Ripping good times on the Cole Green Wander

Sharlene and I were suitably impressed enough with our recent GeoDate in Birch Green, that when it came time to plan our next family caching day out, we decided to head back to the same area and take on a slightly bigger series of caches called the Cole Green Wander.

Located just a little to the south of The Birch Green Wander series, the Cole Green Wander is a set of 20 geocaches placed along footpaths in a semi-rural part of Hertfordshire just to the west of Hertford. The shape of it when observed on a map resembles that of a large saucepan with a handle extending to the right and the top line of caches all run along the Cole Green Way, a popular walking route following the path of an old railway line.

Our starting point was the car park of Hertford Town football club which was far less grand than it sounds. I was under the impression that Hertford Fc was a club of some importance, but the ground was basically a line of benches standing next to a football pitch. High profile it may not be, but it certainly was quite busy and this hampered our attempts to find the first cache which was meant to be hidden in the bowl of a tree right in the car park.

After a thorough search all round, and in the middle of, the multi-trunked tree, in the end we had to give up and resign ourselves to marking the first geocache of the day as a DNF. Disaster! I have stated on many occasions that a DNF right at the start of your day is the worst kind and indeed it is, but we tried to just put it behind us and move on. Also we reminded ourselves that we would be returning here on the way back so we could have another look then. I suspected that we all knew deep down that we wouldn’t be “having another look on the way back”, but it made us feel better about walking away.

The first leg of the walk was a long and straight one following the route of the old railway line. It was a very popular path indeed, with many walkers, cyclists and even a couple of horses passing us at one point. I hasten to add that the horses were being ridden by humans, they weren’t just a couple of back packing horses out for a gentle stroll. This initial stretch of our route took us past a further 8 caches a couple of which we skipped so we could have something to do on the way back and, with the exception of another DNF, we managed to find all the remaining ones.

The good thing about old railway lines is that they are often set in deep cuttings which means there are steep banks up both sides offering lots of suitable hiding places for geocaches. . The actual hides were your standard small pots at tree bases or beneath logs with a couple of exceptions. Most notably a tiny nano which was embedded in the end of a fence post at one GZ which was quite well done.

When it came time to head towards number 10, we turned off the main path and headed south forming the left hand side of my imaginary saucepan as described above in my pitiful metaphor… or was it a simile. Oh I always get those too mixed up. Anyway we made our way along a narrow path, overgrown and flanked with barbed wire to a small bridge where we located a cache box underneath the woodwork of the bridge. Spirits in our little team were pretty high as the weather was just about right, and there was little if any teenage moaning, or any other kind of moaning for that matter.

After a short diversion off the main series to pick up another rather well done nano in the end of a stick hidden in plain view in the V of a tree, we made our way to number 11 in the series, which was accompanied by a number of interesting incidences. Firstly Shar and Sam were treated to the sight of a family of foxes scampering away in the distance across the fields as we walked towards the GZ, which is pretty cool as you don’t often see foxes out in the daytime in areas where there is a reasonably high footfall.

Then as we found the cache which was behind a tree up a slope to the side of the path, I discovered that I had a rip in the leg of my trousers. I had for some time been monitoring a tiny hole in the right hand leg of my trousers hoping that it wouldn’t get any bigger. It had probably been caused by barbed wire or something similar and had been there for a good couple of months now. My plan was to make the trousers last through the summer, then I had my winter combats to wear and then I would get some new lightweight combats next year. Well that plan went out the window when I discovered that whilst the hole in my right leg had not got any bigger, I now had acquired a rip the size of a melon in the knee of my left one! I am completely oblivious as to how or when exactly I got it, but there was no ignoring it now. It was clear that there would be a rethinking of trouser plans after this trip. I tried my best to make it look like a fashion thing, but I couldn’t even pull that off back in the nineties when I was in my twenties, let alone as a 45 year old man in 2017.

Paul stands before a large tree lifting his leg to display the large rip in the knee of the left leg of his trousers.

A ripping good time!

After a brief interlude for mother and son to have a “discussion” about the best route to take to the next cache, we made our way down a pretty tunnelled path and around the edge of a field picking up a couple of easy finds, the second of which was affixed to the back of a sign that told us all about the nearby wonderfully named “Grotto Wood, not to be confused with what I thought it was called which was “Grotty Wood”.

We were “on our way back” now and as we turned east our gradual descent was predictably replaced with a similarly gradual ascent. The next few caches were not too challenging except for one where the GPS had us about 25 metres from where we eventually found the cache. This was a little frustrating but all that doesn’t really matter if you actually find the cache in the end.
A view down a path where the trees have grown over creating a tunnel like effect.
We had another DNF at number 19 although we were convinced the cache was missing as the hide was very clear and the hint and description obvious enough. I note as I write this that the cache owner did visit a few days later and confirmed that the cache had gone missing and helpfully replaced it.

Number 20, which is the last in the series, although we had a couple from the beginning of the trail saved for our return stroll to the car, was an easy find under the watchful eye of a CCTV camera. As we stood there, Sam and Shar explained to me that it was a very odd place for a camera. We were at the end of a track and all around us were fields. The track was about 100 metres or more from the nearest building and the camera just seemed to cover … nothing. It was weird because it made me feel a bit self-conscious as there was really nothing else for the camera to focus on other than the 3 berks messing around in the bushes looking for tupperware. In hindsight I suspect it was soon to be the site of a new development, or that they may have had problems before with either travellers or fly tippers.

Our walk now took us back to the disused railway line where we had to reverse the instructions for finding cache number 4 as we were approaching it from the opposite direction, which hurt our brains for a while. Then it was an easy find for our last cache and with tired feet but good spirits we strode out for the car. No one was interested in having another look for our first DNF, as I had suspected, but the painful memory had subsided now leaving behind only that nice warm fuzzy feeling you get when you have spent a couple of hours of quality time with your family in the countryside finding geocaches. Happy days.

This geocaching adventure took place on July 1st 2017 and took our total cache count up to 1726.

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Geodating in Birch Green

A few weeks back, some “new geocache” notifications popped into my mailbox that caught my eye. I get a few emails every week as new caches are added in the area but they are normally one offs. These ones were part of a series though and that is always interesting. After some brief exploration on the iPhone I had a couple of offline lists saved with some nice looking cache trails not far from Hertford. We had been in the general area of these new caches before, most recently on a caching day out to Tewin with our friends Geoff and Melissa but for some reason I hadn’t noticed these circuits until now

Finding a break in the rain and the stinking hot weather Shar and I made our way over to Birch Green to tackle the smallest of the trails for a GeoDate. There are only 10 in the Birch Green Wander series plus 3 other odds that I had earmarked as “dooable”, we wanted to take it relatively easy and decide whether the area was worthy of returning some other time to tackle one of the other two loops which are bigger with 19 and 22 caches respectively.

On the whole it was very pleasant semi-rural Hertfordshire countryside, partially along an old railway line and for the rest it was footpaths through fields and alongside quiet country lanes.

A fairly straight forward set of caches, all a bit on the small side considering they were rural but they did the job and they were all there which is always a bonus.

Aside from almost being mowed down by an idiot mountain biker who just wasn’t paying attention, bumping into the same group of golden oldie walkers a couple of times and finding our 1700th cache, it was basically uneventful. Rather than give you the dull details of the individual caches I will just leave you with a couple of photos. I suspect we shall be returning again soon, probably with Sam, to tackle one of the bigger loops. It was nice to have a proper series to sink our teeth into.

Shar stands in a field of green wheat facing the camera

ahhh yes that classic song… “Fields of green”

Paul sits on a shaded bench eating lunch

“And if I point the food like this, it makes me seem like I am trying to say something in the photo”

A large church fills the view

A disproportionally large church at Hertingfordbury, the place that just won’t let you finish its name.

This geocaching adventure took place on Thursday 15th June and took our total cache count up to 1709.

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Geolympix Marathon Series – The first loop of… well, we shall see!

With the schools being on holiday this last week and the weather in the UK looking pretty average – we have moved out of that difficult phase where it is freezing cold one day to being boiling hot the next into a new period where it is marginally warmer than cold on a consistent basis – I was feeling the need for a good old family geocaching adventure. Not just popping somewhere local for a few odd caches, but a proper full on, pack a lunch, take spare batteries, drive into the arse end of nowhere, 20+ loop type of experience.

We have been searching around for a challenge that would span more than one day and give us something to really get our teeth into over the coming months and whilst browsing the map I came across the GMS series. I had heard of this already, it is a cluster of five rings near the Buckinghamshire Oxfordshire border and was placed to coincide with the 2012 Geolympix event, but the reviews had been mixed. They mostly ran along the lines of beautiful series but killer hills. Three months ago I would not have dared to suggest such a challenge, but now thanks to us all being smoke free, losing a bunch of weight thanks to the 5-2 diet and a massive increase in the amount of exercise being done, I thought it was worth floating the idea to the rest of the family. They were open to the concept as long as we took our time, went well prepared and only attempted it when the weather was right – no hot sunny days.

And so it transpired that on the Wednesday of half term, when the weather forecast was warm but cloudy, we found ourselves parking up on a quiet country lane in the vicinity of a small village called Skermitt, in Buckinghamshire, to undertake Loop A of the Geolympix Marathon Series. There are 24 caches in the loop with an additional odd one along the way, making for a target figure of 25, which if we achieved it would be a record for all of us.

Being slightly odd and having taken the time to do a bit of research, namely reading the excellent blog post by the Sandhurst geocachers who did the loop in October 2016, we elected to start our adventure at number 6 as this afforded us with a good spot to park the car. We decided to leave 6, to make it the last one of the day, and donned our boots and set off into the pretty woodland that ran across the top of a hill in search of our first cache.

This was a good start. It was quiet, no road noise to be heard anywhere, warm, dry, and the walking through the woods was easy. The first couple were quickly found, just your standard, run of the mill geocaches, but we all knew that the hides were not going to be the highlight of this series, it was the scenery that we were here for. We broke out of the woods on the way to our second cache and walked along the edge of a field filled with sheep… and that ticked off the animals item from my list of ingredients required for an interesting adventure in the countryside. OK, it was only sheep, but it was a start.

A field with sheep

“England’s green and pleasant land… and its playful sheep!”

A slight mishap on the way to the third cache as Sam deftly sidestepped a clump of sheep poo but, in typical cack-handed teenager mode, he fumbled his phone and dropped it in the very same pile of poo! After a small amount of cleaning on his part and a large amount of laughing from Shar and myself, we continued on with our walk and made the find easily. So far no sign of any gradients of any kind, the going had been flat and even, but Shar pointed out to me that we were on top of a hill, so some sort of “down and up” would be inevitable.
Sam and Shar stand in a field wiping sheep poo from Sam's iPhone after he drop it as he was walking across the field.

The all new Apple shItePhone!

The next couple of caches took us inside a tree line and did indeed lead us down from our lofty position atop the hill into somewhat of a valley and then the next few took us up a nice wide path through the trees where we were serenaded by the delicious smell of freshly cut pine. To this point the slopes down and up were gentle and the ground underfoot easy and the only hazard we had to avoid were a couple of all terrain buggies that came hurtling along the path, presumably piloted by the land owners or other such official types. It certainly looked like a fun way to travel but, alas, we had to stick to the old fashioned way of putting one foot in front of another.

Our only other distraction as we walked through the pretty woods was the regular sound of light aircraft buzzing over our heads either taking off or landing at the nearby airfield which we were expecting to encounter at some point. Ninety minutes into our walk we had found 8 caches and were on our way to number 15 in the series and all was going swimmingly. This next cache was found super quick , being a little out in the open as a result of its hide having rotted away somewhat, and the internal team rivalry was ramping up with Sam having found 4 and Shar 5. I had yet to find one myself, but had been employed to stick my hand in various places on a number of occasions so I certainly wasn’t feeling left out.

The route to the next cache saw us encounter a very steep hill indeed although thankfully it was in the downward direction and aside from my knees getting a bit of a jarring from the tricky terrain as we descended, we arrived at the bottom intact and made a quick find as we did at the subsequent one which was our 11th find of the day and number 17 in the series. So far no DNFS and other than starting to get a bit peckish, morale was high and tension within the team was low. A small walk along a country road took us to our one non-series cache for the day,Sparks’ Valley Spot (GC1J3JZ) , which was found at eye level hidden in the twisting vines wrapped around a large tree just a few yards from the road. The cache description gave a lot of general information about the local area and some interesting facts such as that a number of films and TV programmes had been filmed there over the years including the vicar of Dibley. Also apparently somewhere nearby was the iconic windmill used in Chitty chitty bang bang, but alas we never encountered it on our way round.

Then we had a quick walk through a field of cows – I am never at ease in the company of cows, for some reason they just weird me out. Thankfully the cache was beyond the field so there was no need to dawdle and after passing down the side of a house we found ourselves at number 18 where I located my first cache of the day at the base of a gate post. That put my score at one, Sam was still at 4 having not found any since the last tally check and Shar was streaking ahead with 8 finds so far.

Number 19 was a DNF for us. Upon arriving at the kissing gate surrounded by nettles none of us were interested in searching too thoroughly as this would have undoubtedly resulted in lots of nettle stings. Add to this the fact that the team was getting a little “hangry” and the result was that we spent only a few minutes swiping at the nettles with our sticks before declaring a DNF. We had agreed prior to leaving home that we wouldn’t spend more than 5 minutes searching for any one cache otherwise the day would become very long indeed. Besides what we were most focussed on now was finding a nice place to throw down the groundsheet and have some lunch.

With a staggering piece of good fortune, as we walked through a farm field to the next cache, a bench loomed upon the horizon like the veritable Holy Grail itself. We had no idea that this bench was going to be here and gleefully put it to good use to take a break and chomp our sandwiches in the warm sunshine.

Sam Shar and Paul sit on a bench enjoying the warm sun after lunch near number 20.

Lunchtime Selfie

Dear reader, I know you to be alert and attentive, which is why I know you raised an eyebrow at my mention of warm sunshine. Indeed it was forecast to be cloudy on this day and the appearance of the sun and it accompanying heat was not welcomed by some members of the team. The last thing you need when walking through open farm fields or up steep hills is the hot sun beating down on you. I was still optimistic though that it was only a fleeting appearance and normal cloud would be resumed shortly. Regardless, the temperature was up a few degrees and we were all down to our t-shirts now, my backpack stuffed full of redundant jumpers.

After a pleasant and much needed break for lunch we got back on the trail and made our way through the rest of the field to a country road where we failed to find cache number 20 in the series, again as a consequence of far too much nettle cover. Two DNFs in a row is never a good thing and morale took a dip at this point even though we were no longer hungry. Thankfully we made quick finds at 21 and 22 as we continued on up the lane and through another field. The hot sun and lack of cover called the search at 23 to an abrupt end as a less than comfortable Shar declared that we were skipping this one and heading for the next one where shade could be seen. There was no arguing, it was not optional, and so off we went. As the day stretched on and the temperature increased and energy levels started to decline, there were a few curt exchanges amongst the team and still yet we hadn’t come across the “killer hill”. This was both encouraging and worrying. Maybe it didn’t exist, maybe everyone else had got it wrong. OK, OK, I can be a mindless optimist if I like!

After finding number 24, the last in the series we then joined a road for a while and wrapped around to find number 1(GMS A 01 GC3Q2WY) which was in the little village of Skermitt and then number 2 which was at the side of the road as we left the village. This one took us a little while until we stopped searching at the base of the many gate posts and instead stood up and just looked at the obvious place right at eye level. It is interesting at how you can become conditioned to automatically search in one place if a series provides you with enough similar hides. So this was either a very sneaky diversion from the norm or, more likely, just too good of an opportunity for an easy hide, inside the top of a hollow gate post, to consider anything else.

And then we could see the hill!

Shar points up the hill that we are about to climb and sam hold's his head in his hands.

“I have a bad feeling about this”

Well obviously I couldn’t see it, but the way it was being described to me by Shar and Sam, there was no doubt that what lay ahead of us was most definitely the aforementioned “killer” that so many had alluded to previously. It kind of draws you in slow to start with. A gentle incline through a field, a change of direction and then up a slightly steeper slope to a point where the woods begin. That is where you take a moment, look back down and admire the deer sweeping through the fields below you and wonder if you could possibly get a cable car up if you wait long enough for someone to build one, or alternatively how difficult could it possibly be to capture and ride a deer up through the trees. We took the chance, whilst summoning our energy, to find the cache that was at the entrance to the woods and to allow a couple of elderly people, who looked annoyingly fitter than we were, to pass us.

And then there was the hill.

Sam and I strode it out as we are want to do, going for long paces and a brisk tempo to get it over with quickly. Shar took it at a slower pace and called out for us to stop a number of times as she didn’t want to be abandoned on a very steep hill in the middle of the woods panting like a rabid dog!
There was a lot of huffing and puffing, some grimaces and some gritted teeth. A certain amount of swearing for sure and when finally we all reached the top there was a frank and graphic conversation about the unlikelihood of doing further rings in the series if all the hills were like this. All three of us lost our cool over the next few minutes for various different reasons and to a lesser or greater degree. I blame the lack of oxygen at the high altitude of over 120 metres above sea level.

Needless to say after we had caught our breath and worked out how to get to the next cache, things had calmed down a bit and soon we were all friends again and united in our goal of finding the next 3 caches which would get us back to the car. Unfortunately only the next one was found and numbers 5 and 6 in the series both went down as DNFs. It wasn’t for the want of trying though. At 5 we just didn’t get the clue of “cats eye” and even with a handy photo from the sandhurst blog we still couldn’t locate it. We really wanted to find it as we were so close to the end of the loop now and we were content to search here for a while as it was shady and peaceful, but alas it was not to be.

At the last one I think the allure of the car which was just a few metres away from GZ was too much to resist and after a fairly thorough, but unsuccessful, search we all admitted defeat and called it a day. 20 out of the possible 25 caches were found and a very respectable distance of 12km was walked.

Back at home now I think we all agree it was a great day. Yes there was a big hill on the walk and the sun was a bit hot at times but the scenery did not disappoint and the caches were in good condition and mostly easy to find.
Sam and Shar walk away from the camera with a view across the hills beyond them.
I enjoyed it most because it was exactly what I wanted, a real family caching adventure away from the TV, computers, Xbox and the constant noise of traffic at home. It was just three of us, making our own fun.

Will we do any more of the GMS loops? Well, I am hopeful. We have agreed to try and find an OS map and assess the contours to try and get a handle on the hills for future rings and the choice of day is again critical. I hadn’t remembered about the nettles and this concerns me a bit for other loops. Perhaps we should have tackled this series earlier in the year, around Easter time, or maybe we should postpone till nearer the end of autumn. We shall see. I am, as I say, hopeful though. Happy days.

This geocaching adventure took place on Wednesday 31st May 2017 and took our total cache count up to 1696.

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Scouts Geocaching Activity Badge

Way back at the end of August last year, I posted an article about starting to work on the Scouts geocaching badge with Sam and some friends. An update on the situation is well overdue and whilst I said I wouldn’t be filling in the missing articles from my recent absence from blogging, this is an exception as I am so proud of Sam and his friends Ben and Ethan for the work they did towards this badge.

To recap, our first outing was to a local park, Cassiobury, where I taught the boys about the basics of geocaching, the science behind it and then got them to do a few simple map reading tasks and then ended the day by finding a couple of caches in the park. (See Scouting out and about in Cassiobury Park for more details).

The next step the boys needed to complete was to plan and embark on a walk of at least 5km using waypoints to navigate. As another task they would need to find a number of geocaches including a couple of multis so it seemed to make sense to combine the two into one outing. Just next door to Cassiobury Park is Whippendell woods and conveniently there is a series of caches there that ticked all the boxes. After a brief planning session our two families met up one Sunday morning at the woods and led by the boys we did the walk, finding the caches as we went.

Sam Ben and Ethan pose on a path in the woods holding the ammo can geocache

Now THAT is a proper geocache!

Sam Ben Ethan and Alfie all look on excitedly as the contents of the ammo can geocache are inspected.

What wonders lay within?

That left only one part of the badge criteria left to complete; to place a new geocache. Conveniently about this time a couple of local caches in the park were archived as the owner was no longer prepared to maintain them anymore which left us a couple of handy gaps on the maps to fill.

So, at the beginning of October it was back over to Cassiobury Park to search for some good hiding spots. We spent quite a while trying to find appropriate places, this particular park has a surprisingly large number of trees that seem to disappear straight into the ground with no emerging root structures which are so popular with the geocaching community. Eventually we managed to find a couple of spots and the boys chose their containers, filled them with log sheets and swag and then recorded the coordinates using their smartphones. We then spent a little time collecting some numbers from a few nearby landmarks as one of the caches was going to be a multi and then it was back home to write up the cache listings.

Sam chose to be CO on the traditional, as he already was the owner of a multi; a church micro in Aldenham, and this went through fine going live just a couple of days after being submitted. The multi, which Ben and Ethan put themselves down as CO on took a little longer as the reviewer queried a couple of points but in the end it was also published You can check out the caches using the below links.

Between a rock and a hard place (Traditional Cache) in Eastern England, United Kingdom created by MiniKnight
Cassiobury park multi (Multi-cache) in Eastern England, United Kingdom created by bigbruburrows

Predictably the multi gets less finds than the traditional and tends to confuse some people, for no other reason than it is a multi, but both caches are still in place and still being found, the trad having been found 34 times in its first 6 months. Not bad considering it went live as winter was starting to creep upon us.

With all the practical work done, the boys completed a summary report of all the activities they had done towards the badge and along with a few pictures submitted these to the Scout leader. Just a few weeks later and the boys were in possession of their Scouts geocaching badges. I am very proud of all the effort and hard work they put in and, I have to say, that the whole process was a lot of fun for all involved.

Sam stands holding his scouts geocaching badge

Sam with his newly earned geocaching badge

As the cherry on top of the cake recently the scouts did geocaching as an activity on one of their regular evenings and not only were the boys super well prepared and able to help others in the troop, but they chose to go to the park and find the two caches that the boys had created. Happy days, and don’t forget… Be Prepared!

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Here’s Cheers to the GeoBlogosphere – One year on

Just over a year ago fellow geoblogger Kel (check out her blog geo-Mumma Kel | The adventures of a geo-caching mum) suggested setting loose a TravelBug with the aim of getting all the way from her in Australia over to us in the UK (see The GeoBlogosphere gets the Travel Bug). Well, Here’s Cheers to the GeoBlogosphere was released on the 29th of April 2016 and I thought that you might want to know how it is getting on, a year into its travels.

Initially it sat in its launch cache for more than two months after Kel dropped it off until finally it was picked up by a cacher called Lavinian who took it round New South Wales for a bit before dropping it off in Victoria in late August 2016 which put over 400 miles on the clock.

It was picked up just a few days later by another cacher but then it disappeared for a while until Ayratara grabbed it somewhere in South Australia and put it back on track again adding over a thousand miles onto it before dropping it off in November, still in South Australia. By this point it has racked up over two thousand miles but it still is in the same country where it started.

Help was at hand though as only a few days later, on the 24th of November, Team Bounty26 picked it up and immediately took it to Japan, over 4,800 miles away. Oh yeah, now we are getting somewhere. The TB hardly had time to learn how to order a beer in Japanese before it was picked up by someone else at the beginning of December with the promise of taking it to Europe.

Sure enough, kendzos did us proud and dropped it off on the 22nd of January in Poland adding another 5,000 miles to the tally. From here it sat for only a couple of days before it was snatched again with the promise of being moved on soon. dub2405 stayed true to their promise and sure enough at the end of January 2017 it was dropped in Belgium another 700 miles further along on its journey.

Since then it has spent February, March and April travelling from cache to cache in Belgium with a couple of different geocachers and as of right now it is in the hands of having recently visited MISLEIDING (GC611GN) a cache in West-Vlaanderen, Belgium that is a tantalisingly close 150 miles east of where we live!

So Close, and yet so far! Let’s hope that it can continue on its journey and make it over to us soon. In the meantime, Happy first birthday little TB, cheers to you.

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Tap, Tap, Tap. Is this thing on?

This gallery contains 1 photo.

*drops 50p into the meter and the lights flicker on* I have come… BACK TO LIFE! Yes, it has been a while. Yes, I am fine, thanks for asking. No, I haven’t gone off caching, blogging or life in general. … Continue reading

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Scouting out and about in Cassiobury Park

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 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.

Jo and the boys are seated on the ground around an unfolded Ordanance Survey map

Locating their position on the OS map

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.

The boys try to find the cache up a tree

The boys try to find the cache up a tree

Paul is climbing a tree

I better just double check it isn’t there

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.
Ben and Ethan (BigBruBurrows) and Sam (Miniknight) inspect the contents of their first collaborative geocache find

Ben and Ethan (BigBruBurrows) and Sam (Miniknight) inspect the contents of their first collaborative geocache find

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.

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One Night in Norfolk and the world’s your lobster

After searching for a night cache, we returned to the car and were somewhat surprised to see two men trotting out of the woods, jump into their respective cars and drive off. It has to be said that this in itself was not that surprising, however the way the man wearing the skirt managed to maintain his dignity as he climbed into his vehicle was nothing short of impressive to say the least. But I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let’s rewind a few days and start this again.

The school summer holidays were upon us and that meant it was time for Sam’s annual trip up to Norfolk to spend a week with Nanny. Not having seen my mum for quite a while myself, I asked him if he would mind me tagging along this time. There were no objections from him, and Shar, although sad at not being able to come too as she had to look after our aged, senile, people hating cat, was resigned to staying home on the couch in her pyjamas watching the Olympics.

Here are some of the geocaching highlights of our trip.

There was No messing about, we were searching for our first geocache less than an hour after saying goodbye to Sharlene at our “Checkpoint Charlie”, a little chef just outside Ely. The cache in question was a simple church micro in the sleepy hamlet of North Runcton. Driving to the village was a slightly strange experience as we had to drive through a gated common. A few isolated homes and a herd of cows roamed around the common as we kicked Sam out of the car to open and close the gates so we could drive through.

The cache itself was fairly easy to locate once we worked out what a yew tree was. To be fair, Mum knew exactly what a yew tree was, but these ones in particular turned out to be rather small so we had trouble finding them at first. Once we did Sam and mum moved hastily in for the find, but slowed slightly as I read a previous log that mentioned an adder had been discovered recently guarding the cache. The container was spotted, but alas no adder was evident. To be honest, a 12 year old and a blind man make enough noise to scare off all the snakes in Norfolk.

Sam and Paul stand next to the wall outside the churchyard

Church Micro at North Runcton

After this we moved over to the green to grab some information of the village sign to try and find another cache. We got the info fine and found the intended hide for the cache but there was no sign of the container. Sam did find a couple of tennis balls though. Not too worry, a cache had been found today already and so we headed back to mum’s, stopping on the way at a local farm to pick some blueberries.

Our next smilies came a couple of days later when we went into King’s Lyn to do a bit of Geo-Poké-cach-mon-ing. We managed to find two more church micros, failed miserably at another nearby cache but managed to finish up finding a nice little nano hidden inside a stick in one of the large parks in the town. Along the way Sam managed to catch some digital monsters, evolve some others and do various other Pokémon related things. And then as we were walking through the park, Sam announced that he had found the place that the picture in my blog’s banner graphic was taken. I could only take his word for it as I don’t really know what the picture is at the top of my blog other than it being of some trees. What do you think?
Blog Banner
, a few days later, at the weekend, I had requested to specifically go and find a geocache as there was a souvenir up for grabs. Before leaving Watford, Sam had brilliantly solved the maze puzzle from that revealed that the challenge this weekend would be to find a multi cache. As ever, mum’s “can do” attitude had us incorporating a small geocaching excursion into our schedule and a multi cache was duly located in Burnham Overy.

I have often heard the expression ‘a one horse town’ to describe very small places, but I think that in the case of tiny Burnham Overy, they probably just borrowed a horse from a neighbouring town when they need one. Saves on the oats you know.

They did have chickens though. These we found free ranging around the churchyard as we made our way to collect the required info to get the coordinates for the cache. A bit of mental maths and converting letters to numbers in a way all too familiar to geocachers and we had the required digits dialled into the phones. The cache itself was a short walk from the church on the triangular shaped green that basically seemed to be ‘the village’.

After making the find we decided to head back to the churchyard and have lunch on a handy bench we had spotted earlier. No sooner had we sat down and unwrapped the sandwiches, than the chickens clucked over and started getting rather inquisitive. We politely shooed them away, but they just kept coming back and then in a flurry of feathers one jumped up on to my lap and was trying to nick my sarnie! We were having none of that and polite shooing turned into fending off with my white stick whilst we collected our things and fled to the safety of the church porch.

Killer Chickens

Killer Chickens

Mum is a very keen bird watcher, but somewhat ironically, prefers the birds to very much keep their distance. The inquisitive chickens were enough to give her quite a shock. Thankfully the chickens did not follow us to the porch and when we sat down to resume our lunch, we discovered a family sitting opposite us looking very suspiciously like they were trying to work out the multi cache too. It is always nice to meet other geocachers out and about and in this case the 20 minute chat we had with the family whilst we ate our lunch was both enjoyable and a good way for mum to take her mind of the killer chickens.
Sam and Paul stand in front of the main entrance to the small church at Burnham Overy pointing up at the building

Church Pointing

Feeling refreshed after lunch we took a walk across the fields to pick up another couple of nearby caches. Both of these were placed by the National Trust and therefore had a good amount of interesting stuff to be read in the description about the nearby landmarks, in this case a water mill and a windmill. We almost didn’t find the 2nd cache, at the water mill, but Sam did us proud and spotted it just as I was thinking we were going to have to give up.

I didn’t think we would get anymore caching done before we left Norfolk on the Monday but that evening we got to talking about night caches and… Well … one thing led to another and low and behold on Sunday evening at just gone 9pm we were parked in a lay-by not far from Kings Lyn checking our torch batteries. This was to be my first ever night cache and I was, understandably, somewhat excited. Sam had done one already, also with Nanny, and so knew what to expect. After a false start taking the wrong path into the woods, we were soon on the right track and between Nanny and Grandad and eagle eyed Sam we spotted our first reflector fixed to a tree next to the path. As we experimented with shining the torch at it, I found I could even notice it slightly too. Cool!

Ten minutes and 5 reflectors later we had reached the point in the woods were the description had advised us that we did not need to travel beyond. At that point, almost instantly, our little group all split up and everyone went in different directions looking for the cache. I was left standing on the path listening to what was going on around me. I mooched back and forth along the path a bit following their sounds, desperately wanting to plunge into the trees and help with the search but navigating in total darkness, even with a torch, in the woods is somewhat perilous for me. I did give it a bit of a go, carefully tapping through the trees and it made me feel a bit like I was helping but basically I was just spending all my brain power trying not to trip over a root or fall in a ditch, rather than actually searching for the cache. As it turned out the finding of the cache was achieved with a combination of logical reasoning, on my part, and 3 sets of good eyes belonging to the others.

Sam and Paul stand next to a tree that has an X marked out in reflective tacks. It is very dark

I wonder if the cache might be here?

And so we returned to the car, which is where I began my story. Not much more to say really. I am sure you can figure out what the two men were up to in the woods, or at least I reckon you could make an educated guess anyway. It wasn’t the only weird thing that greeted us as we returned to the car. When we had gone into the woods and hour earlier we were the only people in the lay-by, no sign of other cars or people anywhere. When we came back we almost fell over a woman sitting by the side of the road clasping a baby and staring off into space. She seemed to be neater in distress or discomfort and so we did what all good British people do and that was just to give her a wide berth and get into our car. Before we drove away though a man pushing two bicycles did appear, one of which had a baby seat strapped to the back, so that was alright then. Norfolk is weird like that sometimes, you just gotta roll with it.

That was it for caching in Norfolk but we did manage to find a cheeky little cache in Ely just before Sam and I were handed back to Shar. It is a very clever little cache along the river front in the town that had us all foxed for a while but eventually Sam spotted the hint, which was simply “code”. On a pole next to a building along with other meaningless letters and numbers was a magnetic strip with some familiar digits on it. For anyone who wasn’t in the know it would just be more random numbers and letters, but to geocachers it was actually the GC code of the cache. I don’t think I have come across a cache that better fits the description of “hiding in plain sight” than this one, and I was happy to give it a favourite point.

We didn’t go to Norfolk with the intention of getting more than one or 2 caches throughout the week, but with the odd one here and there, we had managed to find 10 over the course of our holiday. Along with witnessing a large amount of medals earned at the Olympics and all the other fun things that Nanny’s always seem to have ready up their sleeve, it was a thoroughly enjoyable time indeed. Happy Days.

Paul, Sam and Sandra stand ankle deep in the sea.

Paddling at Old Hunstanton Beach

These geocaching adventures took place during the week of August 8th through 15th and took our cache count up to 1520.

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Saying goodbye is hard to do.

Just a few months after we started caching in 2013, we placed a small series of caches around the streets of Watford (See The Seeker becomes The Hider. Over the last few months I have been thinking a lot about them and came to the decision that it is time to archive them and move on. They weren’t bad caches, but they weren’t great either. I learnt a lot about cache placement and how to managed geocaches from this series, skills that have proved invaluable when planning and placing subsequent caches. In the last year the caches in the series had received very few logs, so I made the decision to remove them. That was 6 weeks ago.

Having made the decision, I am not quite sure why I didn’t just archive them there and then. Over the coming weeks on a number of occasions my decision came back into my thoughts and somehow I avoided actually getting the job done again. It seemed that deciding to archive them was one thing, but actually letting them go was another.

Finally, today, I bit the bullet and submitted the fatal logs that would send 6 geocaches to the “box in the attic”. It wasn’t a painful thing to do as such, but I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a little sad to let them go. They held a lot of memories for me about our earlier days caching and I remember how exciting it was to publish them and receive the first find logs. It was the right thing to do though… although perhaps not exactly the best time.

This weekend a souvenir is available to all geocachers who find a puzzle cache and all the 6 caches that I archived, whilst not strictly puzzle caches, do have the mystery cache icon. After I had archived them, I realised this and mentioned it to Shar, that how ironic it would be if someone actually went out and found one of the caches to get their souvenir, before we could retrieve the old containers. Can you guess what is coming next?

Less than 3 hours after I archive the caches, I received a found it log on one of them! I do hope they actually get their souvenir.

It seems old caches die hard sometimes.

Farewell Street Name Scramble geocaches, you are gone but not forgotten.

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A Triple Monkey at the Geolympix 2016 MEGA

On Sunday we attended the Geolympix Mega event that was being held on the Ashridge estate which sits almost slap bang on the borders of Beds, Bucks and Herts and is just over a half an hour drive away from us. Whilst the event itself started at around 9 in the morning and the FTF frenzy commenced at noon, we rocked up about 3pm with the intention of finding no caches at all.

No, we haven’t lost our minds? Well if we have it didn’t manifest itself in this particular instance. It was a cunning plan on our part to experience a Mega in a different way to our previous two. We went purely to soak up a bit of atmosphere, socialise and log our closest mega to date.

After we had arrived, signed the log, said hi to a few friends and wandered around the few stalls that were there we then found ourselves wondering what to do. I had noticed that our cache count was standing at a rather tantalizing 1496 prior to attending the mega and it was too much of a temptation for us not to try and make the mega itself our 1500. So we decided to go caching. Yeah, I know what I said in the last paragraph, but things change.

Our first target didn’t even need a GPS. As we stood at the table signing the log for the mega, Sam looked across the meadow and pointed out a Hollywood style sign spelling out the word “GEOCACHE” a few hundred metres away and so we headed off over to check out if it was indeed a cache. Before we got there however Sharlene spotted two people wearing orange t-shirts who seemed to be heading towards us across the meadow. There in a middle of a field in the Ashridge estate we were delighted to meet and chat with fellow bloggers Mr and Mrs HG137 proprietors of the excellent Sandhurst geocachers blog.

A group shot of Sharlene & Paul with Mr and Mrs HG137 proprietors of the Sandhurst Geocachers blog

Blogs collide – Washknight meets Sandhurst

Whilst we were fresh and full of energy, they were nearing the end of their day having found a very respectable 20 caches and enjoyed all the mega had to offer already. After a short chat we bid them farewell and a safe journey and we continued on across the meadow to log our first cache of the day.
Sam and Paul stand behind a hollywood style sign spelling the word geocache made up of letters approx 12 inches high. Beyond is a tree where the cache was hidden.

Thankfully we were spared the embarrasment of logging a DNF on this one by the helpful hint.

After this we found the next two closest traditionals and logged those as well,taking our total up to 1499, leaving us just the Mega itself to log to take us to our 1500. Despite only doing 4 caches in total on the day, reaching the 1500 milestone makes it feel as if we achieved more than we did.

After our exhausting day of geocaching it was back for an ice cream and then onto the main meeting point where we met lots of people we already knew and some we didn’t. Our good friend Geoff (a.k.a. Smokeypugs) was there and on good form as well as many others from the local Beds, Bucks, and Herts community. There were lots of people from all over the country and even the world, most notably was an American man who was dressed as a jester for a reason I never discovered.
I even recognised a few people just by their voices. Although I didn’t get to actually meet them, there was no is taking the distinct northern tones of Pete and Tracy, the hosts of the Podcache show podcast.
To round the day off we all gathered together in the small area near the stalls on the edge of the meadow for the inaugural National Geocaching Awards. It was a very entertaining hour or so spent applauding the winners and laughing at the jokes of the hosts Paul and Graham not to mention the odd amusing heckle too. I wasn’t overly disappointed not to win the award that I had been nominated for and was genuinely honoured to be shortlisted at all. I was more upset that fellow blogger Sarah (a.k.a. the geocaching junkie) didn’t win in the social mediast category as I feel her blog is a most excellent and entertaining resource. Sarah had come over from Ireland for the Mega, in fact she was fresh in from the piratemania Mega the day before and after geolympix she was heading to wales for the UK mega too. After the ceremony we managed to talk for a short while and snap a photo too.

Paul and Sarah a.k.a. the geocaching junkie pose at the national geocaching awards event.

International geoblogosphere meet up 🙂

In conclusion, we all agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed our experience at the mega. The weather was warm but not hot, more importantly it was dry. The Ashridge estate is a beautiful NT property with many great things to see and do aside from all the caches that are there now, which we will be returning for over the coming months. Most notably though the event was a success because of all the great people we got to meet and chat too. But has it changed our general attitude towards mega events? Nah, probably not 🙂

This MEGA geocaching adventure took place on Sunday 31st July and took our total cache count up to 1500. Yeah baby!

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