Last Saturday saw us meeting up with our friends Geoff and Melissa and their cute pug Smokey for another PugWash caching adventure. Because of one reason or another, this was the first time we had all been together on a day out since August and there was much excitement. Geoff and I had put our heads together, a worrying thought I know, and come up with an ambitious plan. In October we had made our first dent in the 140 cache series known as the Aylesbury Ring and now we were going to take another chunk out of it. In total there were 24 caches on the table for the finding although Smokeypugs had already found a few of those, Shar and I had also logged a couple of different ones, but Sam, as MiniKnight, had not found any of them. Another interesting dimension to the day was that, potentially, we could find five different cache types – traditional, multi, puzzle, letterbox and virtual.
We met up with team Smokeypugs at an agreed parking place close to the end of our planned walk, close to the village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. From here the plan was to all pile into our car and drive to the starting point of our walk which was to be along a 4km stretch of disused canal. Before we did so however we paused to collect a couple of bits of information from a sign, near the canal bridge, which we would need to locate the final of a multi cache later in the day. There were actually two multi caches that started at the bridge, one that was part of the Aylesbury ring that took you on a walk around the village of Wendover and the second, Canalside Walk (Bucks) (GC1449H), which we had just collected the cords for. It is really strange actually, as both of the multi caches have exactly the same published coordinates. I thought I was going mad when I was planning and saving the caches as I could only find one of them on the map view but they both appeared on the list view. It was about 15 minutes of thinking I was completely bonkers before I realised that I could only see one of them on the map because the other one was hiding underneath it. You would think you would not be allowed to create two caches with the exact same published coordinates regardless of their cache type.
Next, the six of us, including Smokey, squeezed into our Nissan Note for the short drive to a car park further along the canal where we would start our walk. On the way, however, we made a couple of brief stops. The first was to collect some information for the virtual cache, Fly By (Bucks) (GC5667), outside the entrance gate to RAF Halton, a training base for the Royal Air Force. We made our stop a quick as we could because loitering around outside an air base taking photos and squinting at electronic devices is probably not the smartest move if you want to avoid a lot of probing questions and possibly an even more probing body search. Geoff and I were out and back into the car in about a minute and our first cache and indeed our first cache type of the day was under our belt.
Back in the cachemobile, we almost made it to the car park, but not quite as there was another cache along the way. With a name like Vale View (GC3A1G2), this one promised to be one worth stopping at. We pulled into a handy lay-by and commenced the search. A short scramble down a bank and the cache was spotted hiding in a tree. Then we turned our attention to the view and for once I was not the only one who had problems enjoying it. Unfortunately there was a low and thick fog covering the landscape which reduced visibility somewhat and so Vale View became more of a view through a veil but it did at least give us a smiley and took our tally of cache types up to two.
Back in the car again and third time lucky we actually made it to the car park this time. The Mandarin section of the Aylesbury Ring consists of 24 caches but today we were only aiming to tackle the second half of it – the stretch that followed the route of the Wendover branch of the Grand Union Canal. A brief stint of lane walking took us over the canal towards the GZ of AR11 Mandarin – Stablebridge Road (GC4PZN1), which lay behind the buzzing structures of an electrical substation. The high voltage hum and crackle of these places always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I was glad therefore that the search for the cache didn’t take too long. Shar made an excellent find on a telegraph pole where a most unique container fashioned out of some coaxial connectors guarded the log sheet.
Retracing our tracks a short way allowed us to gain access to the canal towpath via a steep set of rather slippery steps at the side of a bridge. The Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal was open in 1797 and whilst it was originally intended only for the purpose of drawing water to the main canal, it was quickly and easily widened to make it navigable for boats. It stayed in use for almost exactly 100 years but in 1897, for a number of reasons, not least of all because it had a tendency to leak in places, it was sealed off and in parts drained. A new plan of regeneration has been under way for some years and a portion of it has now been reopened for the traffic of boats but the majority of it, including the stretch that we walked, has remained unnavigable for more than 110 years and Mother Nature has very much attempted to reclaim what was once hers.
Canal caching has its pros and cons. The single biggest plus is that it is very difficult to get lost – the trick is to stay next to, but not in, the water – so you don’t spend a lot of time working out what footpath to take etc. On the other hand canal caches tend to be laid out in a linear pattern but we have covered this before, hence the reason for two cars. For our family the biggest downside is that there is a distinct possibility that I might fall in a canal. Toe paths are notoriously narrow and there is almost always no barrier or ledge or anything marking the edge of the walkway. This makes Sharlene a lot more nervous than it does me, although her being nervous always makes me edgy anyway.
As a group we made quick work of the first few caches, AR12 Mandarin – By the Canal (GC4PZNC), AR14 Mandarin – Perry Mason Investigates (GC4PZQ3) and AR15 Mandarin – Threes A Crowd (GC4Q771), all of which were hidden in various trees alongside the canal. Another benefit of canal-side caches is that there are only so many places you can hide a cache and trees are always a sure fire bet. AR12 being a letterbox and AR14 being a puzzle cache meant that with only 5 finds under our belts we were already up to 4 cache types. The puzzle is one that I enjoyed solving greatly as it used one of my favourite ciphers – the pig pen cipher. This is such a clever and simple code that utilises a grid similar to the type used for noughts and crosses.
The weather was holding well and everyone was enjoying the stroll along the canal, especially Smokey who was off the lead and free to explore anything and everything. We did the same for Sam and he scurried off to the front of the group where he and Geoff worked as primary cache spotters whilst Shar and I lingered at the back where she was free to fret at her leisure about me getting to close to the edge of the towpath.
At this point we took a diversion away from the canal briefly in search of cluedo – The Where? (Relocated) (Bucks) (GCTD8T). We climbed up some steps at the side of a bridge so we could cross the water into the woodland beyond where the cache was hidden. As we made our way up onto the bridge we met a couple of men who were calling out looking for their lost dog. unfortunately we were unable to help as none of us had seen any other dogs, or people for that matter, so far. We made a quick find at GZ, that is to say by the time that Shar and I arrive, the cache was in hand, and so we turned tail and headed back to re-join the canal. When we arrived back at the bridge we were met by one of the men who told us he was now no longer looking for the dog, which had been found, but instead he had now lost the other man who had been helping him look for the dog. We promised to pass on the message of the dog being found if we saw the man who was now lost and made our way back onto the towpath with the feeling that the last 10 minutes had been distinctly weird – a bit like a one act play that we had accidentally stumbled onto the stage in the middle of.
AR16 Mandarin – Take A Seat (GC4Q77V) was a hide that we could all join in on as the seats that we came across on the side of the canal were big enough so that everyone could pick a bit and have a search. I got lucky and was the one to pluck the container from its hiding place at the bottom of one of the legs. I got lots of help from Smokey, of course, although exactly how licking my face as I bent down to look for the cache is a help, Pug only knows. That being said , I can’t really dispute the fact that it did help me find the cache… because I DID find the cache. I wonder if dogs can be trained to sniff out geocaches?
Sticking to the approved method for walking along the canal – i.e. following its course and avoiding the wet bits, we continued on in search of our next hide. AR17 Mandarin – Monopolistic Tendencies (GC4Q790) is another puzzle cache that I had taken the time to solve before coming out today. A nice easy one based on The game Monopoly, although if you weren’t careful it could trick you up due to variations of the game over the years. I don’t know if it is the same in international versions, but in the UK version when properties are grouped in threes, one of the group would always have a slightly higher purchase price and rental value than the other two. For some reason known only to doublesix, the god of board games, in early versions, all three of the properties in the yellow group – Leicester Square, Coventry Street and Piccadilly – have the same rent, £22. Content that I had done my bit by solving the puzzle, although Geoff had solved it as well, I allowed the others to get on with the business of finding the cache which they promptly did and we were on to the next one… sticking with the theme of walking on the hard dry bit and not the wet bit to our right, which seemed to be working for us. So far it was all going swimmingly – bad choice of words seeing as it most definitely had not involved any swimming thus far – we had attempted 9 caches and found 9, amongst those being 4 distinct cache types. We were geocaching gods… nothing could stop us now. Please feel free to imagine me disappearing over the edge of a cliff as those words leave my mouth.
On our way to our next cache we paused to chat to a man who was accompanied by a, relatively, portly pug dog. Smokey was most excited to discover that there was not only another dog of his size, shape and breed in the vicinity, but that the dog in question was in fact not a dog but a bitch. There was much sniffing of bums. Just in case you were wondering, this was neither the lost dog nor the lost man from earlier. As fun as making new doggy friends was, we were here to cache and so we made our way the short distance to the GZ of Bridge Nano (GC3J7B7), which as the name suggest was a nano on a bridge. I say that, but the only evidence we have for that is the fact that it is called bridge nano and that GZ was at a bridge. We can’t confirm or deny the size of the cache as we didn’t actually find it (plummets over the edge of the cliff… thankfully to land in a vat of custard. Shame about the custard allergy!) After 10 minutes of scrambling up the side of the bridge and inspecting the ground nearby in case it had fallen, pausing only briefly to loiter embarrassingly as the man with the fat pug shuffled past, we eventually gave up and chalked up our first DNF.
It was getting on for lunch time and everyone agreed that a pit stop for some food would be a good idea. I had thought ahead on this front and had suggested that we take a detour at the next bridge to walk into the little village of Halton where Shar and I had actually been once before. There was a Church Micro located in the village which Geoff and Melissa hadn’t logged yet and I distinctly remember something very magical in the churchyard and hoped it would still be there. The cache, church Micro 4515 Halton Village (GC4RN7P), is a multi cache and upon entering the churchyard Geoff, Melissa and Sam got down to finding the required info while I was relieved (no pun intended) and smug to see that the portaloo was both still there and in a very excellent state of cleanliness. After numbers were collected we found a place to plot up by the church and broke out the sandwiches for a much needed energy boost. Whilst we ate a man wandered past and briefly engaged us in polite conversation. I chipped in and exchange pleasantries until Sharlene told me that he had actually gone now and I was talking to myself! Oh the joys of being blind
Refreshed and revitalised we went off in search of the final for the church micro. Shar and I hung back a little as we had previously found this cache and we didn’t want to give away the location. This wasn’t really too much of a problem as we were struggling to remember actually where it was. That being said though , eventually we did remember and we were a bit surprised to see Geoff leading Sam and Melissa past it and into the distance somewhere. We hung back and checking that the cache was still in place I then got on the phone – They were slightly too far to shout at by now – and suggested that they might have made a miscalculation. They returned and upon being given an approximate GZ, they quickly found the tiny little bleeder hiding in a road sign. Happy to have offered a nudge, as Geoff and Melissa have done the same for us many times, we turned round and headed back to the bridge to re-join the canal and the Aylesbury ring.
When Sharlene and I had been here before, we had done not only the Church Micro but also a couple of caches along the canal too ,and so for the next two hides we got to hang back and huddle and point and giggle as the others tried to make the finds. Alas there wasn’t much giggling and pointing as Geoff spotted the first one, AR18 Mandarin – Eye Level (GC4Q79R), instantly as he arrived at GZ and a little further along the towpath Sam spotted and retrieved The wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – a piece of cake (GC47AWJ) whilst Shar and I were still 20 metres away. The last cache that we had previously found was called billy goats gruff (GC3G6J8) and as you might expect it was located under a bridge that crossed the canal a bit further along. This is a stunningly difficult hide as the entire underside of the bridge is rusty old iron covered in bolts and rivets and somewhere on this is stuck a magnetic nano cache. The first time I found it, it took about 20 minutes and seeing as it was in January my hands were like frozen sausages by the end of it. You would think that I would be able to find it nice and quick the second time but you would be wrong. It took another 10 minutes with both Geoff and I searching the nasty, rusty, freezing, spider infested underside of the bridge and it was Geoff that made the find eventually.
AR19 Mandarin – The Heart of it (GC4Q7BP) was a straightforward find a bit further along the towpath and even further along still we found another cache in the Henry Sugar mini series. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar – THE SWAN (GC3N8XB) was well named as right at GZ there were a pair of swans gliding up and down the canal, generally looking as if they owned the place. I was staggered to see them there and for one bizarre moment I thought perhaps one of them was a fake and was in fact the hide for the cache but before I could strip off and dive into the murky water to check it out, thankfully sanity kicked back in and the cache was found at the side of the path. I am still amazed that there were actually swans at the GZ of a cache with swan in the name, and just to put this into perspective they were the only swans that we saw all day. I think there might be something lurking in the depths of the odd sock bag that is my brain to the effect that swans mate for life and live around, or at least return to, the same place all the time. I could be wrong… it wouldn’t be the first time, or even the second!
More staying on the dry bits and avoiding the wet and a short time later we were at the GZ of AR20 Mandarin – Drainage (GC4Q7CQ). The hint for this was ICMTT which caused Sharlene a little confusion before it was decoded for her, not being used to seeing the two acronyms shoved together. This got me to thinking that Geocaching is a hobby with more than its fair share of acronyms. Try your hand at this little lot which could quite possibly be a log on a cache. QEFF in ICMTT SL TNLN TFTC ROFL! We did indeed have a QEF at the GZ and then it was on to AR21 Mandarin – BackDraft (GC4Q7P7) which demonstrated in the CO a great sense of humour with its hide and hint. You wouldn’t expect to see a sign saying “fire door keep closed” on a gate at the side of a canal towpath and it made me giggle when Shar pointed it out and promptly retrieved the cache.
Legs were starting to tire a bit now and I think everyone was focusing on the end of the walk and the cake that was waiting for us there. AR22 Mandarin – Moon 11/13 (GC4Q7GT) was a cool puzzle cache that involved referencing some pictures denoting phases of the moon to a chart indicating on which dates of a particular month they occurred. With some help from Shar before we came, we solved this one with little trouble and the find was also quickly made.
If you were paying attention near the beginning of this entry – I know, it was quite a while and a considerable amount of waffle ago – you might remember that the first thing we did was to collect some information for a multi cache called canalside walk (GC1449H). At this point on the towpath we were just a couple of hundred metres from the final but the direction of this seemed to be perpendicular to the canal across a field that was on the other side of a fence. We spent a little while trying to work out how to get into the field, which looked like it regularly saw walkers passing through it, but didn’t really see any obvious entry points. We elected to carry on down the towpath to see if there was a logical way in and sure enough a short way down the path there was a stile that allowed us to get across and into the field of wet grass… oh joy wet feet here we come. The grass wasn’t too bad and we made it to GZ, which was a little cluster of trees, without too much dampness. I was last to arrive on the scene and was told that everyone was waiting for me so that I could be the one to make the find. After a short finger search in the crook of a tree, I felt a camo bag which after a bit of jiggling and tugging came free of its hole. I held the cache up in triumph and was surprised that instead of cheers, I was greeted with a chorus of “ewww”. The cache had become home to a large number of snails who were all clinging to the camo bag. I gently eased the container from the bag and the log was duly signed and contents inspected.
We retraced our steps to the towpath and continued our walk, now with only two hides on the mandarin section left to be found. The first, AR23 Mandarin – Through The Keyhole (GC4Q7NZ), was a puzzle cache again which had taken a little while to solve. It concerned characters on the soap opera Coronation Street and it was necessary to identify pictures of people and not only that but work out which house numbers on Coronation street they have lived at longest. This took a bit of time and with the help of some friends on Facebook who identified the people, I have no idea about Corrie, I never watch it, and a wiki that had all the info about who lived where, the coordinates had finally been teased out. This section of the canal seemed a lot busier than any we had travelled along so far and we had to continually stop our searching as families and walkers and runners and cyclists came past us. One mother and her spawn lingered annoyingly right near GZ and proceeded to feed the ducks. This made life a lot harder for those searching especially as we were having trouble locating the cache at all. We had located a likely hint item but no amount of searching, even after Geoff called in a PAF could unearth the container. Ooh I could have added PAF to my acronyms log. QEF in ICMTT after PAF. SL TNLN TFTC LOL ROFL ROOA (Running out of Acronyms). By now everyone was fading seriously and the fact that we were only a hundred metres or so from the car was too much to take so we reluctantly declared it a DNF and vowed to return another time. Thankfully it was very close to the car as I said so returning would be easier. We also opted to leave the last cache in the mandarin section, AR24 Mandarin – Roger of Wendover the early years (GC4Q7QF) as this was a multi that looked like it would take us on a longish walk around the village and to be frank, none of us could be bothered at this stage.
We made our way to Geoff’s car and after a brief interlude while Shar and Geoff went to retrieve the other vehicle, we had an impromptu cake party outside someone’s house just near the bridge. To be fair if they had come out and complained about us loitering we would probably have offered them some of Melissa’s yummy Victoria sponge with chocolate icing to placate them It was certainly a most welcome sugar boost after a thoroughly enjoyable but knackering walk along the Canal. In total Smokeypugs managed to log 13 caches they hadn’t previously found, we clocked up 16 and Sam broke his previous best day with 20. Both Sam and I beat our previous best of cache types in one day setting a new best of 5. And just to cap off a perfect day as we all got back in the cars and drove for home, the lovely dry weather that we had enjoyed all day finally decided that enough was enough and some rain was in order. How was that for perfect timing – Team PugWash style!