With August drawing to a close, there was just time to squeeze in one more PugWash adventure with our friends Geoff and Melissa. We set the date for Sunday 30th and in true British fashion the weather was looking decidedly iffy. This could have been due to many meteorological reasons but I suspect that the rain was coming simply because it was Bank holiday weekend. However Geoff and I were not to be defeated, and during the couple of days prior to the 30th we kept a close eye on the weather and formulated a number of plans in the hope that on the day one of our chosen locations would be relatively free of rain. On Sunday morning we assessed the situation one last time and invoked plan B which involved heading over to Cowley on the western edge of greater London to take on the Cowley Caper. There is nothing that cannot be overcome by good planning.
Interestingly, this theory was then thrown into the wood chipper and well and truly mashed to a pulp within about the first 30 minutes of arriving. As we pulled into the road where the car park was situated, we were surprised to see Geoff changing a tyre on his car at the side of the road. We had not planned for that. Thankfully this only delayed him for a few minutes and a short while later, after official greetings and small talk, we set out on the trail in search of the first of our caches, 1. Cowley Caper – Old Trout (GC61Q0W).
Even though it is technically in London, Cowley is right on the outskirts and tries hard to shake off the encroaching urbanisation. It achieves this with varying degrees and the Cowley Caper series is set out on paths around a series of small lakes and along the side of the grand Union Canal. At times, the traffic, litter and other evidence of City life tries to muscle in but the environment tries very hard to get it in a head-lock and frog march it back to a safe distance… as it were.
As we started walking, with one eye on the clouds and one eye on the bushes looking for caches, both Geoff and I kept one eye/ear trained on a puzzle cache that we were trying to solve. Apart from having one too few eyes to effectively carry this off, we were men and therefore struggling greatly to merely breathe and walk at the same time let alone multi task with numerous other things as well. Sam, who had been keeping his concentration on just finding the cache, failed entirely in this regard when he dismissed a suspicious log as “just a log” only to have Geoff turn it over a few seconds later to reveal the cache. Not to worry though, Team PugWash was off and running with the first cache of the day.
then the universe reminded us of another thing we hadn’t planned for as Mel noticed that Shar was “flying low”. However, far from being a bathroom malfunction, this turned out to be a wardrobe malfunction as it transpired that the stitching holding her zip in place on her Jeans had decided that it was time to let go and the ventilation modification would require surgery, or at the very least stitches, to fix the problem. Planning had not extended to including an emergency sewing kit and so Shar had to make do with a lot of pulling her jumper down and keeping her legs together.
Continuing along the path we soon arrived at a point where it crossed over the canal and we descended the steps and joined the tow path for our second cache, Coal Post #69 (GC3J4AT). Long story short… Coal Post were markers erected at road, rail and canals at a perimeter around London to inform people that bringing coal past that point would incur a London tax. This not only included coal that was being brought in for sale but also that which was being used as fuel. The taxing of coal entering London had been going on since mediaeval times although the coal posts themselves were erected in the 1800s. By the end of the century though, it was agreed that it was an unfair and silly tax and they abolished it, leaving behind the posts of which around 200 still survive today in the form of plaques, posts and obelisks. At many of these locations you will find a coal post geocache, a series started by bones1 a while back and added to by various cachers over the years.
Ok so it wasn’t that much of a shortening of the story but it was interesting at least. While the rest of the group stood around gas bagging, I got down to finding the cache cleverly secreted in a fence post at the side of the tow path. Now that I was standing still and could free up some much needed brain power, Geoff and I went back to trying to solve the puzzle cache while the log was being signed. I was so preoccupied with the puzzle that when I was handed the log, I put it straight back in the camo bag and was about to re-hide it, whilst still holding the empty cache in my other hand. OK so I obviously hadn’t freed up enough brain power to think about the puzzle cache and still function as required. Geoff and I elected to forget about the puzzle until we stopped for lunch.
A short walk along the quiet canal and we reach the GZ of our next cache, 2. Cowley Caper – Canalslide (GC61R71). We were presented with a steep bank leading up away from the canal and Geoff, Sam and I immediately did the manly thing and scrambled up it without so much as a second thought. We barely gave it a first thought and if we had, then we might have spotted the cache at the bottom of the slope where Melissa found it a few moments later. The ladies were happy with their find and we men had conquered an 8 foot moderate slope so everyone was happy.
Having found 2 caches on the Cowley Caper series we now decided that we would branch off and pick up some other local caches before re-joining the trail further on. So back down the tow path we went and off into the woods to collect another coal post cachek, Coal Post 70 & 71 (GC3K5RD), which was also up a steep bank at the side of a different branch of the canal. Again Geoff forged quickly and easily up the slope through the undergrowth to reach a fence at the top. Sam and I stayed back down this time thinking we wouldn’t make the same mistake again. Geoff found the cache straight away at the top and along with it, “all the earwigs in China”. Confident that Geoff was more than capable of ousting a trillion or so earwigs, we left him to it and stood around constructively chatting at the base of the slope.
The route to our next cache was through more parkland / trees and along a wide path that turned out to be a road which we discovered only when two vans drove up behind us. Emerging from the end of the lane we found ourselves right on the fringe of civilisation and realised that this was nearby Yiewsley. A short walk along another lane passed some less than salubrious dwellings and some worrying drug paraphernalia rubbish and we arrived at the GZ of G.W & Uxbridge Railway & West Drayton 02 (GC3K4YJ). Whilst the surroundings were rather icky the actually the location of the hide was interesting. At the side of the road, half embedded in the ground were some old train wheels. Geoff found the cache quickly and we were glad to be leaving the area. An interesting hide but probably deserving of a “needs archive” really.
Another short walk later, legs together Shar and pull that jumper down just a little further, and we were back at the canal. This part of the canal seemed a bit more well used and just as we stepped onto the tow path and under a bridge a canal boat came chugging past. This was both interesting and annoying. Great to hear and see a boat go past but annoying as it was right at GZ and we had to wait, conspicuously for it to pass. The cache, Trout Tickler (GC588WR), was found at the base of a chain link fence in the undergrowth and alas more litter.
We continued on along the tow path and in a couple of hundred metres noticed that the condition of the paths and margins had suddenly improved greatly. Shortly there was a wide open paved section with benches and…ahh a Tesco supermarket just beyond the fence. This was the site of our next cache, Off Yer Trolley – Yiewsley (GC5055J), one in a series called “Off Your Trolley” which has its hides close to shops and retail parks. Obviously a series created by someone who hated going shopping with the wife so thought he would nip out and place a cache at every opportunity thinking that there may be other kindred spirits out there like him who would rather be ferreting around in the bushes than trying to have an opinion about whether the green top was better than the other green top or if the blue skirt made her bum look bigger than it already was.
I decided to take advantage of the bench and have a rest but was promptly turfed off by Sam as he was looking for the cache. It was quickly located and we moved on. In hindsight, perhaps we could have taken a diversion into Tesco to pick up some sewing essentials to make a canal side repair of Shar’s trousers but considering the location of the damage, I don’t think Shar was prepared to have a blind man kneeling between her legs with a needle in his hand!
As we continued and got further away from the Tesco, the condition of the tow path and margin went back to its sorry state and all was normal and honest again. It had obviously been a condition of planning permission to build the supermarket that Tesco would have to pay to improve the tow path but the council could have pushed a bit harder and got them to improve a bit more of it. Soon we reach another branch in the canal and we turned down here to re-join the Cowley caper series with cache number 3.
As we walked to GZ we saw a man picking blackberries on the tow path and soon Sam and Shar were more interested in spotting berries to pick than finding the cache. Sam however found more than blackberries… he found £3 in loose change just sitting on the ground by the bushes. I suspect that a previous blackberry forager must have dropped it which is ironic because that probably would have made their blackberries rather expensive. When we reached the GZ of 3. Cowley Caper – Frays Aqueduct (GC61R80) we all got down to searching. There was a wall at the side of the path that curled around into the bushes and it was here that the search was focussed. Everyone had a go at looking for it except for Mel who hung back with Smokey, the pug. It was funny therefore that it was actually Mel who spotted the cache from a distance of about 20 feet away, in a place where all of us had been searching moments before. Wedged snugly in a gap at the base of the wall it was difficult to spot the cache unless you were at the right angle and it was even more difficult for Geoff to try and retrieve it, not being able to see what he was doing with his fingers. To complicate matters it was sited at the top of a steep slope down into the bushes and so a certain amount of effort had to be retained to avoid falling. Geoff suggested that I might have better luck as I am used to locating things without watching what I am doing and he was right. I plucked the cache out in a few seconds and also avoided plummeting down into the blackberry bushes.
Turning around we returned to the main branch of the canal and made a quick find of 4. Cowley Caper – Up the Junction (GC61R8K) hidden up in the ceiling of a low bridge that went over the canal and tow path. Geoff being of a generous height made the find quickly. Our next one was a bit further along at a bend in the canal. Yes you heard me right… a bend. Now I thought that canals were always straight but this is not the case, or at least it isn’t in Cowley. Admittedly the bend is gradual and wide but still when you are piloting a 50 foot long boat , getting round corners is somewhat of an art form. The skills required to do this were not possessed by the person on the boat that passed us as we were signing the log of 5. Cowley Caper – Turning Point (GC61R99), which we found after walking up a shallow set of steps. A loud bang and a nervous laugh could be heard as we watch the boat bump its way around the corner. The problem with being on a canal boat is that they move so slow. This means that when you make a Pratt of yourself and run it into a wall, you have to deal with the embarrassment in slow motion as you flee the scene at a snail’s pace. If we had chosen we could have walked along side, keeping pace with the boat and holding the pilot in a permeant red faced flush, but we elected to spare him this and decided to just stand on the tow path and laugh for a while.
Random fact: Canal boats pass each other left side to left side, the opposite side to that of which cars do on the road. Why? Beats me.
By now thoughts of finding caches was fast becoming secondary to that of finding somewhere to stop and have some lunch. Geoff had noticed a recreation ground on the map a bit further along the tow path and so we continued on to find our next cache, 6. Cowley Caper – Stepping Out (GC61RC7), which was a very clever homemade hide at the side of the path utilising a fence panel and some spring clips to hold the cache in place on the reverse. Further on still another homemade wooden cache, 7. Cowley Caper – Bridge 189 (GC61RCN) was found right at the corner of the recreation ground and we acted as a human shield from muggles so that the cache could be retrieved, signed and replaced easily.
We headed into the recreation ground and found a spot near a bench where we could spread our groundsheet and have some lunch. During our picnic I was attacked by the ferocious pug that is Smokey who discovering me at his level for once launched a full on “lick to death” assault. Smokey has no off switch… he will just continue to lick you until you physically pick him up and get out of his way.
Once I had fended off the pug, Geoff and I got down to finally trying to solve this puzzle. A few messages were exchanged with the CO and we soon discovered that she wasn’t entirely sure how to solve it either. She had adopted the cache a while back and it had been a long time since she had actually solved it. We eventually gave up and then agreed to take the offered coordinates and do a maintenance run for the CO, as the cache hadn’t been visited in over a year and we would be doing her a favour. We checked out the coordinates and realised that we had walked past GZ once today already right near the start of our walk. We decided to wait and see how we felt when we got back to the car. We still had 6 caches on our list to do first.
Refuelled and rested we set off again and re-joined the tow path for a short walk to the GZ of 8. Cowley Caper – Cowley Lock (GC61RMQ). This was located near a busy pub and it was an extremely high muggle area and required the diversion tactics of the whole group acting as human shields so that we could retrieve and sign the log. Having a pub so close to the canal got me to thinking about how many people roll out of there at closing time and end up in the drink by mistake. There is little or no protection from falling in the canal and you would only have to stumble about 20 feet to be heading nose first into the murky waters of the Grand Union.
We left the tow path here and joined a road for a short way walking along narrow footpaths toward our next cache, Coal Post #67 & #68 (GC61RPPM). This was a very new coal post cache and posed somewhat of a challenge in terms of being covert as it was about 3 feet off a busy road with no cover at all. Geoff did a good job of finding and retrieving the cache but our efforts did not go unnoticed as a car sounded its horn repeatedly at us as it drove past. A few minutes later Geoff got a message from the CO to say that it had been them in the car! Not sure I have ever been muggled and hooted at by the CO of a cache before. She was lucky Geoff didn’t get freaked out and drop the cache in the river that ran underneath the road.
After crossing the road we thankfully headed back into a nice section of woodland that ran alongside a river and lake. This was far too much water for everyone and over the course of the next few minutes I think most everyone in the group had to slip into the bushes for a wilderness bathroom break… Shar was particularly speedy due to her malfunctioning wardrobe so I guess every cloud does have a silver lining. A bit further on 9. Cowley Caper – Weir Are We? (GC61RRT) was easily found in a stump by Geoff and we moved on. Feet were starting to get tired now but that was ok because we only had a couple of caches left to go.
Both 10. Cowley Caper – Groovy Tree (GC61W1M) and 11. Cowley Caper – It was this big! (GC61W4M)M) were found with relative ease on the banks of Little Britain Lake… yes it is really called that.. “Yeah but no but yeah but no but yeah but no, but what happened right is…”. I wonder if their signs have a habit of being nicked by fans of the TV show. After finding the last cache and making a note of the last bonus number.. ooh I forgot to mention that some of the caches had bonus numbers in, we headed for the car park for cake and to calculate the location of the bonus and decide whether or not to go in search of the puzzle cache final. As we walked across a narrow foot bridge over one part of the lake a harassed towny mum asked us as to what was on the other side of the bridge. We explained that it was a nice footpath through the trees by the side of the lake. The woman then proceeded to tell her children, “see, I told you there was nothing over there. Come on back to the car.” The kids were not impressed and to be honest, neither was I. I held my tongue but hoped that she stepped in something unpleasant on the way back to her posh people carrier.
Back at the car we munched on some lovely cake courtesy of Melissa. Geoff and I decided that we were up for collecting the final of the puzzle, Around the World Trip 01 (GC43X3T) and Sam Said he would go in search of the 12. Cowley Caper – The Bonus One (GC61YH0), just a hundred metres or so up the path. The women said they would stay at the cars and do nothing. Well that was sorted then. This gave Geoff and I our first outing together. OK that sounds a bit weird but you know what I mean. I am normally under the supervision of either Sam or Shar when walking. In some cases I can walk freely, just using my cane but one or the other of them is always keeping an eye on me to make sure I don’t end up in the canal or something. This was the first time I would be out with someone else. Not wanting to be two blokes walking through the woods holding hands and not being fond of the “back of the upper arm” method for long periods of time, we quickly fashioned a make shift tether similar to the ones that the athletes use in the Paralympics for the blind runners with sighted guides. This was excellent practice for Geoff and myself as we are currently hatching a plan for a big caching adventure next year.
With a few corrections here and there and some discussions about communication of when to walk single file and when there was enough space to walk side by side we headed off in search of the final. We got about 50 metres from the coordinates provided to us by the CO and thought things might be a bit wrong. The arrow was pointing us a long way into a deep gully covered in dense bushes. Another message to the CO and this time she sent us the correct coordinates! A short way along the path Geoff spotted the cache from the path and there was much rejoicing. Not only had we found a cache that hadn’t been found for over a year thus making it a prime candidate for a resuscitation challenge but Geoff hadn’t manage to kill me either. In fact we made it back to the car with efficiency and speed and with no injuries of any kind.
Sam had not done so well with the bonus cache so Geoff and I accompanied him back to GZ and spent some time trying to find it. Eventually we located the hint item and after a bit of searching I peeled off a magnetic strip cache from the base of a security camera pole…. very cunning indeed. We trotted back to the car triumphant and contented. Another excellent Pugwash adventure despite tyre and wardrobe malfunctions. Oh and I did later solve the puzzle and provide details of the solution to the CO who was most appreciative. Happy Days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Sunday 30th August 2015 an took our total cache count to 1273.