On Wednesday Sharlene and I went back to Hemel Hempstead for our weekly-ish GeoDate. The series I chose was called Frank’s Foray and like a number of other ones I can think of, it is named after the cache owner’s “trusty Geohound”. There are 9 trads and a bonus in the series and with a distinct lack of other odds and sods around, just those 10 were to be our target for the day.
As we pulled into the small lay-by near the trail head it became clear that this spot was popular for dog walkers and other outdoor types alike, as there were already quite a few cars parked there. Thankfully there was just enough space for us to squeeze in. A series always gets a metaphorical box ticked if there is a convenient and safe place to park not too far from the first cache.
The weather had just been weird lately with a combination of both searing hot and cool rainy days. Whilst it was dry when we set off, it was cloudy and the wind was picking up. This, however is perfect caching weather in our opinion… basically not hot, not wet and not freezing.
It was nice easy going along a footpath at the side of a horse field for the first couple of caches. At the GZ of Franks Foray – 1. Meet Lionel! (GC5KK05) , we weren’t quite sure what to expect with the description suggesting that there might be some sort of cache guardian. Within a couple of minutes, a squeal from Shar signalled that she had found the eponymous Lionel who turned out to be a rather striking lizard. Unfortunately it appears Lionel has undergone a tracheotomy in order to enable him to hold the cache in his throat but he doesn’t seem too bother by this, or at least lacks the ability to voice his discomfort anymore.
The 2nd and 3rd caches were fairly unremarkable pots, Franks Foray – 2. Pass the Pony Paddock (GC5N3TM) was in a small patch of woods and Franks Foray – 3. Dally down the Alley (GC5N3TK) wasat the side of a quiet alleyway. Whilst the caches were fairly normal we were starting to collect information for the bonus. Rather than have the numbers inside the cache, the CO has gone for a slightly different approach by making the caches distinct in different ways. Thus the colours of these two containers was the information we needed to collect. This then translated into numbers through the names of the caches. For example the bonus formula may refer to the number of the cache that was blue.
The alleyway turned into a footpath that led us down a rather steep hill to the GZ of Franks Foray – 4. Stop to fish for bugs (GC5N87G). This one had us scratching our heads for a long time. The hint eluded to something to do with fishing and so I started searching for poles in the vicinity. I found three large wooden telegraph poles and spent about 15 minutes scouring every inch of them for something resembling a cache but found nothing. Eventually Shar made the find a short distance away on the other side of a kissing gate. There was a rotting pole hidden within the trees and once we found it, it was clear that the cache needed to be fished out. thankfully it was on a line to allow for easy extraction, but this had broken so we had to fish it out another way. Finally we got it out and I even tried to reattach it to the line when we had signed it. The one good thing about us taking quite a while to find this one was that there had been a rain shower while we were searching under the cover of the trees, so we had, thankfully, stayed dry.
We followed a path that skirted along the edge of a wooded area to our right and a field to our left to get to Franks Foray – 5. Look under a rock (GC5N87F) which was a nice straightforward container under a rock at the side of the path. From here we had a slightly weird route, carrying on and then cutting up the side of a crop field, where there was only the merest evidence of an actual path, to get to the GZ of Franks Foray – 6. Climb a tree (GC5n88X). A small amount of tree climbing was needed here to retrieve the cache although it really was just a case of stepping up into the bowl of the tree but at least it was something out of the ordinary.
The next cache was quite some distance away and there really looked to be no paths to get to it, not on the map, or on the ground. We were at the side of a large crop field and the cache lay beyond it and on the other side of a road. We could see on the map that a footpath led to the road but it was on the other side of the field. There was no other option than to walk the long way around the edge of the field which was hard going at times as the crops had been planted almost up to the hedgerow in places. It felt rather uncomfortable at times, like we were trespassing. Upon reading logs later it appears there may be a path through the field but it is totally unmarked and is only really visible during the winter months when the crop is not growing. We speed walked round the field, keen to get back onto proper paths as soon as we could. Eventually we did pick up the path again although it still felt a bit weird as it led between houses and onto a gravel driveway leading to the main road and we still felt like we were trespassing a bit. We finally made it to the road and to the GZ of Franks Foray – 7. Investigate the Ivy (GC5KT45). This was a nice quick find for me, a rather neat container affixed to the metal work of a gate by a magnet inside the container.
We were making very good time as we walked towards Franks Foray – 8. Follow the tree line (GC5MRJH), but this is where it all got a bit difficult. The path led away from the road and again around and in between farm fields. The main path from 7 to 9 was clearly marked and easy to follow. 8 seemed to veer off to the side a little and looked as if you could only reach it by trekking down the side of a field before backtracking to continue on to 9.
We stood for a while trying to work out which side of the treeline we should walk as it looked like the cache might be accessible from either. As well as a tree line separating the fields, there was a barbed wire fence so we thought we should choose carefully. In the end we elected to go to the left side as this look more like a well-trodden path. For about 150 metres all went well, the path was a little uneven and difficult to walk but basically it was no problem.
Then we hit a wall of stinging nettles barring the path completely. There was no way through at all and the cache was still about 120 metres away. We backtracked a little and then entered the treeline to see if we could pass to the other side to continue our journey but were greeted by the barbed wire fence. It rained for a while as we stood under the cover of the trees and looked across into the field of rapeseed. There were nettles alongside that field too but it looked like there could be a enough space to squeeze between nettles and rapeseed to get to GZ which was only 120 metres away after all.
We talked for a bit and I said we could just go back, it wasn’t that important. I wanted to go on, of course, but I am well aware of pushing Sharlene to far is a bad idea and will have future ramifications for caching trips so I suggested we head back. Far from turning tail, Sharlene started eyeing the barbed wire fencing and exploring strategies for crossing it.
With a little bit of creativity involving a groundsheet that I always carry in my bag and feeling a bit like we were escaping from Colditz we made it over the fence and into the field just as the rain stopped. This surely was a good sign. We started to make our way along the edge of the field but there wasn’t as much space as we had thought and soon we were brushing heavily past the rapeseed on our right and the nettles on our left. Remember I told you it had just rained? Well soon all that wetness that had landed on the crops was transferred into our clothes. After about 50 metres we were soaked to the skin and had a few scratches and stings into the bargain. We stopped to regroup an again consider going back, but we were now less than 60 metres from GZ.
We pushed on and after more wetness and scratches we arrived at GZ where the cache was clearly visible… on the other side of the barbed wire fence. With Sharlene’s help I was able to step over the fence onto a log narrowly avoiding performing a an impromptu self-circumcision and soon I had the container in hand. At least after all this effort it turned out to be a nice regular sized box packed with swaps. We signed the log and caught our breath for a bit asking ourselves why on earth we put ourselves through this sort of thing. I was all too aware that the little notebook in my hand was exactly the reason and was more convinced than ever that it wasn’t only me that is guilty of getting that blinkered determination to find each and every cache in a series, no matter what. I admired Sharlene’s determination on that little adventure and I said as much to her as we were dragging ourselves back through the field and over the barbed wire fence on the return trip to the land of normal paths.
The last cache in the series, Franks Foray – 9. Lean on the farmer’s gate (GC5MRJR), was found after a short walk up a steep hill between the fields. We made the find pretty quickly and then retreated to the shelter of a nearby tree as another shower came down. Alas the tree wasn’t that helpful and the rain dripped from our bodies which to be fair were already pretty wet because of the recent field trip, as we worked out the coordinates for the bonus. It turned out to be not on the way between number 9 and number 1 as I would have thought but about 2 kilometres back the way we had already walked. We were stunned and couldn’t believe we had got the right coordinates, so we checked them again, but it was plain to see that they were right. Neither of us wanted to retrace our steps that far, only to have to then walk about 3k back to the car so we headed back to the car scratching our heads and wondering why on earth a CO would put the bonus cache in the middle of a series where there is no chance of calculating the final coordinates until you have found all the caches.
Aside from the rather dodgy bonus coordinates, the unconventional field trip and a bit of uncomfortable routing, we actually had a pretty good time on this cache series. I don’t want to take the credit away from the CO who has put a lot of effort into the containers and the hides. It is a good series, but with just a tweak or two it could be a great series. We still haven’t been back for the bonus, but even so, 9 finds, no DNFs and an enjoyable and adventurous day out in the country is reward enough. Happy days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 8th July 2015 and took our total cache count to 1158.