Recently some of our geocaching days out have been, shall we say, less than fantastic. Our trip to Wigmore was thoroughly unsatisfactory (see A Bad Day At The Office) and our recent excursion to Mill Hill left us demoralised and at a geocaching low (See Aborted after a Tip-Off). If it wasn’t for the great day out we had with Smokeypugs doing part of the Aylesbury Ring (see Zen and the art of canal caching) separating the two disasters we might have thrown our caching toys out of the box and given up on the whole thing in favour of basket weaving or contract bridge.
Keen to drag the horse back out of the stable and stumble back onto its back rather than let a bad metaphor fester, I suggested to Sharlene that we should go Geocaching this week. Silence was followed by a period of indecision and deflection until I explained to her that I was going back to basics to the kind of caching that we knew we liked. Definitely no urban or even sub-urban hides, but instead decent sized containers hidden in rural surroundings along footpaths and across farmland where there would be hardly anyone to see us acting like tupperware obsessed Muppets. This got a much more positive, if still slightly hesitant response and when I pointed out that I had cleared down her old Samsung Galaxy Ace and loaded it with c:geo and she could go back to using this as her GPS device , the bait was taken, the trap fired and the game was afoot.
I had identified a small circular walk of a couple of miles along footpaths around a hamlet in Buckinghamshire called Botley. The route which was primarily across farmland took in 7 geocaches for us to try our hand at. Whilst they didn’t form part of an actual series, I could see from the map that the walk should be easy and straightforward with little or no back-tracking between caches.
Sharlene had scouted out a couple of possible parking spots the previous night – whatever did we do before the invention of Google Street View – and after a drive of less than half an hour we were pulling into a small car park at the junction of Jason Hill and Botley Road. This was right at the southeast corner of our proposed route and turned out to be a perfect place to start and end our walk. Heading west to start with, along Botley road in search of the entrance to the footpath that would take us north across farmland, the sky was clear and the sun shone weakly although the air temperature left us in no doubt that it was December.
After a brief single-file shuffle down a narrow footpath that led away from the road we soon arrived at the GZ of Botley – I like your stile (GC3D1MH). The stile mentioned in the name of the cache no longer existed but instead had been replaced by a metal kissing gate as is the general trend in the British countryside these days. Whilst the path that had brought us here was hemmed in on both sides by fences and therefore was well sheltered, beyond the kissing gate open fields stretched to the north and east and as we started to search for the cache an icy wind molested any part of our bodies that we dared to expose to it. This was a CaptainJack cache, a CO which I have mentioned many times before, and one that alas seems to have ceased maintaining his five hundred or so caches these days. In many cases this isn’t a problem as they are placed with care and an attention to detail that ensures that they do tend to withstand the elements and the interference of muggles. That being said when an entire stile is removed and replaced with a different piece of footpath furniture then it is inevitable that the hiding place will vanish, along with the cache as well. Thankfully the geocaching community had come to the rescue here and someone had placed a new container at GZ and it was this that we now searched for, hands slowly turning blue.
To the side of the kissing gate were some wooden posts about 5 feet high and the tops of them had been hollowed out for a reason that I could not fathom. This seemed like an excellent place to drop a cache but no amount of feeling around inside revealed a container. The minutes passed and body parts got bluer and we feared that we might have to log a DNF on the first cache of the day, something that we most definitely do not like doing. Thankfully Sharlene saved the day and spotted a small plastic bottle container on the ground to the side of the kissing gate. We couldn’t work out if it had been secreted somewhere on the gate and fallen off or whether it had just been carelessly left on the ground – although we doubted this. Happy enough in any case that we had made the find Sharlene signed the log as I rubbed my hands together and tried to coax some feeling back into my fingers. A brief discussion then followed about where to put the cache back and in the end I suggested that we drop it in the top of one of the posts on the basis that any geocacher worth his salt would instantly think of this as a likely hide, as indeed we had.
A short walk along the edge of a field which had a treeline to our left offering little protection from the wind that was coming at us from the northeast, took us to the GZ of FB03 (GC399JE), one of three caches by a local CO, familybell. The GZ was at a point where the tree line angled sharply to the left revealing even more farm fields to the northwest as well as those already visible to the north and east. On the corner of the treeline there were a number of posts and breeze blocks and with the help of the hint we focused our searching on the blocks which had holes in them. We found the cache nestling inside the second one that we searched and as Sharlene did the honours with the log I fished out a geocoin that I had been hanging onto for a while and dropped it in the decent sized container. I say it was a geocoin, but in fact it was a paper version showing a photo of the coin itself. We generally only see geocoins in this form nowadays as owners of the valuable trackable items are understandably reluctant to send out the actual coins as so many of them go missing. Well let’s say it as it is… so many of them get stolen by nasty thieving spoil sport gits! If you happen to be one of these horrible people, then sod off I forbid you to read my blog.
After checking and double checking the map we confirmed that the path to the next cache was indeed directly across the ploughed field to the north. The footpath was visible but it was not so much a footpath as the route the farmer used with his tractor and there was of course mud. It was quite hard work underfoot as it was very uneven with lots of ruts and loose clods of earth, but thankfully the mud was relatively firm and sticky and not gloopy and sloshy. Half way across the field Sharlene called back to me to stop as she wanted to rest a bit and a few paces behind her I halted and enjoyed a brief moment where the wind dropped and the sun’s warmth could be felt. It was even quite peaceful, the silence only broken by a busy road somewhere in the distance to the west. We stood for a minute or so getting our breath back and feeling the heat throb through the muscles of our thighs and calves. And then I thought it was just a bit too quiet. Not only was there a lull in the traffic to the west and the wind had dropped, but I could not hear Sharlene breathing. Hmmm, that’s odd. “Hello darkness, my old friend”. I shifted a little and refocused my hearing and then just about heard her footsteps disappearing into the distance. “Oh, are we on the move again then?” I called out and Sharlene giggled a little as she realised she had neglected to tell me that she was setting off. I wonder how long I might have stood in the field enjoying the peace and quiet and the warmth of the sun before realising that I was all alone.
Reunited once more we squidged our way to the far side of the field where a hedgerow dotted with trees separated us from the next field to the north. Our next cache, Amazing Grazing (GCY0NJ), was a short distance to the east and it was not clear on which side of the field boundary it would be accessible from. We plumped for the field that we were already in and after about 10 minutes searching we reversed our decision and climbed over the stile and headed east again on the other side of the trees. Shar spotted the cache or at least the obvious hiding place for it which was a sizable tree with a large hole at its base. With direction from her I made my way through the hedgerow and plucked the cache from its hiding place. It has to be said that we do make a good team… most of the time.
Another sticky muddy field was crossed to the north before we arrived at a T junction of paths with a gate directly in front of us that seemed to go nowhere in particular. The gate was obviously the home of the cache according to the distance readings on the phones and in no small part to the name of the cache which was Orchard Leigh – Gate (GC3D1NN). While Shar kept an eye on the busier footpath that ran west to east perpendicular to the one we had used to cross the field, I got down and started searching the small metal gate for what could only have been a magnetic hide. I quickly found the small container nestling safely and securely inside the bottom of one of the hollow uprights of the gate. The super strong magnet meant that I almost didn’t realise it was the cache at first as it was held so firmly in place that it almost felt part of the gate. A good firm tug did finally allow me to extricate the little bleeder from its hidey hole and I marvelled at my first solo find of the day.
We were now at the point furthest from the location where the car was parked and as we turned east towards our next cache we were 4 caches down with just three to find. On arriving at the GZ of FB01 (GC399J2), we discovered a low and very spindly tree that barred those from wishing to search its centre with a forest of low and entangling branches mixed in with a large portion of bramble for good measure. The cache, if still in place, had to be somewhere in the middle of the tree, it was too good a hiding place to be passed up by a cache owner, but getting to it was the problem. After much stretching, bending and not an insignificant amount of blood loss and swearing Sharlene was finally the one to pull the cache from its well-guarded spot. By this stage we were feeling extremely pleased with ourselves and regardless of whether we found the remaining two caches or not, felt that our faith in geocaching had been restored. We were enjoying ourselves, more than that, dare I say it, we were having fun, even in spite of the bitter wind that had kicked up again as we set off along the winding footpath as it slowly bent back southwards towards our next cache.
As we approached GZ the farmland gave way to houses and beyond these lay Jason’s Hill, at the bottom of which our car was parked with the promise of lunch and hot chocolate therein. The footpath nestled neatly to one side of the road separated from it by a wide verge and a line of trees. Thankful to be slightly sheltered from the elements here we soon arrived at GZ and started searching the tree stumps for Jason’s Hill – Stumped (GC3D1N4). With two false starts on the left of the path Sharlene eventually spotted a tall tree stump covered in ivy hiding behind another tree to the right and I was “sent in” to investigate, which meant sticking my hand in there. This I promptly did and pulled out the cache, easy peasy. This was more like it… exactly the sort of geocaching we enjoy. Sure we like a challenge every now and then but for our bread and butter caches we like nice walks, good sized containers and short searches.
Further along the footpath, we came upon our final GZ of the day. As the road dipped down into a small valley and then climbed up again, to the right of us a bank rose high above us. FB02 (GC399j9) was hidden somewhere along the bank but no real specific clues could be gleaned from the logs or the hint to pinpoint its location. We spent about 15 minutes searching trees and hollows but with no luck. With hunger fast becoming a more pressing concern than the prospect of logging a DNF we decided to call it a day and headed back to the car. Six out of seven caches was good enough for us. It was a most pleasant walk around Botley and one that restored our excitement for Geocaching. Happy days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 3rd December 2014 and took our cache total to 863.