One of the problems of maintaining any particular hobby is the cost involved in doing so. Luckily geocaching is a hobby that you can do at very little expense. That is not to say it is entirely free, there is the cost of a GPS for starters although a lot of people initially use a smartphone. Then there is outdoor clothing, boots, special bags, tools and all sorts of gadgets. But with the exception of a GPS or Smartphone the rest of that stuff is to some extent optional and geocaching can be enjoyed with minimal outlay. One cost that is always present though is that of petrol to enable you to travel to wherever you are caching, and it is an expense that will only ever increase. This is because the more you cache locally, the less unfound geocaches there will be for you in your area and the further and further you will have to travel to continue with your hobby. Thankfully in Hertfordshire and the surrounding counties we have thousands of caches to keep us busy, but the cost of driving to places is still a concern.
With this in mind and seeing that we had recently moved to a different part of town, we decided to see if we could complete a loop of caches starting and ending at home using nothing but our feet to achieve this. To save you wondering for the entire length of this entry, the answer to that question is yes. We tracked out a route and identified 9 geocaches we could pick up in such a way as to end up back at home. Last year we had started a local series called the Ebury way which is laid out along the route of a long disused railway line. A number of years ago, the council pulled up the old track and made the 3.5 miles stretch into a cycle and walking route. We had done half of the series last year and I thought that tackling the other half now was a good idea and our move meant that we were now within walking distance of the middle section of the series.
With perfect caching conditions, warm (but not too hot) and dry we set off from home and headed in the direction of the Ebury way which was around 2km away from where we live. I had identified another cache that we could pick up on the way and it turned out to be at a bridge over yet another disused railway line. This one runs the relatively short distance from Watford to Croxley and was in use up until 1996 when it was officially closed. Since then the track has been left undisturbed and nature has done its best to reclaim the route. Along the defunct link the stations lay dormant and bricked up, sometimes not even really noticeable unless you know they are there. This cache was at the site of the old West Watford station and peering over the bridge revealed that the platform and some signage are still visible to those that choose to look. This rail link is getting a new lease of life though as there is a project to reopen it and connect the mainline Watford Junction to Croxley as part of the London Underground Metropolitan line extension. There will be a new station near the hospital and football ground which will help alleviate the overwhelming amount of foot traffic there is between the mainline station and the stadium on match days. West Watford will not be revitalised though as a new station will be built a short distance along the track to serve a newly growing retail area around Ascot road.
After collecting the cache we carried on in search of an access point for the Ebury way. We found one round the back of King George Playing fields but as we walked along the disused railway line we did spot a number of more convenient points we could have joined the route and filed these away for next time. Our first cache on the walk was a previous DNF that we wanted to lay to rest. At the time we went looking for it, it turned out not to be there and I have had the cache on watch ever since. I noticed a couple of months back that the CO had finally got out and replaced the container and a number of people had managed to find it since so I reckoned it was a good time to try and locate it. We reached the familiar spot along the route where the arrow told us the cache was around 15 metres off the path to the right…. Up a steep bank…. Through a dense forest of almost head height stinging nettles. Shar took one look at and proclaimed that she wasn’t going in there. So it was down to me. With jumper sleeves rolled down, hat pulled tight on my head and a pair of sturdy gloves on, I ventured into the bushes using my cane in front of me to try and keep stingers away from my face. I managed to scramble up the bank and then with direction from Shar, who was back on the path, I edged my way further into the undergrowth using my cane to sweep in front of me. This cache was called platform and when we were here before we found a crumbled and barely visible wall high up in the bushes which we reckoned might have once been something to do with a platform or station. We were convinced that was where the cache was going to be and so I set about searching with my cane. In only a few moments I heard the distinctive sound of the end of my cane knocking against masonry and scrambling forward on my haunches I discovered the remains of the wall and after a bit of fumbling around, the cache. Then I realised that I couldn’t sign it! I had no pen and even if I did have a pen, being blind I was just as likely to sign my name on the back of my hand as the log sheet. So I grabbed the container and fought my way back to Shar so she could do the honours. By the time I had gone back up to replace the cache and returned once more to the path, to say there was a fairly clear cachers path now through the nettles was somewhat of an understatement; it looked like a herd of elephants had come tromping through!
Back on the path we continued along enjoying the easy walk and only having to dodge to the side every now and then for cyclists. We found another 3 caches along the route which took us through some relatively peaceful surroundings including ,at one point, by the side of Croxley common moor which looked like it might be a nice place to walk. The peace was only slightly marred by a man who was flying some sort of model aeroplane that made a very high pitched whining noise as it swooped and soared and flipped over. He seemed to control it with a certain amount of skill we just couldn’t help thinking that it would be nice if he controlled it somewhere else. One of the caches that we found was called tunnel and it was located at the point at which the modern day London underground train line crosses over the top of the old Ebury Way train route. In case that sentence sounds a little bit odd, let me explain that whilst the London Underground Train system is largely subterranean when it is in the centre of London, many of the individual lines do stretch far out into the suburbs and these are nearly all above ground. That being said, all of the network is still called the underground, but to be fair that is probably one of the reasons why people tend to refer to the whole system as the tube, thus avoiding strange looks from people who don’t realise that the underground is, in places, above ground. Clear? Good.
Keen to throw another mode of transport into the mix for the day we found our last cache on the Ebury Way series at a point at which it crosses the Grand Union Canal, which is a waterways system that stretches from London to the Midlands. Whilst the canal was extensively used for commerce many years ago it is much quieter these days and the boats that you do see are almost always pleasure barges. At this point we were about as far away from home as we were going to be and so we plotted up on a bench and had some lunch before then leaving the Ebury Way and roughly following the route of the canal back towards home.
We didn’t actually walk on the tow path for very long but skirted along the edge of the canal for most of our walk back. We kept spotting the canal through the trees and we even passed over it at one point. We also crossed back over the tube line, it just seemed like we couldn’t get away from the theme of trains today. I had planned a route back that would take us to a few caches here and there, not part of any series as such but roughly on the route home. Sharlene did a great job of navigating us to the caches and we found the first two easy peasy. It was quite surprising that we were only a little way from busy Watford and yet at times it was very quiet with hardly any traffic noise here, woods and meadows flanking us and the lazy canal in the distance… it felt like another world. . The third cache we found took us into the nearby woods where we had to scramble down a very steep bank and into the trees to find it. We followed the arrow until we hit a fence and the phones said that the cache was a few metres on the other side. We grumbled and sagged… not wanting to have to follow the fence line until we could find a break, so I decided it was on this side and locating a suitable looking tree commenced searching and, much to my own surprise, found the cache.
We also found the man with the screaming plane again and we realised that we had looped back around and were passing on the opposite side of him now as we made our way toward home. The last part of the walk took us up away from the peace and quiet of the woods and moor and along busy roads for a relatively straight walk back home. We did have plans to pick up a couple more caches on the way but at the GZ of the first one we found it to be one of our least favourite types. It was a hanging cache that was placed in a bush at the side of a bus
y road. I hate hanging caches as they are the hardest ones for me to find. When I put my hands into the bush or tree and start feeling around all the branches and trees move and sway and so does the cache so I can’t tell cache from twig or leaf or branch or whatever… totally frustrating. There is no way to be inconspicuous searching for this type of cache and the longer we stood there looking the more daft we felt so after only a few minutes we gave up. The last cache we also decided not to do as when we got close to GZ we realised that it had been placed in the central reservation of a busy road. In between the four lanes of fast moving cars and Lorries was a small patch of grass with a tree or two on it and some road signs. There was no way that we were going over there through the busy afternoon traffic to search for a cache. I personally think that this is an accident waiting to happen and, to be honest, I would never place a cache in a location like this. If someone falls out of a tree trying to reach a cache after you have clearly told them it is a tree climbing cache and that they need equipment to attempt it then it is their own fault. If someone gets run-over by a car crossing multiple lanes of traffic where there is no proper crossing then if I was the cache owner I would feel that it was largely my fault. Also it is not a cache you can do safely with the kids, or dogs or people of limited abilities etc.
From here it was a straight walk in the sunshine back home. By the time we got back we were knackered and my feet were aching. Sharlene worked it out later that we had walked around 10k and it sure felt like it. I hadn’t expected it to be that far, but felt pretty good that we had managed it, finding 7 caches on the way.