We started the Aylesbury Ring back in October last year with the Eider section. Since then we have made another two visits, finding parts of both the Mandarin and Pochard sections making for a total of 40 finds. Seeing that the entire ring contains around 140 geocaches, we still have quite some way to go.
All our previous visits have been undertaken with our caching friends Smokeypugs under the Team name PugWash, and this visit was to be no different. That being said, as we set out to take on the Widgeon section on Sunday, there were two minor tweaks to the team. First, Mel had elected to remain at home with Smokey the dog, as she feared the forecasted warm temperatures coupled with the walk being predominantly across open fields would be too much for him. Secondly, we took the Cache Owner along with us. The ring is not the responsibility of just one geocacher, but instead the task of placing and maintaining the sections has been taken on by a number of different people. Graham, a.k.a. Happy Hunter HP20, has two sections and The Widgeon is one of those. When we were making plans to have another PugWash adventure he suggested that he could come along as he needed to do a maintenance run on the caches.
As the name suggests, the overall series is set out in a circular orientation but due to its size it is broken up into linear sections which means cache owners are face with a similar problem to the geocachers when doing maintenance runs. You either have to walk the entire section, there and back, or you need two cars. Seeing as Team PugWash would be taking too cars anyway it was a perfect time for Graham to come along. Of course with the CO along there is the added bonus that you will always be able to find the caches. That being said, he made it perfectly clear to us that we would have to lead the way and he would only assist if we got completely stuck on a hide. We were still expected to work for our finds… quite right too.
After meeting at the end of our planned route and doing a bit of car shuffling, we left our car there and drove to the other end of the route, which was in the village of Hardwick. The parking spot was just a short distance from the first cache in the series and keen to prove our worth, Shar and I forged off the pavement and into the bushes to search for the cache. Sam hung back and actually made the find proving that it is sometimes better to be a slow moving pre-teen. Of course he neglected to tell Shar and I he had found the cache right away, instead allowing us to poke around in the bushes for a bit while he, Geoff and Graham chatted on the footpath. We laughed off his cheekiness. It was, after all, the beginning of the walk and energy and tolerance levels were still high.
The first 5 caches on the series were all puzzles which Geoff and I had separately solved beforehand. The first one, AR01 Widgeon: Just go to these coordinates (GC5XHBZ), was simple but clever and involved littering the cache page with coordinates. Some were visible, some used hidden text and others were tucked away as part of the name of the cache owner and various other places on the cache page. All you had to do was find the correct ones. There was a geocheck on the page which meant you could try out alternatives. Due to my blindness and the fact that I have a computer that talks to me I landed on the correct set of coords almost straightaway. I won’t give it away but needless to say I was very smug that my disability actually helped me solve a puzzle. Of the 5 this was the one that Geoff found the hardest and I even had to give him a nudge, but I saw that as fair as he has helped me on many puzzles before.
The second puzzle, AR02 Widgeon:Hardwick Marriage Act (GC5XHGH), was solved by extracting some “out of place” text that had been hidden within the description which took the form of a list of marriages. As an interesting aside, Hardwick was not only the name of the village where we were, but also the title of Philip York, the first Earl of Hardwick whose most notable achievement was the passing of the 1753 Marriage Act. In a nutshell this act made it extremely difficult, though not impossible, for people under the age of 21 to get married without parental consent. It was the introduction of this act that led to the popularity of eloping to regions not governed by English law such as the Isle of Man or border towns in Scotland like Gretna Green.
Our route to the final of the puzzle took us right past Hardwick church and seeing as there was a Church Micro multi there, Church Micro 6452… Hardwick – St. Mary the virgin (GC5DPKJ), also owned by Graham, we took a few minutes to wander around the churchyard collecting the necessary information. It was still early in our caching day and this probably explains why initially we started heading to the wrong side of the church and then focussed on the door to the church rather than the entrance to the churchyard. These simple errors could have been easily avoided if we had simply read the cache description properly. It was somewhat embarrassing to make such schoolboy errors in the presence of the CO. After getting our act together and finding the cache, Graham pointed out to us a very interesting gravestone that had been placed to honour those that fell during the battle of Aylesbury during the English Civil War in 1642. He then informed us that the bodies that it was actually eluding to had not died during a battle, indeed it is disputed whether there had been a battle at that location at all. It is suggested that the stone unwittingly honours the bodies of over 200 poor souls who had died of the plague. When the mass grave was discovered in the 19th century it was erroneously thought to contain those that had died during the Civil War battle and thus the gravestone was erected in the churchyard. It was proving very educational having Graham along, a bit like a historical guided geocache trail… now there’s an idea.
After our interesting diversion at the church it was back to the Widgeon. At the GZ of AR02 Widgeon: Hardwick Marriage Act (GC5XHGH) I was sent in to explore the prickly multi trunk tree but after a few minutes it was concluded that I was actually at the wrong tree and by the time I had extracted myself, somewhat painfully, and returned to the path, someone else in the group had made the find. A few more scratches for the hands… there goes that career as a hand model.
Graham has a rather strong fear of cows and therefore It was somewhat amusing to see that for AR03 Widgeon: Don’t have a cow, man! (GC5XHQR), the puzzle had involved some bovine identification. Pictures are my worst nightmare when it comes to puzzles. I can have a crack at most types of puzzle caches and in a lot of cases figure them out but if a picture or pictures are involved then I am at a total loss. A website called TinEye can be a very useful tool in these cases and with a bit of help from Sam I was able to solve the puzzle. Ironically as we walked across the field towards GZ there was not a cow in sight. Graham was surprised, stating that this was the first time ever that he had not encountered his bovine nemesis in this field. There was a lot of evidence of cow existence though and Shar did her best to help me avoid stepping in any of it.
As we reached the far side of the field I noticed something that gave me pause for thought. A make shift bridge had been made using some heavy planks to breach a ditch that separated the two fields. There was a step up onto the planks and then on one side there was a barrier to climb over before you could cross, similar to a stile. I can only imagine that it has been placed there to stop cows from crossing from one field to the next. Cows that were able to step up onto the bridge and then walk across and down the other side? Those are some super smart cows, perhaps Graham was right to be afraid of them. They obviously outsmarted the farmer though as they were nowhere to be seem, perhaps taking a holiday somewhere… at Cowes?… on the isle of Wight.
The cache itself was found with relative ease, no thanks to part of the hint though. “Bacon and Eggs MTT” was what we got. The MTT bit fair enough, but bacon and eggs? Even after we had found the cache, and Graham had explained it to us, we still didn’t get it. It was what I call a “hint for three people”, as it is unlikely that there are more than 3 in the world that will ever get it.
A fairly straightforward walk across a field and over a road took us to the GZ of AR04 Widgeon: The Glasgow Incident (GC5XHXH), a puzzle that was very cunning indeed. It took the form of a narrative which I often find the hardest type to solve, other than picture ones. Thankfully the hint was pretty good an Graham had given me a slight nudge, so its elegant solution soon was discovered. Without giving it away, I will say that I am constantly amazed at how we humans have developed a number scale for measuring almost everything. From intensity of earthquakes and strengths of winds to the consistency of one’s own poo. The latter is the Bristol Stool Scale if you are interested and discovering it has irreversibly change my “private time”. For the record the solution relied on none of these systems.
At GZ I was volunteered to do the retrieve and so was allowed to fumble around at the nearby kissing gate for some time before being directed to a likely looking tree next to it. A bit of scrabbling around and I soon had cache in hand, and seeing as it was a good size and close to a road, both Geoff and I decided to drop off TravelBugs we had been holding onto. Why would it matter if the cache was close to a road? Well TBs generally like to move as much as possible, so putting them in a cache that is in the arse-end of nowhere that only gets found a couple of times a year is not a very helpful thing to do. On the other hand a cache that is near a road is likely to get a reasonable number of visits, as it is “cache and dashable” meaning that the TB is more likely to be moved on in a timely fashion.
AR05 Widgeon: Witches of Weedon (GC5XJ0A) was the last of the puzzle caches on the section and, being a fan of Terry Pratchett, I found it very easy to solve. To get to the GZ required us to leave the farm fields and walk along the quiet lanes of the hamlet of Weedon. I was last to make my way from the road to the hide at GZ and therefore have no idea who actually found it or where it was hidden. By the time I arrive at GZ, everyone else was turning tale and heading back onto the lane to get to the next cache.
AR06 Widgeon: Coomb Hill North (GC4Q38X) was named after the field where it is hidden. This is rather confusing as Coombe Hill is actually over 12km away from there, but I am sure there is a good reason for it… maybe. Geoff made the find of this cache, hanging inside a pole similar to one of my own caches and whilst he admitted to understanding the hint, he was the only one that did, so I was happy to generously classify this one as a “hint for 4 people”.
The next two caches were hidden at field boundaries, there was little other option for the CO to be honest. The first field was an uncut wheat field with a narrow path that twisted and turned through it like a drunk on his way home from the pub. At the boundary of this field we found AR07 Widgeon: Hollow Coombe (GC4QK9Z).
The second field had been cut and the ground was covered with straw which had a smooth slippery texture, a bit like walking on poo. My team members assured me I wasn’t actually walking on poo and I had no option but to believe them. As Sam made a super quick find of AR08 Widgeon: Short Leys (GC4QKAP), it was decided that the shade afforded by a lone tree at the field boundary looked like a good place to stop for lunch and so out came the groundsheet and the sandwiches… one to sit on and one to eat. Over lunch, Geoff reviewed the bonus numbers that we had already collected and said that he had enough to calculate its final location. This was good as we had both spotted the gaping hole between Widgeon 08 and widgeon 10 when looking at the maps and now we knew why.
Another field, another boundary and Geoff was soon in the bushes, returning moments later having found AR09 Widgeon: The Bonus Cache (GC4PG3V) and also contracted a nasty case of googly eyes.
Another stile, another field and then I was offered up as a sacrifice to retrieve AR10 Widgeon: Near Deadman’s Ford (GC4QKBT). I enquired as to whether the cache was named in honour of the dodgy drum brakes on a mark 1 Ford Cortina, but Graham assured me that it wasn’t. Shar had spotted the hide, but I was “allowed” to retrieve. She directed me thus:-
Shar: “Put your hand out, on top of the fence.”
Paul: “Ow, that’s prickly!”
Shar: “Yeah, it’s covered in thorns.”
Shar: “Down a bit.”
Paul: “Ow, ow!”
Shar: “A bit more.”
Paul: “Ouch, for f-f-f!”
Shar: “Go in a bit.”
Paul: “What? Oh, OK. Ow, ow! Are you doing this on purpose?”
Shar: “Almost there, down a bit.”
Paul: “Ow, I better be.”
Shar: “There. Grab it!”
Shar: “No, the cache, not the thorns.”
Paul: [whimpering] “Got it.”
We make an excellent team! After a bit of maintenance from Graham and the dutiful signing of the log, it was time to put it back again. *sigh* As we placed the cache back, Graham told us to take our time walking to the next one, and so saying dashed off ahead to do some much needed maintenance on it before we got there.
After Shar had removed a few needle sharp thorns from my hand, a task that she is contractually obliged to do under the “Boo Boos and Ouches” section of our Relationship agreement, we stopped to make use of the “facilities” and then I limped (no particular reason, just for extra sympathy) to the next cache. We dawdled along chatting about this and that. Shar and Geoff were a short way ahead talking and when I asked what the topic was, Geoff replied, “We’re talking about getting married.” This was news to me, you’d have thought if my other half was going to get married to another man that she would at least have the decency to tell me. I asked if I could be best man.
AR11 Widgeon: Under Powered (GC4QKDB) was a clever hide but as Sam, Geoff and I fought our way into the bushes to search for it, we all recognized signs of a cache type we had seen before. A torch was what we found at GZ, but the log book was retrieved not by means of shining its light, in fact, it didn’t even work!. In moments we had the log book in hand and then we made our way back to the path. Sam and Geoff effortlessly picked their way through the undergrowth and up a slope while I stumbled and staggered and exploded out of the bushes like an elephant fleeing a mouse armed with a flick knife.
Consistent with the missing cows from a previous cache, AR12 Widgeon: Beware of the Bull (GC4QKFD) offered its warning without cause it seemed. There was no sign of the bull, perhaps it went on holiday with the cows… well you would wouldn’t you. We did, however find the cache and thankfully the retrieve was a little less painful for me this time although getting it out from under its wooden structure did require me prostrating myself before it like some sort of crazed stile worshipper.
The breeze had dropped and the temperature was creeping up as we made our way to AR13 Widgeon: Fen Leys (GC4QKGR). At the gate, Sam made a quick find and therefore got to choose the replacement rubber stamp that would go into the letterbox cache. He chose a teddy bear. Passing through the gate according to Shar’s guidance of “step to your right” – [I bump into gate] – “oh no sorry left”, we started towards our next cache. At this point Geoff floated his hypothesis that It’s a woman thing isn’t it? They generally seem to have problem knowing their left from their right. There was a silence and then I assured him that I wouldn’t tell his wife, or indeed any other female, that he had said that. A slight nervous chuckle accompanied his voice as he thanked me.
With the increased heat it was good to know that there were only two caches left at this point. Any more than that and I think there would have been some rumblings amongst the rank and file. Our penultimate cache was one that I have absolutely zero recollection of. I couldn’t tell you where it was, or who found it or how we got there. I remember leaving Widgeon 13 and having the “left from right” conversation with Geoff and then I remember walking to widgeon 15, but nothing at all about AR14 Widgeon: Fen Close (GC4QKHX). I can only assume that Geoff did a “Men In Black” thing on me to erase the memory of the recent conversation but got his calculations wrong. Either that or I was abducted by aliens and probed or whatever it is they call it. *squirm*
AR15 Widgeon: Manor Farm (GC4PQK2) was a multi cache. According to Graham, he had elected to do it this way to help guide people through an area where the footpath is not particularly well marked. Collecting the information was relatively straightforward once we had read the cache page properly. At the GZ we found a handy guard rail which Graham, Geoff, Shar and I sat on while Sam retrieved the cache from the bushes with the occasional “ow”. After signing the cache we made our way to the nearby car and then drove back to where the other two cars were parked for a well-earned slice of cake. Mel might not have been with us in body but her presence was most definitely felt in the form of another fantastic cake. All said and done it was a very enjoyable and productive day and there are already plans afoot to tackle Graham’s other section of the Aylesbury Ring, Mallard, at the end of the month. Happy Days.
This caching adventure took place on Sunday 9th August and took our total geocache count up to 1228.