Far be it from me to start one of my blog entries by discussing something other than the recent weather and what we planned to do as a result. The weather on Wednesday was looking like it was going to be very good, with even the promise of a little sun, so we made a plan to tackle a series of geocaches called Flutey’s Trail in Hillingdon, Uxbridge which is to the west of London.
We have been to Uxbridge once before; on a very cold and blustery day at the end of last year when we set out to try the Uxbridge Stroll caches. We were left less than impressed with what the area had to offer. It has to be said that it was a very cold day and trying to find much that was positive to take away from what is essentially urban caching is very difficult, or at least that is what we are coming to conclude. Having said that we were keen to give the pplace another go, to give it the benefit of the doubt and not right it off completely, plus, as always, we were lured there with the promise of smileys.
According to the descriptions of the Flutey’s Trail Caches this walks designed to take you round some of the nicer parts of Hillingdon and we were therefore a little surprised that the parking coordinates took us to an enormous sports and leisure centre right slap bang next to the A40 Westway. In all honesty I wasn’t too surprised that it was so close to the A40, after all I did look at the map before we went, staring at maps for hours on end is of course what geocachers do, when they are not geocaching.
Our first cache was almost in the car park which as you can imagine made it a little difficult with so many people around. Additionally It was such a shame to see so much litter at ground zero, you would think that this being a well-used and popular facility that they would spend a little money and clean the place up once in a while. Having said that you would also think that people would not be so careless and selfish as to dump their crap all over the place, but obviously that was not the case here. The rubbish did serve as a decoy though as Shar soon spotted what she thought was an ammo can poking out of the foliage. I must say I was sceptical – I didn’t think we would see an ammo can in this urban setting and secondly it was very exposed. Sure enough when I reached down and found the handle it did feel like it could be the cache but it turned out to be what looked like the draw to a metal lock box, like a security chest. I have visions of it being a petty cache box that was plundered by some opportunist thief and dumped here after they had pocketed their meagre ill-gotten gains. We finally found the cache a short distance away at the base of a tree, in time honoured fashion.
Unfortunately, the caches were not numbered within the series so it was up to us in which order to attempt them. I understand the arguments for not numbering your hides when doing a series, not dictating to the geocacher how to do your caches, but personally I like having the order laid out for me so we don’t end up getting lost on the way round. I had spent some time before hand looking at the logs of the caches and trying to work out how people had done them before and thanks to the infamous Bones1 I was able to plot our route. Bones1 always records the specific time he finds a cache, so by reading his logs I was able to determine in which order he had done the series.
It was nice to get away from the car park and from all the people and the noise that accompanied it as we headed off in search of number two. The Sun was shining down adding some much needed warmth to the cool March air. For the first time in about 5 months I didn’t wear my scarf today and Shar even wore her light jacket instead of the normal winter coat. Once we had located cache number 2 which we found hidden on a curious wall that we discovered in the middle of… not much else, we made our way to the third cache where we had worse luck, alas.
Despite spending about 30 minutes searching all the metal we could find we eventually had to give up on this magnetic nano. The worst of it was that we knew it was there somewhere, The CO had been by not long ago and confirmed its existence and there were just only so many places it could be. The GPS took us to a large metal gate that was used to block non-emergency vehicle access to the park, but despite getting touchy feely with every bit of metal that we could reach, no luck. On returning home and reading all the logs from when it was first published it appears that it was probably out of our reach on the top of the high gate and we should have climbed up and taken a look. It should be relatively easy to return to this one at some point as we can drive the car right up to it, so we will go back and give it another go sometime.
After a short walk along a field edge that was, at times, a bit squidgy, we made a quick find under a bridge at cache 4, “I Thought You Liked Shrek”. Despite the name referencing Shrek, who is an ogre and lives in a swamp, I guessed that it was more likely implying that it was under a bridge… maybe it should have been a troll and not Shrek. I almost knocked the container down the muddy slope into the water when I found it as it was perching somewhat precariously under the bridge in the soft mud. I made sure that I pushed it back a bit further into its hidy hole when I replaced it.
A team effort at the next one when Shar spotted the obvious hide of some rocks half buried at the base of a clump of bushes, but it was me who got the honour of sticking my hand in the dark hole beneath to find the container. I thank my lucky stars that I do not live in a country where sticking your hand into such a crevice is likely to get it bitten or stung by something that might kill you. With no sight I rely on touch a lot and it has to be said that when we are geocaching, me not minding putting my hand into the hollow trunks, or under the rocks or into the roots of a tree, is my best asset. As a blind person I would be a terrible geocacher in the likes of Australia or South America or even North America for that matter, where all manner of snakes and spiders lurk.
The sun gave up and when for a rest behind the clouds as we continued on around the edge of the parkland towards the next cache. We were approaching the A40 road now which ran along one edge of the park. I could tell we were getting close as the noise level was increasing dramatically. Shar made a super quick find at the next one, plucking the nano sized cache from a tree even before I had fully arrived at the GZ. The noise was even louder as we skirted the road just inside the park. The A40 is one of the most major roads into London from the West and at this point it is a three lane dual carriageway with all manner of cars and trucks thundering along it. The noise level did drop a little as we made our way to the GZ for our seventh find of the day. It is interesting how the trees can block so much sound in certain places and not in others. Whatever the reason for the reduced noise level, it was a welcome relief as we found the cache lurking at the bottom of a post. There was a TB inside but I decided not to take it, I don’t like to have too many on the go at any one time as it confuses me as to which one wants to go where.
Our peace was short lived as the next cache was located much closer to the road. Did I say much closer? Make that on top of it!! As we hacked our way through the tree line towards GZ, a route which incidentally was much more difficult than the one we should have taken which was a footpath, we found ourselves getting closer and closer to the busy dual carriageway and the noise level increased almost to the point where we couldn’t even hear each other talk.
By the time we got within 50 meters of the cache we realised that our suspicions were correct, the cache looked like it was going to be located on a footbridge over the A40. We made our way up there and started searching to the accompaniment of the deafening roar of the traffic. It was all metal and concrete and grime up there and we set about trying to find what was described as a very small micro typical of the uxbridge area. Along both sides of the bridge there were metal railings and I reckoned the cache was going to be a magnet job on the other side of them. There were lots of lips and ledges and little recesses on the railings and my money was on one of those. By sticking my hand through and reaching around I could search but there were literally hundreds of these railings and no other way to examine them other than to get on with it. Despite feeling perfectly safe up there on the bridge it did feel a bit weird reaching through the railings and groping around whilst the motorists zoomed underneath wondering what the heck I was doing. A couple of drivers even sounded their horns, perhaps they thought I was in the process of throwing myself off the bridge…. Or just waving at them.
After about 20 minutes we were thoroughly frustrated, deaf and my hands were very dirty from feeling all the metal. We were getting nowhere and no amount of reading logs was helping either. We even went down to the footpath at the side of the road and I groped a guard rail for a bit while Shar stared up at the bridge to see if she could spot anything out of place from that angle, as cars sped past just a few feet away. The GPS was pointing roughly to the middle of the road but there was no way on earth we were playing Frogger to get to the central reservation to check there. It appeared from the logs that some idiots had actually done that and a subsequent note from the Cache Owner told people that they did not need to, and should not do this.
In the end we had to admit defeat and I was, honestly a bit pleased, just to get away from the noise and the pollution. On returning home and reading all the logs going back a couple of years it appears we were sort of in the right place. There was even a photo provided by the CO to aid our search. Thinking back and re-reading all the logs I reckon I have a pretty good idea of where it might be now and I even reckon we may be looking for a fake bolt cache or something similar. We will have to make a trip back to see if we can find this one, shame it is at about the furthest possible point from the other DNF we logged on this trail.
Our route to the next cache took us through the treeline at the side of the road along a footpath and back into the park where the sound of the road faded to a dull constant hum. The next two caches were easy finds, one being under a log at the side of the path and the next one being in amongst the root ball of a tree. I spent a lot longer than I probably needed to searching for this one as I think I dislodged the cache when I first put my hand in but didn’t notice that it had fallen out onto the floor in front of me. I spent 5 minutes with my arm buried up to the shoulder in the root ball wondering how many thousand insects I was pissing off by remodelling their homes. Then When I pulled back to try a different angle I felt the container at my feet.
Hunger was rearing its ugly head now and not surprisingly considering the time. With our two DNFs adding almost 45 minutes to the walk it was well and truly past lunch time. We had just two more caches to find on the way back to the car and so we cut across the park in a straight line route in an effort to get back as quickly as possible. I have a total memory blank about this penultimate cache. I know we found it but I literally have no recollection of it, I guess Shar found it quickly but I honestly couldn’t tell you. I didn’t even make a note on my voice recorder which is what I normally do when we go caching. I could say it was at the top of a 50 foot cliff climb guarded by leopards, but I suspect it was at the base of a tree.
The last one I do remember as it was hidden near the hard surface football pitches in the park. It was on an electric box and I nearly fell over into a hole at the GZ while Sharlene was signing the log. After this it was a short walk back to the car for Sandwiches and hot chocolate and, of course, ginger cake.
After lunch we had planned to pick up a few puzzle caches that I had previously solved. We had varying levels of success in this regard. The first one was completely missing from the car sat nav. When I solve puzzle caches I put the coordinates into the car sat nav so that when we are out and about caching if there is a solved puzzle cache nearby then we can drive to it. With no directions on how to get there we gave up on this one and instead tried the next one. This one we got to the GZ and found nothing really to search on. The cache page said there was a hint in geochecker so we walked back to the car and I spent 5 minutes getting to geochecker and putting the cords in. There was no hint there, which was strange. We decided to go for one more before giving the whole exercise up as a bad job. This time apart from a 600metre straight line distance turning into a 10 minute drive somehow, we did arrive at the GZ and my phone said it was only 17 metresaway. Somehow Shar didn’t have the right cords in her phone and it said she was over a kilometre away. We decided to see if my phone could get us close enough, the iPhone 4 is less than accurate sometimes, definitely way less accurate than either the iPhone 4s or 5 as we have discovered when geocaching with other iPhone owners. Thankfully we did manage to find the cache on this one and we felt slightly better about the idea of collecting puzzles. We had time to collect one more on the way home which had been a puzzle based on the position of words in certain chapters and verses of the bible and although it was an interesting puzzle that led me to find a couple of useful bible word locater websites, the hide itself was just a 35mm film container behind a telecoms box at the side of the road. Not the most inspiring of geocaches to be honest, but I guess the sense of achievement comes from solving the puzzle in this case.
I can’t say that my impression of Uxbridge is totally altered after today. It is still a bit dull to be honest but we did enjoy Flutey’s trail, I think it made a pretty good job of being an interesting and challenging geocache series in what is less than inspiring surroundings. I have cached in worse that is for sure, and the sun was shining so all in all it was a pretty good day and not forgetting that we managed to find a total of 13 caches with only 3 DNFs.