With Sam back at school Shar and I were left on our own for the first time in over a week. Naturally, with a bit of alone time there was only one thing to be done. No not that! We went geocaching, of course. Our chosen location for our caching date was Brookmans Park in the Civil Parish of North Mymms in South Hertfordshire.
Anyone who has ever driven around the north section of the M25, London’s orbital motorway, might be familiar with South Mymms as being the location of a massive motorway service station. Nestling just to the north of the M25 lies the much more civilized region of North Mymms. Brookmans Park is a village, home to around 4,000 people and is possibly most famous for links back to Thomas More, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor and more recently as home to a BBC transmitter station and the Royal Veterinary college.
Back in April a new series of caches was published that comprised of 12 traditionals placed on a circular walk along the footpaths around the village. I had selected two other nearby caches to tag onto the walk and as we parked the car it was one of these that we were going to attempt first. Prior to this I had to make a decision about whether or not to wear my coat. When I had left the house I had been in two minds about bringing it as the forecast was for temperatures in the high teens and there was to be no sign of rain. On stepping out the door though I detected a chill in the air and so had thrown the coat on. When we got out of the car it was already getting warmer and so I shed it and was about to leave it in the car when Shar queried my decision and this left me undecided again. I then thought about putting it in my bag but then shrugged it back on instead. My ability to make a decision about my coat seems to mirror my knack for waffling on about trivial minutia.
The walk to the first cache took us along a footpath on the other side of a hedgerow that ran parallel to a road and it seemed that the school drop off mum’s were now keen to get to their coffee dates and were hurtling hither and thither as we walked by. Most of the area seems to have some connection or other with the Veterinary college and we came across many signs stating that they owned a particular part of land or footpath. At just under a kilometre it was probably the longest walk between caches of the day but as I always say, get the long cachless stretches out the way first.
As the name suggest, The Folly (GC3AYCB), was placed close to a folly. At first we weren’t quite sure what to expect as we neared GZ, it being so close to the road. But soon it loomed up ahead and there was no doubting that we were at the right place. Even I could make out the enormity of the 18th Century arch built at the side of the road.
A number of dubious stories surround this structure including my favourite which suggest that as a sign of extravagance, a farthing was placed on every brick as it was added to the arch. Generations of children have apparently tested this theory leading to a certain amount of damage over the years. No farthings have ever been found and it became so much of a problem that back in the 1980s a fence was erected around the arch to protect it. It was pleasing to note that this practice seems to have abated now and the fence no longer interrupts the view of this impressive erection. Hmmm, that just sounds wrong!
As for the cache… well for that we fought our way into the treeline to the left of the arch. This proved quite difficult with the trees and bushes being quite dense and there being a lot of loose branches scattered all over the ground. Eventually we fought our way to GZ and Shar made a quick find of a good sized container with a nice dry log and a few swaps inside. We then replaced the cache and exited the treeline by an opening that was just a few metres from GZ and didn’t involve the use of a machete. Ironically we had passed this entrance to the treeline on our way to the arch but had got so distracted by the folly, that we had missed it completely.
The route to our other add-on cache, Grandpa’s Footsteps (GC1D28N), took us on a footpath that led away from the road and into a pretty patch of trees known as Gobions Wood. Once under the cover of the trees our experience was one of outstanding natural beauty combined with careful and fastidious path maintenance. The wild flowing landscape comprising many creeks, and dips and mounds all covered in thick undergrowth and a mixture of ancient and newer trees was contrasted to a large number of small bridges, natural looking steps and even an entire wooden staircase leading up one of the steeper banks. Dotted along the way are a number of memorial plaques informing us that trees had been planted in memory of various loved ones now departed. It was a very pleasant walk if a little over engineered at times.
As we got within 30 metres of GZ it was apparent that we would have to leave the path and head into the undergrowth to find the cache. This was more like it. We picked our way carefully through the almost chest high stingers and ducked beneath low branches before we eventually made it to GZ where we found a nice sized container well hidden in a stump. I really enjoyed this cache and got the feeling that this is what the majority of geocaches were like back in the early years. You walked a good distance from your parking spot into the woods and then had to break off the path before finally making the find in a very discreet location, and then you went home because the next nearest cache was a couple of miles away.
That all sounds very idyllic apart from the last bit about being a couple of miles from the next cache and thankfully that wasn’t the case for us on this day. We wound our way out of the woods and joined up with a footpath that took us to a busy road. On the other side of the road was a footpath leading down a steep back and this marked the beginning of the BP Stroll series. It was a stark contrast to the previous cache where we were deep in the woods to be now searching at the side of a fast road. I focussed my attention on the steps that descended from the road thinking that these offered plenty of possible hiding places. I worked my way down the stairs searching as I went and feeling frustrated that the iPhone wanted me to search 10 metres to the left which was basically thin air. Shar on the other hand stayed at the top and turned her attention to the guard rail that ran along the side of the road. It was just as I arrived at the bottom of the steep steps that I heard the call from Sharlene that she had found BP Stroll 1 (GC5RJZ4).
The container was a Kiwi mints tin that had been fixed by magnet to the guard rail. Shar liked this one, her being from New Zealand. It even had a little I “heart” NZ sticker on it and I thought that she was going to tear up and phone her mother. She quickly recovered and realising we were very exposed at the side of the road, got down to signing the log and replacing the tin. A nice little cache, but a missed opportunity in my opinion. At the bottom of the steps there were loads of places where a decent sized container could have been hidden but each to their own.
We headed down the steps and along the edge of a field toward the next cache, BP Stroll 2 (GC5RJZV) . Being at a lower elevation to the road we had left behind, it was relatively peaceful. That is until a train thundered past on the East Coast mainline that was somewhere nearby. At GZ we were presented with a wire fence running down the right hand edge of the field and a sense that we were looking for a magnetic hide again. We searched the uprights with little success, probably because these were wooden with only very small metal fixings on them. We were starting to scratch our heads a bit and resort to logs. They weren’t much help either and so I returned to finger searching the posts. On one of them at the back about 10 inches from the ground I felt a small rectangular plate that had been fixed to the post with a tiny woodscrew. It occurred to me that this was hardly the sort of rugged commercial hardware that you would expect to see on a fence like this and I posited the idea to Shar that perhaps the cache had been attached to it but had now fallen off. After a bit of eagle eye searching from Shar we had soon retrieved the tiny cache from the ground and were signing the log. This was certainly a tricky one to find and I fear for the longevity of it seeing as it had already made its way to the ground after only a month but we were pleased nonetheless to be signing the log.
From here we walked alongside the train line for a bit before crossing over it on a road bridge. The GZ of BP Stroll 3 – There are no children living here (GC5RRHE) was on the bridge and we spent a difficult 5 minutes searching in between muggle breaks. One helpful man walking his dog, paused as he saw us standing looking at our phones to ask if we were lost. A few minutes later Shar made the find of a really cute metal container in the shape of a shoe. It had been well hidden with the use of another magnetic and the guard rail that was designed to stop cars crashing through the brick wall and onto the train line.
We then walked alongside the train tracks, on the opposite side to where we had been, for a short way before descending on an alarmingly steep set of steps into a small patch of trees onto a footpath. We found BP Stroll 4 (GC5RK42) hidden just a few metres from the base of the steps and were please to discover it was a nice sized screw top container. In fact I recognized the container as being specifically an ASDA hot chocolate pot. I know this as I have used three of them as cache containers myself. We also retrieved a TB from there although upon looking at its listing, it has no description and no goal. Despite this it has already travelled over 1000 miles around Wales and the south of England so it doesn’t seem to be hampered by its lack of mission.
After realising that it was now getting rather warm, the coat came off again and was stashed in the bag where it remained for the remainder of the walk. I probably shouldn’t have brought it in the first place to be honest, but there you go, if I could predict the future with that sort of accuracy and certainty I would endeavour to use my powers for something slightly more useful than deciding whether or not to wear a jacket.
At BP Stroll 5 – A gate to nowhere (GC5RKEM) we discovered that the local council had been rather overzealous with the provision of gates. There was a shiny metal kissing gate that led to an area of about 4m square which contained nothing but two other gates, one to the left and one to the right. It was like being in a sheep pen. The cache was located after a short search clinging to a part of the metal kissing gate. It was another magnetic container. So far out of 5 hides, four of them had been magnetic with little more space inside for the log. This isn’t too unusual when you live in Watford but out there in semi-rural setting, it was starting to seem a bit strange. Regardless, we were enjoying the walk very much especially as we were putting some distance between us and the noisy train line now.
Soon, however the noise of the train was to be replaced by a dull roar of the A1M motorway that loomed ahead of us in the distance. We waved and greeted the man and his dog, who we had met on the bridge at BP Stroll 3, as they passed us coming from the opposite direction, obviously wondering why we were taking so long to cover such a small distance. The GZ of BP Stroll 6 – Trip Trap (GC5RKEX) was at a point where a wooden bridge crossed a stream, a most excellent place for a possible troll hide perhaps. But instead the hint led us to the Ivy covered tree that sat next to the bridge. Shar spotted the cache hanging from the low branches of the tree and we were on to the next. The one thing that I was starting to appreciate about the series, was that it tended to wrong foot you a bit. I wonder if the CO had done this intentionally. When you have done a good amount of caches your cache-sense often kicks in on arriving at GZ and you quickly spot the obvious hide. With these caches, so far, the CO seems to have identified that and then put the cache somewhere else, or used a deceptively smaller container when there is space to put a small or even a regular sized one.
Hunger was starting to rear its ugly head as we made our way along a pretty tree covered path towards the GZ of BP Stroll 7 – The Purple One (GC5RKFC). Both this one and BP Stroll 8 – The Pink One (GC5RKFY) used similar containers, small colourful screw top containers and both were found relatively easily hidden in amongst the trees by the path. After finding number 8 we had to back track a short way to pick up the path that would take us to the next cache and ultimately towards the car. This led us into a large open field and we took the opportunity to spread a groundsheet down in the shade of the tree line at one side and stop for some much needed lunch. It appeared that Sheep had once been in this field but there was no sign of them now apart from the odd pile of dropping.
Lunch was pleasant, the trees dulled the sound of the motorway and the weather was perfect for a picnic. It was only slightly marred 20 minutes later when we picked up the groundsheet to find that we had placed it right on top of a sheep poo. Said poo was now all over the groundsheet and also our boots and for some reason Shar had also put her hand in it. A short spell of wiping and shivering later and we were making our way across the field to our next cache. I occupied myself as we walked with scraping my boots all over the thick grass in as many ways as I could think of to get rid of the poo. I then found that the most efficient way to do this was to walk backwards dragging my feet as I went. I did this for a couple of minutes before Shar commented that I looked like I was moonwalking through the middle of a field. It was a good job no one was around to see.
I say no one was around, but when we arrived at the kissing gate at the edge of the field and started searching for BP Stroll 9 – The Post (GC5RKG4) we were soon interrupted by two men who appeared at the gate having crossed the same field as we had. Unfortunately Shar was searching in a slightly different place and was therefore unable to warn me of their approach and it wasn’t until one of the men actually had to clear his throat and greet me that I realised I was on my hands and knees searching in the undergrowth and blocking their exit to the gate. A blush warmed my cheeks as I stood quickly and allowed them to pass. Thankfully they didn’t say any more than that and also didn’t comment as to whether they had seen me do my Michael Jackson impersonation across the field. Shar wasn’t spared embarrassment either as just as the men went through the gat she emerged from the bushes exclaiming that she had found it whilst holding a short branch in the end of which was the cache.
We found the sheep in the next field as we headed for BP Stroll 10 – Hector’s Halt (GC5RKGA). I communicated with them in my best “Baa Baa” and received puzzled looks from the animals according to Shar. At the far edge of the field we came upon a metal water trough and the phone told us we were at GZ. I thought I would be on safe searching ground here, assuming it to be a magnetic hide but was surprised a few minutes later to find another modified branch stub nestling under the trough. Again we were wrong footed by the CO.
The walk to BP Stroll 11 (GC5RGT) took us back into civilisation somewhat as we left the farm fields and made our way back to the road. After spending the last 90 minutes in fields and under trees it felt a bit weird being back on the road. It made searching for BP Stroll 11 a bit awkward as the hint was pointing us to a large tree at the side of the road and there really wasn’t much chance of being inconspicuous. Thankfully Shar spotted it and I was able to retrieve it under her instruction.
Because of the way the route looped back on itself, the walk to BP Stroll 12 (GC5RRH4) was longer as we passed the GZ of BP Stroll 3 which if you remember was on the bridge over the train track. Soon we were able to move onto a footpath that ran behind the treeline to the side of the road and we quickly made our way to GZ. Feet were starting to ache a bit now and we were both delighted to remember that the GZ for this cache was actually only a few metres from where we had parked the car. I made a quick find through a finger search of a magnetic nano cache on a gate at the end of the footpath and we were done.
We both enjoyed the walk very much and the caches in the series were well thought out for the most part. It was slightly disappointing to find only one decent sized container out of 12, this probably won’t hold much attention for those with kids keen to swap trinkets and stuff but then I assume that wasn’t the sort of series that the CO had intended to create. I like the area of Brookmans Park, even though modern civilisation, and especially transport, has carved its way callously through it in the form of the motorways and train line but it still manages to provide some very pleasant settings in which to enjoy a few hours of geocaching. Happy Days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 3rd June 2015 and took our cache count to 1,104.