At the end of last week my other half, Sharlene, came down with a cold and as a result, over the last few days, there had not been a lot going on. I was extremely sympathetic and loving to her whilst she was in her weakened state, like I am, of course, all the time, and it wasn’t only because I hoped we could go out geocaching as soon as she was feeling better. Thankfully by yesterday evening her condition had improved considerably …no alarming mucus colours or asphyxiating congestion, which was good, as we were both going a bit stir crazy cooped up at home.
With the green light, I scouted out a series of caches called Staggering to Bovingdon which is located in… yep, you guessed it, Bovingdon. I was a little disappointed to find that this was not a pub crawl… it certainly should be with a name like that. Instead it is a series of 18 caches set along bridleways and footpaths, across fields, through woods and up country lanes. There was some concern as to what the going underfoot would be like as we have had quite a lot of rain over the last day or so, but we decided that we would go prepared to get muddy and to hell with it.
A word of warning, that this entry will contain some spoilers. I am in the mood to tell about our day including details of some of the finds and I reckon that seeing as this is an established series and there is already a lot of info contained in the logs, that a few spoilers here and there won’t hurt anyone. So… you have been warned and if you are easily offended by a spoiler or too then a) lighten up, and b) stop reading now.
It just so happens that I do actually have a nugget of information to pass on to you about Bovingdon before I resort to my usual trick of looking it up on Wiki, half reading it and then using this, often, wildly inaccurate information as the basis of my research. I have been there a couple of times over the years as there is an old airfield there which was converted and used for short circuit banger racing. OK, I know it isn’t much, but normally I have little or no prior first hand experiences to recount of the places we go, so it is surely worth something? No? Man, you are a tough audience to please.
Sigh… OK, OK, I will go and do the research.
I will try and compact all I have just learnt into as few words as possible.
Bovingdon is a medieval home above Hemel and down Hertfordshire way. There is hope on the Miller and the gold airfield is home to famous poison seaman… oh wait… hang on I got a bit confused there. I guess it can’t really be compressed that much, let’s try this instead.
Bovingdon is a medieval Village in its origin located in Hertfordshire some 4.5 miles south west of Hemel Hempstead, approx. 6 miles northwest from our home. Its name is thought to mean “above the downs”. It is most notable for being the site of an airbase during the Second World War and the village country club played host to famous people such as Glen Miller and Bob Hope who were visiting the troops. It is also notorious for being the site where Graham Frederick Young, also known as the poisoner, claimed two victims back in 1971. Famous residents include the musician Goldie and footballer David Seaman. Happy now?
Upon arriving at the suggested parking spot we quickly loaded up and set off in search of our first cache. With instructions to take the bridle path near the parking spot we promptly chose to ignore this and wandered off blindly (no pun intended) across the open space which was distractingly named “Sheet Hanging Common”. With a name as fantastic as this, there has to be a story behind it. I have tried to Google it but trust me if you put the phrase “sheet hanging common” into Google you get a lot of rather depressing websites about people being hanged. Needless to say that Bovingdon was off to a flying start already lodging a score in the “weirdness” category.
Also a point in its favour was the friendliness with which we were greeted by the first dog walker we came across. He cheerily called “good morning” to us as we strode through the common. Half a point in the weirdness category though as he was quite a distance from us. When you walk past someone and they give you a nod or a polite greeting this is all very well and good. But if they have to raise their voice and shout because of the distance between you then there is something a little odd about this. Isn’t there?
After a little aimless meandering we spotted the bridle path we should have been on and cut into it at the opposite end to that of which we should have, but the net result was that we soon arrived at our first GZ of the day, GC2G8HC Staggering to Bovingdon #1 On Your Way . A straight forward 35mm pot with a magnet on the metal fence and we were off and running.
It was then through a field currently being used by a flock of sheep for purposes known only to them but judging by the consistency of the ground under foot, it required them to poo a lot whilst doing it. Already glad I wore my walking boots.
Cache number 2, GC2G8HM Staggering to Bovingdon #2 Hyde , was easily pulled from its hiding place down the side of a stile by me and it was smiles all round. So far we were making good time and mud was at low levels. That would change!
Number 3, GC2G8HQ Staggering to Bovingdon #3 Totem Pole , was at the base of a very distinctive tree that fitted the cache title of totem pole rather well. I could just make out the jagged bare branches jutting up into the air and my mind was momentarily distracted by thoughts of a bizarre pagan ritual taking place here in the past. Perhaps by moonlight, perhaps free from the constraints of clothing? It was however daytime, cold and muddy. Back in the real world we dialled up the next cache on our phones and surveying the landscape around us knew that this was where things would get interesting. For the next kilometre or so we moved along the edge of open fields… and the mud level edged gradually up to mud factor 2… we are into audible mud here… squelching and squidgyness.
The hint for number 4, GC2G8HW Staggering to Bovingdon #4 Chiltern Way , said that it was in a log pile next to a small holly but I can tell you that things have changed a little over the interceding years since these caches were placed. The holly is not so small anymore and it took great pleasure in trying to embed itself in my backside as I squeezed into the area where the cache was located. Sharlene had spotted it from the path and graciously allowed me to go in and retrieve it… bless her. As I stood in my holly prison, having passed the cache log out for her to sign, an interesting thought crossed my mind. The permanency of geocaches in an ever changing environment can be an intriguing subject. The way in which a plastic container can stay largely unchanged over a period of 5 years when all around it, the landscape may change drastically. In minor cases this may mean that a holly bush simply grows a bit denser but in other more extreme cases it might result in an entire area being redeveloped or levelled even. Mother Nature might be the cause in some cases but probably the march of Man will be the reason in the majority. Geocaching logs and photos taken by those that have passed by these containers can form a very specific historical record of how things change although people aren’t often aware of this as they scribble their name on the sheet of paper held tightly in their cold fingers. All the more reason to write something more than just “found it” in your geocaching online logs. Don’t just be a number, be a part of history.
As if Mother Nature was making a point, whilst we squelched our way to the next in the series we saw evidence of the damage that the recent storm had caused and had to pick our way through a fallen tree lying right across the path.
The next cache, GC2G8HY Staggering to Bovingdon #5 Longcroft , took us out of the field and into a narrow tree lined path where we made a quick find at a tree stump. From here we trudged down an ever narrowing track as the ground under foot got muddier and wetter. Not only squelching and squidging but also a bit of sploshing. At one point we were forced to walk single file with our legs wide apart on either side of the quagmire that allegedly was the path. We must have looked like a couple of bow legged cowboys.
With a hint as obvious as who lives in bedrock, number 6, GC2G8J4 Staggering to Bovingdon #6 Bedrock , could only be under a rock, and sure enough once we had emerged from the muddy track we quickly snagged it. Another dog walking muggle here with a propensity for stating the obvious greeted us as we emerged muddy from the path with the staggeringly observant phrase, “a bit muddy down there is it?” I suppose we can’t complain, at least she was cheerful and polite.
Number 7, GC2G8J7 Staggering to Bovingdon #7 Rainhill , was only a short walk away and thankfully the ground was a lot firmer here. The hint was one that is oh so familiar to geocachers the world over and for most people will result in a groan and a heavy heart. ICT… or Ivy Covered Tree basically means that you will be spending the next 10 minutes or so at least slowly and systematically groping the trunk of a tree. It was actually worse as it was nearly 25 minutes for us before we were about to lodge a DNF and give up, when we entertained the possibility that it might have become dislodged and fallen to the ground. We shifted our gaze downwards and within a few moments Shar had the little bleeder in hand.
One of the things I like about doing these kinds of cache walks is that it gives us time in between caches where there are very few distractions of our daily lives and it allows us to just chat and talk and take in the surroundings. Sometimes it seems easier to talk more freely away from the home and other times it is fun to just talk about totally random things that for some reason you just don’t bring up when there is so many other things to deal with in the environment of the home. It is also extremely handy when Shar keeps on talking as I can follow the sound of her voice which means I am less likely to drift off course. I do tend to find myself swerving into the bush sometimes, or falling off the path into a gully or track made by some sort of vehicle but I generally take all this in my stride. I like to walk free when I can and despite not being able to see hardly at all, find it liberating rather than scary or difficult. We walk side by side a lot when we can but when the path is narrow or if we need to hack through the woods then I can follow Shar’s shape and the sound of her voice without too much problem.
Cache number 8, GC2G8JA Staggering to Bovingdon #8 Homefield , was hidden down near a kissing gate under a sawn off bit of fence post and was a quick find and an even quicker replace as a muggle was fast approaching behind us down the track.
Shar replaced it so quick in fact that she forgot to put the log back in the plastic bag and so we had to loiter and pull the cache out again after the muggle and her dog had moved away in the field which as this picture shows, contains a very rare breed of miniature horse.
After crossing through the field and picking up number 9, GC2G8JG Staggering to Bovingdon #9 Narrow , we traversed a very narrow alleyway and realised that we were emerging back into civilisation. We found yourself on a quite busy road in search of number 10, GC2G8JJ Staggering to Bovingdon #10 Chipperfield Rd , which was a quick find behind a Hydrant marker and then I was relieved to note that we were now heading away from the main road again for the next one. We found number 11, GC2G8JQ Staggering to Bovingdon #11 Grave Stone View , hanging in the bushes to the right of a kissing gate and after we signed and replaced the log we realised that we were at the opposite corner of the horse field that we had found number 8 in. From here the GPS was giving us rather strange directions and we spent a little while trying to work out where to go as the next caches were described as being on a stony lane but the GPS wanted us to go back into the field and we had just left a lane. We decided to follow the GPS and trudged on through the mud factor 3 field. After about 100 metres it was obvious that we were not going to be able to take this route as there was a fence and no signs of how to get beyond it. We turned right and walked further along the fence into the field but after 50 metres in this direction we abandoned this as well and completed the triangle and walked back to the kissing gate where we had found number 11. This time we retraced our steps back to the lane and walked until after a couple of hundred metres we found the stony lane we were looking for. I have said it before and I will say it again. When it starts getting close to lunchtime, your caching sense goes out the window, your navigation skills deteriorate and decisions you make are often ill thought out. It was approaching lunchtime and we were both hungry. We ducked into the grounds of the nearby church and looked for a bench or something to snaffle some sandwiches but neither of us felt overly happy about eating overlooking the graves so we back tracked out and decided to find somewhere else.
We headed into the stony lane and on arriving at the GZ for number 12, GC2G8JV Staggering to Bovingdon #12 Stoney Lane , started looking for the cache. The hint was a little confusing as it said that when standing in the lane it was above head height. Sharlene seemed to understand it and upon trying to explain to me that there was a bank on the side of the lane and if she stepped up onto she could see how it would be described as being above head height if you were in the lane. In the process of demonstrating what she meant, she stepped up and then announced that coincidentally she could see the actual cache and promptly retrieved it.
The stony lane was indeed a very stony lane. Described as not being suitable for motor vehicles its surface was made up of large and jagged stones and lots of potholes and ruts that would have not been kind to standard road cars for sure. Number 13, ,GC2G8K6 Staggering to Bovingdon #13 T Junction was at the site of a large metal gate blocking entrance to the field on the right hand side of the lane. The gate posts were extremely unusual as they were very large, round and metal. The one to the left of the gate was about 18 inches in diameter and stood about 5 foot tall. My first instinct was to reach my hand in side and low and behold almost at the end of my reach my fingers found the top of a stick. I pulled it up, and then kept pulling. More of the stick emerged from the post, and it kept coming. The stick was now longer than the 5 foot gate post and I realised that the hollow post obviously went down into the ground a few more feet and so the stick was longer than 5 foot. I kept slowly lifting the stick up and was reminded of Mary Poppins pulling the 6 foot tall hat stand from her seemingly ordinary carpet bag. Eventually I reached the end of the stick and taped to the bottom of it was the cache container. I liked this hide a lot, very ingenious.
We made this gate our lunchtime spot and tucked into sandwiches and cake whilst leaning and musing on what could possibly be the reason for the sound of shrieks of children coming from a short distance away. To be honest we had actually been hearing this sound on and off for about the last couple of hours. We thought that most logically it was a school not too far away but were confused as to why the sound had been going on so long. Surely lunchtime had not started two hours ago. At that moment we heard the distant sound of a whistle and the sound of children stopped almost immediately. Maybe that was the end of lunch. But then a few short moments later the sound of the voices and shrieks of children resumed again. They seemed happy enough and we could find no definitive reason for it so agreed to leave it at that.
We made two further discoveries during lunch. ON a brief amble into the bushes whilst Sharlene was checking out the flora and fauna, she stumbled on what looked like the remains of an old geocache. There was a lid to a click lock container and some pens and what looked like small swaps lying scattered on the ground in the bushes. I wondered if the cache we had just found had previously been muggled and subsequently replaced but on returning home I checked back through the logs and found nothing to indicate that this had happened. Very intriguing.
The other discovery that I made was that I realised that we were very close to beating our personal best of 14 caches in a day. In just too more caches we would beat that. Then another thought struck me and I asked Sharlene to check what our current find count was. She said that it was 285 and then we realised that at the same cache where we would hopefully better our daily personal best we would also be celebrating our 300 find milestone. It is amazing really at how quickly the finds have mounted up. It has been just 5 months since we started and here we were about to hit 300 already.
After lunch which did include a nice slab of ginger cake which always serves to perk me up no end, we headed off with a renewed determination and sense of purpose to find number 14, GC2G8K9 Staggering to Bovingdon #14 Parking Bay . This was a quick find at the end of the lane where there was a parking bay and a fence post covered in ivy. Despite the ivy covered basis of this hide, it was actually a quick find and so it was that we logged it and strode on with the aim of now finding our 300th cache.
As we approached the GZ of GC2G8KD Staggering to Bovingdon #15 Herts Way ,we chatted about how annoying it would be if we had to DNF this one and I think deep down we both knew that this was not an option. I had brief flashes of us spending hours searching for it, refusing to give up because it was a milestone and admitting defeat would be a bad omen for future caching trips. In the end we found it quite quickly hiding in the bowl of a tree at the side of the path.
After leaving number 15 we had to circumvent some serious puddles in the path although describing them as puddles is probably not correct. Ponds would be more accurate. They were so big that there was basically no path as such anymore. We had to step up onto the narrow verge and edge our way along past the water. I make it sound a bit like we were 20 feet up on a narrow ledge above a shark infested pool of freezing inky black water, but I can tell you that we ran a real risk of getting a slightly soggy foot if we didn’t pay attention and stay focussed… and that would never do, now would it.
In actual fact I had slightly damp feet anyway due to my less than waterproof boots. The soles and sides of the boots are fine but the uppers are fabric and if enough moisture gets in then it is soggy socks. I hadn’t noticed as we had been keeping up a good pace and my feet were warm and felt dry. After lunch I realised that they were not in fact completely dry and getting a bit cold now too. Thankfully with a steady walking pace I soon warmed up and it wasn’t a problem but I will be a bit pickier with my choice of boots next time.
With only 3 caches left in the series we branched off the path and up a hill into the woods. The sun was weakly shining and it cast rays in through the trees at intervals creating beautifully picturesque views. Muttering a little about the bloody hill we trudged on and found number 16, GC2G8KG Staggering to Bovingdon #16 Bury Wood , without too much problem at the base of a tree just beside the path.
The trek to number 17, GC2G8KJ Staggering to Bovingdon #17 Big Old Holly , was a little hard going, it being through the woods that were dotted with gullies and encroaching bushes and trees. I think we had seen the worst of the mud on our walk before this point but it was still constantly soft and squelchy under foot here. On arriving at the GZ for number 17 we started looking for the holly that was alluded to in the cache name, “big holly” and for a while just couldn’t see it. Then we looked up and realised that this was no holly like we had ever seen. Hollies had always been bushes to me and of average size, but this was a tree and a bloody big one at that. The actual holly was 20 feet above us in the tree canopy and the trunks were multiple and each one at least a foot thick. At the base of the trunks lots of berries had taken root and smaller holly bushes were springing up which made searching for the cache a little tricky. In the end we found it lodged in the branches of the tree about 4 feet up. It was certainly an impressive holly. I wonder if this is particularly unusual or whether we have just not come across hollies of this variety or scale before even though they may exist.
With the end in sight now there only being one more cache to go our spirits were high as we had not logged any DNFs yet and had made excellent time on the walk. The terrain took us down and up a hill through the woods again and this prompted me to propose the Newtonian law of geocache walking which states that, “If you ever go down a hill on route to a cache, you will have to walk up another of equal or bigger magnitude to actually find the cache or return home.” Think of it as a sort of reverse gravity law… what goes down must come up.
After a few false starts we eventually located the tree that was described in the cache title, GC2G8KT Staggering to Bovingdon #18 Deep In the Rough , and after fishing around for a bit in the bowl of it, I pulled out the container. I was dismayed to see that the lid was cracked, it look like it might have been stood on at some point, although thankfully the contents were reasonably dry and intact.
After signing the log we made the short walk back to the car where I was delighted to be able to prise my feet from what I can only imagine were my boots although they looked more like mud balls.
For a series of caches that has been out in the wild for just under 3 years and appears not to have had much, if any owner intervention in the last year the containers are surviving very well. I believe this is down to the cachers who have found them and continue to replace them properly and securely and have not given their locations away to muggles who might want to spoil our fun.
With a total of 18 caches found today which smashes our previous personal best of 14 and reaching our 300th milestone as well it was an excellent caching day. We got very muddy but remained basically dry and warm and got to spend a lovely day exploring a part of the countryside that we would never have thought about coming to had it not been for geocaching. Happy days.