Upon completion of this blog entry I was somewhat alarmed to discover just how much textual meandering, waffling and metaphorical staring out of the window I had succumbed to during its compilation. It is therefore as a service to you, dear reader, that I summarise the day as being a thoroughly enjoyable walk of around 4 kilometres, finding 10 geocaches in pleasant surroundings in Welwyn, Hertfordshire. If you are interested to learn the finer details then please, do read on, but you have been warned!
One of the many benefits of reading the blogs of other geocachers is that I sometimes get ideas about where to go for our own adventures. 90% of the time these ideas are completely impractical mainly because they are in far off magical places such as Australia, America, Japan or Milton Keynes. One in every hundred of these ideas, with a blatant disregard for pre-stated percentages, turns out to be achievable. And so it was that whilst reading drsolly’s blog on Saturday, I noted with interest that he and ladysolly had, that day, been for a spot of light caching in Welwyn.
This caught my eye because the name of the series in question, Ellie’s Wanderings was not one that I recognized. I thought that odd because during the summer we had visited Welwyn to go to the excellent water mill and roman baths (see Milling, Bathing and Geocaching), and I had not noticed any such series when scoping out the area for caches. On closer examination it transpired that this was a new series that had only been placed in October. Being more than 5 miles away, it had slipped under the radar of my new cache alert – I probably should increase the range now that we are more prepared to travel a bit further for a decent series.
Anyway, noting that the good doctor and his lady had found all 10 in the series and seemed to enjoy themselves, I suggested to Shar that we could make the half hour drive to Welwyn to tackle the series for our caching adventure this week. She agreed. I suggested Monday. She grumbled a bit, said she wasn’t sure. I said I was happy to go Monday or Thursday but the forecasted weather was much better at the beginning of the week. She concurred and, like the angel that she is, agreed to get up half an hour earlier to make the packed lunch and hot chocolate so that we could go straight after dropping Sam off at school. I said I would get up 10 minutes before her so that I wouldn’t have to encounter her in the kitchen with her morning head on. She started to look outraged and then agreed, aware only too well that as far as she is concerned, early mornings should be something that happen exclusively to other people.
With the prospect of a kitchen altercation with a semi-conscious SharZombie thankfully averted and Sam deposited at the gates of the prestigious seat of learning otherwise known as Pargate Junior School, we stoked the horses and spurred the boiler and made like the wind (non-flatulent) to the provided parking coordinates for the start of our walk.
Welwyn lies about 20 kilometres northeast of Watford and seems to be notable for generally being overlooked in modern history. Whilst once considered a town of similar standing to nearby Hatfield, when the locals objected to the railway passing through and stopping there, the area quickly became overlook by those that sped past. Road traffic was still significant with the Great North road carrying many north bound travellers through at the beginning of the 20th century. Eventually this was also deemed a bad idea, and what is believed to be the first officially named bypass was built taking the A1 past the village. As a further slight, the road was later extended, given motorway status and rerouted to bypass the bypass. All of which fascinating but pointless drivel leads me back to the matter of the parking spot which was on a quiet lane a short distance from the roar of the A1(M). I do hope you will forgive my proclivity for saying something in 200 words when it could be said just so easily with 10. After all that is one of the things you love about my blog. Isn’t it?
As we left the car, with packed lunch and hot chocolate stashed therein, the sun was shining and whilst the air temperature was a cool 7 degrees centigrade, thankfully there was little or no wind. Making our way along the lane and through a kissing gate, kissing as we did so, we quickly encountered the familiar squelch of mud. At this stage it was just a light covering underfoot and was of little concern. We were far more focussed on finding the first cache, 1 Ellie’s Wanderings – Duck race (GC5ECYR), which was found promptly by Shar with the aid of the hint in a cluster of trees just to the side of the path. Not more than a couple of minutes out and we were already signing our first log. We also retrieved a TB, Fosters Australia, that started out in Germany and wants to go to Australia. Its description declares , “Show me the red sands and white coast of Australia”. Red sand? Despite having been released in 2011 and having travelled over 12,000 miles, the nearest it has got to the land down under is North Africa. It is a shame that sending TravelBugs via the post is not really in the spirit of things as I reckon I could get it there by sending it to fellow blogger geo-Mumma Kel, but alas it will have to be content with coming to Watford.
Our walk to the second in the series, 2 Ellie’s Wanderings – Sitting Tree (GC5EEFR), took us along a grassy, footpath that was easy going underfoot. The title is a good clue to finding the rough location of this cache as the GZ was near a very conveniently shaped tree. Finding the tree was easy enough but reading the description and paying closer attention to the coordinates revealed that the cache had been moved a short distance away from the tree due to a number of recent mugglings. On the opposite side of the path we spotted a number of likely looking trees and we were soon among them, fiddling around the willows for the container. As luck would have it/not have it, I picked the wrong tree and was barely at the trunk before Shar had made the find. The area was popular with dog walkers and other such muggles so we did our best to be covert in signing the log and returning the cache before heading off for the next in the series.
We must have taken the wrong path to 3 Ellie’s Wanderings – Swimming (GC5EEGA), as we found ourselves curling back on ourselves to get to the GZ but it was only a short diversion. I had taken the time to glance at the descriptions and hints before coming out and had looked up the couple of Latin words that appeared in the hint on this one. This revealed that we were looking for a place where Willow met Hawthorn and sure enough we spotted a willow tree that had Hawthorn growing in amongst its trunk and branches. As you can imagine, this made for a rather delicate and somewhat painful search for the cache. Pausing a few times for muggles to pass, 10 minutes later we still didn’t have the container in our hands. The tree seemed a little decrepit in places and a couple of small branches had come down as a result of my searching. They literally were just hanging amongst the other branches, not attached to the tree at all. It was 5 minutes later when, in desperation, Shar turned her gaze to the ground and picking up one of the fallen branches discovered the tiny nano cache in the end of it. We were very lucky to have found this one and I am so glad we did as seeing as I had knocked it to the ground from where it was hanging in the tree, subsequent cachers would have struggled too.
Retrieving the log proved impossible as our caching kit does not currently contain a pair of tweezers after our last pair went missing. I know, I know, don’t tut at me and shake your head like that. I know going out to do a caching series with no tweezers is like leaving the house without your pants on but there it is, we did. Go caching without tweezers that is… not leave the house without pants. At least I had pants on when we left, I can’t speak for Shar. We resorted to plan B which was to take a photo of Shar holding the very distinctive cache. There could be no doubt from the picture that we had found the container, it’s not like it was a 35mm pot or a standard lock n’ lock box.
A brief walk across another muddy / grassy footpaved field, nodding to the dog walker who we had already seen once today, and then we were on a narrow country lane that led down the side of a very old Mill. The mill was the source of the information that we would need to calculate the coordinates of the multi cache, 4 Ellie’s Wanderings – The Beach (GC5EV6K). Walking down the lane we halted at an information board just to the side of the road where we were able to collect all the numbers we needed from the history of the mill. Fulling Mill gets its name from, as you might expect, the process of fulling which involves cleaning drying and stretching material. Interestingly in some cases the material is fixed to a frame called a tender and then suspended in the air while it stretches, and this is where we get the phrase “on tender hooks”.
Armed with the coordinates of the final we climbed up on a raised path that led down the side of the mill house buildings to avoid the river that was being forded by the lane. It was a pretty cool thing to stand and watch / listen as cars slowly drove through the water to continue their journey. By the way if you fancy living in an old mill house, this one, comprising 6 bedrooms and 5 reception rooms amongst other things would set you back somewhere in the region of £2 million. Beautiful, but to be honest the risk of flooding with the river being so close, far outweighs the benefits for me. Being near to any body of water these days causes me to tense a little and I feel that it is only a matter of time before I fall in a river/lake/sea/pond/bucket whilst out geocaching.
The search for the final did indeed take us alongside the river and as time stretched on we seemed less likely to find the container. As is always the case with a multi cache that you can’t find, you start doubting your calculations, but we revisited the numbers and everything seemed correct. The location the arrow was pointing to didn’t quite fit with the hint though as it seemed to imply that the cache would be very close to the river and Shar’s phone was taking us the other side of the path. Shar read some logs whilst I tentatively edged towards any tree or structure I could find on the river side of the path. It was while I was entangled with a tree just a few feet from the water that Shar called out to me that she had located it and with a sigh I extracted myself and made my way over to her. Right down at the water’s edge there was a tree trunk that had grown horizontally and attached to it was a piece of rigid green garden wire and on the end of this was the cache. After nervously feeling around the hide I retreated and let Shar sign the log. This was indeed a truly tricky hide and if the river ever rises over its banks, it will be one that is impossible to find. It wasn’t only us that struggled with this one, the good doctor and ladysolly also had a very long search before eventually finding it, alerted, as indeed Shar had been, to the position of the cache by a glimpse of the green wire.
Happy to have avoided a DNF we set off in search of the next cache, 5 Ellie’s Wanderings – New path (GC5EY6F). We were happy and warm with dry feet as we walked to the GZ which lay on the other side of a road in a narrow patch of trees. Finding this cache turned out to be a lot harder than it could have been. If I tell you where we eventually found the container and then reveal to you what the hint was you might understand how we became somewhat confused. The path wound its way through the trees and was flanked on both sides by banks. To the left the bank was gentle and to the right it was steeper. Trees lined both sides of the path. The cache was hidden in a hole at the base of a large Oak tree up the steep bank a short way to the right of the path. Now a reasonably vague but helpful hint might have been “hollow in oak” or simply “oak” or even “quercus”. The actual hint was “In hole in tree opposite oak tree. Not the first tree, a short steep climb up the bank”. Perhaps you can see why we got a bit confused? I may be being a tad pedantic and unfair to the CO who, after all, has gone to the effort of placing the cache for which I thank them profusely. I guess it irked me because it took us so long to find it, but I suppose at the end of the day, we did find it and that is the important thing. On the whole all the hints were excellent with the exception of one other, which I will come to in due course.
6 Ellie’s Wanderings – The Pond (GC5EY6W) was, unsurprisingly, very close to a pond, where we located a large metal water trough at GZ. The ground around the trough was very muddy with a great deal of standing water and my search of the metal surfaces of the trough resulted in a lot of minor injuries from the stingers and hawthorn that grew all around it. After a fair amount of sploshing around and quite a bit of language that wouldn’t sit well in front of the vicar, I laid my hand on the tiny magnetic bolt cache. Oh bugger, we really need to get a pair of tweezers!
Sharlene was enjoying the mild weather and the pleasant walk so much that she decided to extend our walk to the next cache so that we could take in views of a field and some fencing. At least that surely must have been the reason otherwise the only explanation was that she was navigating to the wrong cache and taking us on a wild goose chase. Like I say, taking in the picturesque views! A huge old pine tree was the home for our next cache, 7 Ellie’s Wanderings – The Old Tree (GC5EY7D). We knew what we were looking for and where to find it, so it was only a matter of searching all the low hanging branches. Our progress was only delayed briefly by some dog walking muggles. Shar spotted the out of place huge, perfectly formed cone hanging from the tree and it was smiles all round… ok, ok I promise to get some tweezers soon!
Continuing the theme of taking the long way round, our walk to 7 Ellie’s Wanderings – The Fernery (GC5EYD4), was less than direct. Cutting through a small cluster of trees we emerged onto a lane that ran left to right. The cache was generally to the left and a bit ahead of us, in which direction lay fields. Separating the lane from the field was a shiny new barbed wire fence, but the question was which side did we need to be on. We elected to turn left and walk along the lane. 100 metres later Shar declared that she could see a footpath on the other side of the fence and we should probably be on that. Should we go back, or forward to try and find a way through the fence. We elected to go forward but after another 100 metres we still hadn’t found a gate to get access to the path and so resolved to retrace our steps to a point just past where we had joined the lane where Shar had seen a gate. At the point at which we turned round we were only about 150 metres from the cache, but we walked the 200 metres back to the gate, crossed into the field and then turned back and walked the 200 metres back again. As we continued on in the direction of GZ, Shar suddenly spotted a gate giving access to the lane just a few metres on. I estimate we were around 20 metres from this gate when we turned back and added around 400 metres to our walk. Still, nice scenery… a field… and stuff.
In case you were wondering, although I reckon you weren’t; I strongly suspect that you are growing rather weary of my protracted and facile account of the day and just want me to get to the end so you can go for a coffee, of course assuming you haven’t given up and done so already. But, if indeed you were wondering, a fernery is a specialist garden designed for the specific purpose of growing ferns. I had hoped that the definition of the word would be far more exciting, as I assume you had too, but there you have it. If it is still there, we did not see it, but we did however locate the cache which was a small magnetic job attached to a gate between two fields. Oh and before you consider reminding me, I am all too painfully aware that we need to buy some ****ing tweezers!
A pleasant amble through a couple of fields later in a zig zag fashion, urged on by the rumbling in our tummies heralding the imminent arrival of the hour of luncheon, and we found ourselves in a thick treeline flanking the A1M at the GZ of 9 Ellie’s Wanderings – Blackberry Stop (GC5EYM7). Sharlene made a quick find in amongst the trees but we remain a little perplexed as to the acronym in the hint, “MST, look for Quercus”. I no longer need to bring up a google search to translate the word quercus to Oak as I did a year ago when we were fresh faced noobs, but the meaning behind MST eluded us, and still does. As countless TV presenters from the 70s and 80s were fond of saying when inviting the viewers to enter a competition, “Answers on a postcard please”. It is strange how a phrase such as this exists in the lexicon of only people of a certain age. Recite it to anyone under the age of 25 and they will stare blankly at you. What is even more alarming is that I suspect that the majority of children today may not even know what a postcard is!
For the final cache of the series it is necessary to leave the meadows, commons, meandering rivers and country lanes and skirt along the side of the A1 past the new housing development that is going up and back into the urban sprawl of Welwyn. Let’s be clear here that the urban sprawl of Welwyn is still a fairly lazy, laid back village but compared to the terrain we had been traversing for the rest of the walk it is reality descending back down upon us once more with a thud and a prod in the side for good measure. Again, not sure if we took the most direct route to the GZ of 10 Ellie’s Wanderings – The Hall (GC5F0V1), but we got there in the end and the bench that greeted us was a welcome pew on which to rest our mildly aching bones, and search for the cache. The hint revealed it as magnetic which therefore left only so many places to search and eventually despite a few rather strange looks from a couple of passers-by, I eventually dislodged the nano container from its hiding place. If you dare to mention the T word at this point I will be forced to visit you in the night and, in the words of Basil Fawlty, “stick a bat up your night dress”.
From here it was just a short walk back to the car where we shed muddy boots and tucked into a welcome picnic of sandwiches and ginger cake. As we sat in the car listening to the radio I paused to remember the first time that Shar had ever included ginger cake amongst my caching packed lunch. It was on a very pleasant series called the Redbourn Ramble and if your brain hasn’t turned utterly to mush I highly recommend you go and read my blog entry for the day, Caches and Cake in Redbourn; it is, it has to be said, with a staggering lack of modesty, one of my funnier posts. Anyway I am glad to say that ginger cake is now a firm tradition on our geocaching days out.
Well there you have it, the account of our day in Welwyn. I do apologise for the rambling, waffling and general blithering on that this entry has turned out to be but it just happens that ways sometimes and I thank you from the heart of my bottom for sticking with me right to the bitter end. It was, in summary, a thoroughly enjoyable day out with the weather being kind to us and a caching series that both challenged us and rewarded us with well-deserved finds and interesting and pleasant surroundings. But more than that, I have learnt a valuable lesson as a result of our adventure. A lesson that while obvious to many, hadn’t sunk in for me until this day, but will now remain crystallised in my mind until I endeavour to learn from its virtue. And the lesson?
Buy some naffing tweezers, you berk!
Happy days indeed!
This geocaching adventure took place on Monday 15th December 2014 and took our geocache count to 874.