Last year we did a series called the Chalfont Stroll (Check out A Touch of Mold in the Chalfonts) conveniently located, as it is, in Chalfont Buckinghamshire. It would be misleading to say the least if the series had been located anywhere other than Chalfont to be honest, so the people who placed the series got lucky there. I suppose if they later moved the series and placed it somewhere else they could rename it to something like “the series formerly known as the Chalfont Stroll”, in a sort of Prince, I am a total weirdo fashion. Look at me… it’s a brand new blog entry and I am already writing utter rubbish and we are still in the first paragraph. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the entry does it. Well you might want to stick around because it gets better. This entry is a raw and heady blend of high octane emotions and near death experiences… maybe.
Performing a metaphorical hand brake turn in an attempt to get this entry back on track, or at least not derail itself before the horse is out of the stable…. Hang on I have got my metaphors horribly confused now and am struggling to focus on what the underlying literal point was… oh yeah I remember. When I was planning the Chalfont Stroll I was also looking at another series that was located nearby. This one was also conveniently named as per the above rambling as it was called The Chalfont Amble (View the first cache in the Chalfont Amble series on geocaching).com. At the time I had opted to hold off on doing that one as a couple of the caches had been temporarily disabled pending some owner attention and I wanted to wait till they were all up and running again. Unfortunately, almost five months later and the CO seems to have given up on the caches completely. Bearing this in mind I decided that we should tackle the remaining caches in the series before they went the same way.
I was particularly looking forward to these caches as they all appeared to be something other than the normal “run of the mill”. It looked like the CO had put an awful lot of effort into creating a series of different and challenging hides. In total there are 12 caches in the Chalfont Amble but with two currently disabled and number 3 on the trail showing nothing but DNFs since March 2013 it looked like the most we could hope for today was the remaining nine.
We drove to little Chalfont and parked up in time to break out the sandwiches and hot chocolate. I know what you are thinking… “They haven’t done anything yet, how is it time for lunch?” We have this theory you see. We are often ready to go caching at the weekends by around 11ish and we could hang on and have lunch before we leave, but then we wouldn’t get caching until around well after 1. So we drive to where we are caching and then have lunch, and this way we are ready to hit the trail by half 12, 1 at the latest… so that is what we did. We like this particular car park in Little Chalfont because it has a public toilet and you can’t underestimate the usefulness of public conveniences when you are out geocaching. Now if you are an experienced geocacher who also happens to have done the Chalfont Amble series you might have noticed that something isn’t quite making sense here. You are thinking, “There is no toilet near the parking coordinates for the Chalfont Amble”. And you would be right. There are no toilets at the parking coordinates for the Chalfont Amble. But we weren’t at the parking coordinates for the Chalfont Amble… we should have been, but we weren’t. We were at the parking coordinates for the Chalfont Stroll…. Not the amble…. The stroll. We were in the wrong place!
Now I am not one to lay the finger of blame on any one person in particular in these sorts of situations. There is no point in singling individuals out so they can be ridiculed and chastised. Yeah, O.K. O.K., it was me. I put the wrong coordinates into the car satnav… happy now? After we realised that we were in the wrong place we did a bit of quick coordinate shuffling and after some trial and error in the car we eventually got to the correct parking coordinates for the Chalfont Amble and were ready to start caching…. Albeit a little delayed, but nonetheless raring to go.
We piled out of the car and were greeted with a lovely mild day, the sun weakly shining in the sky and little or no wind to speak of. We were wrapped up warm and prepared for mud but as we strode across the football pitches next to the parking spot toward the first cache the going was easy and pleasant. Sam swung his super stick which had recently been promoted from just a random stick found in a wood to super stick and with the aid of a little impromptu drilling before we left home now sported a trackable TravelBug tag that he had received for Christmas from Nanni. Not only is it a super stick now, it is a trackable super stick to… you can check out where it travels on the geocaching.com page for Super Stick.
The first cache of the day was found quickly and easily by Shar. She said that it was her prize for doing such a sterling job of getting us to the correct parking coordinates after I had led us to the wrong ones. This one would have been a lot harder had there been anyone playing a match on the adjacent football pitches but thankfully the place was practically deserted and there were no balls to be seen, always a good thing when rummaging around in the bushes. This first one was a sort of easy one to get you started cache, and it was the next one where things got interesting and a little weird.
Taking a “as the crow flies” line diagonally across the football pitches toward the corner of the park we quickly made our way towards the GZ of number 2. This is a multi-cache and the description is very clear about how to find the final cache location. It directs you to a particular tree and instructs you to stand with your back to it and then look up into the tree nearby. What you are looking for is a small sign with instructions on where the final container can be found. This is where it pays to read the cache descriptions before you go as I knew that we would need a camera with a zoom function to be able to see the writing on the sign. I left it up to Sam and Shar to do the business whilst I took pictures of them taking pictures of a tree whilst the odd dog walker passed us by wondering what on earth we were doing. Unfortunately we just couldn’t get a decent enough picture of the sign to be able to read what was on it and after a frustrating 15 minutes we had to admit defeat and move on. It was very disappointing to have to give up on this one but it was not really my call to be honest seeing as I was about as much help as a chocolate teapot. We have vowed to return with every piece of equipment that might aid us in getting the info of that sign and reckon that either the video camera or a pair of binoculars might do the trick and failing that, a bloody ladder will be the only way!
As we left the GZ of number two and headed into the woods towards the almost definite DNF of number three the Chiltern Hills kicked in and did their thing. As we slowly descended the mud started and so did the slipping and a sliding. The winter rays of the sun dappled the forest floor with their light casting shadows through the trees and despite the conditions under foot it was a pleasant walk as the descent turned into an ascent.
We did stop at the site of number three for a look around even though the cache page showed no finds since March 2013. We are always in hope of being the ones that do find a cache that has received lots of DNF logs, it is such a great feeling but after 10 minutes it was time to give up and toss our DNF onto the pile with all the others.
There is nothing like a bit of a muddy hill and a DNF to flip the moan switch to the on position in a 9 year old. In the space of the next 15 minutes Sam developed everything from an aching leg to a burning fever which was most probably malaria. His eyes itched, his feet ached, he was tired and felt unwell. We did the normal parent thing of trying to focus on the positive things and encourage him and then after that failed we progressed in the direction of telling him to “get a grip” and 2”pull your socks up” and “stop moaning” just like our parents did to us all those years ago. Funny how the circle of life is sometimes… and I don’t mean the song from the Lion King. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the walk from 2 to 4 via the DNF at 3 was probably the longest leg of the whole series, a distance of around 1.2km in all. Now before any of you spit peanuts at the screen and start telling us to “get a grip” or “pull your socks up”, let me just say that we are all too aware of how we geocache effectively as a family and the perfect formula for us is lovely picturesque walks through woodlands with caches about every 300 metres.
We did make it to number 4 a short while later and Sam had sorted himself out a bit and we were all encouraged as we made a quick find here. The CO had put rather a lot of thought and work into this one and the cache was found in a tree stump of around 6 inches in diameter that had had a chunk cut out and then fixed back in place allowing it to pivot outwards to reveal the cache. A very ingenious hide and one that is unlikely to get muggled, ensuring it will be around for a long time.
Number 5 was the one that I was looking forward to as it promised to be one of those caches that needed you to bring water to “float” the container out. As we walked to it I seemed to be having trouble with my internal gyroscope or compass more than normal and managed to find every ditch or low hanging branch or gully along the way. The going was quite slow as the mud was very bad in places and there was a lot of swapping sides to find the least bog like part of the path. What you really need at times like this is Wellie Walking Boots. I expect such a thing does exist and I just need to get off my backside and go and search the net and find them and then realise I like them, want them and can’t afford them. What I need is a comfortable walking boot that will support my ankles and feet when walking on uneven ground whilst being totally waterproof up to just below the knee. If you could sort me out a pair of those that would be perfect, thanks. O.K., I have just wasted 10 minutes searching the web about walking in Wellies. I was inexplicably drawn into a random thread on some site or other that discussed the merits of walking in wellies and the upshot is that 99% of people don’t walk in wellies for more than the shortest of treks, even if they have the “expensive walking wellies”. Ah well, never mind.
Managing to stay vaguely on the path and avoid tumbling down into the chasm that stretched into nothingness to our right, I followed in the squelchy footsteps of Shar and Sam and after a short while we arrived at GZ for number 5. We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for but I hypothesised that logically if this thing is going to hold water and be long enough for you not to be able to simply dip your finger into to retrieve, then we were probably looking for some sort of hollow metal pole. We split up and after a few minutes Shar’s attention was drawn to the tall sign post that we had just passed by. It must have been about eight foot tall and I could only just reach the top of it. When I did stretch up I found a plastic cap on a small string covering the top of the post and I knew we had our cache hide. Seeing as I was the only one that could reach the top of the pole it was going to have to be me to pour in the water and hopefully grab the cache container as it floated up. If you have never done one of these before then you are probably thinking, “Easy Peasy”, but what you have to factor in is that the pipe won’t simply fill up with water, but instead it will somehow have to drain away otherwise you would never be able to reset the hide. So I was thinking that we needed to be ready for the water to be coming out as I poured it in and therefore we needed to be prepared so that we could pour fast enough to make the container float up before the water drained away and the level fell back down.
We had brought three 500ml bottles of tap water and just as a backup we had our 2 bottles of drinking water too if we started running short. I took off all the lids of the tap water bottles and handed two of them to Sam to hold. Then I took a deep breath and started pouring. You only get one shot at this really so it was now or never, and I really wanted to get it right. I could hear the water filling the tube and sure enough soon it started jetting out of a drain hole like the very Belgium pissing boy himself. Thankfully I wasn’t standing in the wrong place otherwise I would have got “pissed on”. The first bottle went quick and I tossed it to the ground calling to Sam for another. He passed it up and I started pouring again, listening to the sound of the water trying to work out how full it was by the pitch. The second bottle went quick and still no cache. I threw it down and Sam passed up the next. As I poured it in I called to him to get one of the drinking bottles in readiness. I could sense that it was right near the top now and as I dumped the last of the third bottle into the pipe my finger brushed the top of the cache container. I quickly grabbed at it and triumphantly held it aloft, stepping back carefully so as not to get dribbled on by the water as it drained from the pipe.
It was quite simple really but it felt like we had just accomplished a major feat of engineering and I was as happy as a Belgian boy as I passed the container to Shar to sign the log. A most excellent concept and extremely well implemented by the cache owner. This will definitely be getting a favourite point from me. It was a team effort to retrieve the container, which thankfully was nicely water tight ensuring that the log inside was bone dry, and I was delighted to be the front man for this one. I had it planned out in my head and once at GZ due to the height of the pole, I called the shots and it worked brilliantly. Due to my blindness, I am normally just a team member, an integral team member, but just a member nonetheless. It felt good to be the leader on this one.
We squelched on to number 6 which was hidden next to an old piece of ploughing equipment that had now been claimed by the undergrowth. You probably wouldn’t know it unless you stopped and looked hard into the bushes but there it was, a reminder of days gone by. I love moments like this in geocaching, when you realise that you are finding something that most people will never know is there even though they walk past it all the time. Geocaching itself is an example of this, but when there is something else hidden away in the woods or the bushes or down under a bridge or something that time has forgotten it puts a smile on my face. Shar called on a previous caching experience to make a decision about where to start looking for the cache and she was bang on the money as just a minute or so later she had the container in hand and was signing the log.
As we stood at the GZ which was located at the edge of a large field,I cast my limited gaze to the sky. I could tell that the winter sun of earlier was slowly being replaced by rolling dark clouds coming in from all sides and the wind was picking up. As we started to walk to number 7 through the field it whipped and battered us with its bitter gusts. By the time we arrived at the GZ which was at a lone tree in the middle of the field where the cross winds were at their worst, Shar and I were starting to get a little concerned about the time and the weather. We had around 90 minutes of daylight left and glancing up at the sky we both reckoned we had less than that before the rain came. Young legs were tired again and I felt we all needed a little boost here so as Sam and Shar replaced the cache I took shelter behind the tree out of the wind and broke out the emergency rations. They soon joined me and we munched on small pieces of Salty Nut roll which despite its name is largely sugar and as such would give us a nice energy boost to finish the trail. There was no short way back now, the quickest way back to the car was to finish the walk and so that is what we set out to do.
Number 9 was disabled and so we marched on past the GZ. We would have liked to do this one as from the description it appeared to make use of an ingenious retrieval system which required you to bring along your own 9v battery. Unfortunately the cache had gone missing a while ago and even though the retrieval mechanism is supposedly still in place we reckoned we didn’t have time to check it out, and besides, we didn’t bring a battery.
As we finally reach the other side of the field and broke out onto a road we barrelled on following the arrow and completely missed a footpath which we should have taken. As a result in about a couple of hundred metres when we realised that we had taken a wrong turn we had to back track to find the path. This turned out to be the blueprint for the next 30 minutes or so as we threaded our way through a housing estate taking turns left and right and then back tracking when we reached a dead end even though the arrow wanted us to go straight on. We twisted and turned and felt a bit like we were trapped in a maze at times… and then the rain came. The skies were dark now and the wind continued to be cold and came in gusts despite us being in a much more built up area now. It was only lightly spitting and it wasn’t really too bad but it just felt like there was most assuredly worse to come.
Eventually we found our way into an alleyway between some houses and commenced our search. After 10 minutes we had all drawn a blank and were about to give up when Shar found it hidden in a fake bolt in a post. With the weather turning grim and the light fading fast every find was a welcome boost to our flagging resolve now. There is always one last change of plan option which involves just giving up on the caches and following the arrow back to the car. Out of interest we checked and found that the car was only 750 metres away now and we still had 4 cache sites to pass through. We decided to press on and see how things went. Our next cache was a disabled one and we used it purely to find our way to number 11 in the series. As we continued on through the streets and alley ways we found ourselves by the side of a train line which seemed to be the Amersham branch of the Metropolitan line of the London underground. Despite being in Buckinghamshire and a long way from London this is indeed part of the underground network. The rain got worse and we took shelter in a subway under the train line for a bit and hoped that it would ease again soon.
In a few minutes it did and we hurried on along the side of the train line to the GZ of number 11. We knew that we were looking for a large piece of cast iron here and therefore the cache was most likely to be magnetic. The light was nearly gone now and my searching ability which is normally pretty rubbish anyway was basically down to nothing now. In a flash of genius Shar spotted a metal drain cover and lifting it up slightly found the metal nano cache stuck to it. This was exactly what we needed now, we needed quick and easy finds and we needed to be on the move again.
The rain returned and the wind whipped viciously at some plastic sheeting that was covering the roof of a house that was having some work done on it. We only had one more cache in the Chalfont Amble series left to do but I had identified another stand alone cache, Time To Go (GC33WMJ), that was on the way to number 12 so we brought it up on the phones and rushed ontowards it. The clue was nice and clear, we were looking for a bus stop and as we rounded a corner Sam spotted it. When we got to it, he found the cache in extra quick time which was great but unfortunately the log was very wet and we couldn’t sign it. I snapped off a photo to send to the CO and we hurriedly dialled in the last cache that would lead us back to the car.
It was just a couple of hundred metres away through the streets and whilst the wind helped us along blowing at our backs the fine rain started to transform into large blobs. Thankfully at GZ we made a quick find and while Shar struggled with the log Sam and I did our best to block the view of her that some passing muggles had as they went on their way. We were done now and not a moment too soon.
We were only about 300 metres from where the car was parked now and as we strode out in the dark towards it the heavens burst open and it started to seriously rain. Now running isn’t something I do very often as a blind man. It tends to be fraught with danger and if nothing actually happens to you whilst you are doing it the fear you feel during the process is enough to leave you needing a stiff drink afterwards. I ran now. Sharlene took off with me in tow and as the rain seemed to fall like it had been dumped from an enormous bucket in the sky, the darkness, for me, complete… we dashed squealing towards the car. Once there we quickly leapt inside and sat in awe of the weather as the wind could be heard literally rolling around the landscape whilst the rain lashed the windscreen. In the comfort and dry of the car we poured ourselves some hot chocolate and broke out the ginger cake and biscuits and laughed with each other at how lucky we had been. If we had been 30 minutes later god knows where we would have sheltered from the weather.
The Chalfont Amble is a very interesting series of caches. At times it left me feeling a little confused at what sort of cache trail it was trying to be with part of it very much in the woods and farmland whilst the last bit of it was all on residential streets. All of the hides are excellent and you can tell a lot of thought and care has gone into making and placing them. It is a series in need of a little TLC in places and it is such a shame that the CO seems to be non-responsive at this time. Hopefully they will come back to it at some point and just fix the couple of caches that need repair and with a little bit of maintenance I think this could rank up there as one of the most interesting and varied cache series in our surrounding area.
O.K. I might have fibbed about this entry containing near death experiences but if you have read all the way to the end then I trust you have enjoyed the story of this geocaching adventure and might be prepared to forgive me that little transgression. All said and done it was a very enjoyable day and one that, for a number of reasons, will no doubt stick in our minds for a long time to come. Happy days.