Scouting out and about in Cassiobury Park

When Sam moved up from cubs to scouts in 2014, I was browsing through the available badges to see if there were any that we might be able to work on as a family. Naturally my first thought was to check if there was something like orienteering or map reading that he might be able to use some of the skills he had learnt while out geocaching

“Hold the phone! Do my eyes deceive me?” Well obviously not my eyes, but you get the idea. Right there on the screen before my very ears, was an honest to goodness, official Scouts geocaching activity badge. Wind forward to just before the summer holidays this year and a plan was being hatched between myself and fellow scout parent, Jo, to, “get off our backsides and get the boys out doing the geocaching badge over the summer.” I got on doing what I do best… making plans. Cue the music and roll the video montage of me hunched over my computer and magnifier making a plan.

And so, on one of the hottest days of the summer so far, I wasn’t in charge of planning the weather, Sam, Shar and myself met up with Jo and her three boys, Ben and Ethen (both fellow scouts) and Alfie enthusiastic Beaver Scout, at Cassiobury park to make a start. There quite a few things you need to do to earn the badge including a variety of tasks using traditional map reading techniques as well as modern GPS based exercises along with a good smattering of theory and research into the bargain. You can see a full list of the geocaching activity badge requirements on the Scouting website.

We started off by finding a quiet place to sit in the shade and I went over some of the basic theory behind geocaching. What is geocaching, how it works and, how to understand the different types of coordinate systems used by OS maps and My informal lecture included points about satellites, grid systems, cache types, DT ratings etc. and was only slightly less effective because I had nowhere to plug in the overhead projector to show my PowerPoint presentation.

Jo and the boys are seated on the ground around an unfolded Ordanance Survey map

Locating their position on the OS map

Keen to get the boys actually doing something, I quickly moved on to the practical tasks and handed around some phones for them to use. We don’t have any GPSR devices so I modified the tasks so that the same results would be achieved using smartphones and a couple of apps. I got the boys adding waypoints, locating their position on the OS map, finding grid refs, and navigating to both an OS grid ref and a degrees and decimal minutes position inside the park. The first coordinate took us in completely the opposite direction than I had intended and nearly out of the park, almost falling over a very red topless man lying down in the grass. The mistake was entirely mine, and the boys did everything perfectly, getting us to the desired point in double quick time.

Thankfully the second point we navigated to took us further into the park as I had intended and all the boys managed to add the waypoint and use the phones to get us there no problem. This was familiar territory for Sam, but both Ben and Ethen took to it extremely well and had no problem at all. I expect it is because they had such a good teacher!

After the more technical tasks were ticked off the list, we got down to the fun part of actually finding some caches. The first one which involved a low level tree climb was unfortunately not there, but the boys didn’t seem to mind and were happy to explore the tree and make repulsive noises at the dead frog that was on display nearby. I even got to go up the tree too… just to double check it wasn’t there of course.

The boys try to find the cache up a tree

The boys try to find the cache up a tree

Paul is climbing a tree

I better just double check it isn’t there

We had much more success with the other 3 caches we went looking for in the park. The boys managed to find all of them and by now they needed almost no instruction from me at all. In fact Jo, Shar and I were just ambling along through the woods about 50 feet behind the boys who were forging ahead following the arrow on their phones. As an added bonus a trackable was discovered in the last cache which caused much excitement, especially from Jo who let out a little squeal when it was retrieved. I suspect that geocaching was not just a hit with the boys, but also with mum too.
Ben and Ethan (BigBruBurrows) and Sam (Miniknight) inspect the contents of their first collaborative geocache find

Ben and Ethan (BigBruBurrows) and Sam (Miniknight) inspect the contents of their first collaborative geocache find

The entire outing was a fantastic success and there are plans to do the next phase of the badge this weekend coming, when we are heading into Whippendell woods to do a series of 10 geocaches including the required multicaches that the criteria demands. Not only are we making great progress with the badge, but we have been able to form the beginnings of what will hopefully become a great friendship between our two families. Happy Days.

This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 24th August and took our total cache count to 1538.

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One Night in Norfolk and the world’s your lobster

After searching for a night cache, we returned to the car and were somewhat surprised to see two men trotting out of the woods, jump into their respective cars and drive off. It has to be said that this in itself was not that surprising, however the way the man wearing the skirt managed to maintain his dignity as he climbed into his vehicle was nothing short of impressive to say the least. But I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s rewind a few days and start this again.

The school summer holidays were upon us and that meant it was time for Sam’s annual trip up to Norfolk to spend a week with Nanny. Not having seen my mum for quite a while myself, I asked him if he would mind me tagging along this time. There were no objections from him, and Shar, although sad at not being able to come too as she had to look after our aged, senile, people hating cat, was resigned to staying home on the couch in her pyjamas watching the Olympics.

Here are some of the geocaching highlights of our trip.

There was No messing about, we were searching for our first geocache less than an hour after saying goodbye to Sharlene at our “Checkpoint Charlie”, a little chef just outside Ely. The cache in question was a simple church micro in the sleepy hamlet of North Runcton. Driving to the village was a slightly strange experience as we had to drive through a gated common. A few isolated homes and a herd of cows roamed around the common as we kicked Sam out of the car to open and close the gates so we could drive through.

The cache itself was fairly easy to locate once we worked out what a yew tree was. To be fair, Mum knew exactly what a yew tree was, but these ones in particular turned out to be rather small so we had trouble finding them at first. Once we did Sam and mum moved hastily in for the find, but slowed slightly as I read a previous log that mentioned an adder had been discovered recently guarding the cache. The container was spotted, but alas no adder was evident. To be honest, a 12 year old and a blind man make enough noise to scare off all the snakes in Norfolk.

Sam and Paul stand next to the wall outside the churchyard

Church Micro at North Runcton

After this we moved over to the green to grab some information of the village sign to try and find another cache. We got the info fine and found the intended hide for the cache but there was no sign of the container. Sam did find a couple of tennis balls though. Not too worry, a cache had been found today already and so we headed back to mum’s, stopping on the way at a local farm to pick some blueberries.

Our next smilies came a couple of days later when we went into King’s Lyn to do a bit of Geo-Poké-cach-mon-ing. We managed to find two more church micros, failed miserably at another nearby cache but managed to finish up finding a nice little nano hidden inside a stick in one of the large parks in the town. Along the way Sam managed to catch some digital monsters, evolve some others and do various other Pokémon related things. And then as we were walking through the park, Sam announced that he had found the place that the picture in my blog’s banner graphic was taken. I could only take his word for it as I don’t really know what the picture is at the top of my blog other than it being of some trees. What do you think?
Blog Banner
, a few days later, at the weekend, I had requested to specifically go and find a geocache as there was a souvenir up for grabs. Before leaving Watford, Sam had brilliantly solved the maze puzzle from that revealed that the challenge this weekend would be to find a multi cache. As ever, mum’s “can do” attitude had us incorporating a small geocaching excursion into our schedule and a multi cache was duly located in Burnham Overy.

I have often heard the expression ‘a one horse town’ to describe very small places, but I think that in the case of tiny Burnham Overy, they probably just borrowed a horse from a neighbouring town when they need one. Saves on the oats you know.

They did have chickens though. These we found free ranging around the churchyard as we made our way to collect the required info to get the coordinates for the cache. A bit of mental maths and converting letters to numbers in a way all too familiar to geocachers and we had the required digits dialled into the phones. The cache itself was a short walk from the church on the triangular shaped green that basically seemed to be ‘the village’.

After making the find we decided to head back to the churchyard and have lunch on a handy bench we had spotted earlier. No sooner had we sat down and unwrapped the sandwiches, than the chickens clucked over and started getting rather inquisitive. We politely shooed them away, but they just kept coming back and then in a flurry of feathers one jumped up on to my lap and was trying to nick my sarnie! We were having none of that and polite shooing turned into fending off with my white stick whilst we collected our things and fled to the safety of the church porch.

Killer Chickens

Killer Chickens

Mum is a very keen bird watcher, but somewhat ironically, prefers the birds to very much keep their distance. The inquisitive chickens were enough to give her quite a shock. Thankfully the chickens did not follow us to the porch and when we sat down to resume our lunch, we discovered a family sitting opposite us looking very suspiciously like they were trying to work out the multi cache too. It is always nice to meet other geocachers out and about and in this case the 20 minute chat we had with the family whilst we ate our lunch was both enjoyable and a good way for mum to take her mind of the killer chickens.
Sam and Paul stand in front of the main entrance to the small church at Burnham Overy pointing up at the building

Church Pointing

Feeling refreshed after lunch we took a walk across the fields to pick up another couple of nearby caches. Both of these were placed by the National Trust and therefore had a good amount of interesting stuff to be read in the description about the nearby landmarks, in this case a water mill and a windmill. We almost didn’t find the 2nd cache, at the water mill, but Sam did us proud and spotted it just as I was thinking we were going to have to give up.

I didn’t think we would get anymore caching done before we left Norfolk on the Monday but that evening we got to talking about night caches and… Well … one thing led to another and low and behold on Sunday evening at just gone 9pm we were parked in a lay-by not far from Kings Lyn checking our torch batteries. This was to be my first ever night cache and I was, understandably, somewhat excited. Sam had done one already, also with Nanny, and so knew what to expect. After a false start taking the wrong path into the woods, we were soon on the right track and between Nanny and Grandad and eagle eyed Sam we spotted our first reflector fixed to a tree next to the path. As we experimented with shining the torch at it, I found I could even notice it slightly too. Cool!

Ten minutes and 5 reflectors later we had reached the point in the woods were the description had advised us that we did not need to travel beyond. At that point, almost instantly, our little group all split up and everyone went in different directions looking for the cache. I was left standing on the path listening to what was going on around me. I mooched back and forth along the path a bit following their sounds, desperately wanting to plunge into the trees and help with the search but navigating in total darkness, even with a torch, in the woods is somewhat perilous for me. I did give it a bit of a go, carefully tapping through the trees and it made me feel a bit like I was helping but basically I was just spending all my brain power trying not to trip over a root or fall in a ditch, rather than actually searching for the cache. As it turned out the finding of the cache was achieved with a combination of logical reasoning, on my part, and 3 sets of good eyes belonging to the others.

Sam and Paul stand next to a tree that has an X marked out in reflective tacks. It is very dark

I wonder if the cache might be here?

And so we returned to the car, which is where I began my story. Not much more to say really. I am sure you can figure out what the two men were up to in the woods, or at least I reckon you could make an educated guess anyway. It wasn’t the only weird thing that greeted us as we returned to the car. When we had gone into the woods and hour earlier we were the only people in the lay-by, no sign of other cars or people anywhere. When we came back we almost fell over a woman sitting by the side of the road clasping a baby and staring off into space. She seemed to be neater in distress or discomfort and so we did what all good British people do and that was just to give her a wide berth and get into our car. Before we drove away though a man pushing two bicycles did appear, one of which had a baby seat strapped to the back, so that was alright then. Norfolk is weird like that sometimes, you just gotta roll with it.

That was it for caching in Norfolk but we did manage to find a cheeky little cache in Ely just before Sam and I were handed back to Shar. It is a very clever little cache along the river front in the town that had us all foxed for a while but eventually Sam spotted the hint, which was simply “code”. On a pole next to a building along with other meaningless letters and numbers was a magnetic strip with some familiar digits on it. For anyone who wasn’t in the know it would just be more random numbers and letters, but to geocachers it was actually the GC code of the cache. I don’t think I have come across a cache that better fits the description of “hiding in plain sight” than this one, and I was happy to give it a favourite point.

We didn’t go to Norfolk with the intention of getting more than one or 2 caches throughout the week, but with the odd one here and there, we had managed to find 10 over the course of our holiday. Along with witnessing a large amount of medals earned at the Olympics and all the other fun things that Nanny’s always seem to have ready up their sleeve, it was a thoroughly enjoyable time indeed. Happy Days.

Paul, Sam and Sandra stand ankle deep in the sea.

Paddling at Old Hunstanton Beach

These geocaching adventures took place during the week of August 8th through 15th and took our cache count up to 1520.

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Saying goodbye is hard to do.

Just a few months after we started caching in 2013, we placed a small series of caches around the streets of Watford (See The Seeker becomes The Hider. Over the last few months I have been thinking a lot about them and came to the decision that it is time to archive them and move on. They weren’t bad caches, but they weren’t great either. I learnt a lot about cache placement and how to managed geocaches from this series, skills that have proved invaluable when planning and placing subsequent caches. In the last year the caches in the series had received very few logs, so I made the decision to remove them. That was 6 weeks ago.

Having made the decision, I am not quite sure why I didn’t just archive them there and then. Over the coming weeks on a number of occasions my decision came back into my thoughts and somehow I avoided actually getting the job done again. It seemed that deciding to archive them was one thing, but actually letting them go was another.

Finally, today, I bit the bullet and submitted the fatal logs that would send 6 geocaches to the “box in the attic”. It wasn’t a painful thing to do as such, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little sad to let them go. They held a lot of memories for me about our earlier days caching and I remember how exciting it was to publish them and receive the first find logs. It was the right thing to do though… although perhaps not exactly the best time.

This weekend a souvenir is available to all geocachers who find a puzzle cache and all the 6 caches that I archived, whilst not strictly puzzle caches, do have the mystery cache icon. After I had archived them, I realised this and mentioned it to Shar, that how ironic it would be if someone actually went out and found one of the caches to get their souvenir, before we could retrieve the old containers. Can you guess what is coming next?

Less than 3 hours after I archive the caches, I received a found it log on one of them! I do hope they actually get their souvenir.

It seems old caches die hard sometimes.

Farewell Street Name Scramble geocaches, you are gone but not forgotten.

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A Triple Monkey at the Geolympix 2016 MEGA

On Sunday we attended the Geolympix Mega event that was being held on the Ashridge estate which sits almost slap bang on the borders of Beds, Bucks and Herts and is just over a half an hour drive away from us. Whilst the event itself started at around 9 in the morning and the FTF frenzy commenced at noon, we rocked up about 3pm with the intention of finding no caches at all.

No, we haven’t lost our minds? Well if we have it didn’t manifest itself in this particular instance. It was a cunning plan on our part to experience a Mega in a different way to our previous two. We went purely to soak up a bit of atmosphere, socialise and log our closest mega to date.

After we had arrived, signed the log, said hi to a few friends and wandered around the few stalls that were there we then found ourselves wondering what to do. I had noticed that our cache count was standing at a rather tantalizing 1496 prior to attending the mega and it was too much of a temptation for us not to try and make the mega itself our 1500. So we decided to go caching. Yeah, I know what I said in the last paragraph, but things change.

Our first target didn’t even need a GPS. As we stood at the table signing the log for the mega, Sam looked across the meadow and pointed out a Hollywood style sign spelling out the word “GEOCACHE” a few hundred metres away and so we headed off over to check out if it was indeed a cache. Before we got there however Sharlene spotted two people wearing orange t-shirts who seemed to be heading towards us across the meadow. There in a middle of a field in the Ashridge estate we were delighted to meet and chat with fellow bloggers Mr and Mrs HG137 proprietors of the excellent Sandhurst geocachers blog.

A group shot of Sharlene & Paul with Mr and Mrs HG137 proprietors of the Sandhurst Geocachers blog

Blogs collide – Washknight meets Sandhurst

Whilst we were fresh and full of energy, they were nearing the end of their day having found a very respectable 20 caches and enjoyed all the mega had to offer already. After a short chat we bid them farewell and a safe journey and we continued on across the meadow to log our first cache of the day.
Sam and Paul stand behind a hollywood style sign spelling the word geocache made up of letters approx 12 inches high. Beyond is a tree where the cache was hidden.

Thankfully we were spared the embarrasment of logging a DNF on this one by the helpful hint.

After this we found the next two closest traditionals and logged those as well,taking our total up to 1499, leaving us just the Mega itself to log to take us to our 1500. Despite only doing 4 caches in total on the day, reaching the 1500 milestone makes it feel as if we achieved more than we did.

After our exhausting day of geocaching it was back for an ice cream and then onto the main meeting point where we met lots of people we already knew and some we didn’t. Our good friend Geoff (a.k.a. Smokeypugs) was there and on good form as well as many others from the local Beds, Bucks, and Herts community. There were lots of people from all over the country and even the world, most notably was an American man who was dressed as a jester for a reason I never discovered.
I even recognised a few people just by their voices. Although I didn’t get to actually meet them, there was no is taking the distinct northern tones of Pete and Tracy, the hosts of the Podcache show podcast.
To round the day off we all gathered together in the small area near the stalls on the edge of the meadow for the inaugural National Geocaching Awards. It was a very entertaining hour or so spent applauding the winners and laughing at the jokes of the hosts Paul and Graham not to mention the odd amusing heckle too. I wasn’t overly disappointed not to win the award that I had been nominated for and was genuinely honoured to be shortlisted at all. I was more upset that fellow blogger Sarah (a.k.a. the geocaching junkie) didn’t win in the social mediast category as I feel her blog is a most excellent and entertaining resource. Sarah had come over from Ireland for the Mega, in fact she was fresh in from the piratemania Mega the day before and after geolympix she was heading to wales for the UK mega too. After the ceremony we managed to talk for a short while and snap a photo too.

Paul and Sarah a.k.a. the geocaching junkie pose at the national geocaching awards event.

International geoblogosphere meet up🙂

In conclusion, we all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the mega. The weather was warm but not hot, more importantly it was dry. The Ashridge estate is a beautiful NT property with many great things to see and do aside from all the caches that are there now, which we will be returning for over the coming months. Most notably though the event was a success because of all the great people we got to meet and chat too. But has it changed our general attitude towards mega events? Nah, probably not🙂

This MEGA geocaching adventure took place on Sunday 31st July and took our total cache count up to 1500. Yeah baby!

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Geolympix Ashridge 2016 – We’re Going!

geolympixWhat is the Geolympix? In a nutshell… it is a geocaching event held to coincide with the Summer Olympics. It was first held in 2012 and proved to be such a success that the organisers plan to hold it every four years. This year it is being held on Sunday, 31st July in the Ashridge country park which is just a 30 minute drive from us, and this time it is gong MEGA. Oooooo exciting🙂

“But Paul,” I hear you cry, “You don’t really like mega events.”

Well, you are right, I have gone on record saying that Mega events just don’t seem to be our thing, but there are a few reasons why we are choosing to attend this one.

Firstly, it is on our doorstep. If we get bored or aren’t enjoying it, we can be at home with feet up sipping wine/vodka/lemonade in 30 minutes.

Secondly, we are not really going intending to cache. We plan to go sometime in the afternoon, sign the mega log, browse around the stalls, take a look at the special attractions laid on, and maybe sniff the odd lab cache or two. So our expectations are much more basic.

Thirdly, we reckon we will know a good handful of people there. As it is on our doorstep and being organised by some people we know through the BBH Facebook group, the likelihood of us bumping into people we know is a lot higher. Plus there is a chance of meeting people who we know through the internet who are going too. Sarah, The Geocaching Junkie, has said she will be there as part of her whirlwind 3 Mega events in a week trip, and also Graham and Helen who write the Sandhurst Geocachers blog are going to and I hope I get the chance to bump into them and put a voice to a blog as it were.

And lastly, the National Geocaching Awards event is being hosted there in the late afternoon and I am very interested to see what sort of a do this is going to turn out to be. Whether in future years I will be proud to say I was at the first ever NGAs or whether I will be laughing at what a total dog’s breakfast it was. Either way, it interests me. Oh, and mumble… mumble… I may have been nominated in one of the award categories mumble… mumble.

So, we will be there, and if you are going too, look out for the man with the trackable white cane, it will probably be me.

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Washknight: Geocaching From A Different Perspective

Many thanks to Sarah for inviting me to appear on her blog.

The Geocaching Junkie

If you Google ‘starting a blog’, you are sure to come across the well-cited ‘fact’ that most blogs do not last longer than 3 months. There are, ironically, countlessblogs detailinghow to be a good and successful blogger and I read lots of them before starting my own. Onepiece of advice that appeared repeatedlywas to read other blogson your chosen subject. So I startedreading. There are a plethora of geocaching blogs out there and lots of really good ones too. One that I stumbled uponearly on,and have been followingever since, isPaul Weston’s great site.

Meet Paul

Paul, a.k.a. Washknight, is based in Watford, England and started caching in May 2013 when he read about it in his 9-year-old son’s geography book:

There was a single paragraph in the book about geocaching being like a scavenger hunt that you use a GPS device to play. Being a very techy person, this…

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As per my post from last week, Pokémon Go? iPhone says Pokémon No!, it was clear that playing Pokémon Go on our current phones was not going to happen. On Thursday we went into town and I came home with a new iPhone SE and totally unexpectedly, Shar also came home with a new phone, a Samsung Galaxy J3. So there we were, in possession of two shiny new top of the range phones… time to catch some Pokémon.

I know what you are thinking. This is a geocaching blog. And you would be right, but bear with me for a moment. We hit the town on Saturday and Shar and Sam got straight into catching all manner of weird named creatures and racking up experience points, candy, dust eggs, incense and all other sorts of weird stuff, that I am struggling to understand. Long and short of it is that they both love it, Shar surprisingly more than Sam it appears, a fact that I discovered later that evening when she returned in from having a smoke and casually informed me that she had “popped round the block” to pick up a few Pokémon.

I am delighted they enjoy it, and I am happy to tag along for the walk when they go out, especially if we can swing by the odd geocache or two when we go. You see what I am getting at here? When I suggested that perhaps we could walk to the library and look for the cache near there, I was not greeted with groans or grumbling but instead agreement and excitement as there were two Pokéstops over there too. I was mentally rubbing my hands together and planning the hoovering up of many an isolated urban cache around Watford even before we had left the house.

So far, the plan is working. We have been out twice “throwing balls at monsters” and each time we have managed to pick up a cache on the way. So whilst, Pokémon itself is not accessible to me and of little more interest than seeing my family enjoy it, I can see a way that the diminutive virtual monsters might be of great use to me after all.

[Cue close up on my face as my eyes sparkle and I laugh manically]

This weird Geo-Poké-cach-mon-ing adventure took both Sam and Shar to level8 and our cache count up to 1495.

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