When Sam moved up from cubs to scouts in 2014, I was browsing through the available badges to see if there were any that we might be able to work on as a family. Naturally my first thought was to check if there was something like orienteering or map reading that he might be able to use some of the skills he had learnt while out geocaching
“Hold the phone! Do my eyes deceive me?” Well obviously not my eyes, but you get the idea. Right there on the screen before my very ears, was an honest to goodness, official Scouts geocaching activity badge. Wind forward to just before the summer holidays this year and a plan was being hatched between myself and fellow scout parent, Jo, to, “get off our backsides and get the boys out doing the geocaching badge over the summer.” I got on doing what I do best… making plans. Cue the music and roll the video montage of me hunched over my computer and magnifier making a plan.
And so, on one of the hottest days of the summer so far, I wasn’t in charge of planning the weather, Sam, Shar and myself met up with Jo and her three boys, Ben and Ethen (both fellow scouts) and Alfie enthusiastic Beaver Scout, at Cassiobury park to make a start. There quite a few things you need to do to earn the badge including a variety of tasks using traditional map reading techniques as well as modern GPS based exercises along with a good smattering of theory and research into the bargain. You can see a full list of the geocaching activity badge requirements on the Scouting website.
We started off by finding a quiet place to sit in the shade and I went over some of the basic theory behind geocaching. What is geocaching, how it works and, how to understand the different types of coordinate systems used by OS maps and geocaching.com. My informal lecture included points about satellites, grid systems, cache types, DT ratings etc. and was only slightly less effective because I had nowhere to plug in the overhead projector to show my PowerPoint presentation.
Keen to get the boys actually doing something, I quickly moved on to the practical tasks and handed around some phones for them to use. We don’t have any GPSR devices so I modified the tasks so that the same results would be achieved using smartphones and a couple of apps. I got the boys adding waypoints, locating their position on the OS map, finding grid refs, and navigating to both an OS grid ref and a degrees and decimal minutes position inside the park. The first coordinate took us in completely the opposite direction than I had intended and nearly out of the park, almost falling over a very red topless man lying down in the grass. The mistake was entirely mine, and the boys did everything perfectly, getting us to the desired point in double quick time.
Thankfully the second point we navigated to took us further into the park as I had intended and all the boys managed to add the waypoint and use the phones to get us there no problem. This was familiar territory for Sam, but both Ben and Ethen took to it extremely well and had no problem at all. I expect it is because they had such a good teacher!
After the more technical tasks were ticked off the list, we got down to the fun part of actually finding some caches. The first one which involved a low level tree climb was unfortunately not there, but the boys didn’t seem to mind and were happy to explore the tree and make repulsive noises at the dead frog that was on display nearby. I even got to go up the tree too… just to double check it wasn’t there of course.
We had much more success with the other 3 caches we went looking for in the park. The boys managed to find all of them and by now they needed almost no instruction from me at all. In fact Jo, Shar and I were just ambling along through the woods about 50 feet behind the boys who were forging ahead following the arrow on their phones. As an added bonus a trackable was discovered in the last cache which caused much excitement, especially from Jo who let out a little squeal when it was retrieved. I suspect that geocaching was not just a hit with the boys, but also with mum too.
The entire outing was a fantastic success and there are plans to do the next phase of the badge this weekend coming, when we are heading into Whippendell woods to do a series of 10 geocaches including the required multicaches that the criteria demands. Not only are we making great progress with the badge, but we have been able to form the beginnings of what will hopefully become a great friendship between our two families. Happy Days.
This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 24th August and took our total cache count to 1538.