For our GeoDate this week Shar and I headed back to Hemel to tackle a semi-urban series called Trail of a Fox. What do I mean by semi-urban? Well if caching in built up towns and cities where the hides tend to be magnetic micro or nanos is classed as urban, and tromping through woodland, along footpaths and bridleways and across fields is countryside caching, then semi-urban is somewhere in between. You might find the caches in small parks or in bushy or tree lined alleyways but you should expect to have to walk along a few residential streets to get you from one cache to the next In addition, it is likely that a sizeable portion of the hides will still be micros or nanos simply because this is what the environment is capable of sustaining. With care and thought, however, it is possible for a semi-urban series to still be interesting and fun, but without this effort by the CO then it can feel like little more than pulling a magnetic film pot off a metal fence while standing next to a bush.
The series consists of 9 caches set out in a circular route in and around the Chaulden area of Hemel, and I had identified a couple of additional caches we could tack on as we went round. Parking up and making our way towards the first cache, #1 Trail of a Fox (GC5KFF5N), we found ourselves strolling through quiet residential streets. On getting closer to GZ a park loomed up on our left and I was pleased when the arrow took us inside to mingle with the morning dog walkers. Pushing our way through the nettles, which have really exploded here in the last month due to a combination of rain showers and warm weather, we located a nice little fake snail cache stuck with a magnet to the boundary fence. A nice container, although the GZ could have easily concealed something bigger, but I appreciate the gastropod receptacle nonetheless.
A pleasant walk through the park took us to #2 Trail of a Fox (GC5KBZD), which was hidden a short way off the path at the base of an impressively large ivy covered stump. Based on the size of the stump I should say that the tree would have been quite a whopper before it was felled. Finding the container was a case of Shar and I starting at opposite sides of the trunk and working our way round, a race that Shar won producing the cache after a few seconds. A decent size pot this time and with the added bonus of a TB in it too. Actually this turned out to be 2 TBs on the same chain and in themselves they presented somewhat of a mystery that you can read about in my next blog entry, a link for which I will now pop into the future and create so that I can include it here… The Mystery of the Cornish TravelBugs…Ta Da! I knew converting the airing cupboard into a time machine would come in handy someday. Now if I could just stop the flux capacitor setting fire to the towels it would be perfect.
Leaving the park we walked along some slightly busier roads and then turned into an alleyway between two houses. The alley was line with a high fence on one side and trees on the other. We knew the cache, #3 Trail of a Fox (GC5KBZ1), was hanging somewhere in amongst the trees. Hanging caches are my all-time least favourite type of caches. I find it almost impossible to locate them. As I search mainly through touch I rely on things not moving when I brush against them thus allowing me to feel different surfaces and textures. If the cache moves with the branches of a tree I get very little resistance between me and the cache and therefore almost no feedback from the texture of the item. Shar isn’t a great fan of them either but she is much better at locating them. After about 15 minutes of searching I was starting to get a bit narked. I don’t much like hanging around in alleyways rummaging in the bushes and so it was time to make a PAF. Thankfully Smokeypugs had a day off work today and seeing as he lived in the area and indeed went to Sunday school at the church across the road (awww bless) I knew he would be the man for the job. He instantly remembered the hide and described the location of the cache to within a couple of inches although Shar still took another couple of minutes to find it.
#4 Trail of a Fox (GC5KBYT) was found quite easily along a 20 metre tree lined path between two streets, after I had taken the time to bash my knee on the metal posts that stop demonic pizza delivery drivers using it as a shortcut. After moaning and much rubbing of the damaged area, I pulled the small tube from its hiding place behind the fence and we could hobble on.
We had the opportunity to sit down and rest at the GZ of #5 Trail of a Fox (GC5KBYA)which we reached via a walk alongside a busy road. The bench that provided the hide for the cache also offered a chance for us to catch our breath, although with the road a few metres behind us, the noise was rather distracting. In front of us however lay open playing fields and the promise of a quieter, more amenable walk.
After a couple of minutes walking, the noise of the road had dropped and it was actually pretty pleasant and we could turn our attention to locating#6 Trail of a Fox (GC5M4TZ). There had been a few logs lamenting on being on the wrong side of the fence but I was sure that the playing field side was the correct one. I think quite a few people Cache and Dash these caches and in that is why their GPS devices lead them to the road side of the fence. Despite a couple of obvious cacher’s paths into the tall grass near the tree lined fence it still took Shar a good 10 minutes to locate this one. Once we had signed the log we had to wait patiently while the world’s slowest dog walker slowly approached along the edge of the field. The old man’s slowness was matched if not bettered by the aging lab that shuffled along behind him. Eventually the duo passed us and we could nip back into the bushes to put the cache back.
#7 Trail of a Fox (GC5M4V9) was pretty uninspiring, it was just a 35mm film pot in the crook of a wall opposite some houses. Annoyingly our search, retrieval and replacement was hampered by the muggle home owner across the street who was having a loud boring conversation with his neighbour.
A short walk along residential streets up one of the hills that Hemel is renowned for, took us to one of our additional caches, Chaulden Series 4 (GC4E4AE). GZ was on a tiny green surrounded by houses. The single tree had razor sharp thorns around it and the cache was tucked in amongst them. There was no way of retrieving this one without getting a view nasty wounds and my patience was severely wearing thing at this point. The cache, which I remind you was not part of the trail of a fox series, was crap to be honest. A tube with no lid tucked into a mass of thorns at the base of a tree overlooked by lots of houses. No reason for the CO to bring us here, crap container and a total lack of interest by the CO who has probably given up on caching as they no longer maintain their hides. On top of that, for the last half an hour or so I had really needed to pee… and this didn’t help. We left the cache site feeling totally underwhelmed.
We were happy to see that our next cache took us out of the residential streets and to the entrance to a small wooded area. I was delighted, not least of all because this afforded opportunities for a “wilderness wee”. First we tried to find #8 Trail of a Fox (GC5M4W3), which was a big mistake because I really wasn’t focussed and in my haste, knocked the tiny nano from its hiding place into the leaf litter on the floor. After a short frustrating search, Shar declared that we should go and find a “facility” first and then return and find the cache. A short walk down the path into the dense woods and we located a suitable place and were only slightly put off by a family of squirrels having a “domestic” in the tree on the other side of the path. We did what we had to do and scarpered back to the GZ before the squirrel police turned up to break up the full scale barny that was rocking the tree.
Feeling much more comfortable and able to focus, we managed to find the cache amongst the leaves on the ground and after Shar had dropped it once more, presumably for good measure, we were able to sign the log.
The next part of the walk was the most pleasant part of the day’s caching. The path took us through the woods and up a steep hill. It was warm and dry and the air was filled with the sounds of nature which almost drowned out the distant hum of traffic. Our route took us in ever decreasing circles as we tried to find a path through the dense vegetation towards the GZ of Shrubhill Scramble (GC20HV9). Finally we found our way in and then gingerly made our way down the steep bank where the cache was hiding. It was a real gem of a place in my opinion, a deep depression nestled and hidden in dense trees and bushes. I imagine the local kids use it as some sort of secret place and there was a little evidence of this around. The arrow swung around a bit due to the tree cover and we spent some time trotting back and forth trying to get a fix on the location. We descended even lower and that is when I plotted myself on a log and started reading what previous finders had to say. Shar continued searching and by the time I had got enough signal to retrieve the logs, she called out that she had found it. It was a nice sized container with room for swaps and TBs, but it appeared to have seen some action at some point and was without a log. We happily put a new one in with a heavy duty plastic bag to keep it dry and replaced the cache. Without a doubt this was my favourite cache of the day, exactly the sort of thing that I reckon was more the norm 6 years ago when it was placed.
We extracted ourselves from the pit and headed for the last cache of the day, #9 Trail of a Fox (GC5KBXN). Aside from taking the long way round a field and then walking past GZ to leave the field and walk back to it on the road only to find that the description said it was field side, we soon found ourselves wading through the chest high grass to a holly bush where the cache was. With a little careful rearranging with my stick Shar was able to spot the distinctive red of a fake holly berry and our last cache of the day was logged and done.
As far as semi-urban caches go these were pretty good. A couple of them were missed opportunities in my opinion where a bigger or better container could have been placed but on the whole the CO has created a nice walking series considering the environment. Add in the fact that we found 11 caches and had no DNFs, and throw in the additional scramble cache which made me smile, all in all it turned out to be a good GeoDate. Happy Days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Tuesday 23rd June and took our total cache count to 1140.