we found much quicker. Shar spotted the hanging cache within seconds of getting to ground zero which was good because it was placed at the side of a rather busy road and I was keen to get away from civilisation as quick as possible. Sam decided he wanted to replace the cache, despite the fact that he hadn’t even been around when Shar had found and retrieved it. This is in direct contravention of our rule that states whoever finds the cache must replace it. This makes sense as it ensure that the container goes back where it came from. A brief and pointless “back and forth” with stroppy Sam and he eventually gave in and relinquished the cache. *sigh*.

Thankfully that was the last stroppy moment from Sam as his mood, and indeed all of ours, lifted once we were on our way to the next cache. A short walk along the busy road and then we turned down a narrow country lane. Soon the noise and stress was behind us and we all started to relax.

Even the fact that there was a muggle sitting in his car in a lay-by right next to the GZ of 15 BP Stroll – Between The Trunks (GC5X3D8) could not upset us. Luckily I had studied the route and knew that we would have to backtrack along this stretch to get back to the car so we simply walked on by, knowing that we would be back later.

Shortly after this we left the path and were walking along the side of farm fields with a tree line to our right and open countryside to our left. Sure there was a gentle hum of the A1(M) in the distance but that didn’t bother us… we were alone, dry, warm and on a mission to find tupperware. Our next cache, 16 BP Stroll – Out Of The Bottle (GC5X3E7), was placed at the base of a huge tree that stood about 20 metres into the field of crops. I am sure I have said it before, but these lone trees are one of my favourite images of the English countryside. As an aside, Shar and I were talking a few days later about death… as you do… and I said that I didn’t want to be buried or left in an urn somewhere, I want to be burned up and scattered at the base of one of these massive trees in a field of crops, somewhere in the peaceful county of Hertfordshire. If she wants to leave the urn with a logsheet inside tucked into a hollow then that would be just fine too.

Anyway, after Sam and I had made our way to the tree and retrieved the cache we re-joined Shar and headed further along the footpath into open farmland in search of our next cache, 17 BP Stroll – The Green One (GC5X3EP). Sam found this one long before Shar and I had properly arrived at GZ and if it wasn’t for the fact that he has sworn off writing till he goes back to school, he would have signed the log too.

There was some discussion about the best route to the next cache with Sam favouring a more direct route. Shar on the other hand was trying to convince Sam that this would be difficult as there was a river in the way and it might be more prudent to follow the path that led across the river as this would most probably involve a bridge of some sort. Sam begrudgingly agreed suggesting that the river could be just a little stream. He was wrong as we discovered as we headed down a steep embankment to find the river in rather full flow with a decent bridge to cross it, thankfully. As we crossed and made our way up the other side of the embankment it was clear that in wetter times a large amount of the embankment would actually be under water. The discussion about this and other lofty and intellectual topics continued throughout lunch, which we took on the side of the grassy footpath just beyond the river.

After refuelling and resting we continued on the path that now flanked the river in the direction of our next cache, 18 BP Stroll (GC5X3F5). That is to say we got about 40 metres before Sam declared that he had something in his shoe. A familiar chorus heard by parents everywhere I am sure. Shar and I sighed and rolled our eyes and then I proceeded to improvise a techno/thrash song consisting only of the words “there’s something in my shoe” much to the amusement of both Shar and Sam. I then started to pogo enthusiastically on the spot to match the beat but being completely without coordination, pitched forward and came within a fag paper of face planting in the mud. Shar laughed so much she “almost peed”

Sam lays on the ground laughing

ROFL


After Shar had regained control of her pelvic floor once more and Sam had removed the boulder from his left boot we continued our quest and made a quick find of the cache as the hint suggested in a tree to the side of the path. Finding it to be of a decent size I took the opportunity to drop off a TB that I had been carrying round for a while, but I found one in there already so it was a case of swapsies.

The next two caches were fairly straightforward 19 BP stroll – The Blue One (GC5X3G6) at the base of a sign post and after a short walk on a road next to the A1(M), 20 BP stroll – Back To The Woods (GC5X3GR) was found hiding in a hole in a wall. And then it was on to the main attraction of the day, the earth cache, The Mimmshall Mystery (GC1J9E7).

The cache explains the mystery of how two distinct bodies of water disappear underground at the same point and appear to join. The truth however is very different. They do both go underground but they are not connected. One flows in one direction and the other flows a completely different way so there is no chance that they can be the same river. In fact they seem to go nowhere but into the ground. The evidence for this is that the area around GZ is almost constantly wet and boggy at the driest times of the year and when it has been rain it is almost always flooded. Dotted around can be found “swallow” holes where the waters have eroded the soft chalk that lies on top of the harder rock in the area.

To log the find we had to take some photos including one of a swallow hole. When we visited the area, it was dry but the aptly named Water Meadow was massively overgrown with lush and thick vegetation. At first we were worried we wouldn’t be able to spot a swallow hole because of all the plant life until we realised that we were standing right next to one. It was right on the path and had been fenced off to stop people falling in. It was about 3 metres deep and dry but it doesn’t take much rain to turn the area into a swamp and fill the hole from the bottom upwards. There was one other question to answer that concerned the height the water would need to reach to breach the nearby flood defences. Luckily when we were driving to the parking spot we had passed by the flood defences and had stopped to find the info required, so we already knew the answer to this one *smug grin*.

Sam stands at the tree within a tree with the lush vegetation of the water meadow visible in the background

Water Meadow


Swallow hole - Gulp!

Swallow hole – Gulp!


21 BP Stroll- Chip Off The Old Block (GC5X33HB) was found not far away from the earth cache but it took us quite a while to find as it was a clever homemade wooden cache that was well and truly invisible in amongst logs and trunks and other woody things. 22 BP stroll – Double Gated Field (GC5X3HQ) was the last in the series and easily found at the side of a gate on a quiet country lane. It was a very familiar country lane actually, it was the one we had left earlier when we had skipped 15 BP Stroll – Between The Trunks (GC5X3D8) because of the muggle in the lay-by. The plan had come full circle and we were pleased to find GZ deserted when we arrived a few minutes later.
Sam and Shar stand at a gate posing for the camera poking their tongues out.

Sometimes I question whether my family respect my photographic talents


30 minutes later, however, we still didn’t have the cache in hand. On both sides of the road there were trees of all sizes and shapes and varieties and we had almost nothing to help us narrow our search other than the hint that it was between trunks. Previous logs quibbled about the use of the word trunks and suggested branches would have been better which further confused us. The phones had us jumping from one side of the road to the other searching every tree, low and high – I even climbed a few just to be sure although there was no suggestion that climbing was required. In the end we had to admit defeat and with a slightly deflated feeling trudged off to find the car.

A few minutes down the road we soon shook off the DNF feeling and instead agreed at how nice it had been to get out into the countryside and do some proper caching again. 10 caches found, only 1 DNF and to cap it off, another shiny souvenir for the collection too. Happy Days.

This geocaching adventure took place on Tuesday 4th August 2015 and took our total cache count to 1213.

Posted in Finding Geocaches, Geocaching | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mega… Meh

If you read other UK geocaching blogs there is a good chance that you have come across one or more articles recently about this year’s UK Mega event that was held in Essex at the beginning of August. This entry is one more to add to the pile but I suspect that mine might stand out for the simple reason that we didn’t really enjoy it!

There were no disasters, the weather was great, the drive easy, none of us were ill or got into any fights with anyone else and we didn’t feel like we had been ripped off at all. We just discovered that perhaps it isn’t our sort of thing. Too many people, too much to try an understand and absorb in a short space of time and all a bit too much like a country fair. None of these reasons make the event a bad thing as such and it is fair to say that hundreds of people enjoyed it very much but just not us.

We have been to a Mega once before, the 2013 Halloween Mega but had a completely different experience there, mainly because of the insanely creative caches that the event is centred around. That event seems to be all about the spooky caches with a few other things thrown on top, like a couple of stalls etc. The UK Mega this year, for us, was something different. That is not to say that there weren’t things that we could appreciate or take pleasure from. I like the log book very much.

A giatn sized deck chair is used as the log book. Signatures can be seen all over the canvass already.

Essex Mega Log Book


We did also do a couple of the lab caches that they had there, one required you to grab a specific piece of paper containing a code as it was blown around you with loads of others as in the old Crystal Maze TV programme. We sent Sam in for that one although I kind of wanted to do it myself but would have felt a berk and there was a massive queue forming behind us. Take that cache, put it in a forest in the middle of nowhere and I would rave about it and award it a favourite point. And this is getting to the nub of it.

We talked a lot about it on the day and afterwards and I think we came to two conclusions. That sort of large scale event might be more enjoyable for us if we were staying on site for a few days and had all the time in the world to soak up the experience but even then it is still only a might. But I think the single biggest reason as to why we didn’t enjoy it is the same as the one why we love geocaching so much. It gets us out in the great British countryside where it is peaceful and quiet and allows us to participate in something exciting and secret. Caching on our own or with a couple of friends in the woods is like being on a secret mission or a treasure hunt. The Mega was a little like going to a theme park, everyone was there to do the same thing, 50 people watch you make a berk of yourself and you had to queue up to do it.

I applaud the organisers for staging an impressively large event with such precision and efficiency, they deserve a great deal of appreciation for the amount of work that goes into putting a Mega on, but I think it is unlikely that we will be attending future ones. It wasn’t a wasted day though, we learnt something about ourselves and got to log a mega event and 2 lab caches as well.

The UK 8th Annual Mega event took place on Saturday 1st August and it took our total cache count up to 1202.

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A Handy bit of caching in Oxhey Woods

Keen to take a break from school uniform and supplies shopping – Sam is off to secondary school in September – I suggested a spot of geocaching. Something local and not too many was the response I got and so I set to work to find something suitable. What I found was a clump of 7 caches in Oxhey woods, just a stone’s throw away. To be fair you would have to have a throwing arm like Fatima Whitbread and even then the stone might need to be picked up and carried in a car for another couple of kilometres but you get the idea.

This wasn’t our first visit to the woods, we had done some caching there back in the old days of 2013, when we were still total newbs – see 18 days on Oxhey, Whippendell and Ely. Two years later those caches have been archived and been replaced by some new ones. It is always a pleasure to walk through Oxhey woods where the paths are relatively easy going and as a bonus there are sculptures dotted around for you to discover as you go.

A wooden sculpture shows a top heavy world depicted atop a wooden base.

Reminds me a bit of Discworld


We soon discovered that one of the caches I had identified was actually outside the woods and so we elected to leave that one for another time. Aside from one DNF we managed to find the 4 other caches in the woods with relative ease. There were a couple of creative hides amongst them including this “handy” one.
A fake hand sits high in a tree

That’s Handy


I totally couldn’t resist hamming up my log which was as follows.

After a lovely walk through the woods there was just one more cache a short distance away. It was by the same CO as all the others and although the route to it took us out of the woods it was still a nice walk through some meadows to get to GZ. Once there we were faced with a massively overgrown clump of trees and I spent a number of painful minutes trying to fight my way in to where the cache seemed to be, only to be rewarded with a discarded wheel from a child’s ride on car. Back out on the path Shar and Sam were exploring other possible hides and Sharlene found a cat for her troubles. The appearance of the cat was soon followed by the barking of a dog and then a few minutes later by the CO, TeamTeegan, and her husband whose house backs onto the meadow where the cache is placed. They were alerted to our presence when Teagan, the dog who the cache is named after, started barking which apparently is a very rare thing. We have met the CO a couple of times at local events and so when she looked to see what was causing the dog to bark she recognised us lurking furtively at GZ. We still hadn’t made it through to the cache but help was at hand as Mr TeamTeegan popped back into their garden, returning a few minutes later with a rake. Said rake was then employed to open up the route to the cache somewhat and soon Shar was signing the log. We stayed and chatted a little longer, before bidding farewell and heading back towards the woods for the trek to the car.

Despite a bit of pre-teen moaning at one point, I think we all really enjoyed our walk in the woods and meeting the CO was an added bonus. Finding 5 caches takes us up to 1199 which would allow us to neatly log the UK Mega that we are planning to attend on Saturday as find number 1200. I was disheartened to discover that this number is not an official milestone, indeed once you pass 1000 the next one isn’t until 2000! Eeek! Regardless, the walk and caching was fun and served as a welcome distraction from “big school” preparations. Happy Days!

This geocaching adventure took place on Tuesday 28th July and took our total cache count up to 1199.

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An EVENTful evening

On Wednesday we attended a local geocaching event BBH 91 – Bordering on a Road Trip (GC5XGZJ). The Beds, Bucks & Herts Facebook group has an event every month but most of the time we aren’t able to go. This is mainly because the original premise of the events was that they would always be held roughly mid-month, mid-week in the evenings. 9 times out of 10 they are always on a school night and we haven’t quite got to the stage of leaving Sam at home while we bugger off to the pub for a couple of hours….yet.

Every so often one of the events falls in the school holidays and when this happens we make an effort to go. This month’s was on the day after school broke up and even better it was only a short drive away in Belsize… perfect. It was run by gigglesandlouby+1 who you might recall are the CO on the series in Whippendell woods that we recently did with our friends Smokeypugs – see Scouting about – A PugWash Adventure.

The event was really well attended with about 30 or so people there at some point or another. The weather was good so we spent the evening in the beer garden chatting to caching friends, old and new. It is always good to meet people who you have messaged either through Facebook or via their profiles on geocaching.com and I added a couple of new voices to names this time.

The event hosts even went to the trouble of putting on a game involving some fantastic wooden horses that they had made. Whilst people were initially shy at getting involved, soon the competitiveness sides came out and the gloves were off.

Racing Horses - Sam, Shar and myself can be seen lurking in the background

Racing Horses – Sam, Shar and myself can be seen lurking in the background


Sam, Shar and I really enjoyed ourselves at the event and as the cherry on the cake it qualified us for the groundspeak 2015 road trip event souvenir.
A "Shiny" for the collection

A “Shiny” for the collection


We have a couple of other events that we hope to attend this year. There is one in September that is just before the schools go back and Sam is hoping to attend one in Norfolk when he visits with my mum in August. But the next one on the calendar for us is the UK MEGA event(GC53P8F) which is being held in Essex this year and we will be popping along for the day on Saturday 1st August. What about you dear reader… do you attend events?

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Chiltern Hundred – The Last Leg

On Sunday we travelled to Chesham once more to complete the Chiltern Hundred. Back in January we set out, not only to find all 110 caches in the series, but also to maintain them as we went. To catch up on the story so far check out our Chiltern Hundred Adventures.

This was our ninth visit to the Chiltern hundred and we only had numbers 90 to 98 to find and a replacement to make at 37 which despite two visits and maintaining the cache on watch for a couple of months was almost definitely no longer there. For the sake of brevity , I’ll summarise the finds on the day as being all along the same footpath in a straight line which we tackled by searching for every other cache in one direction before turning tail and looking for the others on the way back. Of the 9, we found 6 and based on our own experience and past logs, elected to replace the other three which we felt confident had gone missing.

After we had done this, we had a bite to eat and then parked close to number 37 and spent a while choosing a new hide for the replacement cache we had brought for that too. That done, there was only one thing left to do… head for the Chiltern Hundred golden bonus (GC1F4NV).

The Chiltern Hundred is basically a one hundred stage multi cache. Each cache contains a code and when you have collected all the codes, you visit a website, enter them all in and it spits out the coordinates for the bonus cache. As anyone who has done trails that contain bonus numbers essential for finding the big bonus knows… things can go wrong. Codes can go missing, caches can go missing. To make the whole thing a little more fool proof, drsolly did a couple of things. First he put out 109 caches thus meaning that even if one or two had gone walkies, or you couldn’t find some of them, you should be able to collect enough to get 100 and therefore qualify for the bonus. The second thing he did was to apply a threshold of caches required in order to have the website spit out the coordinates, and enable himself to alter that threshold. In the early days the minimum required number of codes needed to get the coordinates was set at 90. On the basis that there were 109 chances to acquire codes, this gave you a margin of 19. So that he didn’t have to be out maintaining caches all the time, over the years if codes have gone missing, he has reduced the threshold meaning that fewer codes were required to get the final cords. I think at the time we started doing the Chiltern hundred the number was as low as 65.

Now that we have found, or replaced if missing, all the caches and placed a custom laminated bonus code card in all the caches, the series is back to its optimal state of repair again and, although I don’t know if he has done so, drsolly could increase that required threshold back nearer to its original number if he wanted to.

The upshot of all this was that we had the coordinates for the bonus cache and so we drove over to a parking spot that we had been to on one of our previous visits whilst doing the Ashridge loop in order to head back into the woods to try and find it. Aside from being the culmination of 6 months of caching and the most massive cherry on the cake, the cache also had a couple of other things going for it. First, it promised to be an ammo can, and who doesn’t love finding an ammo can? Secondly because of the difficulty in finding all the required caches, coupled with the varying types of terrain you encounter including tree climbs, the bonus has a difficulty and terrain rating of 5 / 5! This would not only be our first 5/5 but it would qualify us for the extreme caching souvenir on offer from Groundspeak during the summer months which requires you to find a cache with either a difficulty 5 or a terrain 5 rating.

When we arrived in the woods with the intention of locating a fallen tree we didn’t expect to find almost nothing but fallen trees. All shapes and sizes. The forest floor was littered with them. There were however sufficient trees still standing to provide cover from the necessary satellites required to get a decent fix so the phones were only useful to a point. There was nothing else for it but to get on and start searching. We all split up and did just that. My approach was to walk carefully until I fell over a fallen tree and then to follow it to its end and search all around for the cache. It was a good system that only suffered from a couple of drawbacks. I think I kept searching the same three trees over and over, and my shins were getting pretty bruised.

After about 10 minutes I stopped and listened. I could hear Sam in one direction and Shar in the other both searching without success. I checked the iPhone for something to do while I took a breather and it said I was 5 metres to the right of the hide. Yeah right, it had been saying that for the last 10 minutes and I had been moving all the time. Regardless, I made my way a few metres to the right and “found” a tree with my shin. OK, here we go again. I felt my way to the end and discovered the roots and a bunch of moss and undergrowth. Hmm, don’t remember this one before. A bit more feeling around and… hang on… that’s metal! I don’t know what you do when you make a really special find in your own space, away from everyone else. What I do, is to just take a moment. I ran my hands over the ammo can and just grinned for a bit, confirming its existence, its ammo can-ness. Then I counted to 5 and listened to the others searching and then I shouted “Hurrah” at the top of my voice!. This was instantly met with relieved and jubilant responses from both as they made their way over to me to inspect the cache. It was a lovely find, one that feels truly proportionate to the hard work that has gone into finding it. After 109 caches, the majority of which were just standard beakers, tubes and tubs (pleasingly not many micro containers), it felt even better to haul out the heavy and sturdy military hand me down. There was much smiling, metaphorical back slapping and the obligatory photo session.

Sam and Paul pose proudly with the ammo can that is the chiltern hundred bonus cache.

The Final Chiltern Hundred Cache


We have had a fantastic time doing the Chiltern Hundred over the last 6 months. The scenery is stunning and the walks have never been dull. The sense of achievement at completing this renowned series is enough to put a smile on my smileies… and look at this for a before and after map of the caches… you have got to love that!
The Chiltern Hundred Geocaches

Before…

The Chiltern Hundred Smilies

After :)


Here are a few stats…
  • Number of Chiltern Hundred caches found =110
  • number of non-chiltern hundred caches found whilst doing the Chiltern Hundred = 23
  • Miles walked = god knows somewhere between 30 and 40
  • number of times super stick misplaced = 5
  • milestones past = Sam 400 and 500, Paul and Shar 1000
  • number of caches replaced 15
  • amount of rubbish removed from caches = approx. 3 full carrier bags.
  • amount of ginger cakes consumed = 1.5
  • animals seen = cows, horses, cats, dogs, red kites, other birds, spiders, miscellaneous crawlingthings, sheep, squirrels, no ostriches.
  • number of pre-teen strops = 4
  • number of adult arguments = 1
  • laughs had = too many to count.
  • value of memories acquired = priceless

    Happy Days indeed!

    This Geocaching adventure took place on 19th July and took our total cache count to 1193.

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