By the time Monday arrived I think both Shar and I were starting to feel geocaching withdrawal symptoms. It had been almost a week since we had been up to our ankles in mud and thrashing around in the undergrowth. Unfortunately real life got in the way and we had to postpone our next fix until the following day. As ever I had something in mind. I am not sure if when it comes to geocaching that you are like me, but I spend quite a bit of time in the evenings just browsing around the map looking at different caches and deciding if and when I would like to do them. I get most excited when I come across a nice clump of caches that turn out to be a series; those normally get saved to the iPhone straight away as their own list ready to be plucked out when the time is right.
Well the time was just right now to pull one of these out of the bag. A few weeks ago whilst browsing quite close to home I was struck by the uniform pattern created by a clump of caches on the screen and on closer inspection found them to be a loop of 17 caches practically right in our backyard. Well it was a couple of kilometres away but compared to how far we go sometimes this is practically on our doorstep. I had not previously identified them as a series as there was no common part to the cache names but when I looked closer at the map and read a few of the descriptions it was clear they were laid out to be done as a loop… Perfect.
There were seventeen in total and the map revealed them to be arranged along a wide rectangle of footpaths and bridleways in the vicinity of Pimlico in Hertfordshire just a stone’s throw to the north of the M25. The owner of the caches is none other than Bones1, a geocacher of great renown in the county and beyond. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might recall that this name has cropped up a couple of times previously, most notably when we first started geocaching and ran into him whilst out caching in our local area.
Reading one of the cache descriptions I discovered that a good place to start our trail would be close to the Swan public house on the Bedmond Road. When we arrived we discovered that the pub had closed down which was a shame as it looked like it could have been a nice place to warm up with a pint of ale after the walk. For those that don’t live in the UK or have never visited, the culture of the English pub is one with a long heritage and numerous traditions. Many establishments date back several hundreds of years to the times where travellers would stop to rest and refresh during long foot or horse journeys. For centuries the pub has been a focal point for many villages and towns and in larger cities the venue for many an entertaining evening. Even if a village or hamlet consisted of just a few houses there was normally a pub as part of it, or at the very least, not too far away.
This pub culture continued into the 20th century; through the wars and into the 50s and 60s, but in the decades since it has been in decline and many establishments have been forced to close their doors. In recent years a change in the laws concerning smoking in public places meant that smokers were banished to the pub garden or other hastily constructed outdoor “smoking areas” by the back door. Add to that the high prices of alcohol due to government taxation and the hard hitting recessions of late and the sight of a boarded up pub is becoming all too common
Now I do not grieve the loss of the inner city pseudo pub that is of new construction and there to cater for the high flying city types of 20 and 30 years ago or of the modern chain pub. But it is sad to see the demise of the smaller, village pubs many of which are steeped in local history and have in previous times formed an integral part of the communities.
The Swan of Pimlico is a building of 19th century construction and is afforded a grade II listing for many of its finer architectural features. Now I cannot be sure whether this particular pub has an interesting history attached to it or if it was just a place for people to meet and partake of the odd pint or two, but either way it is a shame to see it boarded up and deserted. If you have a spare £500,000 you can probably own it; in January 2013 planning permission was obtained to convert it to a residential property. That might be pretty cool to live in an old pub, if you could get rid of the smell of stale beer, or maybe you wouldn’t want to; perhaps that would be the charm of it. Whilst the subject of the demise of the village pub is one that interests me and worthy of more than just a handful of blog paragraphs, it is however, not the reason you are reading this. Back to the Geocaching.
Once we had located the start of the footpath we set out in search of the first cache. My feet were cold and the sky looked a little foreboding. We had delayed our start, waiting in the car a short while, allowing a brief rain shower to fizzle out, but I didn’t think the weather was done for the day yet. The path was a little narrow in places with a high and rather prickly bush of some description running down the left whilst a barbed wire fence separated us from a large open horse field to the right.
The titles of the first two caches promised views of horses and we were not to be disappointed. Even before reaching the first one a group of ponies came trotting over to us to find out what we were up to. Without anything to interest them I suspect they were hoping we had something to eat, they soon got bored and wandered off in search of something more rewarding to do.
The caches along the whole route were mostly all straight forward and easy hides. The containers were either small or regular in size with one or two exceptions. The hints good, and the hides not too challenging. This is a great series for adding a few smilies to the total without causing you too much trouble. The walk brings its own rewards aside from the geocaches in the views of both countryside and wildlife that it offers.
In addition to the horses that so enthusiastically greeted us by the first couple of caches there were a number of other highlights. Early on in the walk the path takes you close to a very large Transmission Aerial which on the one hand is just a 100 meter tall piece of metal but surprisingly I found it rather interesting and was curious to learn more when I got back home. As always with my internet research it is no guarantee of being actual fact, but does serve as suitable reward to satisfy my enquiring mind. It appears that this is known as the Hemel Hempstead transmitter and is used as a repeater aerial for Crystal Palace which is the main transmitter for the London Region. The aerial at Pimlico is what they call line fed which means it is being supplied with the signal to broadcast via the telecommunications network and not acting as a radio wave signal repeater that receives the signal by radio waves and then re-transmits it extending the range of the original signal. The location of the Aerial at Hemel seems to be very specifically to fill a gap in signal created by the terrain in places but its existence and the matter of what it transmits is the subject of much debate in the world of radio and TV geeks. There is a great dispute about whether it should be transmitting London regional stations or East of England Regional stations as it is based somewhat on the border between the two areas.
Standing at the foot of the 100 meter mast and having it described to me I reckon that it might also be in use as a mobile phone cell although on discovering I was only getting 3 out of 5 reception bars on my iPhone, perhaps not.
The remainder of the first leg of the walk took us further along the edge of the field to some large farm buildings. The barn type structures were in use for god only knows what but we were somewhat surprised to see a collection of old fridge freezers and other kitchen white goods lining the paths as we made our way between them. I didn’t realise these sort of electrical goods needed to be farmed, I always thought they were grown in China and then shipped over here.
After collecting a micro cache hidden at the junction of paths here, we turned right and made our way along the second edge of our rectangular walk. The fields were now to our right and a small tree line flanked our left side. According to the descriptions of the caches on this stretch it was not uncommon to see badgers under the right conditions. However, badgers being basically nocturnal and it being the middle of the day, there was no chance of that. Having said that as we continued on our walk on a number of occasions we did spot holes dug deep into the earth and undergrowth and we did wonder what animals might have made these their homes.
As we arrived at the next GZ which was the site of a small offset cache, the heavens opened and we were treated to a brief hail shower. Luckily we were safely hidden under the branches of some large ivy covered trees and thus were able to avoid a pummelling. Like the many geocachers before us who had documented their experiences in the logs, we were unable to find the micro cache that would contain the location of the final for this multi, but this was not a problem as we were able to find the final container using the provided hint.
After the hail had abated we continued on along the footpath and after descending steeply into a wooded section we then, predictably rose again back up to the field boundary to complete the second side of the rectangle. The third leg contained another 5 caches or so leaving just one for the last side which would take us back to our starting point. Leg three was a bridle path and by far the muddiest section of the whole walk. We again were treated to views of the transmitter aerial from slightly further away this time. The caches were easily located in stumps and at the base of trees; like I said, all straightforward. We did have a real treat along this stretch though as we discovered one of the containers was an ammo can. It was the largest one we have found to date, I believe used to store 50 calibre ammunition originally. I wish every container could be an ammo can, but having said that, this would surely diminish the specialness of finding them so perhaps it is better the way it is.
Sloshing on down the bridle path we eventually reach the Bedmond Road and headed back in the direction of the car with just one more cache to collect on the way. From the description and logs I strongly suspect that Bones lives very close to it, in fact I reckon he can probably see the GZ from his house if he so chose. We found this one hanging inside a post that held a footpath sign and I was suitably impressed at the robust nature of the simple metal hanging clip that held the cache in its home.
We set out to find 17 caches and that is what we managed to do with no DNFs. It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk with no complicated or ambiguous directions to unravel and the cache containers were generally all in good condition and easy to find. Adding these to our find count now brings us to 14 shy of 500 so I really need to pull my finger out and work out what cache we are going to do to mark the milestone.