It seems kind of strange to be writing this blog entry now as the day in question, October 11th 2014, was almost four weeks ago. Why the long delay I hear you ask. Well the day after the caching adventure in question I was hit by a rather nasty bout of flu or some other such virus that literally had me bed bound for a week during which time I was able to do nothing except stare into space, cough and groan. It has taken me a further week to build up my energy levels again and put back on some of the 8 pounds I lost in weight – I do not recommend this as a method for weight loss, trust me. And then it was half term and Sam and I went to Norfolk to visit my mum. So, finally, here I am, feeling vaguely human again and trying to remember the details of the PugWash adventure where we took on our first section of the Aylesbury ring in the vicinity of the small town of Dinton in Buckinghamshire.
The Aylesbury Ring is a long distance walk that, as the name suggest, encircles the town of Aylesbury. In total it stretches for 30 miles and in 2013 some bright spark decided it would be an excellent idea to place a series of 140 caches all along it. Rather than lay a power trail that would be designed to be tackled in one hit, albeit by people who were utterly mad, the decision was made to split the walk up into seven smaller chunks and place a variety of cache types along each section. To ease the workload the sections were shared amongst a handful of cache owners. Each section is designed to be approached separately and as well as trads you will find a large amount of letterbox hybrids, multis and puzzles. There are code numbers in the caches that will lead you to a bonus cache for each section and somewhere in each leg there is a golden egg bonus number and when you collect all these from the whole ring you can go for the super duper big bad boy bonus cache. So far we hadn’t found any caches on the ring except for a solitary trad that we happened to be passing when we were out in search of a cake themed cache to drop our Cake Race TB in at the beginning of the year.
As far as we are concerned there are two slight problems with the Aylesbury Ring. The first is that all the caches are Premium member Only (PMO) and Sam is as yet still only a basic member. In some circumstances this is not a problem as many cache owners don’t mind basic members logging their PMO caches if they are out caching as a family where someone in the group is a premium member. In this particular case however, although some of the Cos who have placed the Aylesbury Ring caches are of this mind set, one in particular is dead against this practice and has been known to delete the logs of basic members attempting to claim his PMO caches, and wouldn’t you know it, this CO is the overall big boss of the Aylesbury Ring and actually maintains not one, but two of the sections. I won’t get started on PMO caches, I feel I have ranted about the concept of these before and don’t want to go over old ground, suffice to say that I generally do not agree with them… I do agree with the concept of premium membership, just not caches that are only available to some players of the game and not others. OK, moving on.
The other inconvenience of the Aylesbury Ring is that all its sections are linear. That is to say that whilst the whole thing is a big circle, the individual sections are laid out and can only really be tackled in a straight line.
This means that after taking on a section of the ring and completing all the caches on it you will find yourself a good few miles away from where you started and, more importantly, the car. There are, of course, ways to approach these sorts of cache trails. You could opt for the “miss every other cache out” approach whereby you don’t attempt to find alternate caches on the outward bound walk so that when you turn tail and retrace your steps you can find them on your way back to the car. This works well for trails where the caches are close together but if they are slightly more spaced out then skipping every other one can make for some pretty long walks in between caches. This method also has another major drawback if the caches you are locating are multis as there is generally a logical way to approach these caches and if you try to tackle them in reverse you might find yourself walking past the final, as you won’t know it is there, to get to stage one only to have to back track to the final when you have discovered the coordinates.
The other method is quite simply to have two modes of transportation. The simplest solution is to have two cars so you can drive both of them to the end of the section then all pile in one car and go back to the start. Then you cache your way to the end of the section where the car is waiting, whereupon you drive it back to the start to collect the other car. This of course could be duplicated with a car and bike or bikes, driving to the end of the section then biking it back to the start. You could either then bike/cache your way to the car or just leave the bikes at the start to collect later.
And so without any further ado, because let’s face it, the last 5 paragraphs of waffle is enough to get Captain Birds Eye worried – it is time to get on with an account of the actual day’s geocaching.
Sam was at a Scout camp on the weekend in question which means it was just Shar and I. With this in mind we agreed with our friends, Smokeypugs, that we would tackle the “Eider” section as this is one of the above mentioned legs where the CO will not allow basic member logs under any circumstances. In case you were wondering about the name “Eider”, all the sections of the ring are named after ducks… Mallard, scoter, Eider etc.
We met up in the small village of Dinton and leaving our car there, all piled into Geoff’s and drove to the beginning of the Eider section which was a couple of miles away in a village called Kimble Wick which seems to be noteably famous for horses, to the extent that there is a bit that was first made there and is therefore called the Kimble Wick Bit… fascinating!
With Sharlene still suffering a few twinges in her back after a recent fall and myself waking that morning with a distinct impression that I was on the verge of getting a cold, we were barely “match fit” as it were, but we hadn’t had a Pugwash adventure for ages and had done very little caching at all in the previous month so we were chomping at the Kimble wick bit to get out and find some tupperware. The weather in recent days had been quite wet but the forecast for today was only a shower or too and as we left Geoff’s car behind it was warm and dry.
The eider section has quite a few offset multis and therefore it is quite important to walk the route in the correct direction to avoid unnecessary back-tracking. None of the caches had hints of any kind and the CO in question is notorious for making his hides quite tricky. Our first cache, AR 01 Eider – Kimble Wick Multi (GC4N09B), was just one of these offsets and even though we managed to park almost on top of GZ, we started out with very little clue as to what we were actually looking for. We knew it was something placed by the CO with the final coordinates on it, but we weren’t sure if we were looking for a container or something else entirely. Nevertheless we started poking around in the bushes and along the fence lines at the side of the deserted country lane hoping that something might jump out and grab our attention. After a few minutes of searching, exactly that happened when Geoff spotted a small lollipop stick with the coordinates on it, affixed to the fence at the side of the path. As he passed it to me after making an ote of the numbers, I marvelled at how small and inconspicuous it was and found myself wondering if it was going to be one of “those” days, where everything was just a little bit trickier than normal… I had no idea how accurate that thought would turn out to be!
The final coordinates led us further along the lane until it eventually turned into a footpath just beyond a small group of houses. The search for the final container took us to a fence and gate at the side of the path and it wasn’t too long before we were retrieving the container and signing our first log of the day. It felt a bit like we had done two caches already, what with the search for the physical stage previously but it was only one, and we had been going about20 minutes already. At this rate it would take us a long time indeed to complete the 13 caches on this stretch, but I felt positive that we were just easing ourselves into it and soon we would find our “mojo” and speed things up a little.
AAR 02 Eider – Kimble Wick Letterbox (GC4N098) was our next target and as the name suggests it was a letterbox hybrid cache. Letterboxing is a hobby that has been around even longer than geocaching and essentially it involves locating a container in which you will find a log book and an ink stamp. The idea is to use the stamp to record your achievement in your own personal book and then add your own mark, using an ink stamp that you carry around, to the log book in the cache to prove you have been there. The Letterbox Hybrid can be any type of cache type; trad, multi, puzzle and in addition to the normal geocache bits and bobs, in the container you will find the rubber stamp so you can complete the letterbox requirements. It is not essential to do this and the hides can be treated purely as geocaches for those that do not partake in letterboxing, but for those that do then you can treat them as both. We haven’t got ourselves a stamp as yet but we had only found one letterbox prior to this and so on our adventure today the letterboxes we found were simply treated as normal caches. This particular one was just a straightforward traditional. Once at GZ which was a bit further along the footpath it wasn’t long before the container was spotted by Geoff as he made his way across a rather slippery narrow railway sleeper type bridge. We were happy to have made a quick find here and I was now feeling a little more confident that we might be able to get round the section in a couple of hours.
We hadn’t started our walk until around 11 so even though we were just a couple of caches in my tummy was starting to think about lunch. Despite this we decided to push on and get a couple more finds under our belt. The walk to AR 03 Eider – Unzipped Letterbox (GC4N095) took us along an easy footpath which was wide enough for me to walk unaided – just following the sound and shape of the others. The weather was holding up and the sun was even trying to make an appearance. Spirits were high as we reach GZ which turned out to be a small wooden bridge across a stream. This was an obvious place to start searching and we all got down and commenced scouring the sides of the bridge as well as underneath it, being careful not to fall in the water. After 5 minutes our confidence was starting to fade and we were scratching our heads as to where the little bleeder was. Knowing that this was a letter box cache we knew that the container had to be at least of a size to be able to store a decent sized log and a rubber stamp so it wasn’t like we were looking for a nano in a haystack or anything, it had to be a plastic box but we just couldn’t see it. Geoff eventually gave up on the bridge and widened his search a bit to a stile that lay beyond and after a thorough search he came up trumps, pulling the plastic lock n’ lock container from its sneaky hollow in one of the stile horizontal beams. These hides were proving to be anything but simple and we really started to feel like we were having to work for each one.
If there was a prize for the number of minor mistakes made whilst doing a simple field puzzle cache then team PugWash would be up for it for the protracted cock up that was our next cache, AR 04 Eider – Spinny Field Puzzle (GC4N08X). First off we had to find stage one which would reveal to us the instructions to the next part. This seemed to take a long time but eventually Geoff came up trumps again. We discovered a note containing the instructions and photographed it and dictated it to my voice recorder to be sure. In the note it said we had to first add some numbers to the published coordinates and proceed to that location where we would be searching for a forest animal 6 foot up in a tree. Well we messed up the first step and were looking in the wrong place for starters. We were hungry, grumpy and not focussed. We collected ourselves and checked the numbers again, and noticed our mistake and after correcting it and making another search we spotted the little bleeder up in the tree. The two key pieces of information here was the type of animal and the colour. Once you knew these, you wrote them down one after another and then assigned a number to each of the letters in the traditional A=1, B=2 method. Well first of all we couldn’t decide on the colour of the thing, was it x or y.? Then my brain couldn’t decide on how to spell the name of the animal, was it one “R” or two. Then Geoff wrote them down in the wrong order on the page which would trip us up next as then we had to assign letters to our numbers on the paper in a linear A through Z method and then use a formula to get the coordinates. For fecks sake my brain is melting even now trying to recount how many cock ups we made. Time was slipping away and I was a gnat’s wing from eating one of my own fingers I was so hungry by now. Eventually, we corrected our errors and derived a set of coordinates that seemed vaguely plausible. Lord be praised! Lunch!
15 minutes later with our bellies full and our stress levels back to normal we packed up and set off on the trail again. We had spent so long and my brain had got so mixed up working on this cache, that I assumed we were heading for the next one now. Shar and Geoff reminded me that we still had to actually find the final of AR 4 first and I groaned. We hiked along the edge of a field towards a tree line in the distance whereupon we passed just beyond the trees onto a wide footpath with a metal fence flanking it on one side. Quite strange really to see a 6 foot metal fence along the side of some trees out here… what exactly is it enclosing, what don’t they want us to see. We arrived at GZ and commenced a long and fruitless search of both sides of the path and after 20 minutes I was starting to swear openly including the name of the CO to illustrate exactly who’s fault all this was. Reluctantly we gave up and headed for the next cache in the series. However as we were trying to determine the route we realised that there was a possibility that we were on the wrong side of the treeline and Geoff decided to double back a short way on the other side of the trees just to have a quick look. Bingo, he was calling out to us in a matter of seconds that he had found the cache and finally we could scratch this exasperating cache experience which had lasted around an hour, off our list.
AR 05 Eider – Horse field Multi (GC4N08T) was another offset multi and after a short walk along the edge of a field we made a relatively quick find of the “lollipop stick” which revealed to us the coordinates of the final. On our way to the GZ we did indeed have to walk through the horse field as mentioned in the name and we were forced to linger at a stile before crossing as a rather feisty horse was being led around by a woman who was obviously trying to break it in. The horse was having none of it and was rearing up dramatically and creating a certain amount of nervousness amongst our little group. Eventually the woman managed to coax the animal further around the field and we quickly scurried to the other side where we found the cache at the site of a stile. That is one thing I can say about this trail… there were a shed load of stiles along the footpaths. I reckon we must have traversed around 20 of them during the day. It was also notable that someone needs to get out and maintain their footpath infrastructure along this walk as a lot of the stiles and gates were in poor condition and also quite overgrown with thorn bushes which did a good job of hiding all the barbed wire that flanked them. I say it did a good job, but in all honesty it didn’t stop me from finding the barbed wire at nearly every GZ in the most painful of ways.
Unbelievably at this stage we were only 5 caches in and had been on the go for around 3 hours! AR 06 Eider – Aand Another Letterbox (GC4N08M) was our next cache and it is classed as a multi. Just in case we were getting bored though, the CO had introduced a puzzle element to the cache. You may have noticed the spelling irregularity in the title of the cache… you may not have, you might have skipped that line completely or you may not even be reading this line in which case I am wasting my letters. Anyway for those that are making the effort to read, the title gave us the clue that we would be looking for an AAND which is an Aluminium Alpha Numeric Disc. This is a metal disc about the size of a jam jar lid that has on it letters and corresponding number values (e.g. A=5 B=3). Using these values you can work out the final coordinates using a formula provided on the cache page. The AAND is normally fixed to a fence post or gate or other similar wooden structure and constitutes a physical stage in a multi cache. This is all very well and good but could we find the AAND? Could we buggery!
We spent around 15 minutes searching all the wood in site at the stile at GZ and the fence adjoining it but no luck. Then we thought we might be able to find an image of the AAND on the internet. There are only half a dozen different AANDs and if we could find out what the letter number combinations were then we could produce a series of possible final locations and most likely the correct one would appear obvious to us on the map. No dice, we couldn’t get a good enough internet signal to try that and when we did we couldn’t find them. Upon reading some of the logs we found that we weren’t the only people not to be able to find the AAND and indeed one cacher had continued on and searched likely hides and managed to find the final. We did a bit of maths and worked out that due to the limitations on how close caches could be together, that there was a stretch of footpath about 30 metres long where the final had to be. So with only a small amount of hope we made our way towards the next cache. When we reached the section in question we found that there were a number of stiles in quick succession along the path and these were really the only potential hiding spots. We found the cache hiding in the bushes to the side of the last stile and felt very smug with ourselves, even a little like we had got one back on the CO who had tortured us so much at number 4.
The sun was now shining down on us and although the heat it provided was fairly minimal this being October, it was still a most pleasant day to be walking through the British countryside. By this stage we would have killed for a simple and straight forward traditional cache but it was not to be. AR 07 Eider – Memorial Multi (GC4N47F) took us out of the fields and along a quiet country lane in search of a war memorial where we had to retrieve a series of numbers in order to calculate the final. After doing this we headed along a busier road a short distance to the GZ where the road crossed a river on a stone bridge. We searched both sides of the road around the bridge but no luck. We started to doubt our calculations and Geoff jogged back to the memorial to check the numbers. On returning he told us that we had got it right and that the GZ was definitely the bridge. In the end we resorted to using a PAF on this one and a quick call to Norfolk12 revealed that she did indeed remember the cache and was happy to point us in the right direction. She also warned us that she had been unable to find the next one in the series which was also a multi. Oh joy, another difficult multi… we were so happy!
The walk to the first stage of AR 08 Eider – Bridge Farm (GC4N47H) was only a short one thankfully as by this stage in our day energy levels were starting to flag. I could tell that Shar was nearing the end of her resolve and I was starting to feel decidedly knackered. But this is the problem with linear geocaching trails… once you get to a point you have just about as much ground to cover in either direction and so stopping and going back is not really an option. The only real course of action is to carry on and see it through to the end. A frustrating search at stage 1 didn’t reveal the numbers that we had hoped it would and eventually we decided it was time to move on. We walked to the end of the road which then turned into a footpath across some cow fields and we discussed amongst ourselves that this at least ruled out the possibility of the final being here. At the far end of the field we could see a break in the hedgerow and another field beyond and once we had waited for a cow to make its way through, we did the same. On a whim we decided that this was the first possible hide for the final of the cache we had just given up on and made a half-hearted attempt to search the hedges. To our utter disbelief Geoff pluck the container from its hiding place almost immediately. Shocked and surprised we grinned and Geoff called out a loud fanfare of celebration just as a cyclist came through the hedgerow and greeted us with somewhat of a startled look on his face. It has to be said that Geoff was on fire during this caching adventure finding nearly all of the hides, without him I don’t think Shar and I would have got past the first cache.
Our flagging energy levels had been boosted by the joy of still maintaining a clean sweep of all the caches so far today, despite the fact that they had pretty much all been complete buggers to find. We marched on through the field in search of our next cache, AR 09 Eider – Cows Aand Calves (GC4N47P). Did you spot the name of the cache? Yep we were looking for another AAND… “Groan!” But hang on a moment, Geoff had already attempted this one last year and after an initial mix up now knew which AAND was being used. Even then we did the cache properly and Shar made not only a quick find of the AAND but then also was the one to pluck the final container from its hiding place too and now with only 3 more caches and possibly the bonus to go the end was in sight.
The weak sun crawled across the fields as it started to dip towards the horizon reminding us just how long we had been on this series already but we weren’t giving up now… well no way we could in fact having to walk to the car in any case so looking for the caches on the way was the polite thing to do. Oh my god! AR 10 Eider – Field Maple Letterbox (GC4N47V) was a traditional… oh sweet traditional how welcome you were. And to make it even more rewarding it was actually me that plucked this one from its hiding place. My first touch of tupperware of the day, and it felt good. We had been careful to check all the caches for bonus numbers on the way round and had even found a golden egg bonus number as well. We were a couple of letters short and only two caches to go and we were hoping and praying like hell that the missing information would be found.
Luckily we had a secret weapon up our sleeve for the next cache, AR 11 Eider – Three Stage Multi (GC4N484). Smokeypugs had actually got the FTF on this cache when it had been published in 2013 so with the occasional nudge and a prod from Geoff, Shar and I were able to locate the stages with relative ease and then it was just a matter of dialing in the cords and locating the final and we were heading for the last of the trail, aside from the bonus, with smiles on our faces and tired and aching legs… and feet… and pretty much everything else.
The CO apparently has some mercy as AR 12 Eider – Nearly There! (GC4N487) was another trad letterbox hybrid and didn’t pose too much of a problem to us. We were delighted to find the last of the bonus numbers giving us a full set and as the skies started to darken, a result of the promise of impending rain rather than the fading light, we headed back towards the car which happened also to be in the same direction as the bonus cache, AR 13 Eider – The Bonus (GC4N48E). My legs screamed at me as we passed the car and walked further up the lane towards the GZ of the bonus but we had come so far today, worked so hard, that there was no way we were going to leave without looking for the bonus. At GZ we found a massive tree and hint in hand we set about searching. After 5 minutes though we had turned up nothing and I simply didn’t have the energy to go on. I moved to the side and declared that I was done. Sharlene wasn’t long behind me and eventually with a shrug and a sigh Geoff admitted that the bonus would have to wait for another day. Slightly deflated but relieved to be heading for the car finally we trudged the few hundred metres along the lane as simultaneously the clouds gathered darkly and the sun, low in the sky, shone brightly upon our faces.
As we drove the short distance back to the start to collect Geoff’s car the heavens open and the rain splattered down in big lumps onto the windscreen of our car. Both Geoff and Sharlene exclaimed at the same time as a glorious and vivid double rainbow blazed across the sky and as we turned the final corner we mused at how one end of it seemed to be right at the point where Geoff’s car was.
Looking back on it now I can say that whilst it was probably some of the most difficult geocaching we have ever undertaken simply because of the deviousness of the hides and the amount of multiple stage caches there were, it was a real sense of achievement to be able to return home knowing we had completed the whole of the Eider section of the Aylesbury Ring in one hit. Not even the disappointment of failing to find the bonus weighs too heavy on me as when we go back to start the adjacent section we will be starting at the end of the Eider leg and be able to pick up the bonus then. It has to be said that whilst Shar and I certainly didn’t shirk our caching duties and got in amongst it as much as everyone else, Geoff was totally the star of the day finding the majority of the stages and finals and generally being a legend. As ever the combining together of Washknight and Smokeypugs resulted in a fantastic day out and did not fail to well and truly produce a true geocaching adventure. Happy Days.