On Sunday it was time for another Pugwash adventure. The name Pugwash is a mish-mash of the caching name of our friends Geoff and Melissa who are Smokeypugs and our caching name which is washknight. Some of you may remember that there was a children’s cartoon called Captain Pugwash back in the early 1970s on the BBC, but if not, fear not, you can learn all about the legend on the Captain Pugwash Wikipedia page.The TV series was accompanied with a jaunty theme tune and one or more of us can be heard mimicking it on the days when Smokeypugs and Washknight team up to go geocaching as team Pugwash.
Unlike the good captain, our adventure was to be on land this time, although at times you would be forgiven for thinking that the sea was not far off as the ground in places was awash with mud and puddles. After forgoing our original plan of heading to Langley Park, which is to the west of London on the Buckinghamshire / Berkshire border due to reports of some of it being under considerable amounts of water, we plumped for a series called the Royal Standard of England, in a place called Forty Green not far from Penn in Buckinghamshire. The series is so called as it forms a figure of eight with a pub of the same name as the series at its centre.
The Royal Standard of England is one of a number of establishments in England that lays claim to being the oldest pub in the country. The details of the argument are far too technical to actually care about and the lengths to which some people seem to have gone to prove the case of one or another establishment seem somewhat disproportionate to be honest. A Wikipedia entry concerning the dispute between the Royal Standard and another nearby drinking house about who was the oldest pub in Buckinghamshire alone had to be removed from the site after the argument became too heated. Other drinking establishments claiming to be the oldest include “The Trip to Jerusalem” in Nottingham and Ye old Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire, the latter of which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest ale house in the country being thought to be an 11th century building on an 8th century site.
Whatever the result of the above arguments it has to be said that The Royal Standard of England looks like a lovely pub in an idyllic location high on a hill in rural Buckinghamshire and at certain times is packed to the rafters with people from far and wide who come to eat and drink in the establishment well renowned for its excellent ales and food. However when we arrived in the large car park at the rear on Sunday morning at around 11am it was almost deserted.
After meeting and greeting with our friends and their adorable pug dog Smokey, we set off and headed out to take on the top part of the figure of eight circuit before lunch which we planned to have back at the car before going on to complete the remainder of the series which in total consisted of 15 geocaches. Whilst the clouds were thick and the wind a breezy 20mph or so it was nevertheless dry and as we made our way to the first cache the mood was high and a spring was in our step.
With a name like “know your limits” for the first cache its hiding place was obvious to us all even before we had left the car park and as we got to GZ it was only a matter of a few seconds before 9 year old Sam had plucked the container from the back of the sign and our first log of the day was duly scribbled on.
A minor piece of back tracking and a little while later we were heading out along a footpath at the side of a field and away from the pub and into the countryside of Buckinghamshire for our second cache. Mother Nature was not in the mood for easing us into it gently though as she laid on the mud thick and gloopy right from the start. Luckily we had all pretty much been prepared for this and the Pugwash theme tune could be heard as we squidged on towards the second hide which we made light work of discovering its concealment in a good old favourite that is the Ivy Covered Tree.
By this stage Smokey the pug was already slathered in mud but he seemed to be loving it and happily scampered ahead. In fact he appeared to have an abundance of energy as he kept running back and dashing in circles around us whilst we walked to number three. I wanted to tell him to calm down, that he would need all that energy for later but I didn’t think he would listen.
We tackled another muddy path and then headed left following the arrow which took us to the edge of an open field with views out across the countryside. Next to what looked like some sort of store that was built up on stilts, presumably to keep out standing water we were quite surprised to find a white enamelled bathtub. Far from being an opportunity for a quick dip, our focus was on finding the cache which we quickly did. You really do see some strange things when out geocaching. Smokey was not sure at all about the bath especially when Geoff picked him up and held him over it for a photo.
It was back to the path for another slip and squelch along for a bit further until we arrived at the GZ for the next cache. A nice simple base of tree hide here and it was back to the path. This was the cache furthest north in the loop and now after we reached the end of the field it was time to head west and start back towards the car with 3 caches to pick up on the way. As we continued on the path we entered a wooded area and when the way up ahead looked a bit too muddy we decided to head off through the trees. The going was easy and we soon managed to find our way to the GZ without having to dig out the snorkel and flippers to get there.
From here we had two caches left, Saunders Wood and Corkers Wood, and weren’t exactly sure of the routes to take us to either of them. We identified the general direction and thought we might be able to see a path along the side of a field. At least a person could be seen walking along there so that was good enough for us. We put both the caches into the phones and decided to follow the path and as we approached the two we hoped that it would become clear which one was closer and more accessible. We made our way along the edge of the field despite there being no obvious path that way and keeping a very wary eye out for livestock. At the end of the field we realised that the path may have been on the other side of the hedge all the time but not to worry. It looked as if the Saunders Wood cache was now the closer one and turning left here led us in the right direction to find it.
This certainly was a busy place considering it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. We saw quite a few walkers and the like on the way and when we reached the GZ we had to be more covert than we would have thought, considering the location, as a few people were passing us. From here we decided to head through the woods in a direct route to the next cache, Corkers Wood. The trees were a little closer together than before and there were quite a few low branches and other foliage to negotiate but to start with it wasn’t too bad. As the metres counted down the wood started to get thicker and thicker. There were quite a lot of fallen trees as well and these presented a bit more of a challenge when hacking through. When we got to about 100 metres we were really starting to get slowed down by the terrain now and a number of times we considered turning back. We kept at it though but it was hard work with most of us stumbling here and there or getting the odd scratch from the trees. Smokey wasn’t immune either and at one point he got his jacket caught on a tree and was helpless to free himself. Melissa managed to free him though and he seemed nonplussed about the whole thing and just scampered off once more. Just when we thought it was getting to dense to go any further we spotted a path up ahead and battled on in good jungle style. A machete would have been handy at this point but finally with a lot of grunting and the odd rude word we emerged from the wood and out onto the path a short distance from the cache. Although it was hard work hacking through the trees at times,, I have to say it was kind of fun… Something a little different, a bit more challenging and it left me with a triumphant feeling when we finally emerged in one piece. Never mind the fact that we probably could have taken a slight detour and stayed on the path all the way there, it was much more fun this way. I don’t remember Captain Pugwash having to hack through too many dense woods though.
From corkers wood it was a comparatively simple walk back to the car. We headed along the edge of a field that appeared to have at one stage been occupied by sheep and upon not finding any there now, decided to cut across it to the gate at the far corner. Back at the pub things were starting to get a lot busier as the lunchtime trade was in full swing. The almost deserted car park from before was now heaving. Alas it wasn’t a nice big roast and a pint for us but some sandwiches and yoghurt back at the car, although these were greatly appreciated.
Our bellies filled and our energy levels boosted again we set off to tackle the southern loop with the promise of cake and hot chocolate when we had finished. Man needs no more motivation than a cake to keep his spirits up and that is especially true when it comes to Melissa’s cakes, which are well renowned amongst the geocachers of the BBH region and beyond.
After a short walk down the lane we cut off the road and along a path taking us through a wooded area that headed down into a valley. Roundhead was located after a short search at GZ. The hint was telling us to look in one that looked out of place. At GZ we found lots of plastic tubes embedded in the ground, for the purpose of protecting young trees. We guessed it might be something to do with these and after a while Geoff noticed that one of them did not have a tree in it. It did however have a cache in it.
The path took us further down into the valley and as we made our way along we noticed a group of walkers behind us. We decided to linger a little and let them pass as any further searching would be impossible with them right on our tail. Trying to look nonchalant we stepped aside and said our polite greetings as they went through and then we waited a couple of minutes to let them go on their way. We resumed our walk to the next cache and despite walking at a snail’s pace we were soon catching up with the people who we had just let pass. We slowed even more and inched along the path counting off the metres as the human equivalent of a tractor plodded along in front of us. Finally we reach GZ and still we had to hang a bout a bit before we had enough privacy to search. Shar made a super quick find at the base of a post here whilst I worried everyone by standing to close to the electrified fence. I must confess to having a morbid fascination as to how it feels to get a belt off one of these fences. I understand that it is not a lot of current so the worst that will happen is you get a sting and a tingle, but still I think I will give it a miss…. For now.
Still descending into the valley we carried on down the path toward the next cache. When we did finally reach the bottom of the hill and looked at the arrow, we groaned as we realised that we now had to turn left, up the hill. Thankfully GZ wasn’t too far up and when we got there we all split up and I went for a dance with some trees whilst Sam promptly found the cache in a tree trunk on the other side of the path. To our relief the uphill stretch was a short diversion and it was back down into the valley, negotiating some extremely steep steps that had been fashioned out of the hillside, and out onto a road towards the next cache.
As the crow flies the next one was just across the field in front of us but there was no sign of a path through and so we followed the obvious route Geoff has scouted on the map which was to head along the road and turn right and then right again to bring us to our destination without crossing the field. On the way we had to pass under a railway line and were treated to a tunnel that was beautifully proportion to elicit a glorious echo when you raised a voice to it. I simply cannot resist the spooky “ooooooo” when I go under a bridge or into a tunnel, I can’t help myself. It was a brilliant echo, deep and loud and it sang as we giggled and made our way through to the other side. You have to do these things sometimes, don’t chastise yourself for being silly or childish, or let other people berate you, what is the worse that could happen… someone thinks you are a bit weird? Well so what? This falls into the same category of fun things to do that includes waving at lorry drivers when you cross a foot bridge over a motorway or shouting at trains as they thunder past. Trust me, you lose nothing, and gain everything by letting yourself be a bit childlike sometimes… just remember, children do have a lot of fun…. Think hard, you were one too once you know. Can you think of any similar childlike fun things that you have held onto and allow yourself to do from time to time? Let me know in the comments, and I might just try it next time I am out.
Once we had completed our detour along the roads we found ourselves on a lane on the other side of the field as mentioned above and it wasn’t long before we arrived at GZ and located our next cache lurking inside a fake rock. As we continued on down the lane we were treated to expansive views to the right taking in the undulating hills of the Chilterns being intersected by the train line we had just echoed our way under. To the left the terrain rose sharply and as people glanced aloft Geoff spotted a red kite soaring above. The pleasant views and wildlife we were being treated to was a great feeling, to be out amongst it, in good company and having fun, all felt good… and then we realised that we were going to have to ascend that hill to the left of us very shortly. A hush came over us as we calculated and contemplated.
As we arrived at the point we had to start up the hill, just to add a bit of extra fun, it was a complete mud bath at the entrance to the footpath. Taking our time to carefully cling onto whatever we could as we skirted around the oozing mud, we then started up the north face of the Eigar!!!
To help us along the way we were cheered on by some horses that were in the field next to the path who came trotting over to “Nay” encouragement and pass out water and Mars bars as we scaled Kilimanjaro.
They really were very friendly horses, sticking their heads right over the low fence into the narrow footpath and almost insisting that you pat them, or more likely slip them a sugar lump or apple if you have one. I imagine in the equestrian property market that fields like this are much sought after.
“A spacious north facing property with interesting and expansive views of the Chiltern railway. Comprising numerous bushes and trees leaning into the property to munch on and a custom mud bath installed at the lower reaches of this much sought after green plot. Benefitting from the adjacent human footpath providing endless entertainment watching the unfit walking nutters lumber up the hill. Additionally this adjoining path offers excellent opportunity for third party patting, stroking and occasional treats. Would suit ex professional horse and family or horses of a mature and established lifestyle. No pets!.”
As we approached the summit of Everest we were glad of the water we had brought. We stood huffing and puffing and generally being out of shape and even though we were at GZ, no one made a move to search just yet. After a lie down and some oxygen we got back to the business of geocaching and made a quick find here. At least I assume we did. Due to the thin atmosphere at this altitude which must have been all of about 200metres I don’t remember anything about this cache, where it was or who found it.
The next cache was back down the hill. Yes we had endured that climb just for one cache only then to be pointed almost straight back down the hill. There followed a discussion about whether to travel back down the hill the way we had come to re-join the lane at the bottom or whether to carry on along the crest and then find another route down. We argued that the cache owner was unlikely to want us to retrace our steps as this was a series and they more often than not offered a reasonably clear route of how to progress from one cache to the next and there was generally not a lot of backtracking. We decided to instigate a democratic vote and after everyone else had voted we moved off along the hill to find another way down. I complained bitterly that I had not voted but was told that my vote would have made no difference. A strange type of democracy this was. A short way along the crest we came to a possible way down, it sort of looked like a path and kinda led to the bottom and so we recalled the democratic parliament of Pugwash and presented before the chamber the option of going down the hill here or going back. I voted that we should go down and everyone just up and started heading down. What madness is this? 2 minutes ago I had not even had a vote and now my vote was the only one cast before a decision was reach, this was democracy gone mad! I said as much to which everyone just laughed and set off down the hill. I wonder if David Cameron has this problem.
With a few twists and turns we did make it down the hill and back onto the lane and it has to be said that the route down was actually a lot easier than the route up and we didn’t have to wade through the mud pool from hell either at the point where the path met the lane. We all kinda wished that we had taken this route up the hill as well as down but then we would have missed the horses. A short while later we turned right off the lane and headed towards the railway line along a track that looked as if it was hardly ever traversed by cars anymore. We found the cache just before another railway bridge but the echo here was far less satisfying than our previous one. Had to chuckle when we saw this sign for the butterfly park though… exactly what sort of bottoms are being reserved?
Our last two caches of the day were along this lane and we knew that at the end of it we would be just a few hundred metres from the pub and the promise of Lemon drizzle cake. On the way to the next one we did have to squeeze to the side for a car to pass which surprised us as it didn’t seem like many cars ever came this way. We soon realised that this was not normal road traffic but a couple of irresponsible sods who had just been fly tipping further up the lane. It saddens and disgusts me that people would have such little respect for the land as to just randomly dump their car boots full of rubbish at the side of a road. I felt like picking a rock up and hurling it in the direction of their retreating car but reckoned I would suffer the unfortunate miracle of actually being on target for once and this would probably get us beaten up and dumped in the ditch next to the rubbish.
With tired legs and feet that were starting to ache what we really needed now was a smooth tarmac road with a gently downward slope back to the car. What we got was an uneven country lane dotted with puddles that climbed upwards in a long slow lazy incline that just seemed to go on and on and on. Poor Smokey with his little legs was, I reckon, regretting his energetic circling from earlier in the day now. After logging the final cache it was one last herculean effort to drag ourselves up the rest of the hill and make our way back up to the car park of the pub.
Once there we were greeted by the sight of a flat tyre on our car. We had noticed that it had looked a little low earlier in the day but now it was almost entirely flat. Thinking we must have picked up a slow puncture somewhere on the way here today Shar and I did not relish the idea of waiting for the RAC to come and sort it out for us. Enter our knight in shining armour in the form of Geoff who had an electric air pump in his car and whilst we munched on Melissa’s delicious Lemon Drizzle cake and pooped out Smokey got down to some serious snoozing, Sir Geoff plugged in the pump and got to inflating our tyre. With the light starting to fade and the prospect of a tyre that would be slowly losing air as we travelled we wanted to waste no time, so we finished our cake… there is always time to finish cake… and then bid fairwell to our good friends and made a break for home.
In all we logged 15 geocaches with no DNFs and enjoyed very much the countryside that the series took us through. Despite the hills and mud it really was a thoroughly enjoyable series and one that I recommend to anyone. If you can stretch to a meal at the pub afterwards please let me know what the inside of the pub is like, as from the outside it appears very nice indeed. We did make it home ok, just in case you were wondering. Thanks to Geoff, Melissa and Smokey for another great Pugwash adventure. Happy Days.