On Wednesday, Sharlene and I went out for our weekly geocaching fix. The plan was to try for 10 hides laid out in a circular route in the Abbotts Langley area. Seeing as it is not too far from home and an even shorter distance from Sam’s school, we packed a lunch and set off with the intention of heading straight to the first cache after dropping him off. The caches weren’t part of a series as such, but I had spent some time the previous evening with my face 6 inches from the magnifier studying maps and I reckoned I had identified a walking route between them all… with a few grey areas that I am sure we could work out on the way.
Things started off well, Shar found us a parking space within 100 metres of the first cache, Leavesden Country Cache (GC4WFFJ), and we were on foot and rummaging around in the bushes in Leavesden Country Park before it was even 9.15. This is probably the earliest start to caching we have made. A few early morning dog walkers were the only people around, with the school children all locked in their classrooms already we had no hindrance in signing the first log of the day. And then things got complicated…
We headed back out on to the road where the car was parked, passing it by as we walked in the direction of an old country lane where the next cache was. The only problem was that the grass verge, which had started out at about 1.5 metres wide, soon started narrowing until it finally vanished completely leaving only the road to walk on. This particular road is quite a busy cut through and has lots of blind corners so despite the fact that our goal was only about 400 metres away from us there was no way we were going to get there on foot, at least not down this way. After we had fended off the calls of a busy body woman who demonstrated an amazing ability to state the obvious by warning us that the road was very busy, we headed back to the car to rethink. We decided to try and park closer to the lane where the cache was but as we drove past there was only one place to park and there was already a car there. So we drove on but found nowhere within walking distance beyond, and then we came out onto a Dual Carriageway and had to take a detour of a couple of miles just to get back to the original parking spot so that we could stop and rethink… again. We both brought up maps on our phones so that Shar could study them and using a combination of the Ordnance Survey map on my iPhone that didn’t show the caches but did show footpaths and bridleways etc, and Shar’s phone with C:Geo displaying a Google map with the caches and roads showing but nothing else, Shar managed to identify a footpath that would take us to where we needed to be without running the risk of getting mowed down by some yummy mummy in her Chelsea tractor returning from the school run.
It turns out that this footpath was not far from the cache that we had just found. So we walked back into the park, waved at the cache as we past it and then located the footpath and were at the GZ of our second cache a mere 30 minutes after our first one, the walk between them being about no more than 5 minutes. It was at this point that I got a feeling it was going to be one of those days.
At the GZ of You cam hear the M25 (GC2Z6ZW),which was on an old lane, now very much only open to foot traffic, we were presented with not much other than a lot of chunks of concrete at the side of the road. A systematic search of the slabs revealed the cache nestling underneath one of them. It seems that this neck of the woods does not get visited very often as I had noticed that most of the caches had not been found recently. I wonder though whether our perspective of what is recent” might be somewhat different to that of other people in other parts of the country or indeed around the world. Because we live in a densely populated part of the UK, it stands to reason that the possible number of geocachers is quite high. Couple that with the fact that Geocache Series’ are our favourite type of caching and seeing as these probably get visited more often than the “odds and sods” it is quite unusual for us to find a cache that hasn’t been found in the last month or so. This has got me thinking as to whether there is a way to look at your stats and find out how long it was that any particular cache remained unfound before you logged it. The short answer is I don’t know. The longer answer is that I expect it must be possible… generally someone somewhere has already thought about everything in the geocaching stat universe and so if it is possible then I expect someone has already figured out how to do it. I have put out a couple of feelers on the interweb thingy and we shall see.
Meanwhile back at the ranch… where was I? Really? Only the second cache of the day? Well, after replacing the container we turned tail and headed along the lane in the direction of the M25. The weather was clear and sunny and dry… it was lovely. That is to say I love that sort of weather. Shar on the other hand doesn’t like it too hot and in these sorts of conditions is in constant search of a breeze or shade. In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, the M25 is a motorway, and not only a motorway but a bloody massive one. In most places it is 4 lanes each side plus a hard shoulder and runs all the way around the outskirts of greater London. In terms of roads it is quite new… I can remember a time without it, in fact I can remember being on a scout camp back in the 80s and out on a hike and having to turn back as the footpath on the map no longer existed because there was a massive ditch stretching in both directions as far as the eye could see in front of us. In hindsight I now realise that this was the M25 being built. Although geocaching in the vicinity of a huge motorway doesn’t sound very appealing it actually can turn out to be pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly at the point the motorway came along it would have changed the landscape and infrastructure of the land around it, drastically, in some places evidence of a time gone by is often visible, if you stop to look, like old roads that have been severed by the carriageways. The second reason is that the motorway can tend to take people past places very quickly and therefore the areas close to the motorway can become abandoned or lightly populated and this increases the chances of visiting places that aren’t often seen. It certainly felt like that as we made our way along the old lane towards the giant concrete snake in the distance. It was surprisingly quiet until we got almost on top of it… care had been taken to construct the motorway in a bit of a cutting and woodland had been encouraged to grow to either side of it… or more likely the motorway ploughed through the woods that was already there, and this had the effect of shielding us from some of the noise of the cars. We made our way along the lane that ran through farm fields, the elevation rising as we got closer to the motorway. We found the third cache, On the way to next one or from last one (GC33AFA) hidden snugly at the base of a post under a large piece of flint.
Crossing the carriageways of the M25 on the footbridge was loud, you experience almost a sensory deprivation as you go, not being able to communicate as the road noise blots most everything else out so you just shuffle on. Not being able to hear anything other than the cars is a bit of a hindrance for me as I can’t see much either, but I can make out the blur of the traffic rushing beneath us and I have always found it slightly surreal to be on a bridge over a fast road, akin to having an out of body experience.
After leaving the bridge behind it wasn’t more than 5 minutes walk before the noise had faded to a distant drone and we were able to chat and, for that matter, think again. Our next cache,The cache with a view of south east Hertfordshire (GC2RN0B), was not far from the bridge and at GZ we found a massive amount of nettles and had no other option but to get amongst it. I waded in, cursing the fact that I had short sleeves this time but at the end of the day it wasn’t worth getting too precious about. It took some battling to find my way through the surface nettles into the less dense part of the bush and after a lot of tapping around I found the tupperware box nestled in amongst tree stumps and large chunks of rock.
From here we headed further way from the busy M25 along a footpath through farmland in the direction of a wood that I remember seeing on the map and Shar could now see in the distance. As we left GZ we forgot to check out the view that was alluded to in the name of the cache and for that I apologise. There is quite often a very good reason why a Cache Owner names their hide in a certain way and if it says there should be a good view then there normally is. Sorry about that. The sun was getting hot as we worked our way through a cluster of farm buildings in the direction of the wood. We were at the south of the wood and the cache, Beechy Walk (GC2ZQ5B), was located at the north but the maps showed no obvious paths or tracks that would allow us to cut through so we had to make a choice about heading round to the west or east in order to reach our destination. We chose east and leaving the footpath in favour of an almost deserted lane started our long and slow incline up and around the wood. We hardly saw any other people as we walked apart from one car and a woman riding, probably the biggest horse Shar had ever seen. Eventually the lane bent north and we were pleased to be in the shade of the trees now, although the path was getting steeper. This caused me to pose a deep and probing philosophical question to Sharlene – Would you rather walk up a steep hill in the shade or along flat ground in the sun? She thought about it for a moment and then opted for uphill in the shade but noted that it was a close thing. I confess I am not bothered either way. It reminded me of a conversation that I had once had with my father about whether they drove on the Left or the right side of the road in Malta. He had chuckled and simply stated, “depends… they drive in the shade!”
A little further up the lane Shar spotted a path leading into the woods to the west and the phones confirmed that this would lead us in the general direction of the cache. We had the best of both worlds now as we were no longer going up a hill but we were still in the shade, but it was muddy in places. This prompted me to pose another philosophical question to Shar as to whether flat, shady but muddy was better or worse than flat, sunny dry under foot? Without pausing she told me to “shut up and stop being weird”… quite right too. Philosophy had to take a back seat anyway as we were approaching GZ and there were more important things to consider, such as where the bleeding container was. The answer turned out to be far more elusive than pondering the previous philosophical questions and we spent about 20 minutes in search of it. We ended up splitting up and searching different places, me fighting with a tree and lots of stingers over one side of the path, nearly doing myself a mischief on some handy barbed wire that had obviously been laid to catch me out, and Shar was… well god knows where she was. When I was almost lying flat on a huge tree trunk stretching down to the forest floor on the other side feeling around, I heard the distant sound of Shar saying something. I extracted myself from nature with as much dignity as I could muster and emerged from the trees swearing and straightening my clothing. She hadn’t found it, but was just telling me about how it wasn’t over where I was because of something she had read in the log. I grunted something and she went back to searching whilst I removed a strand of bramble that had attached itself to my leg. A couple of minutes later and whilst I was still standing on the path, Shar called again and this time I recognised the relief in her voice… she had found it.
I made my way over to her by the sound of her voice and with the assistance of a few trees and a large ditch in between. As she was signing the log she commented that it had been ages since this one was last done, in fact it had been just over a year. My ears pricked up at that, having heard something about “resuscitation challenges” that involved you finding a cache that no one else had found in at least12 months. Our excitement was dashed though as when Sharlene looked on her phone at the recent logs it appears that someone had found it in December but for some reason they had not actually signed the physical log. Bugger.
From here we carried on, following the path to the west and eventually we joined up with the path that we had left in favour of the lane a while back. This footpath soon turned into a lane and gradually, buildings started appearing as we approached civilisation again. We briefly joined the Busy Bedmond Road but were relieved to turn off it and onto a much quieter country lane again which had the extra bonus of being downhill too. This road, East Lane, would take us back towards the M25 where we were due to cross it, this time using a tunnel instead of a bridge. Before we did that though there were two caches to find. The first, Manner House Walk (GC2G9JM), took us off the lane along a nice footpath beside a wooded area. We were enjoying the easy walk through the field but when we got down to 10 metres away we realised that we were never going to get any closer. Both our phones were pointing 10 metres into the wood and there was no way to get in due to it being too dense and the fact that that there was a fence that made an improbable bush whack an impossible one. We backtracked to the lane and finding no other alternative, opted to step over a fallen fence and into the woods. This was obviously a route many had taken before and although the trees were quite dense we only had a couple of hundred metres to go. Well after a couple of hundred metres having been attacked by almost every tree in the wood I was feeling a tad battered. The search for the multi trunk tree mentioned in the hint then commenced and after eliminating a few we were left with a rather ominous looking holly. Dumping the rucksack I started working my way towards the trunks through much holly. Ow… ow. Ow…oh for f-f-f-f, what am I doing here, squatting on my haunches with holly up my jacksie and at full stretch trying to find a piece of tupperware? I finally reached the trunks, having lost my cane somewhere on the way in through the holly and failed miserably to find any cache. “It could be that multi trunk tree over there”, Shar said. I said nothing and simply waited, embedded as I was in the clutches of my new best friend, Holly. “Yes, here it is”, she called out. “Oh this makes much more sense; this tree was much easier to get too”. No shit! After extracting myself from holly’s over-bearing embrace, I don’t expect she will call or write, I made my way over to where Shar was pointing at the container hidden in the bowl of the tree. Occasionally whilst geocaching, you get those, “What am I doing?” moments that normally are accompanied by thoughts such as “I am starving ” or “ I am busting for a pee or I just wanna go home and this was definitely one of those. Having said that, things always get better as soon as you find the cache and after signing the log the route back out of the wood seemed far less “forest of doom” and much more “Enchanted woods”.
Back on the lane we continued and as the road narrowed even more we started to hear the rumble of the motorway again. Whilst it was ever present we were somewhat below the carriageways this time in terms of elevation and the sound was significantly dampered. Although you could technically drive down this lane I would not want to as it just kept getting narrower and narrower. Then we saw the tunnel that would take us under the M25 but before that there was a small concrete turning point in the lane and I quickly found our next cache, Bones8 The Tunnel (GCTT0C), off to one side of that. Shar then found an old hand axe on the ground, which just added to the weirdness of the day.
We made our way into the tunnel which was about 30 metres long, 3 metres high with a curved roof. The shape of the low ceiling made for some impressive echoes as we shouted and whooped our way through. As we approached the middle, Shar’s whoops changed to Shrieks and suddenly she was running and dragging me out of the tunnel. “I dunno what I just stepped on in there, but it was squidgy and not good. Not squidgy in a mud way, but squidgy in a… yucky way”. Apparently telling her “It was probably just a dead rat or something” was not a helpful thing to say, and then adding that, “at least it wasn’t a dead person” strangely, really didn’t help her calm down at all. She slowed a little as we got clear of the tunnel but her hands were shaking for a good 5 minutes afterwards. What better way to take your mind off a potential corpse in a tunnel, than to search for a geocache, so that is what we did.
This whole area south of the M25 was of some interest to me as it used to form part of an old Lunatic Asylum. Opened at the turn of the 19th Century it existed and housed nearly 3000 patients right up until the mid-1990s. The original building is now luxury flats, of course, but all around the area is evidence of out buildings and other infrastructure that used to serve the Hospital. This next cache, The East Lane Bunker (GC2P599), is one such site as it is believed to be an old water tank that used to supply the hospital. The cache itself was hidden on the path opposite the bunker and after a scramble up the bank was uncovered after a systematic “stick your hand in and feel around” session.
Further on down the lane we broke off onto a footpath to the right to try and find The view across the horse field (GC4KM5W). Unfortunately this was a DNF for us. Strange how we can negotiate 200 metres of dense wood and locate a cache with almost zero GPS coverage and we couldn’t find a cache on a path with perfect coverage and the knowledge that it could only be on one side or the other. After finally admitting defeat we backtracked to East Lane and turned right towards our final and most intriguing cache of the day.
Hornet’s Hide 5 – Spooks up East (GC4FAE) was located in the overgrown cemetery of the mental Hospital. Having so many patients that were often without any family or next of kin at all, the hospital buried those that passed away in its very own graveyard on the north side of the hospital grounds. Since the Hospital closed down the cemetery was left to overgrow and when 3 Rivers District council acquired the land they were required to leave it exactly as it was and so when you fight your way through the bushes to get in you are presented with the most eerie and atmospheric sight of hundreds of grave stones peeking out from the grass and trees. It truly is a spooky and interesting place. I expected the graves to be those of patients from the 19th century and some indeed were, but others were as recent as the 1970s from what Shar could make out from the markers. Even in the light of day it was a place that sent chills down your spine as we worked our way through the headstones in search of our cache. We found it with relative ease but the geocache had almost become a secondary interest now to that of the memories and lives of those long dead buried beneath our feet. Not a place I would be too happy to visit at night, especially when you find out that Aaron Kosminsky, one of the prime suspects of the Jack the Ripper murders, was a patient at the hospital and is believed to be buried there. Interestingly, a ledger that would confirm or refute this fact has gone missing, some might suggest to protect his grave from possible tampering by ghoulish ripper fanatics.
Our caching for the day now at an end, and with Lunchtime well and truly upon us, we left the cemetery and heading down east lane made our way back into the park where we found our first cache. We reflected on what an interesting, bizarre and generally weird day it had been, a fact that we were both happy about. The graveyard cache at the end of the trip was what a true geocache should be like, not all about the cache but more about where it is. All in all, we both felt that we had had a real geocaching adventure. Happy Days.