A Merry Multi Cache

Being Bank Holiday and now that Sam was refreshed from his week of excitement in Norfolk with Nanny, we decided to make a day of it today and try our hand at a multi cache in Bushey. We had done one previously but it was a very simple one, although Sam had completed a much more complicated one up in Norfolk. First things first, I suppose I should explain what a multi cache is. The basic principle is that you are given a series of coordinates to go to and at each location you will have to retrieve some piece of information that will aid you in your search for the final cache location. There is no physical container to find at each stage, only at the final location. The clues you pick up on the way round are obtained by gleaning numbers from things you find around you. For example you may be asked to count the number of fence posts in a particular place, or to read a number off a certain gravestone, or a plaque on a wall or bench… you get the idea. You end up with a load of numbers that you then have to arrange in such a way that a set of coordinates will be revealed to you whereupon you can dial these into your phone or GPS receiver and go find the final cache container.

I had noticed one on the map in Bushey called “Up A Merry Hill” which consisted of 7 stages on a walk along footpaths around Merry Hill. It wasn’t a place that I had been before… or so I thought. On arriving at the location Shar and I realised that we had been here earlier in the year. We didn’t know anything about geocaching at that time and were just out looking for a walk. We were quite different people even back those few short months and it makes me laugh now at how much we were not outdoorsy back then like we are now. We went unprepared and it was muddy and without the security of following GPS coordinates we lacked the confidence to just wander along. Needless to say it wasn’t very enjoyable and we ended up far from relaxed and invigorated once we returned to the car.

6months on and thanks to geocaching we feel a lot more comfortable heading out for a walk into the yonder. We are far from experts and still thinking of things to have with us or put in the car all the time. I think the point at which you start saying to each other that it would be a good idea to stick the wellies in the car or a change of trousers just in case you get too muddy or wet is a pivotal point in your journey along the path that leads away from the computer, PlayStation, TV and towards the great outdoors. I reckon we still have a lot to learn but we are at least getting there.

Sam is pictured in front of our car holding his stick ready to tackle the Merry Hill Multi Cache

Ready to Rock

We started out on our multi cache excited, and full of energy. The weather was dry and warm and we had snacks and water in the bag. Always very important to pack lots of water when out geocaching and not always for the reasons you think. I have read a few stories of caches that require water to retrieve the container and although we have as yet to discover one of these I am determined not to be short on water when we do. At we started to work our way through the stages of the cache, collecting numbers as directed from plaques on benches or signs our spirits were high and we felt as if we were experts with nothing to worry about. Over confidence is a bugger when it trips you up!
A view across Merry Hill. The colour contrasts between fields in the foreground and in the distance is very noticeable and quite striking.

Merry Hill, Bushey

Somewhere in between two of the caches we decided that it would be shorter to cut off the path and head directly through a field to get to our destination as this was where the GPS wanted us to go. No problem. Off we went and boldly cut a path through the scrub. As we progress through the field that was going downhill the grass got a little thicker and the thistles got a little more frequent. Press on, can’t be far now, there should be a gap at the bottom of this field and that should be where the next stage is. As we finally got to the bottom of the field the grass now farther high and thick and the ground uneven as well, we found no gap in the hedgerow with the GPS still telling us that we had over 100 metres to go.

OK our choice was either to hack back up through the field and go back to the path of try and fight our way through the hedgerow. We went through the hedge. It was tough and Shar was not happy with the spider population that seemed to be in no short supply here. The three of us finally managed to burst through only to find… a field of very tall grass and thistles and another hedgerow.

We could go back through the hedge and up the hill… nope we decided to hack on through the 2nd hedge but that was not happening and after a while we decided to try and make our way up the hill in this field and see if we can meet our original path a little further on. It was starting to feel a little like being in the Serengeti or something and I realise that I may have that completely wrong as that might be a desert or plain or something. What it was like was being in a field of really tall grass with thistles getting in your face all the time. The troops were not happy. After a while up the hill we realised that it was too thick and whilst we knew we couldn’t be too far from the next stage, the GPS said less than 50 metres, without a machete we were not going to get there any time soon. Back down the hill we went. Back through the hedgerow we went and back up the first hill we went and there we stopped and took on some water and generally got snappy with each other for a bit.

We decided to stay to the path this time despite the fact that it was taking us away from the next stage. We stuck to it and shortly into the next field we found that it bent back on itself and then headed down through the field… but this time in a nice wide path. As we went down the hill we realised at one point that we were a mere 10 metres away from where we had been in the thickest part of the field, but we hadn’t been able to see the path from where we were then!!!! Not much was said until we got to the next stage and were able to sit on a nice bench and have a drink and an apple and all calm down a bit.

Shar and Sam take a much earned rest at a seat under an arch at stage 3 of the multi cache

Thinking about our mistakes

When doing a multi cache it is important to remember that as you walk around the stages, you will need to make a note of the information that you collect. I know this seems obvious but whilst you might never leave home without a pen as a seasoned geocacher, you might have to think harder to remember something to write on. Needless to say that we didn’t bring anything to write on but being resourceful I hit on the idea of using my iPhone as a voice recorder to make a note of the info. As inevitable as spilling food on your clean clothes or as rain when you leave home without a coat., if you give me an electronic device and ask me to record information on it I am going to do it in a silly way. And this explains why, on that particular day, I was walking around fields in Bushey pretending to be Captain Kirk making entries into his “Captain’s Log”. My finest moment was on finding one stage just before a small bridge at which point I whipped out my “communicator” and declared, “Captain’ Log… from the bridge!” I reckon you probably had to be there for the full comedic effect. Lol

The rest of the walk was pleasant and although we lost a much cherished stick at one point and had to endure a sulking 9 year old for a short while we managed to collect all the needed information except one number and took an educated guess as to what that would be. We did happen upon a very strange and intriguing lump of rock slap bang in the middle of a small field at one point. It seemed very out of place. I couldn’t work out whether it was bedrock or if it had been moved there at some point and if it had, why the hell was it put there! No amount of internet research on returning home has managed to shed any light on the mystery rock so I suspect I was either hallucinating or it was the work of aliens.

A large rock in the middle of a field, for no apparent reason

Alien Rock?

With all the numbers in hand we then assembled them in the order required by the instructions for the final cache and set off in the direction of our ultimate destination. Having learnt our lesson about staying on the path rather than taking the “as the crow Flies” route we immediately left the path and went off road again as it were. Yeah I know what you are thinking and I have no defence. It looked like we could cut through the field and pass through a gap in the hedgerow at the bottom into the next field where we believed the final cache to be. Even as I write this know I am ashamed at how shockingly familiar it sounds and how we should have just stayed on the path. Needless to say that in the corner of the field there was no gap, no hole in the hedgerow, no way through. Sigh. Reluctant to retrace our steps again and thus admit that we had been idiots a second time that day, we hacked our way through the thicket to emerge out the other side a little scratched but generally no worse for wear other than some substantial damage again to our pride.

Astonishingly, even though we guessed one of the numbers we managed to pin point the final cache location spot on and we soon had the cache in hand and there was much rejoicing. All those long up hill slogs, hacking through the thistles and lost sticks seemed now to pale into insignificance as we were victorious in our quest to conqueror the Merry Hill Multi cache.

Our route had brought us almost full circle and it was just a short trot back to the car from here and a welcome rest before heading off home. On the whole the multi cache experience is an enjoyable one. There is an argument to say that it is less rewarding than doing a series of 5 or 6 traditional caches but it also gives you a greater sense of achievement when you do actually find the final container. Both the traditional and the multi have their place in geocaching if only to give people the choice of how their get their caching kicks.

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