Thursday, September 23, 2010

Geocaching adventures, part 5 - August 2010

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I have a mild, bubbling-under dissatisfaction with our caching adventures for this month.  Nothing major, and I certainly won't be hanging up my GPS any time soon, but, something just wasn't quite up to scratch, somehow.

We didn't do any BAD caches, not even close to bad, but somehow none for this month have leapt out at me as being AMAZING caches either. Whereas usually we find at least 2 or 3 a month that really knock my socks off.

Some of them were very good, though!   Oh, I don't know, it was just starting to feel like the novelty was wearing off...

It kind of left me with a "am I going off this?  is the honeymoon period over?" feeling....but I really don't think that's the case...I think maybe we just need to concentrate more on the kinds of caches we used to go after - typically one-off caches at spectacular locations, especially fun multis, rather than serieses.  Is there even such a word as serieses?? :)  Having said THAT, we did do a really great series this month.

Oh - I just don't know!!!!  Like I said, there's a niggle there, but I just can't pin it down.....

Anyway, enough of my soul searching :)  On to the caches!  (which, despite everything I've just said, were all fun and hands down beat sitting indoors watching Jeremy Kyle!)

We started our August adventures on Sunday 8th, with the longest trail that we have tackled so far (in terms of number of caches, not distance, we only walked about 3.5 miles or so on this one) – the Hannington Wick series placed by prolific local cachers the Lydford Locators.

It was one of those days where we had nothing special planned, and the weather forecast was good, so a circular walk at a nice easy pace with a few caches and a picnic fitted the bill for a nice day out.

We chose this particular series because it generally had favourable logs, many specifically recommending it for those caching with children, wasn’t too far from home, and promised a high cache density and variety of container sizes to keep the boys’ interest levels up. And also because the first few caches in the series were on the Thames [P]ath, and it was P fortnight in our A-Z quest :)

Thames Path - HW01 Hannington Wick was the first in the series of 12. That was our find #134 – and by the end of the day we were up to #147.

If maths was your strong point at school, you’ll soon work out that that means we found 14 caches, not 12. This was due to another selling point for this particular series…about half way round (between HW06 and HW07) you find yourself in very close proximity to two other caches. These don’t belong to the Hannington Wick series officially, but they are very easy to pick up on the way, and they are both “Regulars”, so it was no problem persuading the boys to take a minor detour :)

All in all this was a lovely walk, we got a glimpse of the baby Thames (amazing to look at that little brook and think what it has grown into by the time it reaches London), had a little chat with the farmer (who was somewhat surprised to discover there were “treasure boxes” hidden on his land, but didn’t seem to mind), found a good spot for our picnic, looked for trolls under the bridge, logged one DNF (which later turned out to have been muggled), picked up a cute rubber ducky travel bug, and returned to the car feeling suitably exercised but not overly tired.

Aha! Your latent arithmetic skills are tingling again, aren’t they? If there were 12 caches on the series, plus the two extras, but one was a DNF….how did we end up with 14 finds today? Because that only adds up to 13….

That was down to me being superstitious and silly. I didn’t want to leave it on 13, so on the drive back home, when we passed within 30 feet of a drive by micro, I pulled in and got another quick smiley purely to get us past the unlucky-for-some number. That was #147 Hannington Trail 1 Conduit (which I assume from the name is the first cache in a different series, so maybe we’ll come back and finish it off one day).

This little jaunt clearly tired us out, as we didn't cache again for another week - and even then we only did a handful.  We were in Windsor on Sunday 15th (in search of the Queen in honour of Q fortnight :)  ), and we just about managed to fit a bit of caching in around our sightseeing.

We were in full on tourist mode as none of us had been to Windsor before – we did the open topped bus tour and everything :)

On Sandra from Lydford Locator’s recommendation, I had bookmarked a little circular series of caches in Winsdsor Great Park, called "A Right Royal Cache", as a good one to do while we were there, mainly because it was dedicated to the Royal Oak tree – whose Latin name (according to the cache pages) is Quercus Robur – in Q fortnight, how could we resist??

There were 9 caches in total in the series, the trouble was, I hadn’t realised that the Great Park was a fair old trot out of the town centre (in fact we’d have driven out to it had we realised, instead we trekked over on foot from the closest stop on the bus tour) – and we ended up only having time to pick up 4 caches, #s 1,2,3 and 9.  These were our #s 148-151, so "A Right Royal Cache 3" was our 150th cache milestone!  (I didn't twig that until I got home and logged it)

All of the caches were reasonable sizes and nice not-too-tricky-but-not-boringly-easy hides, and the park itself was lovely, but we probably didn’t enjoy the caching experience today as much as usual as we were a bit rushed (we had to get back to the bus stop before the tour buses stopped running at 5, as we had only got a third of the way round at this point). And I was disappointed that we could only manage less than half the series.

Connor was very pleased, though, as he found another wooden nickel for his collection :)

With hindsight, it might have been better to just concentrate on the sightseeing today without the extra pressure of wanting to tick off 9 caches – I can be a little overambitious sometimes!

Our find #152 was no box in the woods, it was the second Swindon Soiree (location photo shamelessly stolen from the cache page's gallery).

I think I can safely say this was the first event cache that I have wholeheartedly enjoyed. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous two!! (the first Soiree, and the 10th Birthday picnic at Lydiard) The previous events weren’t the problem, I was the problem...

I am just pants at the whole socialising thing, frankly, and found myself feeling mainly uncomfortably shy at those first events, where everyone except me either seemed to know everyone else already, or was a hundred times better at chatting to strangers than I am.

I was determined to persevere though, and it’s definitely paying off - at this event, I guess there were enough familiar faces around for me to start feeling a bit less like a fish out of water, the kids had their trackable t-shirts on which was a good ice breaker both for them and for me, and also I had a really nice chat with local cacher Ian (Slogger007) who has been FTF on both the caches we have put out this year, and who I have had email chats with in the past about letterboxes and pathtags and various other stuff.

Oh – and there was delicious cake! :) And a word search – that I came last in :) But in my defence we had got to the do very late after a day at Legoland, so I only had about ten minutes to work on the word search, on my own (as the kids were far too busy playing), compared to some teams of multiple adults and children who had had well over an hour. Sore loser??? Moi??? :D

I’m now really looking forward to the next Soiree, bring it on! :)

The following Saturday found us in Gloucester city centre doing a little shopping, and a quick scan on the GPS revealed a virtual cache - #153 Glawster Central - so we picked it up as we were passing.  The cache drew our attention to a set of interesting plaques on the street underfoot, that we probably wouldn't have even noticed without the heads up. 

It was raining quite heavily so we didn't attempt the other city centre cache - a multi that looks really interesting, but better saved for a dry day I think.

The next day was a dry day :)  In fact it was gloriously sunny!  But alas we weren't in Gloucester any more, so that multi will still have to wait.  Today we tackled our most ambitious - and best (in my opinion, probably not in the kids' opinion!) - series yet.

Like the “Quercus” series in Windsor, this one was chosen initially simply because of its association with the letter Q – the series is called the Coldwell Quarks – but it also had some very positive (if few and far between) logs. Also, the cache owner “I!” was extremely helpful and friendly when I emailed him a query or two before we set off – and that’s always encouraging.

As usual, I mapped this one out in Google Earth the day before, and checked total distances etc. By my calculations, the total circuit, including a brief detour to pick up an interesting-sounding micro that was slightly outside of the series loop, and another side-track to a pub for lunch, came to around 6 miles. That would be our longest ever caching trek (nothing compared to what some people manage, but none of us are hyper-fit), but I reckoned the kids should be able to manage it (if I didn’t tell them they were going to be walking 6 miles!!! :D)

I must have mis-measured though, because when we got home and checked the saved track on the GPS, it turned out we had actually walked for a mammoth 8.2 miles! Eeek! And that was up some pretty hefty hills too - no wonder we were all shattered! :)  And no wonder the kids were both put off the whole geocaching concept for a little while after (we haven’t done another series since!).

Despite the tiredness, though, all were agreed that this series really is something special, and one that we would highly recommend. And not only because it is named after geeky-cool sub-atomic particles :)

We started with #154 Coldwell Quarks: Strange – this one is a simpler-than-it-looks multi which takes you into a rather swish church (within the grounds of a very posh, and private, manor house, who have to grudgingly let the public onto their land to access the church ONLY) to gather some info, and then back outside to find the cache itself, which is hidden well at the start of the main walk.

On our way to the next cache, #155 CQ: Down, we met quite a variety of livestock - chickens running wild in the woods, a friendly pony, and a very noisy sausage dog!

This first part of the walk was nice and easy and level – breaking us in gently to what would turn out to be quite a climb later on!

After Down, we took the first of our two scheduled detours, to visit a nearby micro placed by a different cache owner. This was #156 Florrie’s Florin.

The setter of the Coldwell Quarks series had helpfully provided us in advance with a map, and directions for this little departure from the course. I’m really glad he did as we would have made heavy weather of it otherwise! It’s one of those situations where you know where you need to go, but you can’t figure out how to get there!

Unusually for a micro, it had contents other than the logbook – not only a Florin coin (which looked just like a normal 10 pence coin from my youth to me – am I really that old that I remember Florins??? That sounds like olden days pirate money!) for visitors to admire but leave in the cache; but also a travelling geocoin from the Czech Republic which we retrieved to move on another day.

The cache was also in a wonderful location – right by a gorgeous old mill pond, and very close to one of the most interesting churches I have ever had the chance to visit. This is probably the best film pot micro we’ve found yet – so they’re not ALL bad (just most of them :) )

I wouldn’t have thought that many people chance upon the church of St Giles in the village of Coberley, as it is fairly hidden from sight (unless you approach from the countryside side, like we did), and the only access is by opening a large (closed and unmarked) door (see photo), and across a private garden. The owners are happy for people to do this, apparently, but it didn’t half feel like trespassing! I don’t think we would have worked out where to go, or dared to do so, without the clear directions and reassurances on the cache page, so a big thank you to cache owner xray2000.

There were many fascinating aspects to this ancient church, but probably the highlight is the heart burial of Sir Giles de Berkeley (who died in 1294), and also, just outside the church but on hallowed ground, the burial site of his favourite horse, Lombard, his steed from the Crusades.

So – after a good little explore, and a chat to the owner of the garden we had to cut through to reach the church, we were back on our way to tackle the remainder of the Quarks series.

Next up was #157 CQ: Top - and they weren't joking about it being at the top!   Gosh it was a climb and a half!

But oh it was so worth it, the views were amazing!  Plus we passed a Neolithic long barrow along the way, and who can resist those?  And there were butterflies everywhere.  It was quite idyllic really, apart from the incline and the wheezing from this rather out of condition family....

By this point we were a couple of hours into our walk, and it was about 1pm - lunchtime, yay!

We had a sit down on a nice bench near the cache site at the top, and consulted the GPS and my printed map, and I realised I had to confess to the family that I had made a bit of a booboo!  I had confused Coldwell Quarks: Top with Coldwell Quarks: Up, and the pub lunch that everyone was so looking forward to and that I had promised was minutes away, was in reality still 2 caches distant, about another mile and a half.  Oops.

So it was onwards and (thankfully) downwards to the next cache - #158 CQ: Bottom

On the way down into the valley, we saw this sign:

Which scared the living daylights out of me and Connor, being proper townies both.  But Reece and Jay, much more countryside-savvy than us, assured us that we had nothing to worry about.

We survived the day without so much as a glimpse of any snakes, so I guess they were right.

We saw LOADS of sheep, though :)  Not quite so scary :)

The little stream in the valley down by the cache site was pretty dried up on this warm August day, I can imagine it's very pretty down there when there is flowing water instead of patches of mud :)  But the dried-up-ness did enable the boys to scrabble around among the usually-underwater rocks, and Reece found this cool fossil-like thing.

It was also Reece that found the cache, so he got logbook writing honours.

From this cache, it was about 0.6 miles directly to the pub where our lunch awaited, or 0.8 miles via the next cache which would avoid backtracking later.  We chose pub now backtrack once refreshed :)

The walk across country was a nice amble downhill past hundreds more sheep, but then the final hurdle was getting across the A417 to the pub which was inconveniently on the wrong side of this very busy dual carriageway.  I thought we were going to be there all night!  It took so long before there was a gap in the speeding traffic long enough for us all to cross without being splatted.  It was like playing frogger for real :)

Yay! Civilisation! and cider shandies!
But we got there in the end!

It was about 3:30pm by this point but thankfully they were still serving lunch - and the food was SO good!  So if you're ever doing this series....or driving along the A417 between Cirencester and Birdlip....I can definitely recommend the Golden Heart Inn in Nettleton Bottom (don't you just love English place names? :)  )

Next on the list was #159 CQ: Up, our only micro today, and the penultimate cache in this series.

It was a clever litle thing, one of those hidden in plain sight jobbies, that you can't see for looking, but once you have found it it seems so obvious you can't believe everybody doesn't see it :)

Can you spot it?

In an unusual move, the cache owner has put the tracking number for one of his favourite geocoins in this microcache, so that it can be remotely "discovered" by visitors keen to get a Northern Planisphere icon on their tally.  I didn't pick up the numbers though, I'd rather not discover the coin unless I've seen it in person.

More on that later.

The walk onto the last cache in the series - #160 CQ: Charm - was the least fun bit of today's walk.  It was a long leg - over a mile - and it wasn't particularly pretty, so it did drag a little.  Even the cache owner describes this bit as "a muddy trudge alongside the wheat fields".  We managed to take a wrong turn on the way aswell - you can see where we went wrong on our track - which with already tired feet was not particularly welcome.

We did see this nice wall though :)  And the evening light was a photographer's dream.

After finding this last cache, which perked the kids up as it had some good swapsies inside - we set off back to our car which we had left by the Strange cache.

This last 0.8 mile segment seemed to take forever, as we were so tired, having been out walking for almost 8 hours by this point - plus we got a little lost in the woods and took a while to find the right path out (and both Connor and I got a little spooked!) - but the views over to the manor house once we were finally out of the wooded area and on the home stretch were spectacular, and all in all we absolutely thoroughly enjoyed this series today.

Woohoo! nearly back to the car!  you can just see the Manor in the distance.
 So - that's the end of that adventure...not quite....remember I said we'd get back to the geocoin?

After I logged the 6 Quark caches that night, I got an email from the cache owner, saying he was glad we had found Charm after all.  It turns out he dropped the Northern Planisphere geocoin in Charm in the morning, as he knew we were planning on doing the series that day, to cheer us up after that "long muddy trudge" at the end :)

Trouble is, he went back and picked it up again at half past 5! :D  He saw that we hadn't signed the log, and assumed we had DNF'd it.  Nope - we just hadn't got there yet :)  He clearly hugely over estimated our caching speed lol  - it was actually 10 to 8 when we logged that last cache, according to my field notes.

So we never got to see the coin :(  Such a pity, as it's truly a thing of beauty - look:
Maybe another time ....

That was such a nice thing to do though, don't you think?  Even if he was a bit hasty snatching it back :)

So - that looooong walk kind of frightened Connor off geocaching for a while, but I did manage to persuade him to take a brief walk round into Epping Forest after visiting my dad the following Tuesday....why?  because 1) the walk was less than half a mile and 2) the cache page promised us a Large! 


There are so few large size caches around, that we just couldn't pass up the opportunity to go and pick up #161 The Old Portuguese Tramway, even though it was getting a tad late.

There were a few other incentives for me to go after this one too - it's a nice old cache, placed way back in May 2003, and we all love those, don't we?  Plus the story on the cache page is really interesting (and a bit of local history my dad had no idea about).  Also this part of the forest was very much my stomping ground growing up, so there was a bit of a nostalgia thing going on. 

But most importantly, I hadn't yet coloured in Essex on my GSAK map of counties we have cached in!!!  :D
I've set myself a personal goal (the rest of the family enjoy geocaching but couldn't care less about the stats) to add at least 10 more counties to the map by this time next year, and Essex was ripe for the taking :)

So - we found the (not really a large IMO but still a good size) cache, and a very enjoyable trek through the woods it was too.  We liberated this rather cute, and surprisingly clean given he was loose in an old ammo can with no baggie, owl travel bug, and rushed home to log the cache and update the counties map.
But guess what – the GSAK county allocation polygon thingies, which work in their own mysterious ways – decided that the cache isn’t in Essex after all (although I am pretty sure it is!), but in Greater London, which I already had coloured in. So Essex is still white on my map. Fiddlesticks!

(Some nice clever people on the Geocaching forum have now shown me how to manually adjust that cache’s location from Greater London to Essex, but I think I’ll leave it as it is, just in case I’m wrong, and I’ll pick up another cache deeper into Essex next time I visit Dad.  In fact, we might even drag him along with us :)  He was completely bemused when we tried to explain why we were heading into the woods at dusk to look for a box – and he was amazed at how quickly we found it – I think he thought we were just going to wander aimlessly around Epping Forest in the hope of just bumping into one :)  )

The following Saturday, we were looking for things to do beginning with R for our A-Z challenge, and I remembered reading about a National Trust property near Bristol called Tyntesfield which is being restored, and you can watch the renovation work going on up close (restoration / renovation, you can see where I was going with this one :) ). A bonus was the discovery, while having a quick look the night before to see if there were any caches near Tyntesfield, that there were actually 6 official National Trust caches at Tyntesfield. Good stuff!

The ambitious plan was to do all 6, plus 2 more unofficial caches that were also in the grounds, but by the time we started caching we were all tired after walking around the house and gardens for a number of hours already, and so we only did the first two. These were the opposite of the “large” in Epping Forest that was really a “regular”. They were both graded “small”, but they were hayuuuuuge! Nice surprise :)

Here is Connor filling in the logbook at #162 NT Tyntesfield Geocache 1

They also had nice extras inside, to be left with the cache, like laminated sheets with information about the wildlife that you might be able to spot in the grounds, etc. A big well done to the National Trust for setting some great caches (we’re assuming the other 4 were just as good :) )

There was just one teeny tiny problem with #163 NT Tyntesfield Geocache 2 - it could maybe have been hidden slightly better!  This is how we found it :)

We covered it up a bit better when we put it back, but at least on National Trust property it's probably fairly safe from malicious muggles, even if it does get spotted hopefully it will be left alone.

So that was all our geocaching for the day.  Well almost.  We did try to find a microcache on a bridge that we passed in Bristol on the drive back from Tyntesfield - I remember the cache on this "yellow banana bridge" being mentioned on the Radio 4 geocaching programme, so as soon as I saw the bridge I pulled over in the hope of making this cache a quick Park and Grab on the way home.

But sadly we had to post a DNF.  We looked in all the obvious places, and then the unobvious places, and then everywhere else, with no luck.  The only consolation is that nobody has found it since, but there have been a few more DNFs, so perhaps it wasn't actually there.

We found two more caches in August, thanks to the bank holiday which gave us an extra don't-have-to-go-to-work-today day - always appreciated! :)

We weren't planning on doing much at all on the Bank Holiday Monday, just chilling out for a change.  My Facebook profile that morning said "Sarah Harris is planning to do precisely nothing today, it's a long time since I last did that".  And 2 hours later it said "got bored of doing nothing, up on Selsley common instead, gorgeous up here".

I don't think we're really designed for that relaxation thing :)

So yes, scrap the lazy day, instead we went up onto the aforementioned common, near Stroud, on a rescue mission.  One of our travel bugs was logged into the cache 'Hey Toots', and recent logs suggested that the cache was in a bad way - broken lid, contents soaked.  So we thought we would go and pick up our bug and take it somewhere drier.

We didn't rush straight to the cache though, it was a lovely day and we spent some time first exploring the common, flying Reece's kite, watching the paragliders, and just generally having a great time.

Hey Toots is a multi cache, which requires a bit of fact finding first at a lovely old topograph which can be found at the highest part of the common, near one of the biggest longbarrows in this part of the country.

After solving the clues, we realised that we were actually closer to another Selsley cache than to the Hey Toots final, so we thought we'd go and pick that one up first.

This was #164 Cache With A View - rather oddly named as the cache turned out to be down in a dip where there wasn't a view at all.  But never mind.

The walk over to it was great though, up and down over the undulating common (good word that, undulating :) I should use it more often).

We passed a grassy slope on the way, that had a load of white rocks at its base.  It seems that it is a common pastime to take these pebbles and write your name on the grass. There were tons of names spelt out.  Non destructive graffiti, I like it :)

Reece took this opportunity to pebble-write R + O - presumably a declaration of undying devotion to his girlfriend Olivia - awww :)

The cache itself I was pretty unimpressed with, as you can tell from our log:

found while we were in the area on the hunt for the Hey Toots multicache

this cache is in no way a terrain 1 - it is accessed via a steep muddy path which was, today at least, absolutely covered in broken glass. I imagine it would be quite a difficult / unsafe descent if wetter underfoot. Even in dry weather I wouldn't recommend for small children because of all the glass.

the contents of the cache are damp, and it's pretty dirty in there.

fantastic area, though, the common is a brilliant place for a walk and a picnic (and a Winstone's ice cream :) )

took nothing, left a pencil sharpener and a smiley face badge, both in baggies to protect against the damp


There was one really cool thing about Cache With A View, though - when we looked in the (damp and manky!) logbook, we discovered that Reece's uncle and cousins had found and logged the cache just the day before - what a small world :)

#165 Hey Toots was in a far more accessible, and interesting, place.  The last thing we were expecting to turn the corner and find was cliffs :)

The reports of the cache having a broken lid and being waterlogged were sadly true, and unfortunately there was no sign of our travel bug :(  So our rescue mission failed.  Sob.  Hopefully it will turn up one day....

I do hope this great cache doesn't end up archived - it doesn't look like the owner is going to get it fixed up though :(  He doesn't seem to have geocached for a long time.  I've offered to adopt it, but no reply....  Maybe we should just "unofficially" adopt it and take a new container up there and a dry log book....  not sure of the etiquette of such things....

So that was August. know what????  Ignore everything I said at the top of this post - we did some AWESOME caches this month!!!  I must have just been hormonal or something when I wrote all that :)  (which was on the tenth of September when I started writing this post....this blogging lark takes me forever and a day!)

See you again next month :)  I promise not to be so whiny next time :)


Erika Jean said...

Lol, I guess when you actually sit down and start writing the memories - the awesomness all comes back to you! ;-)

I know what you mean though. I haven't done any more than park and grabs because it's been so darn hot here - so I've started to travel for my p&G so I can at least get something out of it ;-)

Ian said...

Sounds like a pretty decent month's caching to me! I'm amazed that you can recall it all in so much detail. Thanks for the name-check from the Swindon Soiree.

Anonymous said...

I too get a little disheartened with caching once in a while. My feeling is usually to do with weather. If it rains and I get wet feet I usually get miserable, or if we're on a trail that is poorly marked and we spend an hour getting nowhere other than lost it gets me down and the enthusiasm dips, but then we go on a trail that's great fun and it all comes flooding back! :D Glad you perked up by the end of your blog post though!

Looks like you had a load of exciting trips. That warning of adders would have scared the life out of me though! I told a friend about the cool grass snake I'd encountered on our trail along the canal up north and he then went on to scare me about adders and how someone he knew got bit by one and had their entire foot swell up to the size of the football. Sometimes, you just don't want to be told these things (Sorry! ;) )

Great to hear about your personal goal to colour in 10 counties. I'm pretty sure Epping forest is technically Essex too, but funny things can go on with stats and I'm scratching my head at the moment on the one that shows how many caches you have found in one day. Despite logging on two different days, the day that we found 59 caches on wrongly shows that we found 79 caches. I'm going to have to delve deep to work that one out and what's going on with the dates. Maybe something to do with the different time zones?

Happy caching! :)

CacheChick said...

Wow, it sounds like an amazing adventure to me, and your photos are beautiful! The butterfly, of course is my favorite, but I love them anyway. :)

I can imagine there are ups and downs to the searches ... just getting started myself I am still high up on the honeymoon phase, but geocaching or not, it looks like you had an awesome family adventure, and that's what's important. :)

I'd definitely suggest making some of your homemade swag when you have time, I find it a lot more rewarding to leave something I made (plus then my hubby gets to keep the silly little toys we collect along the way). :)

Thanks for sharing your trip and photos, it's nice to see the beautiful scenery across the pond! :)

Carmen Wing said...

I really enjoyed this, just sat reading it with my lunch!

I keep meaning to try geo-chaching, I know there are a couple of spots locally. Do I need any specific gear? It would be ideal to get the kids (mainly our teen) moving off the sofa.

You surprise me when you say about your shyness in social occasions - you come across as so confident and outgoing on here, I know what you mean though as am exactly the same. When people say to meet up when we go to Ally Pally I always go tongue tied. Hate it - really annoys me though I am working on it ;)