Getting Our Kicks on Route 66… in Chorleywood

With Sam having a fantastic time up in Norfolk with his Nanny and after Shar and I had spent a couple of days being wonderfully lazy we thought it was time we did something slightly more energetic than lifting the remote control or walking between the computer and the dining table. Feeling particularly daring we decided to challenge ourselves to try and beat our record for the number of geocaches that we could find in a single day. After considering a few alternatives, I decided on a series called Route 66 which is in the Chorleywood area, just a few miles to the west of where we live. There are 17 trads in the series and I had identified a further 6 that were either on the walking route or would only require a short detour to reach. Assuming we could find all of these then that would make a total of 23 finds which would better our current personal best by two.

With the caches loaded onto our phones, sandwiches and snacks packed and a complete lack of urgency we ambled out of the house just before lunchtime. During the short drive to Chorleywood I was surprised that the sat nav woman who normally is obsessed with taking us on the motorway even if we are only travelling a mile or so, had today decided to avoid the M25 and take us on normal A roads to our destination. I was particularly surprised by this, not because I am some sort of OCD freak that constantly monitors what the sat nav does; no honest, I am not; but because I knew that the Route 66 series crossed the M25 right by junction 17 and therefore I would assume that Mistress Sat Nav would conclude that the only logical option was to take us on it, but she didn’t!

OK enough about the bloody sat nav already!

We arrived at the parking coordinates which was the car park of the William Penn Leisure Centre. Having spent the last year geocaching in and around Buckinghamshire I have noticed quite a few references to Penn. There is a wood called Penn Wood and a whole area called Penn and road and street names with Penn in them and now a very modern Leisure centre named after William Penn… so what is it all about?

[clackerty clackerty] [click click] [clackerty clackerty]

Yada Yada Yada, load of history stuff upshot of it seems to be a connection to the Penn Family around the time of Elizabeth the first. It’s the same family as William Penn who Pennsylvania is named after in America. Not sure why the namesake of an US state gets a leisure centre named after him, but there you go. Interestingly it appears that no one who was involved in creating the website for the leisure centre knew or cared why it was named after this man as there is no mention of it at all. I realise that I am waffling again, sorry about that. After parking up we immediately got down to the geocaching… after we had eaten some lunch.

The beginning of the Route 66 series was just a few hundred metres from the parking coordinates but, helpfully, there were two unconnected caches to find before we got there, the first of which, William Penn (GC1PPEJ), was barely out of the car park. Skirting around the edge of some tennis courts we found ourselves at the beginning of a footpath that led around a large field. We could see the M25 in the distance and I knew that the first of the Route 66 caches lay in that direction, but our attention was on the matter in hand which was to locate a 35mm film pot that was right near the start of the footpath. It being a magnetic hide and there only being a finite amount of metal to search, it wasn’t long before we had the cache in hand and were signing our first log of the day. So to add to the town, civil parish, wood, street and road names and leisure centre we could now add a geocache to the list of eponymous items relating to Mr Penn.

From here we walked around the edge of the field and then parallel with a road that wound towards the Motorway up ahead of us. Cutting through the hedge at a convenient point and crossing the road put us on the right side of the street and less than 100 metres from our second cache of the day, Quite Stylish – not any more (GC1PPHF). The name suggested that we would be seeking out if not the remains of an old stile, then at least the spot where one used to be and we quickly found the start of a footpath that led away from the road. The phones confirmed that this was indeed GZ and we commenced our search for another magnetic micro. Feeling a little exposed, being directly in between a house and some other sort of larger building we had hoped for a quick find, but it took us close to 5 minutes before we finally located the little bleeder hidden in amongst the foliage at the side of the path, obviously clinging to a lump of metal. I guess this was possibly the site of an old stile; now removed; because we sure as hellfire couldn’t see the remains of one anywhere.

As we left GZ to get to our next cache we noticed that the building we had been searching next to was in fact a Jehovah’s Witness place of worship so we were lucky to get out of there without being pounced upon or at the very least clutching a copy of the watch tower magazine. Amusingly, next door to this was the Chorleywood Working Men’s club and this conjured up some wonderful images of Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to preach the word to the half cut working men of Chorleywood. Either that or the Witnesses becoming tempted by the draw of the alcohol and sounds of revelry coming from the working club, sneaking out in between bible classes for a swift half and a whiskey chaser!

Leaving these bizarre thoughts behind we walked further down the road to where it passed under the hulking mass of the M25. Following the provided instructions we climbed the steps just before this and turned left to walk alongside the motorway towards the first of the Route 66 caches. I was expecting the roar of the traffic to be unbearable here but it was amazingly quiet. As we walked, we couldn’t quite see the carriageway due to it being slightly elevated above our position and the banking being covered in trees and bushes. Glad to be starting the series proper now we strode out along the footpath with some fantastic views to our left across open fields towards the urban sprawl in the distance. The sky was dotted with fluffy white clouds and when the sun broke through it was warm on our faces. Gradually the path started to incline as it passed into a small cluster of trees and our phones told us that the GZ of Route 66- 1 – Yosemite National Park (GC2A6V4) was very close. It was hard to get a fix at first and eventually we decided that we needed to leave the path and head into the trees a little. We made our way down a slope through the trees and were soon getting readings of a couple of metres. We were looking for a dreaded micro in an Ivy covered tree and there were quite a few to choose from. There was nothing else for it but to get started looking so Shar and I found a tree each and got on with it. 20 minutes and a lot of trees later and we still didn’t have the cache in hand. Sharlene had pointed out to me a couple of very distinctive looking trees and I spent the best part of 10 of those minutes feeling every inch of their numerous limbs to no avail. Neither of us wanted to give up but it seemed inevitable that we would have to mark the first one down as a DNF. Just as we were working our way back up to the path Sharlene spotted the cache tucked in amongst the ivy vines around a tree. We had been fooled into thinking we were looking for a tree with full on ivy all over it but this tree merely had the twirling vines wrapped around it with no actual leaves. With a massive sigh of relief Shar plucked it from its hiding place and we signed the log.

A pleasant countryside stretches out in front of the camera. In the distance somewhere is bound to be a town.

The view away from the M25

After we made our way back up through the trees we continued on along the path in search of Route 66 – 2 – Central Park, NYC (GC2A6WV). As we walked, the path came level with the M25 and we could see the carriageways through a gap in the trees to our right. As we stopped at the GZ we soon realised that the reason for the low noise levels was mainly due to the fact that the nearest of the two carriageways was at a complete standstill. Craning to see along the road Shar could see that the traffic jam stretched into the distance in both directions. Not wanting to bring up the whole sat nav thing again, but perhaps this is the reason why she decided to avoid the motorway today in favour of the A roads as I think she does receive alerts of heavy traffic and reroutes accordingly. While I stood blindly gazing in the direction of the cars and Shar bent down searching for the cache which was hidden under some bits of rock, the relative quietness allowed me to recognize the tell-tale sound of a horse blowing behind me. I was somewhat surprised to be meeting a horse along here but not as surprised as Shar when she stood up sharply upon hearing the sound. Apparently according to google when a horse makes the blowing sound it means they are curious which seems entirely plausible. The horse was effectively saying, what the heck are you two nutters doing looking under those stones. We stepped aside and exchange pleasantries with the horse’s rider and then after they had left we signed the log and replaced the cache.
Traffic stretches into teh distance

We were moving faster than the traffic on the M25

Route 66 – 3 – Hollywood Boulevard (GC2A6XB) Was further along the same path and I would love to offer commentary on the search and retrieval of the cache but by the time I had arrived at GZ which was to the left of the path, just a few paces behind Shar, she had already plucked the 35mm film pot from its hiding place which I am reliably told was inside a small hole near the base of a tree concealed by some rock-a-flauge. We continued on along the side of the motorway although the path deviated a little away from the road to negotiate an electricity substation and then cross over a road that intersected the motorway. The Route 66 – 4 – Forks (GC2A6XJ) was also quickly spotted by Shar to the left of the path but she asked me to retrieve this one from its tall stump as it looked to be home to far too many creepy crawlies for her liking.

The fifth cache in the route 66 series would take us onto a bridge that would lead us over the motorway, but before we did that we continued on along the path and into the woods to try and find another unconnected cache that would be necessary if we were to hit our target for the day. A pot in the woods (GC3A54A) was located just a couple of hundred metres along the path and was placed there by MJS64, who it had been our pleasure to meet at an event just a couple of days before. When the phones told us we were at GZ it was obvious we had to leave the path to find this one but the question was where and how to do this? I opted for the “as the blind man flies” approach and waded in to the undergrowth predictably getting myself hopelessly stuck in a few short moments. Shar on the other hand backtracked along the path and found a small track leading in towards a likely looking hint item. She calmly and with only a little weariness in her voice directed me back out of the undergrowth and back to her via the easier route and then told me to stick my hand in there. I did so and then my forearm and then practically my whole arm disappeared into the hole in the tree before my hands finally touched plastic. I pulled out the cache and passed it to Shar to do the honours.

A few minutes later we were back at the bridge, the point at which we had deviated from the Route 66 series, and were presently at the GZ of Route 66 – 5 – Golden Gate Bridge (GC2A6XV) which was quickly found by Shar to the side of the path just before the actual structure of the bridge started. We signed the log and then walked over the bridge smiling smugly down at the still backed up traffic that lined the carriageway on one side. Once across we quickly found “Old Shire lane”, an ancient right of way that would be our route for the next 4 caches in the series. This thoroughfare is believed to have originally been the dividing line between the old English kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia but now forms the boundary between Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire.

The sounds of the motorway slowly diminished as we walked along the edge of a rolling field that spread to our left. To our right a thick line of trees and bushes shielded us from the back gardens of what we would later discover to be some pretty breath-taking properties in the affluent area known as heronsgate. A few cows ambled in the distance and the sun Shon weakly as our ears were again treated to the tweets of birds and the soft sound of the breeze in the trees. Route 66 – 6 – Roswell (GC2A6YB) was easily found hiding under a bush to the right of the path and it looked like Route 66 – 7 – Los Angeles (GC2A6ZN) would be a quick find too as we approached the obvious GZ that was at the site of a stile. The only problem was that there was a family trying to lift not one, but two pushchairs over the stile and so we took our time and waited for them to pass before I then got down to the important job of sticking my foot squarely in a cow pat whereupon I was rewarded with a resounding squelch confirming to me the freshness of the offending pile. Shar retrieved the cache while I hopped around wiping my foot on clumps of grass like some kind of drunken Michael Flatley.

Route 66 – 8 – California Desert (GC2A70G) was just a few hundred metres of cow poo smeared grass clumps away and seemed easy enough from the hint. It was obviously on the fence to our left somewhere near the ground on one of the diagonals. We both thought this would be a quick find and were therefore frustrated as hell to spend about 10 minutes searching in vane. We widened our search but all the time the phones brought us back out into the open where the accuracy was excellent and the fence matched the hint. Finally when I thought I was going completely bonkers Shar spotted a tiny nano cache hanging on the fence. It took all my self-control not to hurl the bleeding thing into the field; the search had been so utterly confounding. As to why anyone would put a nano out in the middle of the beautiful countryside where you could have put a small or even a regular cache is beyond me. Actually, I know exactly what type of person puts nanos in these environments…. Geocachers! I have to admit at having done it on our wall hall series although to be fair that is a magnetic nano and there isn’t that much metal where it is placed. All I can say is that if there ever was a series that was entirely nano caches in the woods then I DO NOT want to hear about it… no really, I don’t.

Thankfully Route 66 – 9 – Slot Canyon (GC2a70N) was a far more predictable small sized container in a hole in a tree, much more what you would expect in these sorts of surroundings. Remembering the map, I knew that this was about the furthest point from the car we were going to get and after a short walk through an urban area we would be back onto footpaths for the long walk back to the car. The next cache was The Swillet (GC1W8J0) and was another one of those essential additional caches that would help us achieve our goal. So far we were on track for 23 still as we had not had to record any DNFs. From reading the logs of this cache I had noted that it was not too far from a children’s playground and we agreed that after finding it we would go in search of a bench to take a break before starting the second leg of our challenge.

Finding the cache was the first obstacle to be overcome though and one that was not easy, as it was described as being in amongst the trees beside a path. There were two possible points of entry about 10 metres apart and both were ferociously guarded by bracken and thick tangles of bushes. Shar examined each entry point closely and decided that the second point looked good and started toward it, then changed her mind and chose the first. Not convinced she backed out and went back to the second point before again reversing her decision. I think we again switched openings once more before finally forcing our way in through the bracken, under some very low tree limbs into a small clearing behind the treeline. From here she confessed that actually the other point would probably have been the better option and so we broke our way out to the path again and I attempted to gain entry where she indicated. This proved quite tricky due to the amount of sharp pointy things but eventually I had fought my way in and started searching for the actual cache. It was described as being in a camo bag hanging in a tree and it has to be said that hanging caches are my all-time least favourites, even lower down on the list than nanos in the woods. After a few minutes of finding nothing except lots of thorns, Shar declared she was coming in and promptly found the cache the moment she arrived. Glad to be able to put this one to bed and go and have a sit down I wasted no time in extracting myself back onto the path.

We allowed ourselves a 10 minute relaxation break sitting on a bench next to the playground where I chomped on some salty nut roll and we took a selfie and uploaded it to Facebook reporting that we had so far found 12 caches with 11 left to go. Actually I was wrong, we had found 13 by this stage but it doesn’t matter, it’s not as if people were checking up on us on Facebook… at least I assume they weren’t.

Paul and Shar sit close together for a selfie at the halfway stage of the walk.

Halfway Selfie

Feeling revitalised we set off again to find Route 66 – 10 – MacDonalds – Free WiFi (GC2A711) which had nothing at all to do with the fast food restaurant but instead referenced the MacDonald’s nursery that was located near GZ. The cache was a magnetic keysafe and had recently been replaced by the CO so we knew it would be there. There was a large gate, some fence and a big sign to search and so I got on with it. There was also a lot of bracken which quite happily attached itself to me at every opportunity. I tried to think logically and decided that seeing as the keysafes were flat it would more than likely be stuck to a flat surface. I searched every flat surface I could find with no luck but eventually found it clinging to the back of a round metal post. Bugger

The footpath gave way to an urban street here and in hindsight we should have turned right and followed the road around to the site of the next cache. Instead we decided to cross the road and carry on down another footpath that passed through some garages and along the back of some houses before then coming out onto another street, as this looked more direct. It wasn’t, and not only that but we soon found ourselves descending at an ever increasing gradient. Down and down we went while the pointer swung further and further right. We pushed on hoping to find a road on the right soon which would take us closer to the cache. Eventually we did and upon turning into it, had to trudge up one of the steepest urban streets I think I have ever walked up. It took us about 300 metres of lateral travelling to get down to the elevation where we turned into this road, but we gained all that elevation back in a distance of less than 100 metres. When we finally made it to the top of the hill we collectively decided not to blame each other for choosing the route we did, we simply didn’t have the energy or the breath to have an argument. Instead we crossed the road, plucked Route 66 – 11 – Alcatraz (GC2A715) from its hiding place and tried to avoid getting run over by the cars as we stood on the narrow pavement.

A view down a steep hill.

I promise you this hill is steeper than it looks

After replacing the cache we turned left and walked along a narrow road without pavements for a short distance before then meeting up with a wide track on the right that led past some derelict farm buildings on our way to Route 66 – 12 – Chicago (GC2A71D), which we found quite easily at the side of the path. Had we not been trying for our personal best the rest of our caches would all be along this track now as it travelled in a straight line all the way back to the M25 where the series finishes and beyond that where the car was parked. But if we had done that then we would have only equalled our personal best of twenty one and so I had identified a couple of unconnected caches that were in a small hamlet that lay off the track to the right. We found the footpath that would lead us to these two caches at the GZ of Route 66 – 13 – Empire State Building (GC2A71K) which we vowed to collect on our return. The footpath dissected two fields and led us out onto a narrow lane. Opposite there was an even narrower lane and we followed it as the cache was directly ahead of us. Our walk took us past some very expensive houses indeed. It was apparent that some very wealthy people lived down here and I felt just a little out of place as we made our way to our destination. Thankfully all the houses were hidden mainly behind fences and lots of trees and high bushes but I expect more than one or two of the properties were monitored by CCTV. With a reference to the fire brigade in the hint of Football Focus #14 Tricky Trees {Forest} (GC46N8K) we suspected we would be looking for a water hydrant sign and sure enough right at the end of the road we saw one and reaching my hand down behind it soon revealed a fake rock cache nestling there. It was a relief to make a quick find here as I didn’t really fancy spending too much time poking around in the bushes.

Turning right we headed up a gentle slope towards the second of our additional caches, Football Focus #15 The Bantams (GC46N8X) and I remarked that the residents probably did not take kindly to people doing these as cache and dashes as the lanes were so narrow that cachers probably ended up using driveways as turning points. Upon reaching the corner of the road Sharlene made a very speedy find of a hanging cache and I reached up and retrieved it for her, holding on to the twig that it was hidden on so as not to forget where to replace it. It took her a little while to sign the log and after a bit my arm started to get tired. I fidgeted a bit and then had a horrible image of me snapping the twig off and so pulled myself together and relaxed my grip just a little.

As we retraced our steps through the hamlet we overheard the crackly sound of a radio playing the commentary to a football match. Sharlene said it was coming from a shed on the other side of a nearby fence. The reception on the radio was awful, you could barely work out what was being said and I marvelled at how this person could afford a stonking massive house in this expensive area but not splash out for a decent radio to listen to the football on.

As we met up with the footpath again I made a quick find of Route 66 – 13 – Empire State Building (GC2A71K) in the top of a wooden post and the weather did its best to deteriorate on us. Standing at the edge of the fields and looking out along the track that we now had to travel the clouds looked ominous and a few spots of rain cooled my skin before quickly evaporating. We pushed on, aware that we were leaving the protection of some trees to be out in the open with the possibility of a downpour but I think we didn’t really mind. The day had been fun and carefree so far and I don’t think a bit of rain could have spoilt it for us now.

Route 66 – 14 – Niagra Falls (GC2A71V) was described as being near water and as we made our way along the deserted track Shar spotted an old water trough to the left of the path. We knew for certain that the cache would be there somewhere and it wasn’t long before it was found and the log duly signed. As we left GZ and started to make our way towards Route 66 – 15 – Grand Canyon (GC2A721) the dark clouds seemed to swirl all around us. In the distance the rain could be seen pouring from the clouds but where we stood at that moment it was dry and the view was pretty breath-taking. Shar took a photo and I did my best Sarah Connor pose from the end of the film Terminator. If you remember, to prove that he is from the future, Kyle Reece describes a photograph that her son, John, gives him to recognize her by when he travels back to her time period to help her defeat the Terminator. It is a picture taken right at the end of the movie when she has defeated the Terminator and Kyle is dead. She is recording audio tapes to help her unborn son understand what has happened here. She is trying to decide what to tell her son about his father who is actually Kyle. As she struggles with this and contemplates the wars and trouble that will beset the world in the future whilst she sits in her beaten up car at a gas station heading into Mexico, a small boy snaps her picture and offers to sell her the photo. This is the picture that she will later give to John… so it can be shown to Kyle later on. Anyway the point is that the photo depicts her staring off into the distance, her face a mask of foreboding and concern, seemingly older beyond her 19 years as she fears for the life of her son and the future of the human race. To heighten the poignancy of the moment a storm is gathering in the distance. It amazes me that I can still remember the photo so clearly now and that moment in the film when the significance of it is truly felt. A truly beautiful piece of filmmaking if you ask me and a moment that I choose to imitate whenever I am presented with a dramatic vista such as the one we had on this day. Sharlene just thinks I look like some sort of model from a frumpy clothing catalogue or middle aged clothes store… sort of “man at C&A”

Paul stands with a lone tree and dark foreboding clouds gathering all around. He stares off to his left into the distance with a contemplative expression on his face.

Contemplating the fate of the planet or Man at C&A

Meanwhile back on the ranch…

The hint said the cache would be found in the crack of the tree and this was the only tree for hundreds of metres. When we reached the tree we started walking round it and Shar soon spotted the deep split that ran from around 6 foot up, down to the base of the trunk. I got to work, pressing my fingers into the split and probing for any sign of the 35mm film pot that we were looking for. After reaching the base of the tree I was confused and perplexed not to have found it and resolved that I must have skipped over it somehow. Again I searched but found nothing and the seed of a DNF started to germinate in my gut. Neither of us wanted to admit that it wasn’t there but the hint was so obvious it simply couldn’t be anywhere else and it wasn’t here. Eventually after we had both search again and even scoured the ground in case it had fallen out, we had to give in and call it a DNF. I did some quick maths… we had currently found 20 caches and there were only 2 more left. That means that we HAD to find both of them in order to set our new record. We could still do it. The two extra caches we had just found had given us a cushion, but that was gone now… there could be no more DNFs.

Nature had done her bit to increase the drama with the fantastic setting and the moody skies and now this DNF had turned a sure gone conclusion into a situation that could go either way. The soundtrack was building again as we made our way to the GZ of Route 66 – 16 – Montreal (GC2A728) which took us right back to the M25, this time on the opposite side of the carriageways to that of where we were before. On the way to this cache the battery on my phone died and whilst I had my external battery to charge it, I shoved the phone in the bag as we walked to avoid trailing a charging lead. Shar was already on her spare battery and now hers was the only phone that was pointing us to the cache. Luckily the coordinates were good and the hint plain and simple and as the cars roared past just a few metres away beyond the trees we signed the log of our 21st cache of the day. We needed just one more… and there was just one more chance left.

Turning left, we walked parallel to the motorway using Shar’s phone to point us in the right direction. The hint told us we would find Route 66 – 17 – Yellowstone National Park (GC2A72F) under a pile of rocks. As we got close, the metres counting down, Shar spotted a likely looking clump of rock-o-flauge and I sighed, relieved that we were going to do it. I squatted down and started pulling away the rocks. All too soon I was down to the earth and there was no cache to be found. I turned over all the rocks thinking it might be a fake rock cache, but nothing. I checked again… still nothing. Shar started scouting for alternatives but there was nothing much at all around us within 10 metres or so. I desperately just started checking any likely spot, rocks or not. Base of posts, under a bush… no luck. My heart sank and the tension increased as we both knew that we wouldn’t be beating our record today. Sighing, we started to trudge up along the path in the general direction of the bridge that would take us to the other side of the motorway but as we did so, Shar spotted another pile of rocks just beyond where we had searched before. She pushed the top stones aside and there nestling like the proverbial Holy Grail was our geocache. A wash of adrenalin ran through me and we whooped and cheered raising our arms to the heavens in celebration of finding our 22nd cache of the day. I practically did a jig as Shar signed the log and we continued to laugh and joke as we made our way under the M25 and back to the car.

Its only 22 geocaches. Lots of people find many many more than that in a day… every day. But it was our challenge… our goal and achieving it was a fantastic way to end a great day out in the English countryside enjoying the excitement of geocaching and all that nature has to offer, with the love of my life by my side and the merest of a remnant of cow poo on the sole of my boot. Happy Days indeed!

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1 Response to Getting Our Kicks on Route 66… in Chorleywood

  1. Lavender Bll says:

    Another entertaining day out with the Washkights. You have a knack of making me feel I am walking there alongside you both. Thanks.


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