A couple of weeks ago we received a message from our friends Geoff and Melissa, otherwise known as Smokeypugs, asking us if we wanted to meet up and do a little geocaching. After our thoroughly enjoyable first joint adventure back in early December, when we climbed a tree and tromped around Latimer, we jumped at the invitation. Geoff had some holiday time from work and so we arranged to meet up and go out for a day’s caching last Thursday. This meant that Sam wouldn’t be able to come this time because he would be at school, but we promised to save him a bit of cake… because there is always cake when we cache, especially with Smokeypugs.
With the day decided on, the next thing we had to work out was where to go. This is always a little more complicated when geocaching with other people because you have to try and make sure that you select geocaches that no one has already done. Thankfully the geocaching app on the iPhone has a feature in its advanced search that allows you to filter out caches that your friends have found too. This makes the process of finding somewhere to go a little easier. With Geoff and Melissa living in Hemel and us in Watford, we also need to consider somewhere that is not going to be too far for either of us to drive. Once I had taken all this into account I found a place called Lilley which is situated in Hertfordshire close to the border with Bedfordshire, just north east of Luton. There are three good sized loops of caches in and around the village and on top of that there is a slightly more challenging small loop of trickier caches. We agreed on The Lilley Walk which is a series of 9 caches and a bonus just to the north of the village and takes in Telegraph Hill which is around 600 feet above sea level, which for Hertfordshire is pretty high.
As we pulled up at the planned meeting place we were surprised to see Geoff and Melissa’s car pull in right behind us. This is quite a mean feat considering we both set off from completely different places at different times and yet we both arrived at Lilley at the same time. We said our hellos including, of course, their adorable Pug dog Smokey who is always so happy to be out caching. Our next piece of good fortune came when we got our respective GPS devices and realised that the first cache was located almost bang on where Geoff had parked his car. Nice easy walk to the first one then with little or no breaks needed on the way. After we had travelled the 10 feet to ground zero we spent all of about 10 seconds searching for the cache. To cement our union of caching teams today we had decided that we would sign the log not as Washknight and Smokeypugs, but instead as a single name, and so it was that team Pugwash was born.
Heading over the road we quickly found the footpath that would take us to the second cache and set off with a spring in our step. The weather was so far being kind to us, although it was a little grey, it was dry and that was a blessing. The forecast did look a little iffy with possible showers, but we decided to put that out of our minds and tackle the job at hand. Little Smokey was straining to get off the lead and after a short while he got his wish as we followed the footpath as it twisted and turned in the direction of cache number 2.
Shar laid her hand on the second cache and promptly retrieved it so it could be inspected and signed. After signing and replacing, she then found a second container in almost the same identical spot and pulled it out. This was a bit odd to say the least but on inspecting it we discovered that there was a log sheet in each and some people had signed one, whilst others had logged their mark in the alternative cache. This situation can occur sometimes when a cache owner goes out looking for a cache after lots of DNFs have been recorded. If they, themselves can’t find it then they often place another cache assuming the first to be gone. Sometimes it happens when cachers feel that the CO is not active anymore and then they place another container to keep the cache alive. Whatever the situation, in this case the second container was not needed as the original was still there. Out of interest we wanted to know which was the original, so Sharlene retrieved them both again and we checked the dates. After then replacing them, I remembered that we needed to be keeping an eye out for bonus letters in the containers which we would require to work out the coordinates of the cache. Back Sharlene went again to retrieve the cache to check for codes. By now she had worn a one woman cacher’s trail to the hiding place and was starting to get Repetitive Strain Injury from performing the same action to pick up and replace the caches each time. Turned out there were no letters on either container anyway and she put them back again, stating that she bloody wasn’t getting them again.
Two caches down out of 9 and no bonus letters. We knew that we were only looking for 3 in total and the descriptions stated that some containers did not have them inside but we kept reminding ourselves to be super vigilant. No one likes having to back track along a trail just to check a container for a bonus letter.
So far the going under foot was quite good, there was mud, but then we had expected this and it wasn’t too bad along this section of the path which skirted the edge of a farmer’s crop field. With the name of the next one being Lone Tree, people were already squinting into the distance and pointing ahead saying that they thought it was that tree over there. I had a go too just for the heck of it and surprised myself in actually being able to make out the tree at all. The landscape being fairly open and with the tree being on its own, the shape of it as a blob up ahead was obvious to me. I joined in with the pointing for a bit and then we all strode off in the direction of said tree. Once there it was over to Geoff and Melissa to try and find this one. We seemed to have slipped into a our turn, their turn type of affair and it was working just fine. The rules being that if you don’t find it fairly quickly then it is fair game for everyone to pitch in. This one turned out to be an excellent example of team work as Melissa spotted it first but seeing as it was hanging in a tree and she is rather vertically challenged it was over to Geoff who is more than blessed in the feet and inches department to retrieve it. Shar and I stood on the side-line and cheered them on while Smokey snuffled around in the grass and peed on things as he is want to do.
After another short walk along a farm track we finally reached a T junction of footpaths and were delighted to note that the GPS devices were taking us to the right as the path to the left looked less than inviting, being as it was a total mud fest. Arriving at GZ it was over to me and Shar to locate this one and after I managed to navigate my way in amongst the low branches of a tree I made a quick find at the base where I found the cache under a rock. Still no letters of any sort in the caches and now we were starting to get concerned. I stayed amongst the branches of the tree whilst the log was duly signed and then placed it back so we could move on to number 5.
Our next one was called Half way being as it was roughly halfway round and as such the name was being most relevant and informative. Geoff headed off the path and into the trees to collect this one and Melissa was about to follow when we heard the shouts from Geoff announcing he had found it. This shout was quickly followed by calls of Ewwwww and urrrggh as he then discovered the camo bag was doing an excellent job of being waterproof. Unfortunately the bag was keeping water in and not out and it was full. Dispersing the water he was then able to open the cache to find a dry log which was a surprise.
We then discovered that there was another cache that was not part of the series on this path and it was closer than our next planned cache so we moved on in the direction of it. The hint led us to a very large tree just on the side of the path and after Shar and I failed to find the cache in a minute or so everyone pitched in scrabbling around the roots of it to try and locate it. As tends to happen when a quick find isn’t made, people start thinking out of the box and spread out a bit, starting to doubt that this is the right spot. I carried on focussing on the tree and stuck my hand in every hole I could find which was not such a great idea as some of them were full of water! The good thing about being in a group is that when it comes time to dish out the jobs there are more people to do them. Seeing as you could only get two people properly searching the tree at once that left two others free to check the logs and photos on the geocaching.com listing. A picture quickly confirmed that we were in the right place but the tree was looking a lot thinner in the branch department than it did in the photo. Theories started to emerge that it might have suffered some storm damage recently and the abundance of loose branches and chunks of wood at the base could be as a result of cleaning up. Smokey did his best to help, enthusiastically sniffing around and licking my face whilst I was wrist deep in a hole in the root ball but alas it was no use. We concluded that the cache must be missing and decided to move on. Now normally no one likes to log a DNF but seeing as this one hadn’t really formed part of our original plan it was easier to let this one go. We could even pretend that we hadn’t tried for it…. but of course we had… so it was still a DNF. On the plus side, because it was not part of the series we knew that there would be no bonus letter in it and therefore we had not further reduced our chance of being able to get the bonus by not finding this cache. Every cloud has a silver lining you see.
With a name like Heading Up Telegraph Hill, no prizes for guessing that the walk to the next cache took us up a hill. It was quite a gradual climb so there was no need for oxygen or Sherpas on the way thankfully. The company was so good and the conversation flowing freely that it wasn’t until we were about 30 metres past GZ that I noticed and called a halt to the others. Spinning round like a blood hound I pointed in the direction of the cache and the other three with Smokey in tow dashed off into the trees leaving me on the path. I stood and listened to the various calls and rustling from them and smiled politely at a pair of muggles that past me. I often think that a blind man standing on his own out in the middle of nowhere might present somewhat of a riddle to some people who wander past and quite often find that their conversation slows or even stops as they pass me. But then I remember that actually people just aren’t that observant a lot of the time, especially when they are chatting to their friend about how “auntie Flossy, got the best china in the will, not that she knows what to do with it”. In a couple of minutes, after Shar had adopted the radical idea of following her GPS as opposed to Geoff and Melissa’s idea of just looking in places where they would hide a cache, there was a shout of found it from my other half and then a short while later Geoff emerged back onto the path to join me while the women chatted on about something or other in the trees. Big news at this cache though as we found our first bonus letter at last. Only three geocaches left now in the series and we still needed two more letters to give us the info we needed for the bonus.
Following on in the trend of not paying attention until we pass a cache, we did exactly the same thing at the next one too and then took a little woodland detour back to it by cutting through the trees. Once at Gz and it being our turn to try and find it, I promptly obliged by tripping over the hint item and uncovering the cache with my cane… all without even trying… god I am good at this! Rather than hacking back through the woodland we opted to follow the feint trail back to the path this time.
The views up at the rise of the hill were indeed quite impressive although the most dramatic thing as we approached the site of the next cache were the ominous looking clouds that seemed to be gathering in the distance. Rain could be clearly seen to the south but still we were lucky with it being dry where we were. The route to the next cache was probably the most mud we had come across so far and going was a lot slower. Poor Smokey and his little legs, most of the time he was dragging his body through the gloop, but he never complained and was always ready for more. On arriving at the rather prickly GZ, we quickly plucked the cache from its hiding place in a crook of a tree. Or at least Geoff would have if it had been there. Instead after he was starting to run out of crooks to search, Melissa quickly saved the day by walking straight in and finding the cache on the floor.
After spending the last half an hour or so in and out of the cover of trees along the path we now came to the edge of an open field with the path clearly visible through it. It was at this moment that it started to rain! Of course it did. With it steadily getting harder we made as quick a pace as we could through the field and pausing “to catch our breath” as a muggle passed we then plucked the last cache from its hiding place and signed the log. We found another number too but this still only gave us two and we needed three. As the rain eased up, thankfully, we stood and with some pretty cool logic from Geoff established that the missing letter value could only be one particular number and therefore we could work out the location of the bonus. We fed in the numbers to the phones, and sure enough the final location looked plausible, it being close to a footpath that would lead us back to the cars. With lunchtime beckoning and stomachs starting to grumble we set off for the 800 odd metre walk to the bonus.
This stretch took us through some of the worst mud of the day and then as an added challenge we realised that the cache was slightly off the path in a clump of trees and this involved hacking through a bit of undergrowth down a somewhat steep slope. Taking it slowly we edged our way down to GZ and as those at the back, namely me and Shar, arrived Geoff walked out with a big smile and the large cache container in hand, that is to say he had the smile on his face and the cache in hand, not a smile in his hand… that would just be weird and a little creepy.
After lots of back slapping, although not too much as we were still on a hill and no one wanted to end up at the bottom the hard way, we picked a route to get us back to the car. After hacking back through the trees for a bit we found ourselves back on a path heading in the direction of food. This was a really muddy and really steep uneven track and going was very slow. I had visions of one of us slipping and sliding all the way down collecting all the others on the way as they went to end up in a muddy and moaning heap at the bottom. Thankfully this was not how it ended up and we made it down safely and squelched the last couple of hundred metres back to the cars. Once there, it was a good rub down for Smokey with a towel, and sandwiches and hot chocolate for us to revive our flagging energy levels.
We were all very pleased with picking up the whole series including the bonus and our thoughts quickly turned to what we could do after lunch. We had identified a couple of odd caches nearby that we could tack on so once lunch was dealt with we moved the cars down the road a short way and set off in search of Lilley View. This turned out to be a very steep hill climb up to a levelled off path where a bench was waiting for us to collapse into. By the time we got to the top the legs were starting to burn and we were all puffing and panting a bit. The cache was quickly found and Geoff signed the log and dropped off some TBs. I took a couple of photos at the top and nearly stumbled down the slope in the process, there really wasn’t a lot of flat ground at the top.
I say top, it wasn’t really the top and the hill kept on going up from here. We had one other cache in mind but after a short discussion we all decided that time was short, the hill looked uninviting and most importantly there was cake waiting back at the cars. We turned tail and headed back down the hill and were soon holding an impromptu cake party on the side of the road. Melissa and Geoff had made a fabulous Victoria Sponge with Chocolate icing and I could feel the sugar spiking my energy levels with every bite of the massive piece that Melissa cut for me. We kept good on our promise and wrapped apiece for Sam, I am not sure he would have forgiven us had we returned without it.
All in all it was a great day with fun and interesting conversation and 11 caches found with only one DNF. Always a pleasure to cache with Smokeypugs and I look forward to the next adventure of team Pugwash. Happy Days.