Meandering in Hemel with Smokeypugs

Regular followers of this blog will know that we tend to meet up with our friends Geoff and Melissa to go caching as Team Pugwash about once a month. If you are a regular follower of my blog and you didn’t know that then:- A) you do now and 2) why didn’t you know in the first place. If you aren’t a regular follower of my blog then:- 1) welcome, B) now you know and III) where have you been all this time. If you aren’t a regular follower of my blog but DO know that we go out on regular caching adventures with Geoff and Melissa then:- A) well done and thirdly, how on earth did you know… are you my stalker?

NB: That paragraph is dedicated to my lovely other half who has a tendency to confuse her list identifiers when making points in a discussion…e.g. a) blah blahblah and 2) blah blah blah and fifthly, blah blah blah. She either does that or during a heated conversation she starts her list of points by saying a) blah blah blah and then talks for a few minutes but never gets to point B and upon challenging it turns out that her list of points consisted of one thing. I love you darling. 🙂

Anyway, the point is that this month we had planned to do something a little different. Our friends are owners of a series called Ms Meander (see the bottom of this post for links to all the caches in the series) and needing to do a maintenance run they suggested we go along with them and find all there caches. As we already had the series on our list to do once the weather had gotten better and Melissa promised us cake back at their house afterwards, we jumped at the chance. And before you start flapping your arms and jumping up and down and saying that having the cache owners along while you do the walk is tantamount to cheating I say to you:- A) We found all the caches with no help at all, 2) There is nothing in the rules that says you can’t take your phone a friend along with you anyway and xi) knickers to you.

After dropping the car at their house we headed off on foot a short way to the beginning of the series which Geoff had decided we would do in reverse order and therefore our first cache was called the end! Ms Meander is a series of 20 caches set amongst pleasant countryside just a stone’s throw away from urban Hemel Hempstead. It is a remarkable transition from housing estate to open fields and rolling countryside in a matter of a few minutes.

The view shows rolling countryside and what cannot be seen is the urban sprawl of Hemel just behind teh camera

From Urban to countryside

As Mel was not feeling 100%, it was Geoff and the bundle of energy that is Smokey the Pug that accompanied us as we set of on our walk. Once over the culture shock of going from concrete to farmland in just a few steps the next thing that caught my attention was the wind. Even though the sun was trying to break through, the wind was bitter as it whipped across the open countryside and right up my coat sleeves. In an effort to get the blood pumping a bit we got down to the business of finding caches. Our route took us along field edges for the first few and out onto a lane that didn’t see very much traffic which was nice. The hides were straight forward, but well thought out and I am not just saying that as I know the cache owner will be reading this. You can tell if thought has gone into placing a geocache or whether it has just been thrown in the bushes and these had definitely been the product of thought and care.

Geoff had brought along a cache maintenance pack with him today and was replacing logs and plastic bags as we found the caches to keep them in good order. The series sees quite a lot of foot traffic and I can see why, as it is a very pleasant walk. Sam as ever was our number one finder and in lots of cases he barely even gave me a chance to get to the GZ before he had found the cache.

One of the benefits of walking the series with Geoff was that we got the interesting back story and behind the scenes chat about the caches and other people who have found them as we walked. Smokey was happy to run around off the lead like a nutter when he could. For a dog with such small legs he sure can get up a pace as he tears between us to get ahead of the group each time he falls behind to pee on something, which he does a lot.

We met only a few other people on the way round and it is funny how sometimes you meet them at the most unfortunate times. We had just arrived at a junction of footpaths that was the GZ for “Post a Field Note” and a woman came along and annoyingly stood and chatted for a bit whilst I leaned on the post where I was convinced the cache was hiding. I nonchalantly fumbled in the top of the post while Geoff chatted away and finally after she left we got down to searching properly. It was the third time of going back to the top of the post that I finally found what had been sitting there the whole time. How could I have missed that the first two times?

Half a dozen finds in and there had been little trouble finding the caches and Geoff had not had to do anything other than replace log sheets. So far all the containers were still in good condition.

Sam, Geoff, Paul and Smokey stride out on teh walk

Boys on the Walk


Being out on this walk gave me the opportunity to collect a multi stage puzzle cache called Codice Ossa (GC43RTR) that I had solved the first part of in the summer of last year. Geoff is also the cache owner on this one and it was handy having him along as the second phase of the cache is to solve a field puzzled which was currently in Geoff’s backpack as he had had to retrieve it to do some maintenance on it due to one of the parts going missing. We had extended the definition of field puzzle to breaking point by convincing him to let us solve it in the comfort of his \kitchen before we left on our walk today. It is a very clever puzzle involving some familiar polyhedral dice and one or two other things that I won’t blab about here for fear of Geoff setting Smokey on me to lick me to death for giving away spoilers. Needless to say between me, Shar and Sam we were able to solve the kitchen puzzle and extract the coordinates for the final that we would be able to divert to whilst on our walk.

Geoff suggested that now would be a good time to navigate to those final cords, so Shar dialled them in and was slightly confused to see that the GZ seemed to be 28km away. She cursed her phone and tried again but with the same result. We checked the numbers with Geoff who said they were right and we were left scratching our heads. After a couple of minutes I hypothesised that maybe Shar had entered them as east of the meridian instead of west. “How would I have done that?” was the response I got, but on the basis that we had just come back from geocaching in Norfolk with my mum and those caches were east of the meridian, perhaps her phone got confused when she entered the final. This turned out to be the case and I grinned smugly whilst she tried to work out how to change it. After she had managed to do this we found the final to be only around 400m away which was much more agreeable.

After finding the final of the puzzle cache we backtracked and re-joined the Ms Meander loop with the aim of doing a couple more before stopping for lunch at the GZ of Geoff’s fiendish field puzzle amazingly large where we would, apparently, need time to work out how to open the inner container to get at the log. After finding Bark worse than bite and a nice view, which I can confirm was indeed a nice view we made our way to the lunch spot. On the way we passed another dog walker who had a westie that was off the lead too. He and Smokey greeted each other and seemed to be getting on fine while we chatted briefly with the man when all of a sudden the westie just flipped out and set about poor Smokey. Both Geoff and the other owner struggled to separate the two dogs but the westie was like a thing possessed… the thing was bloody vicious. Eventually Geoff managed to get Smokey away and picked him up and we made our exit double quick.

At the GZ of Amazingly Large we made a quick find of the cache but this was only half of the challenge as I mentioned. In order to get to the log you need to first work out how to open the container. There was very little to it, just a bit of wood with a notched lid that looked like it would slide out but was locked firmly in place and there was no obvious way to open it. After a few minutes of all three of us trying we decided to have lunch and ponder on it. We sat on the ground at GZ and broke out the sandwiches and ate in the warm sun while chatting and floating solutions to opening the cache. It was so nice to be able to picnic half way round a walk… and it is only in the last few weeks that this has been possible now that the weather is improving slightly.

With food in our bellies we set about the field puzzle again and eventually with a lot of trial and error and some logical thinking we managed to unlock the pesky thing. This is an excellent twist to a cache that really had us stumped for a while. Geoff told us that it was actually the second type of puzzle that had been in the cache as the previous one had a tendency to break. He had brought one of the old ones with him in case the new one was damaged and needed replacing and he let Shar have a play with it. Even though it was a completely different type of field puzzle, she managed to open it in about 30 seconds much to Geoff’s surprise.

After lunch we packed up and said goodbye to Amazingly large and headed off in search of more caches. The weather was still holding up, the views were still pretty and no one was hungry anymore so all was good. After the next two on the Ms Meander trail which took us past some woods carpeted with bluebells, we picked up Garmer Spring (GCHY0E) which is also on the way round. I let Shar and Geoff flaff about in the trees trying to find this one whilst Smokey, Sam and I hung out at the path and watched the cyclists go past. We were on a hill and in the space of a couple of minutes, not one, not two but three cyclists puffed up the hill past us. Each one looked progressively more knackered than the last one. I assume it was three different ones and not just the same guy riding round the block… although that would have explained why each time he came past he was more out of breath. Eventually Geoff remembered which tree the cache was supposed to be in and Shar found it and we could get back on the trail.

A Carpet of bluebells stretches into teh woods

Bluebells


The name of the next cache, “Wee Pot in a Tree”, doesn’t refer to the scottishness of the container, rather the purpose that it was originally intended for. Geoff assured me that it had not actually been previously used as a specimen pot but we could not prove the theory one way or the other as when we found the cache Geoff declared that it was not the container that he had put out. A thorough search of GZ did not turn up the original container and he concluded therefore, that this was a “throw down”.

Somewhat controversial in the geocaching world, a throw down, is when a cacher puts a replacement container at GZ after being unable to locate the original. This not only allows others to find the cache, and saves the cache owner from coming out to replace a missing container, but also enables the person to log the cache as found and not have to mark it as a DNF. Some people say it is only the cache owner that should replace containers and that throw downs are kind of a cheating way to avoid DNFs but on the other side of the fence others say that putting these replacement containers down is doing a great service to the cache owner. Whilst a little surprised to see the new container there, Geoff said that he wasn’t too bothered on the basis that the old container had definitely gone walkies in this case so the cacher that placed it had done him a favour.

After progressing on and finding the next one, we then came across our second set of geocachers of the day at the GZ of multi. It was obvious that two of the group at least were caching but everyone was being a bit cagey and not declaring themselves as cachers. As we approached they disappeared into the trees and whilst we retrieved the log and signed it they fluffed about doing something or other. It is a weird moment sometimes when you spot people that are obviously also geocaching but no one makes the first move to declare it… a strange sort of awkwardness descends and people often move on quickly just to avoid having to confront the obvious elephant in the room… or in this case, wood. I imagine they would have been fairly surprised to not only realise that we were also geocachers, but to find out that we were also in the company of the cache owner.

Feet were starting to ache a little amongst our group now, Smokey was slowing down a bit and at the next GZ no one was overly enthusiastic to fight their way into the bush to retrieve the cache. Shar ended up going in and after a herculean battle with nature emerged having signed the log, in a distinctly worse mood than when she went in.

I offered to retrieve the next one which thankfully was in a slightly easier place to get to although I had to go down into a gully and then up a bank to reach a sign and almost fell flat on my face when coming back down. The next cache saw us visit Dods lane for the second time today and this time we were walking up hill along it dodging the occasional car. We made a quick find at GZ and were surprised when Geoff told us that the container in use had once contained, “baconaise”. Not having ever heard of this I was perplexed, astonished, repulsed and then intrigued all in the space of about 5 seconds when I learnt that this was bacon flavour mayonnaise. It is one of those things when you first hear it you go ewwww and then a second later you go, “hang on, that actually sounds quite nice!”

A little further up the lane we turned right and headed up some steps onto another path alongside a tree line. It was Sam’s turn to get in amongst nature this time and the whinging was almost unbearable. We were obviously reaching the end of our resolve, becoming tired and in need of cake but we only had a couple to go so after extracting whingey mcgoo from the bushes we pressed on.
After “Danger, High voltage” which gained no one any prizes for guessing where it was located once at GZ, we found ourselves at “stumped”; our last cache for the day. It was me that volunteered to retrieve this one… on my hands and knees… with my head stuck in the bushes… stretching to retrieve it from its hiding place. I opted to stay in said position and pass the cache out and wait while the log was signed. I have the feeling that the extended wait for its return was partially brought on by the fact that the rest of the group were amused at the somewhat compromising position I was in. Although the joke would be on them if anyone came along… good luck trying to explain what I was doing in there. Knowing my luck they would bugger off and leave me there to explain myself out of trouble.

Finally the cache was replaced and we all trotted off back to Geoff and Melissa’s house for an enormous cup of tea and some yummy Apple and cinnamon cake. Smokey was asleep in a matter of minutes and we were all glad to sit down and relax after our bracing walk through the pleasant countryside.

In all we found 20 geocaches and had a thoroughly enjoyable walk in pleasant surroundings with delightful company. It certainly is a novel experience walking a series with the cache owner. If you are ever in the Hemel area then I can highly recommend the Ms Meander series… and no, I am not being paid to say that…What?… another slice of cake?… oh go on then!


The MS Meander Caches
GC4D7KZ Ms Meander – And it begins….
GC4D7MG Ms Meander – The odd gate
GC4D7N7 Ms Meander – Stumped
GC4D7NN Ms Meander – Danger High Voltage
GC4D7PK Ms Meander – Tree
GC4D7Q9 Ms Meander – Dodds Lane
GC4D7Y3 Ms Meander – One by the Car Park
GC4D7YZ Ms Meander – Strange Fruit
GC4D7ZZ Ms Meander – Multi
GC4D80H Ms Meander – Log it
GC4D822 Ms Meander – Wee pot in a tree
GC4D82M Ms Meander – Just past the Wood
GC4D83G Ms Meander – Another tree
GC4D84E Ms Meander – A’maze’ingly Large
GC4D84Y Ms Meander – A nice view
GC4HACC Ms Meander – It’s bark is worse than it’s bite!
GC4D85X Ms Meander – Post a field note
GC4D86A Ms Meander – In plain sight
GC4D86V Ms Meander – Dodds Lane again
GC4D878 Ms Meander – The end

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