One of the good things about being quite new to geocaching is that there are still a lot of caches within a short distance from us that we haven’t found yet. Depending where you live in the world you will have very different experiences of geocache density. If you live out in the sticks or on a tiny island off the coast of god knows where, then you might want to close your eyes for the next sentence or two so you don’t get jealous. Every week geocaching.com creates us a pocket query of the closest 500 unfound caches to our home. This list changes from week to week as we find some, and new ones are published. A pocket query is just a fancy name for a search really in case you were wondering. The 500th geocache in the pocket query we received last week is 6.7 miles away. What this means is that if you drew a circle on the map around our house and you made it 6.7 miles in radius then you would find 500 unfound geocaches inside that circle. As you can see this means there is a lot to choose from. What is it like in your area? Let me know in the comments.
But what is the point of me telling you this, other than to make you jealous of course? Well, the beauty of having so many close to us is that when we make plans to go out caching in one place and then the weather turns out to be less than favourable on the day in that area, we can easily switch to another location where the weather is a bit better. This is exactly what we did on Monday this week. Our original plan had been to tackle the Route 66 series in Chorleywood which is about 5 miles to the west of us. When we got up on Monday the forecast didn’t looked great for that neck of the woods so I quickly identified another cluster of caches to the north of us in Studham where the rain was not due to roll in until seven that evening, by which time we would be long done and back home with our feet up and a smug grin on our faces.
We wanted to try and tackle a really good sized series today as we didn’t need to be back in time to do the School run as Sam was going on a school trip to sing at the O2 arena in London and wouldn’t be home until very late. The Route 66 series is 17 caches and with a couple of stragglers thrown in could be made up to 19. The Studham Church Circular was only 14 and I felt a little deflated that on this long day we wouldn’t be able to do more. Talk about greedy! Then I remembered that next door to the Church circular is another smaller series called Our Common Goal which is set out around… any guesses… that’s right, Studham Common. With 7 in this one, added to the church series that set us up for a possible 21 if we found them all. That put a smile on my face.
This has also opened my eyes to the idea of doing more than one series at a time. I don’t mean literally at the same time, I mean we can’t be in two places at once, sometimes I can barely be in one. I mean the idea of doing more than one series in a day. Up until now when planning our caching days we have looked for a single series that offered a good spot to take a break for lunch. Failing that I strung together isolated caches to form a walk that would be just the right length. But Now I realise that I could be looking for multiple series’ which would allow us to do one, take a break and then move on to do another. Obviously they need to be fairly close together otherwise you waste time travelling between the two.
We decided to tackle the smaller series first as this would hopefully allow us to get back to the car in time for lunch before going on to do the church circular series afterwards , all before the daylight ran out. Now we always talk about getting home before the light fades and squeezing things in before it gets dark (oooerrrr) and some seasoned cachers must be thinking what is wrong with caching in the dark. Well we just don’t fancy it, it is hard enough as it is, me being blind without Shar not being able to see as well. There is a difference between doing a night cache and just caching in the dark and to be fair we have done neither so I guess we are not overly qualified to say if we like either…. Hmmm, well that was a sentence offering an opinion with no rational reasoning, I guess I will get back to you when we have tried a night cache.
After parking up and waiting for a muggle to drive off leaving us alone in the car park we got straight down to it. The first cache was practically in the car park and so it was a good job that it was quiet today. I imagine in summer this would be a really busy place and very difficult to get into the bushes to grab this one. The views from the common were pretty cool even though the wind was bitter whipping across the open ground.
We zipped round the series in a little under an hour, surprised at how straight forward it was. The hides are nice and simple and the hints are almost too helpful. The walk was pleasant enough with very little mud and not much in the way of hills either. The route was fairly logical and although we ended up doing one in a slight odd way and having to double back on ourselves afterwards it was not a problem. All the hides were base of tree or post or other standard such thing and most were of a good size with space for swaps. All in all I reckon this would make an excellent series for the kids in summer time. There isn’t a lot of walking and it is all easy going more or less. The kids would have lots of opportunities for swapping bits and bobs and mum and dad could lag behind and basically let them get on with it.
After a quick lunch in the car we travelled the sshort distance over to the church for the start of our next series. I do have to admit that since starting geocaching I have had a lot more lunches in car parks. Not that I am complaining, I am happy to munch on a sandwich wherever, but it makes me think that I am probably the cause of a lot more suspicious glances than I ever was. Two people sitting in a car on a deserted common in the middle of winter… I expect we get the odd second glance… or maybe not. Maybe I still think like a muggle sometimes and not like and outdoorsy person.
There was no one around when we pulled up by the church, and made our way through the churchyard to the first cache. A very pretty church it is too apparently. We struggled a little with the first one, the phones wanted us to go to the opposite side of a kissing gate than the cache description was telling us. Eventually Shar found it exactly where it should be and we breathed a sigh of relief, we don’t like the idea of a DNF to start a series.
The walk took us along the edge of fields and the going was ok to start with, a little mud around but it steadily got worse as we continued on. It was fine though, you just had to pay attention to where you were putting your feet. Within the first 100 yards though I did manage to splash Sharlene with water and mud, not quite sure how I did it, but it wasn’t well received. The path was quite wide and it was therefore relatively easy to navigate the worst of it but it just took a bit longer. The sun was shining as we set off and aside from the bitter wind which did come at you from all angles at times across the fields it was pleasant enough. The first few finds were all straight forward, but not too easy. Quite a few piles of sticks and rocks giving cache hides away but that was fine by us.
At number three we had to call Ghostbusters as Sharlene got slimed by something on the container. There was a lot of ewww and urrggh as she picked up and opened the cache, so I helpfully offered her a tissue and asked her “who you gonna call?” Things got even weirder as we made our way to number 4 in the series. We like to spend the time in between caches when there is little of interest to see around us, talking about this and that. These conversations can range from the serious in-depth relationship questions to other more light hearted random musings that fall out of my brain/mouth from time to time. It just so happens that today we were having a discussion that was serious and required a certain amount of solemnity. Often when you are out in the middle of nowhere it seems like a perfect back drop for such conversations, it being neutral and affording an amount of privacy. Considering the fact that we were in the middle of a field with rolling countryside all around us and taking into account the nature of the conversation we were having, what can really derail your train of thought…. The thing that can without question kill the moment like a packet of pork scratchings at a Jewish wedding… the metaphorical fart in church…. Is the unmistakable sound of an elephant trumpeting at the top of its voice in the near distance!
I stopped dead in my tracks and politely enquired as to what Sharlene thought that sound might have been. At least that was the general gist of it. It might have been a little less polite than that and contained the odd rude word but point was made and the question floated.
After a minute or so listening carefully to see if the sound would happen again which would enable us to dispel the feeling that we were going completely bonkers, we decided to move on and get back to the geocaching. After a few more minutes with the elephant almost forgotten and upon making an attempt to pick up the conversation we were having “pre-Dumbo”, we were treated to the sound of what I can only describe as a very loud pig in a great deal of distress. Now either we had stumbled onto the set of movie remake of deliverance which doesn’t bear thinking about, or our ears were playing tricks on us. Again we stopped and listened hard and this time we were rewarded with a repeat of the sound. This time Sharlene reckoned it sounded more like a drill and I tended to agree, although considering the recent weirdness so far I concluded that it was probably a pig with a drill.
Caches 4 and 5 were easy finds being under rocks and the latter high up in a bush once we had left the field and turned onto a nice easy going lane. And then came cache number 6 and with it one of those “ahhhhh” moments when the light bulb finally goes on in your head and you are able to join the dots and make sense of it all. The cache was called “Zoo View”, and reading the description we discovered that the walk took us right along the boundary of Whipsnade Zoo or whatever they are calling it these days. I expect it is something like wildlife experience park or some such thing, but whichever way you look at it, it is a bunch of animals that don’t normally live in this country collected together and enclosed in a place where people can go and try and guess what they are.
“ahhh… so it WAS an elephant”
This is a shame in some respects that the explanation was so readily and quickly achieved as I much preferred the mystery and weirdness that the unexplained version afforded us. I loved the idea that there may be a lost / escaped / pet elephant roaming around the fields in Bedfordshire. I picture a man coming home drunk from the pub one day telling his wife that he won the cutest baby elephant in a bet that night. The wife would laugh and then go downstairs to find “Nellie” sitting on the floor playing with the toilet rolls and eating all the buns. Standing on the bottom step she would turn to her husband and with a face conveying utter disbelief enquire, “You do realise this is going to get bigger yes?” With a big smile and slurring only slightly her husband would reply, “No, cos Dave told me it was a pigmy elephant, this is as big as it’s gonna get”. 3 months later “Bar Bar” is eating them out of house and home, lives in the garden and produces enough methane ladened poo to keep the lights on for half the village!
After leaving cache 5 we then walked along the perimeter fence for the zoo for the next couple of caches. The path was good and not really muddy at all except for a patch just after number 6 where there were two huge puddles that needed to be negotiated. The only way to do this was to press yourself right up against the bushes to the left and squeeze past. The bushes were of course holly and at one point I almost lost my footing and came within a gnat’s whisker of actually sitting down on the holly bush. I over compensated when avoiding this and then almost fell face first into the puddle. I arrived at the other end of the puddles rather shaken and extremely relieved that either or both possible outcomes described did not transpire.
We were enjoying the series immensely so far and it certainly wasn’t without interest in stark comparison to the Studham Common circuit that we did before lunch which was positively boring in comparison. So far we had encountered wild animals, Sharlene had been slimed and I had narrowly avoided being pricked and sheep dipped and we were only just half way. This was rapidly turning out to be a good candidate for the next Indiana Jones movie.
Sticking with the theme I encounter the massive boulder at cache number 7. O.K. it wasn’t quite man sized but it was about the size of a football and it was blocking up the hole in the tree where the cache was and it was bloody heavy. I wrestled it out and then nearly dropped it on my foot whilst Sharlene signed the log. From here it was to the next which was through the mud fields of bogsville. The mud on the first part of the series was just a taster for what is to come and you better not consider this walk unless you are ok with getting a bit muddy. Certainly not one for your flip flops at this time of year. Standing at the GZ of the next cache the wind was vicious and I was glad to move on quickly before I froze my fingers off, amongst other things.
At number 9 we had to swing across a ditch of boiling oil that was home to mutant crocodiles! At least that was how the script for the movie would read when I finished writing it. The ditch was real although it was dry and the crocs were…well invisible… or extremely sleepy as we didn’t see any. Still a ditch is a ditch and for a blind man it is a challenge to be overcome.
We thought the mud couldn’t get worse… but it did. The walk to number 10 was epically muddy and thankfully the cache was safe and dry hidden under a large log. Number eleven was an interesting one. Firstly I had to jump into another ditch to retrieve it and this one was actually quite deep. The cache was itself hidden under an old railway sleeper and this for me is the interesting bit. Whenever I come across old sleepers I am always intrigued as to where they used to be. What part of the rail network they once formed a part of? As is most often the case there are no obvious answers to the question but it still fascinates me. Not even quite sure why the sleepers were there at all.
Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for making your boots feel heavy and making you slip and slide all over the place like a drunk penguin on ice. Then other times you put your foot down and it keeps going and going and you hope an prey that it hasn’t gone into your boot. Then you pull your leg out and prey even harder that the boot is still on the end. The GZ of number 12 was a total swamp and both Sharlene and I nearly came a cropper when trying to get to the cache. It was to the side of a gate in a prickly bush and the only route to it was muddy muddy. We did manage to get it in the end but I came extremely close to kissing the mud at one point and that is not an experience on my list of things to do.
With only two more caches to go we broke out of the mud for a bit and had an easier walk up a slope into a wooded area. This was really quite pleasant and I imagine in summer this is a very pretty place to be. Back to the mud and a kissing gate that we had to traverse in the manner of a stile rather than a gate as the inner part of the gate was just one big mud ball. So back to the movie script it was as I scaled the 20 foot fence lined with razor wire to escape from the Nazi camp. I did nearly do myself a serious piece of mischief on the barbed wire that was flanking the kissing gate so it wasn’t all made up!
A short while later we ticked number 13 off the list and now only had one more. We had made good time so far and although the skies were darkening slightly we felt confident that we would make it back to the car with plenty of daylight and time to spare. The last cache is a strange part of the series really as you leave number 13 you are a mere stone’s throw from the car. Ok it might have to be a small stone and you might have to have an arm like Fatima Whitbread, but it is still a stone’s throw. Instead of heading back to the car the route takes you the opposite way to pick up just one more cache before bringing you back to the church to end your walk. I guess the CO was maybe superstitious about having thirteen caches in the loop?
Anyway we picked up the last cache with no trouble and apart from one last patch of mud and a really light shower of rain that lasted about a minute we made it back to the car with both plenty of daylight and battery life on our phones. Hot chocolate was a welcome warmer as we sat in pools of our own mud. It was then that I realised that we had broken our personal best. We had managed to find 21 caches in all and this beat our previous best of 20 so that was an extra cherry on top of what was already a very enjoyable caching day… and to round off the movie analogy… I got the girl too!
Just a note to Alibags if you are reading this. You did seem to enjoy the series very much when you did it back on the 15th February in 2009. You enjoyed the walk and commented that it filled a hole in the map of the area. You did it with Jollyjax and were one of the first people to walk the series the day after it was released. You did also mention you saw a wallaby or two. If you need any other reminders about caches you have done just let me know. 😉
So another fantastic caching day all said and done and the numbers slowly tick up. Well not so slowly actually, with these added onto the tally that takes us to 469 and we need to be giving some serious thought about what to do for our 500th geocache milestone. Happy Days.