After our last, not so enjoyable, caching day out (see A bad day at the office), it was with renewed hope and a small amount of trepidation that Shar and I made plans for a few hours of caching last Thursday. We decided to head off directly after the school run and try and get back in time for lunch. I had identified a small series of four geocaches in Stanmore Country Park and, along with a couple of others that were also in the park, this seemed like the ideal morning filler.
Despite there having been a lot of rain the day before, as we made our way to Stanmore, just a few miles to the south of us, it was cloudy but thankfully dry. A handy car park was attached to the park and as we left the car and headed into the trees along a path, we were already feeling more positive. Stanmore Country Park is what you would call an open space rather than a park. There are no paved paths, or playgrounds or mown sports pitches. What there is, are lots of woodland and small meadows and clearings, with natural trodden paths and only minimal signs of human interference – the ideal place to hide a few geocaches.
Following the directions on the cache page and with the help of a provided waypoint and the gentle advice of “if in doubt, stay on the path,” we enjoyed the fresh air and solitude as we ambled over the undulating terrain towards our first cache, SCP #1 – Fallen Tree (GC2TPYK). We were hardly out of sight of the car when the woodland residents started showing their faces. Squirrels were to be seen everywhere scampering around the ground and up into the trees. We stopped and watched as one ran up a tree and leapt from one to another as if performing for us in a private squirrel circus.
With both of us still getting to grips with our new phones and as a result of the nature of the terrain and tree cover, we were at times unsure of exactly where we were meant to be heading. The advice of staying on the path was good though and soon we were within metres of GZ at the top of a moderately steep bank. We started down the bank and as we got half way down I commented that my phone was reading 0 metres. Not trusting the reading and unsure where on the bank the cache might be we carried on, stepping carefully over some logs as we went. Well I am sure you read that and thought, “hang on a minute… stepped over some logs? Err, you wanna think about that for a second?” Once we had reached the bottom, we both agreed that we were now about 10 metres from GZ and it was back up the slope…. Near the logs! We made our way back up and upon reaching the logs, had a brief forehead slapping moment before we plucked the cache from its hiding place amongst the logs.
Heading towards our second cache,SCP #2 – The Pimple (GC2TQ1Y) Shar was having a lot of problems getting a consistent distance reading from C:Geo and I was having issues getting a bearing that I could trust. We continued to heed the advice of following the path and between the two of us we were able to count down the metres to GZ. We still hadn’t seen another soul as we steadily headed through the trees and gained in elevation. As we neared the cache site Shar’s phone started being a bit more consistent and when we eventually reach the hide which was on the crest of a hill, it occurred to me that our poor GPS performance was probably due to the fact that for the last 30 minutes we had been in somewhat of a gully, which with relatively high sides and a dense covering of trees would have caused not an insignificant amount of problems when trying to secure a solid and reliable GPS signal.
It took us only a few minutes of searching to locate the container thanks to the name of the cache and a tree that seemed to have a bad case of acne. We signed the log and then made a note of the bonus number that was also within the cache. I have neglected to mention up until now that the series of four caches is in fact three caches and a bonus; the means for locating which can be found inside the first three containers in conjunction with answering a few simple questions on the cache page. We were lacking just the remaining code number from the third cache now as I had previously answered the necessary questions whilst at home.
Upon leaving this cache and heading towards SCP #3 – Forked and Intertwined (GC2TQ3K)we took a noticeable turn to the left indicating that we were indeed making our way around in a large circle which would, hopefully, lead us back towards the car after finding the bonus. Having reached somewhat of a peak at the previous cache we were now dropping in elevation as we made our way along the woodland path. On the way we “big stepped” across a couple of small and pitiful streams which might be a bit more daunting later on in the winter, but at this stage presented us with little problem. Once at the GZ of number 3, we made quick work of searching for an appropriate hint item and soon had the cache in hand and were inspecting the contents. I couldn’t resist snagging out a little pull back Dalek from the container with the intention of giving it to Sam on returning home… no honest, it was for Sam.
With all bonus numbers now secured we were now able to calculate the coordinates of the final cache. Before we went for this one though, which would take us almost back to the car, there were two other caches in the park and seeing as we had found all the previous ones with relative ease we were keen to press on and grab a couple more before heading back.
The walk to SCP – (S)PInELESS (GC3RRGG) took us through more of the woods and up and down a couple of hills again, although it felt like we kept going up and down the same hill to be honest but this is where the path took us. It also led us through a couple more clearings where the grass had been allowed to grow wild which was now around shin height and sopping wet. Consequently by the time we had crossed the clearings and despite the fact that we were both wearing walking boots, our feet were now soaking wet. My next pair of boots will definitely have waterproof uppers as the merest of strolls through grass longer than an inch tends to leave my feet damp slightly squelchy. On the way we spotted a cool looking tree that to me conjured up visions of medusa’s wild and poisonous hair. The cache itself was to be found not too far away from this at all, on the other side of the path in the bowl of a tree. Shar made the find and another smiley was added to the pile.
The walk to the next cache, SCP – Logged Out (GC3RRA6) was longer than expected and this was mainly because we followed slightly the wrong path and ended up taking a diversion that we didn’t need to. The diversion involved going up and down the biggest hill of the day and upon finally reaching the GZ of logged out, we realised that we could have avoided the hill entirely had we gone the right way. To add insult to injury, no amount of searching could find us the cache and we were left slightly baffled as to where it could be if indeed it was there at all. We spent 15 minutes around a very distinctive tree that had grown in and out of the ground like a serpent which was referenced in the hint but still had no luck in finding the cache. We did find some awesomely large fungi though.
Having admitted defeat we dialled in the coordinates of the bonus cache, SCP #4 – Chip’s Challenge Bonus Cache (GC2TQ50) and made our way there along a wider and much more used path. This turned out to form part of the London Loop, a series of footpaths and walks that circle London. The cords led us to a point on the path that was flanked by two massive oak trees and the hint confirmed that we did indeed need to be looking around one of these. Feeling confident that we were in the right place it was frustrating therefore that 15 minutes later we still didn’t have cache in hand, although I had had a lot of dirt, leafmold, bark, mud and slugs in my hands during the search around the base of both of the trees. We read past logs and it just didn’t seem to make sense. The coordinates and the log seemed to favour one in particular of the trees but there were little or no places to hide a cache at ground level near this one. I sat down on part of the tree that had fallen and wondered what to do while my trousers slowly soaked up all the moisture from the tree…. Wet feet and a damp bum… nice. Finally Sharlene exclaimed that she had found it and that we had been on the wrong track all the time. It was the right tree but no one had ever said it was supposed to be base of tree. Low and behold a few feet up, there was a narrow slot in the massive trunk and when I finally managed to get close enough to it to stick my hand in, I was astonished to find that the tiny hole opened up like a huge cave inside the tree. There nestling in the hollow was a decent sized tupperware box.
So all in all it was a good couple of hours in the woods. We enjoyed the caching a lot more than we had on the previous occasion even though we only managed to find 5 out of the possible 6 caches, had wet feet and I for one had a damp bottom.