Last week was half term and we had made plans to head up to Norfolk to visit my mum for a few days. This time it was just Sam and I, leaving Shar at home for a well-earned rest from being mum and carer to the two of us respectively. Having introduced my mum to geocaching last year and seeing that it is a fantastic way to get out and enjoy the East Anglian countryside, there was soon talk about whether we could fit a day’s caching into our plans while we were there, and of course there were no objections from me.
We decided to tackle a series of 11 caches near the village of Tottenhill which is a cluster of just under 100 dwellings around 5 miles from the town of Kings Lynn; a short drive of 30 minutes from where my mum lives. On the drive there we took a small diversion to find VS#29 West Newton (GC4FXNF). As well as being a fantastic chance to grab a smiley we were also there on a mercy mission for the CO, Norfolk12, who I am Facebook friends with and when she realised we were heading up to my mum’s, had asked me if we could replace the container which had been broken. We were happy to do this and with a bit of roadside improvisation, a length of black insulation tape and a magnet the job was done and we were back in the car heading for Tottenhill.
The series, Wandering Around Westbriggs, is laid out in a cross shape with 3 to 4 caches placed on each leg outwards from a central junction of two quiet country lanes. Three of the 4 legs are on lanes and the last stretches along a footpath. This is rather a strange arrangement for a series and studying the map revealed there was no alternative way to approach the hides other than to walk out along each leg and then back to the centre to start another. The distances involved meant that this wasn’t really a problem as the hides themselves looked to be no more than a couple of hundred metres apart.
Along one of the lanes lay the parish church of St. Bartolph’s and this provided a good place to park the car. For some reason, known only to those that built the church and the houses in Tottenhill, the two are not particularly near each other. The village lies on the other side of a main road about 1km from the church and all the caches we were attempting today were placed in peaceful, deserted and uninhabited countryside. Well that is not entirely true. The countryside was inhabited by quite a lot of animals but as for houses, I think there were a total of 2 in the area where we were caching and one of those we couldn’t actually see, believing it to be there only because there was a track leading away from the road at one point with a wheelie bin skulking to one side.
As Sam, mum and I left the car behind and headed down the lane to start our caching the skies were peppered with light clouds and the winds were gentle. It was a good day to be out in the open exposed flat lands of Norfolk and we were eager to clock up some finds. The caches were actually quite new, having only been published in September this year. They had been laid to commemorate a previous series of caches which, whilst very popular, had recently been archived. Our first stint took us towards the road junction and across onto the footpath along which we found our first five caches – 11 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1Q3), 7 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5B6Z0), 4 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C4E), 6 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5B6YD) and 5 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C4T). The hides were all good, making use of trees or stumps and bushes and the CO had taken the time to use some pretty fun containers. Amongst The first five caches these included a plastic pelican, a spider with a nano hidden in its abdomen, a crazy frog on a skateboard and a rubber train.
It was interesting to be caching without Shar who normally acts as my guide when we walk. However, both Sam and mum were happy to guide me or lead me when I needed it. It was also quiet enough that most of the time I could make my own way, following the sounds they made and their blurred shapes moving ahead of me. Sam is learning how to lead and guide me and I must say he is doing really well. I expect that sounds a bit strange, but although Sam has grown up knowing that I am blind and always having to accommodate and work with it, it hasn’t been until recently that I have called on him to guide me, as this carries with it all sorts of responsibilities and requires a decision making process that is developed to consider more than just the individual. It isn’t something that comes with instinct, and it is not something that you can just learn out of a book. Guiding and leading someone in a way that is comfortable for both people is a skill that takes a long time to develop. Shar and I have gradually tweaked and modified our methods over years and now we know what works and what doesn’t. As a result we can now slip into and out of gentle guidance and authoritative distinctive control as and when we need to without hardly even thinking about it.
Due to linear placement of the caches we opted to employ the skip every other cache method whilst walking along the footpath which meant that on our way back towards the road junction we still had one cache to find. After completing this leg we decided that this was a good time to take a break and get some food. We headed back towards the car and upon retrieving the lunch, found a very handy bench in the churchyard. Tottenhill is not much of a hill but, to be fair, the church is most definitely positioned on the highest possible ground around. It might just be a few metres in vertical height above the surrounding landscape but from a distance the vista of the village is as dominated by the shape of the church as it would have been hundreds of years ago when it was built, most probably at the edge of an estate by the wealthy land owners.
As we ate lunch sitting outside the small, locked church the sun poked out from behind the clouds and added a little warmth to our picnic. It was quiet, so peaceful… I really got a sense of being disconnected from the rest of the world which is a feeling I love when being outside. A ham and pickle sandwich in hand and the delicate heat of the sun on my face I could have quite happily spent the afternoon just sitting there, doing nothing, listening the distance sounds of life going on around me.
Most of our senses can be tuned and filtered to simplify the information we receive and to try and ensure that the important data gets through to us. For me the most notable sense where this happens is my hearing. Not being distracted by visual stimulus my focus is much more on what I hear and I can consciously tune in or tune out sounds sometimes, a practice that everyone does without knowing it. I tend to notice sounds a lot more… that is not to say my hearing is improved. The idea that a blind person somehow has super hearing is utter rubbish and has no scientific evidence to support it as a theory as far as I know. But when you take away vision, you rely on your hearing a lot more, you put all your concentration into trying to determine what useful information you can gain from all the sounds entering your ears. This is as opposed to ignoring a lot of “noise”, as sighted people do as they try to focus on what they are seeing. Experimenting with my hearing and passing the time by just listening and trying to decide what I am hearing is a pastime that I am quite happy to do if I am sitting somewhere comfortable, preferably with the sun shining on me and a sandwich in my hand.
When you choose to focus your hearing it is surprising what gradually comes into the foreground, as it were. What Sam and Mum experienced whilst lunching at the church was exactly the same thing but from a visual point of view. It started with Sam spotting a ladybird on his hand as he was eating. This was followed by seeing another one a few minutes later. When the third one was spotted, again by Sam, he then tracked its flight to the church wall where it landed. As he stood and looked, mum joining him, he started to see a few more ladybirds. Then mum started seeing them and after a minute or so or looking at the wall, they realised that there were hundreds of them sunning themselves on the warm stone. It was a question of changing the filter or shifting your focus or a phrase that I am sure you have come across before, “getting your eye in”. Whilst they were doing this I noticed the strangled moo of a cow far away to the left, the roar of some industrial works in the distance ahead of me, the tweet of an unknown bird up to my left, the low hum of the main road behind the church, a lorry passing by us just a few metres away pushing aside the low tree branches as it went down the narrow overgrown lane and the very distinct and loud sound of a military jet banking and dipping in the skies above. And then I unfocussed it all again and enjoyed the peace and quiet as I slurped on a cup of hot chocolate, drunk from a proper mug… my mum knows how to do a picnic!
After lunch we set off to find Church Micro 300 – Tottenhill (GC1EYJ4) which actually wasn’t that close to the church. I guess the reason for this placement was that it would have been hampered originally by the proximity of one of the caches that made up the series that was being homage by the hides that we had been finding today. All the caches in the Church Micro series are numbered and this one was 300. This sounds like quite a high number but when you realise that the Church Micro series is the singular biggest geocaching series in the world and that the new caches being added to the series are numbered in the six thousands, then it transpires that this is actually quite a low number in the series. A look at the placement date reveals it to be August 2008. Seeing that the first CM was place in November 2007 you can see that Tottenhill was quite a new addition to the series. I think it is the earliest numbered CM I have found although Sam thinks he and my mum found a lower one earlier in the year when he was staying with her.
The walk to GZ took us along the lane away from the church and the junction that marked the center point for the other caches in We found the cache at the side of the road in amongst the bushes. It was hidden under a rather cool fake rock that had been halved and hollowed out underneath so that a piece of metal could be glued in and attached to this was a magnetic 35mm pot. Strange to see the extent the CO went to enable the container to adhere magnetically to the rock but a good idea for keeping the cache secure.
Once we had signed the log we replaced the cache and retraced our steps along the lane, past the church to the junction of roads. We had two legs left to do now, 3 caches along the road to the north and 3 along the same road to the south. We headed north first and Sam made a quick find of the Gorilla with a log sheet up its backside at 8 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1MH).We skipped number 9 so that we would have a cache to find on the walk back to the junction and headed to 10 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1PN) where we were greeted by two groups of bulls, thankfully they were secured behind gates and electric fences on both sides of the road. They did seem to take a great interest in what we were doing which for me was mainly sinking my foot into a puddle up to the ankle. There was not much at GZ in terms of obvious hides and we spent quite a long time wandering around and generally failing to locate the cache. In the end we put our faith in the coordinates and spent a few minutes getting as close as we could to 0 metres, whereupon mum stuck her head in a bush and located the coffee jar sized cache.
Sam again came up trumps as we walked back towards the junction when he spotted 9 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC5D1P3) which was hiding around the back of a tree up a bank. It was a surprise for sure to see a colourful parrot perching in the branches of the tree but on examination we discovered that it was only the guardian of the cache and after a little indiscrete fumbling with the plastic bird, the log sheet was extracted.
With an overwhelming sense of De Ja Vu, we walked back through the junction of roads for what must have been the 4th time and continued straight on to pick up the last three caches which didn’t present us with too much of a problem. We had to pause our searching for a short while as a muggle in a car was loitering near the GZ of 3 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C45) and we spent a little longer than necessary searching for it as some of the previous logs incorrectly warded us away from a nearby barbed wire fence when in fact the hide turned out to be at the base of a tree that was slap bang touching the thing.
We walked right to the end of the lane to pick up 1 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC568E5) which mum found hanging from a twine that was dangling into a gully at the side of the road. Then we turned tail and headed back towards our last cache of the day, 2 Wandering Around Westbriggs (GC56C3T), which turned out to be a cute plastic teddy bear who had the log safely tucked inside him.
With all the caches found and no pesky DNFs, we made our way back to the car and headed for home for tea and cake. All in all it was a great days caching in fantastic surroundings with great company. Happy Days.