The Chiltern Hundred – Leg 1

On Saturday we loaded up the car, remembering the right boots this time (see Bovingdon Rebooted), and Shar, Sam and I headed northwest from home for the 30 minute drive to Chesham to take our first bite out of the Chiltern Hundred. For an introduction to the series see my last post, The Chiltern Hundred – Intro. We planned to tackle 21 caches, 16 of them from the Chiltern hundred series plus a few odds and sods to get us back to the car.

As a family we are quite aware of our comfort zone when it comes to caching. We don’t like to start at the crack of dawn, or finish in the dark. The walks should be circular if at all possible and in an ideal world when it is cold we won’t have to eat lunch leaning on a gate post in the arse end of nowhere. So the plan today, bearing all this in mind, was to park at Chesham station car park; it’s very handy for access to all the three rings of the series and whilst it does cost Β£1.50 on Saturdays, if you are a blue badge holder, which I am because of my blindness, it is free. Before lunch we would take on CH047, CH045, CH044, CH046 and CH048. Then lunch back at the car before heading out in the afternoon to do ch001 thru ch011 and then cutting back to Chesham picking up a few other caches on the way, ending at ch049 just a few hundred metres from the car.

As we parked up and started getting ready, the wind whipped across the car park, cold and biting. It was clear and dry but cold. Sharlene nearly went apex over base before we had even started as the tarmac around the disabled bays was frozen over in places. Nowhere else in the car park seemed to have ice on it, just the disabled parking bays; does that count as positive discrimination? At this point I should mention, in as delicate fashion as I can, that of all the days in a month today just happened to be one of the most inconvenient days for Sharlene to be caching. Geocaching can require patience and tolerance and there are times during a month when Sharlene’s tank is running low on these things; nuff said? Add to this a wonderful, delightful 10 year old who was somewhat disappointed when we said we were going caching today as he had planned to “be on Xbox all day” and you can see that the witches cauldron has been primed for an interesting brew.

Nevertheless, as we left the car park our breath misting in front of our faces and with a bag full of cache maintenance supplies, we were energized and ready for the mud, trees, fields, hills and glorious rural views that the Chiltern Hundred was promising to offer. It was somewhat of an anti-climax, therefore, to have to walk through Chesham town centre bustling with Saturday morning shoppers before we could get to our first cache. To be fair, it was me who planned to tackle this particular cache first, the more conventional thing to do would have been to start with number one but I needed a small clump of caches that we could do before lunch and heading out from number one would take us longer than the two hours we had before our tummies would be complaining. Now personally I do not have any problems strolling through Chesham in full caching gear; canvas pants, walking boots and gaiters, but Shar felt a little awkward. Maybe we were getting looks, I couldn’t tell. πŸ˜‰ Besides, Chesham is slap bang in the middle of the Chilterns, a mecca for hikers, ramblers, cyclists, runners and all other manner of outdoor nutters so three geocachers are hardly going to look too conspicuous. Having said that it was good to get through the town and enter Lowndes Park where our first 5 caches would be found.

CH047 – Lowndes Park (GC1EHFQ) only took us a few moments to spot, just a question of choosing the right tree and looking at the correct height. It was quite close to the edge of the park and the road and as a result I think it has been the victim of a few mugglings over time. Happy to be signing our first log, we carried out our maintenance routine for the first time that day. Shar would inspect the cache and contents, while I got a new log and plastic bag. As Shar signed the log I would dry the container if needed, and then Sam would find the correct bonus code card to put in the cache. With maintenance done, we popped the cache back and I made some notes on my voice recorder so that I could do my logs and report back to drsolly on the state of the caches when we returned home. By the end of the day we would all be much more slick and efficient in our routine but this first time we were all a bit, here you hold this, while I do this, no wait, hang on, hold this too, where’s the tissue, hang on, I’ve only got two hands, well stick it…, steady, calm down, etc.

The route to our next cache took us away from the main road and after a short stretch on a narrow lane, we then made our way into the tree lined park, up a hill. It was gradual and gentle, but it got steeper as we progressed. About 100 metres from our first find, Sam suddenly stopped in his tracks, “Where’s super stick?” Super stick is his trackable stick. Every boy should have a stick when out and about, it should be the right length and strong to withstand the punishment it gets when being idly thwacked against bushes, trees or anything that remains stationary for more than 30 seconds. He realised he had left it at the GZ of the first cache and so he went back for it, while we stood and watched him go. Well, no point in us all going down the hill only to have to climb it again. It wasn’t me that forgot my stick, was it? He returned 5 minutes later puffing like an old steam train.

After making a quick find and slightly more coordinated maintenance run on CH045 – mound view (GC1EHFC) which Sam spotted screwed snugly in place at the end of a fence line, we headed on further into the parkland. We were still going uphill and more bizarrely listing somewhat to the left. Not only were we walking up hill but we were walking across the hill too. We couldn’t go any further left to seek flatter ground as the slope descended into the trees and therefore I started to feel a bit like I had one leg longer than the other. At the GZ of CH044 – Chiltern link (GC1EHF8 )we started to get glimpses of the views that this part of Buckinghamshire is renowned for. I stood facing the view for a short while before getting down to the job in hand. We searched the GZ for about 15 minutes locating the most obvious hiding place but no cache. The previous logs were hit and miss for this cache, with some people finding it on the floor although it was meant to be half a metre up and the last person failing to find it at all. I called drsolly and introduced myself’ we hadn’t actually spoken before having dealt only through email and FB messenger thus far. Whilst he couldn’t remember the hide specifically, it has been over 6 years after all and there are a lot of hides to remember in the series, he did confirm the probability of the type of hide it would be and agreed that if we couldn’t locate it then we should drop another container. We had a stock of 35mm pots with us for just such an eventuality. It’s a shame to put a film pot there really; most of the series consists of small containers with hardly any micros but better a container than no container at all.
From here we cut across the park to CH046 – Bury (GC1EHFH) which was almost directly opposite our current location. We had to take a slight deviation due to a fenced off area in the middle but it took us to the peak of the hill where the views across Chesham and beyond were pretty breath-taking.

Sam and Sharlene stand close together with the park stretching out behind them. A hint of distant view can be glimpsed

Sam and Shar in Lowndes Park

Soon we were descending through the park towards the road that skirted around it to the GZ where we made a quick find behind a piece of aquatic street furniture at the side of the road. Four caches done and only one more before lunch and all was good when this phrase left Sam’s mouth, his voice panicked, “where’s my iPhone?”. Ok, stay calm, don’t panic, let’s backtrack and look. Tension was high, Sam was worried. We went back into the park and as he walked ahead I called his phone. It was ringing, that was a good start. I let it ring until it disconnected and then I rang it again. Had we installed “Find My IPhone” on it? I couldn’t remember. Then Sam thought he could see something lying on the ground up ahead. As we approached, he whooped with joy as we heard the phone lying in the mud ringing. OMG, that was a close one. Aside from a little mud, it was fine, the case had protected it for the most part from getting dirty or damaged. Stress levels reduced back to bearable and we all laughed and joked, the relief evident in all of our voices, as we made our way, once more, out of the park towards our last cache before lunch.

CH048 – Lowndes Park North (GC1EHFW) was located amongst the trees on a wide central divide between two roads. Getting across the road was the first challenge and then once we were there it was just a few moments before we located the cache inside the low hanging boughs of a tree. The cache was actually on the floor but we noted from the hint that it should have been slightly higher up so after doing our maintenance we repositioned it slightly.
From here it was a short walk back through town stopping to use the very handy public convenience on the way. Buckinghamshire is pretty good for providing public loos; which as every geocacher knows is such a wonderful luxury that if you see one then you just have to use it, whether you need to or not, you never know how long it will be till your next toilet. Sharlene said she didn’t need to go. Sam and I stopped and looked at her. She said she was fine. I double checked. Yep she was fine. Sam and I mentally shared a look and we all headed for the car for sandwiches and hot chocolate. Our Chiltern Hundred journey had begun; 4 caches found and maintained and one pot replaced. Already we had a good feeling; at least those caches would be good for a while to come.

“I think I should have gone to the loo.” No prizes for guessing whose mouth these words came out of as we finished lunch and prepared to set off for the second loop of the day. Sam and I said nothing, there was nothing to say really. I merely banged my head softly off Sharlene’s shoulder.

As we made our way to CH001 – Chesham station (GC1EB13), a cache that we knew was missing from the logs, we bumped into another geocacher; fellow Beds, Bucks & Herts (BBH) Facebook group member elainealex. She was in Chesham in search of some of the new Church Micros that had just been published and was picking up a couple of the Chiltern Hundred that she was missing too. Coincidentally she had just been to CH048 and signed the fresh log sheet that we had place there and now was on her way to CH001 as well. We talked as we walked to the GZ and confirming that the cache truly was missing, I handed over the log sheet for her to sign before placing it in the new container. Always good to meet a fellow cacher in the wild and a pleasure to bump into one that we actually know.

The walk to CH002 – bridge (GC1ECHA) took us along an easy footpath next to the train tracks. From reading previous logs I was concerned that this was not going to be an easy find and was worried that we might not find it at all. Previous cachers had mentioned that it was very well camouflaged. Just before we reached GZ we crossed over the tracks on a bridge and there right in front of us was a brick wall, covered in that lovely ivy stuff. Thinking it would take us ages to search all that, I was, therefore, delighted to place my hand on the cache within about 5 seconds of reaching the wall. I grinned smugly as we carried out our maintenance and then stopped to watch a train roll into the station as we retreated over the bridge to re-join the footpath that would take us to the next cache.

This section of the Chiltern Hundred has obviously undergone some jiggery-pokery at some point as the order of caches on the ground now runs CH004, CH005 and then CH003. It wasn’t a hard route to follow to get us to CH004 – Chesham view (GC1ECKY), still being on a well maintained path on the edge of the town. To the right of us were houses and to the left the train line. At GZ it was just a matter of stuffing my hand down behind all the posts I could find until eventually my fingers closed around the circular tub that was the cache. Considering this is a big series, it is so nice to see a good amount of decent sized containers.

Somewhere between CH004 and CH005 we walked into a wall of smell that had us all gasping and holding our noses. It was like 10 metres of raw sewage even though we couldn’t actually identify the source. We didn’t stop long enough to pinpoint it though as we couldn’t get past it quick enough. Contrary to the accusations of the rest of my family, it was nothing to do with me… this time. The path steepened quite a lot on the way to CH005 – Chesham back (GC1ECMN) and it was good just to stop to take a breather when we got there. With a very accurate hint it wasn’t long before I was extracting a cache from the ivy covered limb. It was a 35mm film pot and it caused me to pause for a second. The listed container was a tub not a film pot. Shar looked at the log sheet and the last entry was December 2013. It looked like we had stumbled onto a replacement or “throw down” cache. We went back to searching and Shar who was a bit further back towards the fence soon pulled out the black tub that was obviously the original container. Not wanting others to make the same mistake we removed the film pot so only the tub remained, did our maintenance dance and then moved on to CH003 – Chesham heights (GC1ECHG).

We were still ascending as we carried on along the footpath and we could see that we were heading for more open countryside. We crossed a road and re-joined the path with a high fence hiding houses to the right. We reached GZ and soon realised that the slightly worrying 8 foot high clue did not actually involve a tree climb, but was more a case of perspective. We got down to searching. At least Shar and I did; Sam was having a bit of a moany moment and just ambled around absently thwacking things with his stick. As we picked our way through the considerable amount of rubbish at the GZ we kept over hearing the broken conversations of some of the residents on the other side of the fence. It was a bit like the famous five parody that the comic strip did where the heroes overhear the villains discussing their plan and even though they manage to hear only every 5th word they extrapolate the whole plan. Well this was something like that – “blah blah blah move that battery… blah blah blah she never stops complaining… blah blah blah line the hole… blah blah blah secret plans… blah blah blah 3.30 at Doncaster…blah blah blah world domination.” Unfortunately we didn’t manage to find the cache but we were convinced that it probably was there but that we were looking in the wrong place. It had been found just a few days ago, but neither of us felt comfortable continuing the search so we vowed to return to this one. Luckily it is quite near a road as I said so it would be easy to pop back to at a later date. The next day I contacted another BBH member who has done most of the Chiltern Hundred caches recently and they provided a very good explanation of the cache location and we know now exactly where we went wrong, we were looking in the wrong place by about 5 metres.

Sam was escalating his moaning by now, acting like we had walked a hundred miles or something when in fact we had only come less than 2. Shar wasn’t fairing too well either, although she was putting a brave face on it. She was having a bit of trouble with a blister on her little toe and it was starting to get a bit painful. CH006 – At the junction (GC1ECMY) and CH007 – gnarly (GC1ECN1) were found quite easily along the same path which had now left the houses behind and was at last leading us into countryside. Both were very good hiding places in excellent natural holes in trees. Unless drsolly had been out with a drill and a full set of wood working tools, this stretch of footpath was exceptionally blessed with wild and crazy trees that had great holes in them.

As we left number 7 the path finally started to level out and then descend into a small valley which was a bit easier on the legs. Before we got to the next cache a familiar phrase was to be heard from Sam. “Where’s Super Stick?” *sigh*, and breathe. Back he went again. He was in an okay mood when he left us but he returned, a few minutes later, stick in hand, puffing and looking and sounding like he was in what can only be described as, “a right grump”. Apparently he had run all the way and then got spooked by a large dog as he was searching for the stick. At least he had remembered he had forgotten it, if you see what I mean.
And then the mud began. Remember I said we were going downhill into a valley. Well all the water from the beginning of time had also at some point taken the same journey and a lot of it had hung around to form a lot of sticky gloopy mud that had us zig zagging back and forth across the path to get to the least muddy bit. This exercise was rendered entirely pointless as upon arriving at the GZ of CH008 – bridleway (GC1ECN6) and finding myself on the opposite side of the path, I proceeded to mud slide my way across to the other side, failing epically and falling flat on my back in the mud flailing around like a flipped turtle. I remained calm and kept my cool, after all it was just mud. I got up and then almost tripped over the hint item and fell into the bushes. Few words were spoken as we did our maintenance and quickly moved on although I was soon able to see the funny side of it and at least it lifted the spirits of the other two… for a bit.

Paul stands on a muddy footpath facing away from the camera. Mud can be seen on the back of his trousers, jacket and backpack.

Muddy Paul

The mud had eased a little by the time we got to the GZ of CH009 – Up and in (GC1ECNJ) although it was still thick and sticky on my trousers, jacket and backpack. We had deduced that we had to scramble up a bank to search a tree at GZ and Sam wanted to be the one to do it. He was making a half arsed attempt at getting up and moaning about it and Shar was losing her patience. She then had a go and also failed, breaking a nail in the process. A minor frustration release session took place while I scramble dup the bank almost doing myself a mischief in the process. After a few minutes of not finding the cache, Shar found it in a different tree that was much more accessible. Don’t misunderstand me; we were all enjoying ourselves for the most part. It’s just that we had a lot of isolated incidents on this trip that tested our resolve. By the time we were half way to the next cache, we were in good spirits again and despite the sun starting to dip towards the horizon, determined to finish all the caches we had planned.

A similar bank scrambling exercise was undergone at CH010 – Up the junction (GC1ECNQ). Both Sam and I struggled and persisted and triumphantly made it up the bank and then failed miserably to find the cache. Only for Shar to spot it from the path a lot lower down. Oh well, at least we had achieved what we had set out to do. Small victories, however hollow, should always be acknowledged and so we broke out the Haribo for a much needed sugar boost. Our team was holding up, just. Shar’s toe was getting sorer but through some form of teeth gritting, or Buddhist mantra she was managing the pain. The path at this point wasn’t helping though; it was full of pot holes and broken rocks, I nearly lost my footing a couple of times.

Shar looks on from the path as Sam stretches to retrieve the cache that is lodged in a tree a short way up a bank

Sam retrieves the cache

Sam made a quick find at CH011 – Botley (GC1ECNY) in a tree; trees feature heavily in drsolly hides. It makes sense really as they provide an off the ground natural protection from the elements. After the maintenance shuffle had been performed we turned tail and back tracked to before CH010 to pick up a footpath that would take us west across farmland back to our start/end point. As I incorrectly explained as we marched along the edge of a field, “As the pigeon flies it is less than 2km back to the car.” Pigeon…crow… whatever. In order to break up the walk, I had identified three non Chiltern Hundred caches that we would pass on this route. The first was reached after ascending a rather meaty hill. Although the views once at the top were fantastic, Shar was just hoping for a nice easy walk back now… she was starting to limp a little. No luck at Post a field note (GC30MX3) but we didn’t spend too long searching. The horse we found there was no help either. The winter sky was filled with the low sun and it was surprisingly still and peaceful standing there. I must confess to letting the others search whilst I just stood and allowed myself to be consumed by the vastness of the open space in front of me.
Even with my severe sight loss I can appreciate the vastness of open space.

Even with my severe sight loss I can appreciate the vastness of open space.

Knocking my “as the pigeon flies” theory out of the window we then walked the long way around the edge of a large field in order to join up with another footpath that eventually turned into a lane and to our next cache, White Hill Post a field note 7 (GC3348M). Sam made a super quick find here and we were delighted. Shar was in some pain now and understandably was keen to get back to the car as soon as possible. Sam on the other hand with the end in sight was perking up considerably, and he and I walked together along the lane to join the road that would now take us to White Hill (GC2XRF9).

I can’t say I had thought too much about it but I suppose the clue was in the name. White HILL. We had climbed it already on our way here and now much to our relief it was downhill all the way and thank god as it was a really steep one. If the pavements ever freeze on this hill you would be down at the bottom in a pile of grannies and pushchairs in about 4 seconds flat. As it was, it was a couple of hundred metres before we got to the GZ and Sam again made a super quick find thanks to the excellent hint. We were still only half way down the hill and as it turned out, the steep slope of the hill was not helping Shar but instead making things worse as her toe was now being forced sharply into the front of her boot with each step.
Finally we made it down and at the GZ of CH049 – The Backs (GC1EHG0) made a quick find. Even better we could practically see the car from where we were. We did our last bit of maintenance for the day and then had an easy walk back to our parking spot where we thankfully flopped into the car. The sound of relief and joy in Shar’s voice as she removed her boot was very evident. Hot chocolate was a welcome reward and we sat and drank watching as the last of the sunlight faded away.

We agreed that despite the ups and downs of the day we all felt really good about the 18 caches that we had found and the maintenance that we had carried out. I know it is only a small part of the Chiltern Hundred but I think we are all looking forward to the next leg. Happy days?

Well hang on a second. My story is not quite finished there. As we drove out of Chesham, the light finally gone and me sitting in a pile of dried mud our thoughts turned to a cup of tea, a vodka, an Xbox and falling asleep on the sofa and… “Where’s Super Stick?”

You cannot be serious. Oh but he was. Sam’s voice was nervous, disappointed and unsure. Noone wanted to go back, but he wanted his trackable stick. It appears that he had, again, put it down at the GZ of CH049 and failed to pick it up… again. In an effort to ease the situation I suggested that we could replace the stick and use the copy tag at home to continue the adventures of super stick another day. He seemed ok with this and we relaxed once more and continued our drive home. A slightly deflated end to a great adventure? Well fear not, there is a happy ending. Later than night another cacher “grabbed” super stick from Sam. Amazingly this cacher and a friend had been out in Chesham and had done a couple of caches, including CH049. They had found the stick next to the cache and noticed the TravelBug tag. Thinking it a little strange that it hadn’t been logged into the cache they went ahead and grabbed it. We have since contacted them and they have agreed to return the tag to us so that we can attach it to a new stick so that Super Stick will live once more. As Sam so rightly said, “I need a bigger stick now anyway.” Well indeed. All’s well that ends well…

…Happy days.

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