The school holidays are here and that means six weeks of a “bored” 10 year old to deal with. Well we have put our thinking caps on and feel that we are prepared to tackle the boredom head on this year. In addition, thriftiness is definitely the word of the moment so the challenge has been to think of things that we can do with very little financial outlay. Of course, geocaching ticks both boxes here fantastically and the temptation would be to plan a whole summer of caching “fun”. However, I am aware that whilst summer is a lovely time of year it is also hot and there is a limit to how much outdoor adventure a ten year old, and a [mumble mumble] year old Shar for that matter, will stand before it starts getting ugly.
As we approached the first weekend of the holidays, the temperature dropped a few notches from a scorching 29 degrees Celsius to a much more comfortable 23 with cloud cover, so I put my planning trousers on and got busy. After rejecting a few possible locations because there were either too few caches to be of interest or the walk was too long to be away from the cool sanctuary of the car, or because the caches were all premium members only – Sam is only a basic member and whilst I have no problems using the backdoor to log a few premium ones for him I am not sure about doing a whole series, I eventually identified a nice clump of CaptainJack caches in the region of Knotty Green, a small village about 12km away in amongst the rolling hills of Buckinghamshire.
If you have read my blog previously you will know that CaptainJack is a hider with over 500 caches dotted all over Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. He groups them together in clusters around villages but doesn’t number the caches like most cache owners do with their sets. I think CaptainJack works on the basis that we are big enough and ugly enough to figure out how to approach his caches ourselves and whilst I certainly am capable of doing this, sometimes it is a pain in the arse to have to spend ages squinting at footpath maps working out how to approach them. His hides are always relatively straight forward, no long descriptions, regularly maintained and generally no more than 300 metres apart. You might think that we are talking power trail material here and it is all very boring, but I think the point is that the locations he places these caches in are some of the most picturesque rural settings in the country so I reckon he thinks that he is offering people the best of both worlds… and you know what, he is spot on.
The Knotty Green series consists of 28 caches and this was way too many to attempt in one long walk, so I started searching for a way to split the loop in two. After squinting at maps for a bit longer and with the help of Shar we decided to park near the Northwest corner of the loop, travel in a clockwise direction and then take a footpath cut through to sever the loop in half, completing the top bit and bringing us back to the car in time for lunch. Having done that we could decide whether or not we still had the stamina to move the car to another parking spot and tackle the bottom part of the loop. The top part of the circuit would be 16 caches and the bottom would be 9, leaving a few out altogether as they appeared to be unconnected to the rest of the loop for some reason. So that was the plan.
Knotty Green is a rural hamlet in the parish of Penn, not far from the historic market town of Beaconsfield. The origins of the name Knotty Green can be traced back to the 13th Century when the green at the middle of the hamlet was referred to as nattuc, which is an old English word that means rough grass of tussocks, describing the type of grass that grew there. The hamlet has gone by many variations of the name over the years including Nattuc (1222), Nattetok (1503), Natwoke (1588), Knoty (map 1680), Notty (1692), Nottock (1698), Naughty (1761) and later Knatty, Knaddocks and Knocklocks. Since the late 1800s the name has been consistently Knotty Green. I think of all those, the 1761 version, Naughty, is the most intriguing – I wonder what was going on there during this time.
As we got closer to our chosen parking spot which was a small piece of waste land just to the side of a lane that led nowhere other than to the farm that occupied the land nearby, the roads started to get quieter, narrower and rougher. This was a sure fire sign that we were not only well and truly in rural Buckinghamshire but also that we were almost at our destination. After having to reverse back up the lane once to let someone else pass, Shar was glad to reach the parking point which was just a few metres from our first cache of the day,.
Ten metres or so to the side of the car, a footpath led into the woods and we were soon following it and searching at the GZ of Marrod’s Bottom (GC3CWC3) within a matter of minutes. The hint pointed us to a stump and whilst there were quite a few it wasn’t long before Sam had found the cache and we were signing our first log of the day. We retrieved a TB, SOBALT – From Russia With Love (TB54YB5), from the cache, owned by a geocacher called Bridge of Size who is notorious for his extremely difficult puzzle caches. The TB had a goal of getting back to its country of origin which judging by the name appears to be Russia. I don’t think I will be able to get it much closer to the Mother land but we will move it along nonetheless.
As the sun started to twinkle and splash through the trees, we were glad to be in the woods where it was cool and pleasant as we made our way to our next cache, In Plain View (GC3CWBW). Sam was the one to make the find here too and to be honest it all happened so quickly, I wasn’t even sure where he retrieved it from.
From here we walked another couple of hundred metres along the woodland path to get to the GZ of Inside Beard’s Wood (GC3CWBJ). Despite the fact that both of our phones were pointing to the right of the path we were all immediately drawn to a very distinctive tree on the left. The thick tree cover could easily make the GPS readings inaccurate and so the tree with lots of holes and nooks and crannies became the focal point of our search. After about 5 minutes with each of us having a go, the most we had found was a dead bird. Reluctantly we widened the search and the three of us split up and chose different bits of the wood to search. I crossed the path and accosted any tree I could find, but none of them had any holes suitable for hiding a small container. Another 5 minutes passed and we were scratching our heads. Shar read some logs and one in particular caught her eye; it stated that others had done exactly what we had done, started at the tree, widened their search, but then finding nothing they had gone back to the tree and then made the find. With renewed confidence we all went back to the tree and within 30 seconds Shar spotted the cache nestling in a hole around the back of the tree. We all reckoned that we had checked there, but unless the dead bird had come back to life and popped the cache in there while we were all looking elsewhere, I reckon we actually just missed it. We were that close to chalking it up as a DNF and so we were all delighted at finally locating it. There was another TB waiting in there too. This one, Dora the Travel Dolphin (TB3WG5E), was attached to a Norwegian 1 Kroner coin and wanted to travel the 7 seas of the world. Originally released in the UK back in 2011 it has done just over 2000 miles so I reckon it has got a way to go before it can claim all the oceans. Not sure we will be seeing any salty water soon so it might have to settle for a visit to a canal instead.
We continued along the woodland path to the next one, Great Beard’s Wood (GC3CWAZ), having to negotiate a few rather large puddles on the way. I reckon that if there was standing water there at this time of year, then in winter that part of the woods must be like a lake. So far the only other people we had seen were a few cyclists and that was fine by us as it made the searches easier to conduct. When we arrived at GZ Shar was quick to spot a very suspicious pile of rocks which was almost certainly hiding the cache. Indeed this “rock-o-flage was playing guardian to our container and we were delighted that this cache was a quick find compared to the previous one.
Sam made another swift find at the base of a tree at the side of the path a little further along at Great Luckings (GC3CWAR). Sticking with the theme for the day, I retrieved yet another TB, SOBALT – Denmark Lego of Me (TB5KPDP), from the container. This one also belonged to Bridge of Size and has a similar goal of wanting to get back to its country of origin; however the motherland in this case is Denmark. Again, not sure how much help we can be but we will be sure to move it on soon.
Up until this point we had been heading east along a path through the woods and now we had reached the corner of the loop and our next cache, Stump (GC3CWAE), took us south. This led us out of the woods and along the side of a field. We had a choice of staying in the shade on one side of a fence or walking on the other side along the edge of a field which was in the sun. The shade was chosen, of course, but this was a decision that would come back to haunt us. At the GZ of stump we momentarily scratched our heads for a bit as we were presented with a fallen tree but no sign of a stump. On closer inspection it looked like the tree had come down not too long ago and so it would not have been there when the cache was placed meaning our goal was probably on the other side of it. I volunteered to scramble over the trunk and with a bit of direction from Shar back on the path, I felt my way towards a likely looking stump. A quick fumble around and the cache was in hand and I racked up my first find of the day.
A short distance further along, the undergrowth was starting to seriously encroach on the path. We were beginning to think we should have walked along the field edge on the other side of the barbed wire fence as it wasn’t long before the path became completely blocked by the nettles and brambles. We were still over 150 metres from the next cache so we needed to find another route. As we were trying to work out how to cross the barbed wire fence, Shar noticed a gap in the trees to the other side of us and suggested that we could walk in the field that lay beyond to get to the cache. This didn’t look like a prescribed footpath and so it was a bit naughty but it was getting hot and we decided to make a dash for it. I say make a dash for it, but our little group never really dashes anywhere. With my sight loss and an, often, over-dramatic 10 year old, it is inevitable that accidents will happen if we try to run. The only time that I think we would risk it is if the need arose to leave a field with extreme speed such as to flee an approaching herd of lions/bulls/zebras/badgers. We headed through the gap and made our way around the edge of the field in the direction of GZ only to find that when we got close to it, that there was no way to get back through to where the cache was. The trees and undergrowth were too thick here and there was a barbed wire fence as well. We had no other option but to go back to where we had left the path and somehow get on the other side of the original barbed wire fence and continue up to the next cache along the edge of the field. So the original choice we had made when leaving the woods was wrong… hey ho. Once back at the fence I managed to hold two of the horizontal wires apart enough for Sam and Shar to scramble under it and without any injuries we made our way along the edge of the field, in the sun, uphill. Once at GZ we had to scramble back under the barbed wire and onto the path that was still quite overgrown but at least it was possible to actually move along it here. A Nice Tree (GC3CWA3) was found quickly once at GZ and then it was back under the barbed wire and onto the field and back up the hill. This section of the day was becoming hard work and being in the sun walking up hill was not helping anyone’s mood.
On arriving at the GZ for Footpath Ramblings (GC1H3CF), we peered across the fence to be greeted by a lot of nettles and brambles. We did cross the fence and start trying to find the cache but it was so overgrown that we soon gave up and decided to pass on this one. I already had a good selection of scratches and cuts on my arms and I wasn’t too keen on getting any more.
Another few minutes’ walk and we reached the crest of the hill and thankfully a little shade. We took a moment to catch our breaths before skirting around a large building to get to the GZ of our next cache, The Grange Again (GC3CW9Y). This route took us to the right of a tree line and followed the edge of a field but at least it wasn’t up hill. We found an obvious cachers path at GZ that led a few feet into the bushes where the hint told us we would find the cache hiding in a tree about 3 foot up. After doing battle with a lot of brambles to get near the tree I spent quite a long time searching all likely hides but came up with nothing. Shar came in for a search and between us we eventually found the hide. Far from being 3 feet up this was at least double that. Admittedly it was in the tree, so that part was, at least, true.
Sam made a nice quick find for us at The Grange (GC3CW9N) which was further south along the footpath just inside a small clump of trees. After signing the log I broke out the nut roll so that we could all take in something a little sugary to get an energy boost. We munched as we sat on the grass overlooking the rolling hills of Buckinghamshire and Shar studied the map to confirm the route from here. This was the point which we were going to cut the loop in half and start heading back in the direction of the car. Although we had made excellent time on the first few caches, the last couple had proved a lot more work and consequently we had spent a great deal more time on these.
Tummies were starting to rumble, even after the nut roll, and especially in those of the group that had not had breakfast, mentioning no names… Sharlene! Sam and I weren’t too bad having had a nice bowl of cereal each before setting off that morning. Anyway we were only about halfway through the caches and the lunch was back at the car so there was nothing else for it but to get walking. Thankfully the sun took a break behind some fluffy clouds as we crossed the open fields on the footpath that would take us to the other side of the loop to our next cache. This route seemed to be popular with runners and cyclists as these were the only people we saw as we made our way towards the trees about 600 metres ahead of us.
I have discovered a new game to play when you meet fast moving people on our geocaching walks. We make a point of saying hello to any walkers or cyclists that we pass on our travels and I have found it to be amusing to just tag on a second statement or comment as they pass as it really throws them. For example if a cyclist approaches and we step aside for them, as they pass they will generally say thank you and Shar will reply with something like “you’re welcome”. That would seem to be the normal comfortable point at which the exchange should end, but just as they are passing us and refocusing again, I have taken to throwing in a “good afternoon” or a “lovely day isn’t it?” This really throws them as they didn’t expect to be communicating with us any further and their replies are often stammered or just a mumble or grunt as they try to process this. It’s a bit cruel I know but I could be even weirder an ask them a more complicated question as they speed past such as “how far have they come?” or “where are they heading?”
Soon we were back in the woods which was nice as it was a lot cooler. Our next cache was Netherlands (GC3CWDQ) which I thought was a country and I hoped that the cache wasn’t that far away. It turned out not to be the country but was instead, a nice easy find at the side of the path.
Sandels Wood Stub (GC3CWDF) was next. Finding the trail to the cache itself was a little tricky as there were quite a lot to choose from and the trees were, in places, quite spread apart so there was always the option of just heading in a straight line to the cache too. This didn’t always work out though as the trees did have a tendency to get thicker at quite short notice and what looked like an easy patch of woodland to walk through, soon became impassable. Eventually we found ourselves at GZ which was right next to a shallow gully that I almost fell into and only avoided doing so by entangling myself with a holly bush. I reckon it would have been more comfortable to fall in the gully to be honest.
Fallen (GC3CWD7) was our next cache and our route to it was less than conventional I think. We started off ok on a well-defined footpath but as we got closer the arrow was pointing 90 metres to the right and there was no obvious path that way. Looking ahead we couldn’t see any junction of paths that might offer us a way to the right so we opted to go native again and cut a direct path to the cache. This was hard going as there wasn’t only one fallen tree to deal with but numerous trunks and branches were strewn all around this patch of woodland. Thankfully they weren’t too large and it was relatively easy to clamber over the trunks, it just took us a little time and a few banged shins before we finally made it to GZ. Being under the cover of the trees I didn’t expect to get any sort of a reliable GPS reading but while the other two got to searching I decided to put my faith in the technology and see what happened. I managed to get the phone down to 1meter and just as I announced the fact, Shar who had just worked her way over to where I was, plucked the cache from a short distance away. This was quite a surprise as my iPhone 4 is often unreliable at the best of times let alone under heavy tree cover but this time it came good.
As we left the GZ heading for our next cache we stumbled on the path that we should have taken to get to the last one, a mere 10 metres from the GZ but we still don’t exactly know where we were supposed to have joined this path but that didn’t matter now as the log was signed and we were focussed on the three remaining hides before we would arrive back at the car and be able to break out the sandwiches. Following the arrow and the paths at the same time proved tricky again as we headed for Polish (GC3CWD4) and we zig zagged through the woods a bit before finally breaking out at the edge of a field with the arrow pointing in a nice straight line up the edge of it. Even with the hide still about 100 metres away Shar and Sam reckoned they had the location pinpointed. In the distance was a solitary telegraph pole carrying the phone lines between the few buildings that were dotted around the landscape. With a name like polish they were convinced that the cache would be hidden at the base of the pole and they weren’t wrong. I leant down and brushing away a few nettles pulled the container from its hiding place, standing up to be greeted by the smug grins of the other two.
A slight hill took us towards our next and penultimate cache as we walked the rest of the way along the side of a field and down a track towards a farm house in the distance. Before we reached it the phones indicated that we were at GZ and a quick scan of the area located quite a lot of large stones and seeing as the cache name was Stoned (GC3CWD0) it was just a matter of systematically sifting through the possible hides until the container was plucked free.
The route to the last cache of the morning, Seagrave’s Farm (GC3CWCM), took us up to the farm house and then skirted left around it and onto a narrow lane that gave vehicle access from the farm to the rest of the area. As the metres ticked down it became apparent that the cache was going to be hidden in the treeline that flanked the road to the left. When we found a suitable point to cut in we left the lane and started looking for likely hides. The hint told us it would be at the base of a tree and there was certainly a few to choose from. We split up and got searching. Most of the trees were quite narrow trunked with little or no places to hide a cache at the base of them but one or two looked likely and wouldn’t you know it these ones were surrounded by holly. For the next 5 minutes or so various shrieks or yelps could be heard emanating from the treeline as we all searched for the elusive cache with no luck. Both phones were zeroing in on our location and there was an obvious tree right there with lots of holes at the base but no cache. We started to get a sinking feeling that it might have gone missing and a quick look at the logs revealed that the last three people had logged DNFs. The last found it log was more than a month previous. Further inspection of the logs revealed that a number of previous finders had commented that despite there being an obvious tree right at the coordinates, they eventually found the cache in another tree a short distance away. With this nugget of info we got back to searching and as Shar and Sam looked in one direction I fought my way literally through the holly to the other side of the tree we had been obsessing on and started tapping around for other trees. I could make out the large blurred shapes of the odd tree or two and one in particular looked like a good bet as it was really quite huge. I made my way to it with some difficulty as the holly and brambles were thick here. At one point I had holly to the left of me and brambles to the right and as I struggled through the undergrowth a thick branch of holly dragged worryingly between my legs. Determined to check this tree out I battled on and finally I managed to get a hand on the trunk and nearly fell down a slope to the left of the tree. Steadying myself and crouching down I used my cane to examine the landscape and found that the ground fell away to the left of the tree about 3 feet. I eased myself down the drop off and feeling around discovered that the roots of the tree were exposed into the ditch. I knew that I had found the hide; this was a perfect place to put a cache. So many hidey holes in amongst the roots of the tree. In just a few moments I touched the familiar texture of plastic container and after I confirmed that it was the cache I called out to the others that I had found it. That call has got to be one of the nicest feelings, when you have been searching for a while and all but given up, it feels so good to shout out to the group that the find has been made and a DNF won’t have to be logged after all.
Locating the cache was only part of the problem, now I had to get the log signed. I called to Shar and Sam but neither of them fancied the idea of following in my footsteps through the nettles and brambles to get to me to sign it so there was nothing else for it but to work my way back to them. I emerged from the undergrowth with a big grin on my face and cache in hand. Log was quickly signed and then I just had to get it back to the tree but I was becoming a dab hand at doing that journey now so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road and heading back to the car. It wasn’t too far and whilst it was a really steep hill, thankfully it was downhill all the way. I had taken the time to actually check this out on the map before coming as when I was perusing a few logs at home, a couple of people had mentioned about there being a rather nasty hill to contend with on this stretch and I wanted to make sure we would be descending it and not ascending it. It turned out we had been gently increasing in elevation all the way round the walk and now at the end we got to enjoy the downhill stroll back to the car where sandwiches and cool water was waiting.
As we sat munching away and relaxing in the shade of the car, the local farmers started shooting in the fields and woods around us. We couldn’t quite work out if they were actually hunting something or just shooting for fun. Either way we were glad we had not been walking through the woods when they were taking pot shots at things and were quite happy to sit in the safety of the car and watch a dog walking couple head into the woods with slightly worried expressions on their faces. We all agreed that despite there being another 9 caches in the bottom half of the loop left to do, tired feet were telling us that it was time to head for home. 15 caches were planned for, 14 attempted and all of them were found. Whilst these were probably the most challenging CaptainJack caches we had done, we all agreed it had been a very enjoyable walk. Happy days.