About a month ago whilst out caching locally we found HighPoint (Herts). This was a lovely large container extremely well preserved against the weather, in fact it was a container inside a container, what is known as “double skinning”. To go to that sort of lengths in order to ensure a cache stands the test of time demonstrates a true passion for the pastime. On closer inspection of the cache description I found that this particular one had been in place since 2002. 11 years this cache had survived out here in a tree and been visited by many people over that time. It appears the second Tupperware box was added only a few years ago after water had started seeping into the first, and it was added not by the owner but by a fellow geocacher keen to keep the container alive. For me this is the spirit of geocaching in a nutshell. That in itself was interesting enough but what we found inside was, for me, even more intriguing and was the reason that today we were heading to Coombe Hill in Buckinghamshire to find the oldest active geocache in England.
Inside the container that we plucked from the tree was a trackable. Now this is exciting enough, we always love finding TBs and helping them on their travels. This one was called a geofossil and upon reading the note attached we discovered that it wanted to visit only old caches. Once back at home I looked up the TB and found that it had only been released recently and had so far visited just 2 caches. It started its journey in MI5 Reservation just a short way away from HighPoint where we picked it up. So I got to work looking up old caches and it wasn’t long before I stumbled on the location of the oldest cache in England and it was less than an hour’s drive from us. This was too good an opportunity to pass up. Coombe Hill, here we come!
On our way there, we stopped off at Complete Outdoors, a shop on the outskirt of Hemel. This was really the first time we had been in an outdoor equipment shop since we had started geocaching and I nearly didn’t make it out alive. What an absolute Aladdin’s cave of treasures. We went in to find a pair of walking boots for Sam a.k.a. MiniKnight, and just kept finding things we wanted. Ooo look, these bags are nice! And look here, these gators would be useful… that’s a nice walking stick…wow they have torches…look a headlight….and oh my I MUST HAVE THAT HAT….how much?… no really how much?….holy f-f-f-f-fridge magnets. Back to the car, quickly, before I sign my soul over to the devil for the contents of this shop! We got back on the road and as Shar drove, I thought about the possibility of selling my son into slavery to own that hat!
We located the car park at Coombe Hill and got straight down to finding the Tupperware. I mean there is no point in messing about, dragging things out and all that. Shar opened the first box and we tucked into a lunch of ham and cheese sarnies and a distinct lack of cake. I say a lack of cake but there was half a hot cross bun, which I suppose does qualify as cake but its no ginger cake I can tell you. As we munch we mused over the plan for the afternoon. We had 8 caches planned in a circular route from the car, back to … well the car of course. That’s what circular routes do. They go in a circle. The clue is in the name really.
So our list for the day was:-
Mike Bushell BBC Sports News (GC2MG0M)
View from Coombe Hill (GC171)
X Marks the Year (GC2M627)
Chiltern Scarp (GC4K6Z3)
Coombe Hill Cache 3 – Crossroads (GC4K67N)
Coombe Hill Cache 2 – Pitstop (GC4K662)
Coombe Hill Cache 1 (GC4MXYT)
As we got out of the car the sun went behind some clouds and the wind cut through my coat. Time to get walking before I got cold. The first cache we went for was placed here 10 years after the oldest cache in England when the BBC did some filming up here to highlight the sport of geocaching. A brisk walk from the car and a rather direct but less simple route was chosen for reasons known only to the god of GPS and before long we were cache in hand, signing the log. But this was just an appetiser… we wanted to get on to the main course so we did the deed quick and headed towards our reason for coming here, the oldest cache in England.
As you make your way to GZ you can’t help but be distracted by what meets the eye. This is a view and a half. Even with my lack of sight I can get a sense of the enormity of it. When you stand on top of a hill and what you see before you is a whole lot of nothing… no trees in the way, no building shapes in your face… no landscape rising up narrowing your slice of view from ground to sky. When you get a sense of just lots and lots of sky and distance, that to me is a great view. The wow’s from Shar and Sam were also a clue too.
As you approach you start to descend and for a moment you get this feeling that no… you want it to be right at the top, but I must say I was not disappointed by the hide. A fairly steep scramble a short way down to a very good hiding spot and you know you have worked for this one. If you have to be careful about keeping your balance as you sign the log for fear of tumbling down the hill then your excitement is heightened.
And then there it was… the oldest cache in England… and it was our first Ammo can. An ammo can, if you don’t know is exactly what it sounds like. They are metal containers used by the military to store ammunition. They are extremely robust and most importantly water tight. They are the Crème de la crème of geocache containers and it was a joy to hold one. Photos all round and don’t forget to sign the log and drop off the geofossil TB that has led us here. Then it was back up the hill to admire the view again. I can honestly say that this cache and the view alone are worth a trip to Coombe Hill. Oh, there is more, much more to bring you here but that is enough.
From here it was a short walk to X marks the year, a 10 year anniversary cache that was placed here in 2011. Now this was more like it, the iPhone was leading us into a thicket of gorse… bring it on. We gingerly edged our way in, slowly watching the metres tick down but never getting below 10. Then it went up again and we popped out of the other side of the bushes. Hmmm, lets circle back around and have another go. In we all went and this time once we got to the centre point, almost without a word, we all split up and went in different directions. I opted for walking into a tree and then tried walking round it which worked much better instead. The GPS was no good to us here, the bushes were too thick so it was time for good old caching sense. I chose to use my long white cane, tapping around and listening carefully. Various rustlings and cries of ouch every now and then could be heard from other areas of the bush as Sam and Shar employed their own methods. Sometimes I have a large roller on the end of my cane, but today I had a smaller, fixed ceramic tip as the roller tends to clog up a bit if it is muddy. The good thing about the ceramic tip is that it makes very clear and distinct sounds when it taps onto various surfaces. After about a minute or two I heard a familiar plastic sounding tap tap from underneath the tip. I scanned left and dull thuds of soil and back again and bingo. I dropped to my knees and clearing away some loose earth prised the cache from its hiding place almost buried in the loose soil. It’s not often we find regular sized containers and so far we had found three in a row all on the same day. We extracted ourselves from the bush even though the bush didn’t really want to let me go and headed over to the Monument that stands proud atop Coombe Hill for our next two caches.
Monumentalist is a multi that uses information gleaned from the items found at the monument and we quickly collected all we needed to work out the final coordinates. You are very much standing on the edge of the hill here and it was pretty obvious where these coordinates were going to take us. DOWN!
Before we took the plunge though we gathered the information we needed for the earth cache, Chiltern Scarp. This was basically straight forward until we got to the last point which asked us to examine the soil at the monument and describe it in terms of make-up, drainage and PH. Shar and I just went quiet and looked blankly at each other. I bent down and stuck my finger in a soft bit of earth. “Its … ummm… ummm… soil?” I Ventured. Unfortunately having left our portable Chemistry Laboratory in the car we were unable to establish its PH value and will have to resort to producing an answer based on the time honoured method of pulling a number out of thin air. It was fascinating to learn about the geology of the area from the cache description although we were having trouble hearing each other as it was so flipping windy at the top. I only caught snippets of what Shar was telling me.
“blah blah blah mumble mumble…. Formed in the bodacious period…. Mumble muble…blah blah…. Woodlands Cleared for a culture club about horse house ears ago.”… nod, smile…. At least I think it was something like that.
As we carefully made our way down the very steep bank towards GZ of the multi cache, Shar in front, me taking it slow with my cane, she enquired as to whether I was ok. I replied in the vane of yes thanks and if I wasn’t she would know as I would either go rolling past her or would collect her as I plummeted and thus make it very apparent that something was not quite right. Funny thing about hills, the more you go down them the more you keep saying to yourself that you are glad that you are not going up them. You also have a nagging feeling that it is a distinct possibility that you might have to do exactly that in a short period of time, but you try to forget that and enjoy the feeling of gravity being on your side for a change.
From here we tackled three traditional caches forming an arc that would lead us back to the car… all part of that circular thing I mentioned earlier. It’s all about the planning you see, the fine detail is important and its details like this that make all the difference. The planning for the next bit was a little odd though, probably because there was none, and we just winged it. We were determined not to have to go back up the hill. We followed a fence through some trees around the base of the hill towards the next GZ. After about 5 minutes, Shar casually threw into the conversation, “I am not sure whether that fence is electrified or not”. Now this sort of statement is worrying for a number of reasons. Firstly there exists the possibility that it might be electrified. Also, however, the way she floated her uncertainty was clear evidence that she had been thinking this for a while and therefore had been making a point of not touching the fence in case it was indeed electrified. I, on the other hand, had been operating from the standpoint of complete ignorance and not attempting in any way to avoid touching the fence. I now had to quickly search my mind to try and remember whether I had touched the fence. I realised with horror that I had. And then I realised that I needn’t be scared as I obviously had not been thrown off my feet with 50,000 volts up my jacksie. I had to just check to make sure I had definitely touched the fence and even though I was pretty sure I had already, I was now very nervous about touching it in case I had remembered incorrectly. My train of thought was broken then by me stumbling and reaching out to steady myself by holding onto the fence. Sigh… Well I am now pretty certain the fence is not electrified!
When we reach GZ we realised with a slight groan that it probably would have been easier to go back up the hill and then follow the path here but we all agreed that in the absence of a time machine we would not beat ourselves up about it.
Upon discovering the cache here, we found that this was a little out of the ordinary. Inside the container we found a locked wooden box and some instructions. Now this was intriguing. We retreated to a nearby log to examine what we needed to do. The lock was a three digit combination lock and when we read the instructions it was a simple conversion from roman numerals that gave us the combination to the box and access to the log. How cool was this. I love this sort of extra twist to caches and vowed to give this one a favourite point for sure.
Our route to the next cache took us along a bridle path and through what can only be described as a bog. It started off with a slight dampness under foot and then a bit of slippery mud. Then this gave way to pockets of deeper stickier mud and then it was full on, stop and you will sink up to your knees in this stuff. Keep moving, keep moving. Squelch, squelch. Arggggghhh that one went right over the top of my boot. Despite sinking in mud up to the ankle thankfully nothing made it into my boot or any of our boots for that matter and as we arrived at GZ our only other obstacle was waiting for the packs of dog walking muggles to naff off so we could retrieve the cache.
Our last one took us back into the bog of despair for a bit where we nearly lost Sam at one point but thankfully made it through. Then we spent 10 minutes walking round in circles trying to find a base of tree hide that due to tree coverage turned out to be about 30 feet from where my iPhone was telling me it should be.
With aching limbs and very muddy boots and trousers but a feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment we made our way back to the car. A fantastic day all in all. We dropped our geofossil off in the oldest cache in England. We found our first ammo can, discovered more regular sized containers than I think we have found in total before, did an earth and a multi cache and got dam right muddy into the bargain. Happy days.