Skydivers, Skylarks and the Psychology of Searching – Geocaching weirdness in Manea

It is probably wildly unfair of me to state that the lack of capacity of the sewage facilities in the Village of Manea has been a constant concern to the parish council and residents alike for a very long time… but my lacklustre internet research leads me to believe this not only to be true, but also to be amongst the ten most interesting things about the place. It is, however, a good job that most of the other things on the list are compelling enough to warrant a visit to the small village that nestles in amongst the Ouse wash area of Fenland in Cambridgeshire. Whilst the existence of twenty geocaches in and around the farms, churches and nature reserve of the region might not feature high on many of the residents list of reasons to visit, it was, however, the main reason why we were there.

Manea is about a 2 hour drive from where we live and you might be wondering, therefore, why we were so far from home as there are hundreds if not thousands of caches in our local area as I have previously mentioned. This week was half term and we had arranged to meet my mum in a location that was roughly equidistant between our homes for some geocaching fun. We picked the best day in terms of weather and checked to see that there was little or no evidence of flooding on route and made a plan to tackle the Manea Meander series of caches which is laid out in a figure of eight route around the village. Oh and before we go any further, it is pronounced “May knee” not Manea as it is spelt. It is Important to get that right off the bat so you don’t sound like a clueless tourist, should you ever visit.

We met at the RSPB bird reserve that is located near the first cache in the loop and after a quick meet and greet we loaded up and headed out on the walk. In contrast to the recent weather, on this day it was clear and dry and the weak winter sun was even putting in an appearance as we walked down the narrow country lane away from the bird reserve. The first cache was easily found at the roadside and it wasn’t long before Shar had the container, a small thin tube, in hand. What was slightly odd was the fact that she then found another identical tube about a minute later at exactly the same place. I guess at some point someone had reported the container missing and the Cache Owner had put a new one there, however it wasn’t really missing. The second container now becomes what is known as geolitter, and as such we decided to remove it with a view to returning it to the CO if they wanted it.

It wasn’t long before we were directed off the road and onto a bridleway across the fields whereupon it felt like we were geocaching for real now. The wind gusted a little as we made our way along the uneven path but otherwise it was pleasant enough. There was definitely no road noise here, something that is hard to say when you cache within the realms of the M25 London Orbital motorway and all its arterial roads that intersect it. But here in the fens it was quiet, except for the sound of a plane climbing and dropping overhead and the distant rumble of what sounded like some sort of farm machinery. This part of the country is very flat and low lying which makes for some fairly expansive views. A Cormorant circled above us as we made our way to the second cache in the series which we found on the underside of an electric box. It’s not always easy to find a bit of metal to attach a magnet to out in the country but if you do find something metal and you are looking for a cache then that is a good place to start. For the record, it was not me that spotted the Cormorant flying overhead but my mother who is far more knowledgeable about these things and is also in possession of the necessary eyesight. It was strange now that I think back, as when everyone stopped to look up at the bird, so did I! Why did I do that? It is a very hard habit to break and I immediately feel a fraud when I do it like someone is going to jump out of the bushes and grab me by the arm and shout, “Ha I thought you were blind, why are you looking up for the bird!”.

We carried along the bridle path which was flanked on one side by a dyke carrying water off the fields to a destination unknown. I always thought a dyke was like a dam, otherwise how could the little Dutch boy have stuck his finger in it to stop the leak. Please note I choose my words very carefully here and have so far avoided any smutty innuendo based comments involving women of a particular lifestyle choice… well until just now that is. Anyway this dyke was wet and I didn’t want to find out how deep so I made sure I kept away from the edge, that is to say Shar made sure I stayed well away from the dyke.

A channel of water stretches along the side of a field into the distance whilst the flat fnes stretch off to teh horizon

Fen Dyke

As we made our way to number three, which let’s face it wasn’t difficult as it was along a path with a fence on one side and a dyke on the other meaning that to get lost at this point would have been a spectacular achievement., we were again distracted by the sound of an aircraft circling and dipping and climbing above us. Time to stop and look at the sky again and in spite of recently realising the futility of this for me, I stood and, again, looked to the heavens like everyone else. Eagle eye Sam soon spotted the reason for the plane, namely that people were jumping out of it. I hasten to add that they had parachutes, well I assume they did and indeed this point was quickly confirmed by those that could make out the tiny people floating down to earth in the distance. This was turning out to be a veritable Variety performance of a walk so far. All that was missing was the dancing girls and a herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the distant fens.

I am never quite sure what drives people to jump out of an aeroplane. Conceptually, I understand that it is exciting and an experience that is pretty unique, but why? I suppose it says a lot about a person as to whether they would consider doing such a thing. I have a pretty healthy respect for life and an even healthier one for things that might kill me. I appreciate that there is something to be said for conquering your fears and developing as a person. I applaud the notion of tackling the things that scare us, but there are some things that just seem like too much of a risk. I mean jumping over a cliff onto a metal spike scares me but I have no desire to tackle or conquer this fear – just to avoid it at all costs. Perhaps I have missed the opportunity window of youth when you have less of a realisation of the frailty of life and are prepared to chase all sorts of silly ideas in the name of fun and excitement. I don’t regret not jumping out of an aeroplane and I neither feel intimidated nor in awe of those that do it. I just know it is something I will never do, unless the plane is about to crash perhaps.

Now that I have got that off my chest its back to the geocaching. Number three was found easily in a gate that was inexplicably in the middle of the path. Perhaps it was placed there for the express purpose of being able to hide a cache there.
Staying on the path we carried on towards cache number 4 and paused only briefly to listen to the loud chirping of a bird which, according to mum, was a skylark. She said it was nice to hear the skylarks and added that spring must be on its way. I thought this must have been an old saying or proverb that the song of the skylark heralds the arrival of spring but upon questioning mum on this she quickly debunked this theory saying that it was just something she says and as far as she is aware has no basis as proof of the arrival of spring. Now I know where I get my ability to state things in an informative and authoritative way whilst actually having no factual or even anecdotal evidence to back them up. Having said all that I have since done a quick google search and found some very interesting information out about the skylark and it turns out that the suggestion that its song is synonymous with the arrival of warmer weather is not so fanciful after all. The internet is a staggeringly useful thing when it comes to proving or, for that matter, disproving anything. Have a look here. Done that? Good, now let’s move on… oh yes, geocaching.

Mum shows Sam the log cache

Log in a Log

Cache number 4 was an opportunity to dig out the classic geocaching joke again. It was hidden inside a log that was at the side of the path. Time to log the log! As I stood at GZ whilst the log from the log was being logged I wondered what of interest might happen next and that is when I got the whiff of onions. I sniffed and confirmed that I wasn’t going mad. Sam noticed it too. I didn’t need to look around, and let’s face it what would be the point, to know that we were nowhere near any houses that could be the source of the smell. After a little discussion we formulated the theory that perhaps the farm machinery that we had heard and could still hear in the distance was in fact involved in the harvesting of some sort of onion crop. As we started our walk to number 5 there was lots of sniffing and more talk about whether it would be likely to be your standard onion or maybe spring onions or for that matter leaks. A mere 100 yards down the path and what did we find lying on the ground… but an onion; your standard common or garden onion. It was as if the farmer had heard our conversation and lobbed it over on to the path to resolve our dilemma concerning the type of onion being harvested. This does seem rather unlikely seeing as the harvesting seemed to be going on a good kilometre away which would mean that the farmer would need to have a throwing arm like a Russian shot putter. Either that or he had hastily assembled a make shift trebuchet to propel the said vegetable into our path. Maximum respect if that was indeed the case but as mother then, quite rightly, pointed out, “it probably just fell off a lorry when the last load travelled down this path”. Either way she pocketed it, presumably to make a very small onion soup later or perhaps to post it back to the farmer at a later date.

Even before we made it to cache 5 we had two further curiosities to encounter. We turned off the bridle path where directed and headed along something described as a drove that would eventually take us into the village. As we left the path we came across a derelict building that looked like it had once been a farmhouse. Structures such as these fascinate me as to their origins and why they have been left to crumble. It looked like a small but perfectly usable house and included a fireplace on the ground floor. The lower level windows had been bricked up suggesting that after it stopped being a house it then served as some sort of store. It looked no more than 100 years old and we concluded that it might have previously been the farmhouse before the occupants then moved to a better property elsewhere on the land. A little further on down the path and we found, what we first thought was, a small fenced in garden just out on its own in the middle of the farmland but was in fact a cemetery containing a small number of graves. Just when you want the Internet to yield answers it fails to do so. Despite quite a lot of searching I can’t find anything of use that might explain the existence of this small burial plot and who the people buried there might be. I can only assume that these people lived and probably worked on the land many years ago. The village cemetery in Manea was opened in around 1830 as far as I can see so perhaps prior to this, smaller private plots such as these were a lot more common.

Sam is pictured examing the graves in this tiny cemetary that we found on Barnes' Grove.

Sam Explores the Cemetary

We found cache number 5 just a short way further along the path. It was one of the more clever hides on this trail and consisted of a container hidden in a hollowed out tree making use of metal prongs at each end allowing the cache to be either pushed or pulled out either way. It was quite close to a stream or maybe it was the dyke again so I opted to stand back and let Shar retrieve it just in case I fell in.

Amazingly caches 6, 7 and 8 passed by without note really. 6 was in a long pipe that was at the side of the path. Number 7 was a cute froggy in a camo bag hanging in a tree and number 8 was at the side of the lane where there were some concrete water pipes and the cache was hidden inside. So far the hides had all been relatively easy to find and all were in good condition. The sun was shining, its heat taking the edge off the cool breeze that whipped across the fens from time to time. This was our turning point where we would cut the figure of eight in half and return back towards the RSPB reserve now, allowing us to get some lunch before moving the car and tackling the top half later. Lunch would have to wait a while though as we still had 5 caches to get first. Having been on the trail for about 90 minutes so far it was time to break out the sugar rations in the form of Haribo and jolly rancher boiled sweets. A small dose of sugar can do wonders for flagging energy levels.

We then joined up with a proper country lane and twisted back towards the direction we had come from as we headed back to the start and caches 13,14,15,16 and 17. The first of these was located at the side of the road hidden inside a fake mushroom. If it hadn’t had been fake perhaps mum would have purloined this too with a mind to add it to the soup.

Sam is pictured holding the mushroom cache as Shar and mum look on.

A Fun Guy

Continuing on down the road stopping every now and then as cars passed, we soon arrived at the GZ for number 14. What we found there was a hulk of rusting farm machinery somewhat resembling an old push me pull me lawn mower but on a much larger scale. It being of a decent size meant that we could all get stuck in and search at the same time and the hint told us that we were looking for a magnetic small container. After much feeling and groping I eventually found it right at the very front of the item. It is a slightly strange phenomenon that when you are faced with a relatively large item to search you rarely start with the part of the item that is closest to you. You start at the back and work forward or you start to one side, but if I had started right at the front then I would have found it in seconds. I have just used the internet to try and research this concept of how you look for things and proved that the internet is a load of rubbish sometimes. I searched for “the psychology of searching” and just got page after page of sites promising me they could find me a local therapist. Maybe that is actually very Zen, and I perhaps could make use of the services of a mental health specialist even though I wasn’t directly looking for one.
Sam and mum are pictured on the rusty farm machinery after finding the cache.

You Gotta Roll With It

Number 15 was located in a passing lay-by on a road sign and I finally proved my worth on this little adventure by being the only person who could actually reach up high enough to get at it. You would think that being out in the countryside on a road that has very few cars that one would be able to reach up and grab a cache from a sign without any fear of being seen. You know that this is not the case otherwise I wouldn’t be mentioning it. Just at the very moment I was preparing to stretch up, a car comes down the lane. Not only that but it pulls up into the parking lay-by and just sits there about 30 feet away from us. We thought perhaps the occupant was a fellow cacher but he made no move to neither get out of the car nor exchange any knowing looks with us. He just sat there. In the end I decided to hell with it and reached up and retrieved the cache anyway. We signed the log, I replaced the cache and we moved on leaving the man to whatever he was doing. About 5 minutes later the car passed us on the road and we were no wiser as to knowing why he had stopped, but I suspect that if we returned to where he had parked perhaps we might find a small mound of earth freshly patted back into place at the side of the road!

OK well that was a bit of a grisly thought and one that I am not proud of, but it was well past lunchtime and we were all starting to run low on energy and perhaps this fuelled my paranoia. We hastened along the lane back in the direction of the RSPB reserve and found cache number 16 outside the ship inn that was alas closed. A somewhat strange place for a pub this is. It is very much in the middle of nowhere and I expect gets very little custom at all with Manea residents much more likely to frequent the Rose and Crown which is actually in the village. This pub seems to cater for approximately 10 houses in the nearby lanes and that is it. It might have got some custom from us today or for that matter other geocachers that might be doing this route but they missed their chance. Back on the interweb thing again and it appears that the villagers have supported plans to turn the pub into residential housing back in 2010 but this planning application has been denied and the appeal also turned down suggesting that it would not be in support of a rural economy to close the pub to business. The landlord has apparently tried to improve business by adding dominoes and darts but to no avail… what a shocker! Just when I was about to conclude my internet research on this one I stumbled upon a nugget of a news item that dated back to December 2010 that told of how the landlord was arrested on suspicion of handling stolen commercial equipment. Apparently there was a dawn raid and everything! In Manea!! The village gets a boost to the kudos rankings just for the fact that it has been the host to a dawn raid by the Cambridge constabulary.

One last cache before lunch on this slightly surreal trail and it took us back along the road that we had started on with the old Bedford River now to our left and the RSPB reserve ahead of us. The cache was found nestling in a tree by mother… that is to say that mother found it, not that mother was nestling in the tree next to the cache… that would just be weird.

Sam, Shar and mum are pictured walking away from the camera down a long road that stretches off into the distance. The old Bedford River can be seen to the left flanking the road

A Road to Nowhere?

A short walk back to the car for a welcome comfort break and lunch. The first part of the loop took us about 3 hours but it has to be said that we were very much taking it easy on the way round and if you were really intent on tackling it at speed you could probably do it in about one to one and a half hours but if you do this you run the risk of missing out on all the weirdness that can be encountered along the way and I for one will take weirdness over speed any day.

Whilst we eagerly tucked into ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches followed by homemade carrot cupcakes provided by mum, I plugged the iPhone into my power cell to boost up its flagging battery. It had used about 70% in just over 3 hours which actually isn’t bad going for an iPhone as they are notoriously power hungry when geocaching.

We moved the cars to the heart of Manea Village or at least the recreation ground that was near to the high street. It is a slightly odd layout for a village suffering from a lack of a proper focal point. It is rather stretched out along a main high street and could benefit from the likes of a village green or pond around which the village could thrive. Unable to redesign the village on such short notice we elected to make the best of it and got down to the business of caching again. After leaving the cars we walked along the High Street until we found a footpath that would take us to number 9 in the loop. The walk along the high street was rather noisy as it seems to be in use by a surprisingly large number of big commercial and agricultural vehicles. This is far from a peaceful idyllic English village despite the efforts of the locals to keep it that way. Manea is expanding gradually with new houses being built there. The minutes of the parish council meetings do highlight the concerns of the villagers though and their desire to keep it from becoming a small town… I fear it may be gradually losing that battle and I have to agree it is a shame.

The footpath took us along a muddy track to a kissing gate at the edge of a field which if we had been doing the full figure of eight in one go, we would have had to cross. On balance I think we got off lightly there as the mud across the field was quite something to behold. A short search turned up the cache stuck to the bottom of the gate and it was back along the footpath the way we had come to continue the loop. Whilst number 10 was our next cache in the series, on the way to it we would pass not one but two Church Micros and thought it would just be rude if we overlooked them.

This picture taken from the kissing gate at the end of the footpath from the high street shows the view across the pony field. Thankfully we did not have to cross the field as the mud was... well muddy.

Muddy Manea

Unfortunately the first church micro was our only DNF of the day as we had to admit defeat after about 20 minutes of searching. It was a very difficult place to search too as it was right on the busy high street and overlooked by buildings on the other side of the road. It is always a shame to have to log a DNF, especially in a location where you doubt whether you will return but we took solace in the fact that it was not actually part of the Manea Meander series and therefore not such a problem – it is always nice to be able to mark an entire series as found. I suspect that the cache at the church was not actually there but then that is so often the view of people that are unable to find caches… it just wasn’t there… but I really suspect that it wasn’t.

We made our way to the second church micro where we had better luck. It is ironic really as the second one on the face of it looked the more daunting prospect trying to find the stone under which the cache was located when presented with an area that is entirely covered with stones, but Shar actually found it quite quickly. We made a short pit stop here to remove a rose thorn from Sam’s finger after he had reached out to grasp the plant not realising it was in fact a rose bush.

The church is pictured in the background and leading up to it is an area covered in stones and pebbles, the cache is hidden under one of them.

StonedWhich Stone

Continuing our walk toward number 10 in the Manea Meander series we were relieved to find ourselves back on a footpath and heading out of the hurly and burly of the village. It sounds odd as the village is very small and there were not many people around but it just seemed noisy and full of traffic and it was a joy to get back to the countryside. We found the 10th cache hanging on a silver birch tree but fell in to a trap of looking high. When a hint says hanging the instinctive reaction is to look for hanging at chest height or above, but this little cheeky one was down low at around knee height and therefore eluded us for a long while.

As we continued along a bridle path with now, only two more geocaches to do which was good as the light was starting to fade and legs and feet were tired, I remembered that somewhere along the walk we should be able to see Ely Cathedral in the distance. I ventured a comment that such a view should be possible somewhere and waved vaguely to the left and to my astonishment I had chosen my moment perfectly as the others stopped, looked and reported that they were indeed able to see the cathedral from here. Not bad for a blind man. It is a shame that my skills did not quite stretch to leading us the correct way as we then took a wrong turn and ended up not where we needed to be. Thankfully we realised this a short way down the track and quickly retraced our steps to find the correct route. We found our way and headed off down a straight lane alongside what the locals referred to as the pit. This is an old gravel pit that has filled with water and in recent times has been developed and nurtured by the locals to make it a bit of a haven for anglers and bird watchers alike. We skirted along the edge of the pit trying to find the correct route to take and when we finally did make our way to GZ we found someone else there. It appeared he was employed in some task of feeding the fish or some such thing but the bad news was he was showing no sign of leaving and the cache was right where he was in the vicinity of a small footbridge across a channel of water. Mum stepped up to the challenge and started to engage him in random conversation allowing Shar to make a tentative search of the area. She managed to find the cache at the edge of the bridge not 10 feet from where the man was standing whilst mother distracted him wonderfully. That has to be the most blatantly bold piece of geocaching Shar has ever pulled off. Nobody wanted to have to walk away from this one with only this and one other of the series left, there was no way we were going to DNF it and she pulled it off fantastically not only managing to extract the cache which was a fake plank of wood from the bridge but then also being able to tweezer out the log, sign it and replace the hide whilst the man was none the wiser.

A view down the lane from the last cache as the light fades.

Fading Light

Our last cache was just a short walk from the car and was an easy find being hidden on the back of a national speed limit sign. It was a great feeling to know that we had completed the whole series and our mood was light as we headed back to the car for a quick cup of hot chocolate as a welcome reward.

In all we found 18 caches with only 1 DNF and that was not part of the Manea Meander series so we are happy to let that one go. It was a fantastic walk through the English countryside on a day that was remarkably warm and dry considering the recent weather we have suffered. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend Manea to people as a place to visit just for the sake of it, if you fancy doing a great series of caches set through lovely fenland countryside then Manea is well worth your consideration. And don’t forget it has more than its fair share of weirdness to offer if you take the time to notice it. Happy days.

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3 Responses to Skydivers, Skylarks and the Psychology of Searching – Geocaching weirdness in Manea

  1. Kel says:

    Sounds like a great day….thanks for this post, you gave me more than a few giggles 🙂


  2. I love the song of the skylark. When I was young and visiting my Gran, I would wander out onto the marshes and lie in the long grass watching the larks singing high above.

    Which has absolutely nothing to do with geocaching. 🙂 Great post BTW.


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