Thursday, October 14, 2010

Geocaching adventures, part 6 - September 2010

For once, this should be a fairly short post this month, as we only found 14 caches in September - but what we missed out on in quantity we definitely made up for in quality.

Our geocaching activities are slowing down now that we are back into the ice hockey season, and also we kind of made a decision last month to go less for long cache series and more for excellent one off caches, so that has brought the numbers down too.

We kicked off the month with a trip to the Living Rainforest near Newbury, and couldn't resist visiting cache #166 Wyld Wood as it was very close by. 

 This was a nice walk up through some very old woodland, with some rather unusual looking trees.  (I think they are coppiced, or pollarded, I never know the difference, or why they do that to the trees in the first place - will have to google that at some point). 

There was a nice big box at the end too, with lots of swaps inside.  Including two Canadian pin badges - one from BC!  I snapped those up, as you can imagine :)

On the way back down, we passed directly by another cache location - #167 Hampstead Norreys Heights No 2.  This was part of a fairly new series, but we didn't have time to wander off and find any of the others, maybe another day.  Connor made friends with one of the farmer's dogs here, so he was happy, and we also got treated to the sight of the farmer running around trying to round up a load of his escaped chickens, which was amusing :)
And close to the cache location, we found a cannon, which was rather unexpected!  (I wonder if this farm was the location for the film Chicken Run?? :) )

The following weekend, we visited the amazing Snowshill Manor up near Broadway in the North Cotswolds.  The house itself was fascinating, and I covered that off in my QRS A-Z year post the other day, but there was also a cache close by, #168 the Alternative Snowshill Collection, so we walked out to fetch that after we had finished at the house. 

We had come prepared for this one, as we had read on the cache page that the owner had requested animal-themed swaps only. It’s a pity that more people don’t follow these themes, but we did our bit by swapping in three animal items for three non animal items, thus redressing the balance a little.

The walk out to the cache was through stunning countryside, with really breathtaking views (and lots of sheep!). We met a hiker along the way who excitedly got her map out to share her route with us, having walked a number of miles from another village, she was so enthusiastic it made me wish we had more time (and energy!) to explore further beyond the cache. But we’ll have to save that experience for another day. 

As it was, the trip out to the cache was about a mile there and back, which was enough for us after a day spent exploring the Manor and its grounds. Along the way we found this brilliant tree arch. From a distance it resembled a sculpture – the kids said it looked like Monty Burns' hands from the Simpsons – I wonder how the poor tree ended up in this awkward position??

The following weekend, we had planned to go to Stonehenge for the letter S in our A-Z challenge, but we got sidetracked along the way and ended up having an exciting adventure, and finding lots of (predominantly virtual) geocaches along the way.

On the way towards Stonehenge, our route took us past Woodhenge, and you may remember that last time I was there, I annoyingly forgot to check whether there was a virtual cache there for the grabbing. It turns out there was - #169 Woodhenge (Wiltshire) - but I didn’t find that out until I got home, and so I couldn’t claim it that first time as I hadn’t had the qualifying photo taken with my GPSr at the correct co-ordinates. So, as we were passing right by it anyway, we pulled in here to do the virtual honours, and also to show Reece and Jay the henge as they hadn’t seen it before. While we were all posing for the cache-logging pics with the GPSr, we were approached by some fellow cachers (hi JustinR69 and family!), who asked if we were going on to Imber Village. So I kind of squeaked “Imber’s open??????!!!!????!!!!!!!” and, most unlike me, went for a spontaneous change of plan.

But more on Imber later.  While we were still at Woodhenge, we noticed that as well as the virtual cache, there was a physical cache very near by, #170 Defender of the Henge – so close in fact that it was less than a hundred feet from where we had parked our car. So of course we bagged it while we were here. It was only rated a 1/1 for difficulty and terrain (the terrain rating is definitely wrong as you have to climb up a steep muddy bank which certainly isn’t wheelchair friendly!), so we expected a very quick and easy find, but actually it was quite tricky. I prefer the harder ones though, they are more fun (unless they are so hard I can’t find them at all!). It also had an unexpected geocoin in it, which was a nice surprise (it turned out it had been dropped in there only a few minutes before by the cachers we had just met who had told us about Imber).

Another tip from JustinR69 et al, was another virtual cache not far from Woodhenge, #171 the Sun Gap. This is based around a plaque that marks the site of the first aeroplane flights to take place in this country. It’s down a quiet little residential road, that we never would have ventured down without the chance to find a cache, and even if we had driven down there, I doubt we would have noticed the plaque which is on a modest little plinth set back a fair way from the road. So it’s a big thank you to geocaching for bringing us to another interesting historical site that we would have been blissfully ignorant of otherwise.   The name, the Sun Gap, apparently relates to the gap that was left between 2 of the aircraft hangars here, so as not to obscure the view of the sun coming up over Stonehenge on the summer solstice.  We couldn't see Stonehenge, but there were a lot of trees in the way that perhaps weren't there in the early 1900s....

This geocaching lark is tiring!  the boys having a rest near the Sun Gap cache
First glimpse of Imber church as we approached along MOD roads, it's not visible at all from anywhere civilian....
Next was the biggie – a 5 star (difficulty) virtual cache!  Not that we realised it was a 5 star (our first!) until we got home :)  This was #172 Ghost Village, at the infamous "Little Imber on the Downe, seven miles from any Towne".   

Earlier in the summer, we had visited Tyneham Village in Dorset, which was evacuated by the army in the run up to WW2 as a practice area for urban warfare, on the promise that the villagers could return home after the war (a promise that wasn’t kept :( ). Imber is another village in the same situation, and again the villagers were denied their many requests to return home. So sad :( Unlike Tyneham which is open throughout August and every weekend all year round, Imber is only open very rarely, hence the high difficulty rating for this virtual cache, and hence our sudden change of plans on hearing that not only the village, but also the church, was open for visitors today.

When we arrived, we were lucky enough to hear the bells ringing from the church tower for the first time in 70 years, as they have just had a new set of bells installed. That was quite a touching moment. And we were also treated to the rather surreal sight of a convoy of vintage double decker buses parading through the village. Not sure what they were up to!

The village and church were very crowded, presumably thanks to the contents of all those buses, and also due to the rarity of access to the village, I guess. So it wasn’t as atmospheric walking around the ruins as it would have been if we were there alone, but it was still fascinating. I’m really glad we bumped into our fellow cachers that day as otherwise we would have missed this great opportunity.

Our virtual adventures weren’t over yet, though. We followed a different route home to the traffic-heavy Marlborough Road we had taken on the way down, and this ended up taking us through Avebury.

We didn’t “do” the Avebury stone circle today (we’re saving the various Avebury caches for another day when we can spend the whole day and do the round walk out to West Kennett and back), but we did stop for a quick bite to eat at a lovely old pub right next to the stunning Silbury Hill. A quick check on my phone revealed there was indeed a virtual cache here (no surprise!) - #173 Silbury Hill (Avebury), so we quickly gathered the required info for this after our late lunch, and then rushed off home just in time for ice hockey. What a great day out that was! :)

Fast forward to early on the afternoon of Thursday 23rd, and there I am sat at work, and a pile of cache publication emails pop into my email inbox. It was a new series, hidden by Slogger007 who is a local cacher I met at an event last month, and it was all set within a few minutes walk from my house!! If it had been published in the evening, it would have been our best chance ever of bagging a couple of FTFs. But no, I was stuck at work 20 miles away and wouldn’t be home for another 4 hours – sob.

Of course by the time I had got home from work and picked Connor up from after school club, all the caches had been found, but it looks like a really good series anyway – lots of fascinating local history about our area – so I bookmarked it ready to find one day when we have a couple of hours spare.

The plan was to leave these caches until I had time to do the lot, rather than pick away at them, but the next morning, I realised that I was walking right past (literally within 20 feet of) the first cache in the series - # 174 LSL#01 – No Barrier to a Good Walk - as I do every weekday morning. And so I simply couldn’t resist snaffling it quickly before the drive to work. It was a quick find luckily, and it was nice to see one of Slogger007’s pathtags in there, I didn’t take it though as Connor already has one for his collection.

not such a pretty view....
That little bit of weekday caching (rare for me) must have put me in the mood for more, as at lunchtime I went out for a drive in a random direction and fired up my phone to see what was nearby. I don’t really like using my phone for caching, much prefer our Garmin handheld, but it’s good for an opportunistic impulse outing like this one. Unfortunately, the cache I liked the look of from the description, turned out to be a half mile walk from the nearest parking point, through what looked like very muddy fields. And I didn’t really have either the footwear or the time to tackle it (having already driven for about 20 minutes and only having one hour for lunch). So instead I picked up a park and grab micro - #175 A-Road Anarchy - A417 Quarry Junction – on my way back to the office. Certainly not as pretty as my first choice would have been, scenery wise, but it was an unusual fun hide (I forgot to take a photo of the hide site itself, but probably just as well as it would have been a total spoiler), and I enjoyed it a lot.

The next day, we found our favourite cache yet in almost three years of this wonderful hobby!  Connor was at his dad's for the afternoon, so it seemed like a good opportunity for Jay, Reece and I to go after a cache that I thought maybe Connor wouldn't be brave enough to attempt (turns out I was wrong and we had to re-visit the next day with Connor :))

This was one that I had read about months ago, but forgotten about until I saw some ace pictures on Facebook of fellow Swindon cachers the Middleleaze Moles at the cache site. 

It was #176 Cold War Cache - and it involved climbing down into a nuclear bunker!

We got to the bunker site easily enough, it’s literally spitting distance from a main road, but you would never know it was there if you were just driving past. Amazing.

Jay opened the hatch (which made a satisfyingly spooky creaking noise), and we peered down into the deep, dark hole. I was cacking myself at this point, but Jay was down there like a ferret! He called Reece to come down after him, who promptly burst into tears and said he couldn’t do it. This turned out to be just what I needed as, in order to prove to Reece it was a piece of cake, I needed to “man up” and shake off my own nerves, and get down that ladder! So that’s exactly what I did, and Reece came down shortly after. And we were both so glad we did because it was an awesome experience!!

All you could see down the shaft was a puddle at the bottom of the ladder, but once we got down there we found two small rooms, one no bigger than a storage cupboard really, and another bigger room which would have housed all the equipment and a double bunk bed. A lot of the furniture was still there, although pretty beat up, and there was no light at all down there so we had to use torches. Reece had the best light source as he was wearing a head lamp like miners use. With the help of this nice strong torch, he found the cache which was in a really neat hidey hole down there.

I left a little LED keyring torch in the cache as swag for any future visitors in case they forget to bring a light source. Although of course without one, they wouldn’t have been able to find the cache in the first place :)

I find it remarkable that this bunker hasn’t been filled in or fenced off or at least locked up, in these days of Health and Safety paranoia, but I’m really grateful that we had the opportunity to go down there. It was breathtakingly exciting. I couldn’t stop talking about it for days :)

After all that excitement, we went on to visit another site of historical interest - a bit older than the cold war era this time - a gorgeous 17th century hunting lodge called Ashdown House.  We had a tour around the house, which was really interesting, and then got to go up onto the roof which had the most amazing 360 degree views.  There aren't any physical caches here, but there is an Earthcache - # 177 Astonishing Ashdown - in the grounds, which relates to the giant Sarsen stones which can be found scattered about.
View from the roof...
We had fun tracking down the "Lone Sarsen", which, as these living stones have a tendency to do, or so the stories go, had wandered some distance from his friends.

We would have explored further but got a call from Connor saying he was ready to be picked up, so we decided we would come back to the area again another day.

That "another day" turned out to be 24 hours later, as Connor was horribly envious when we told him all about the nuclear bunker, and really wanted to see it for himself.  So we went back.  I still thought he would chicken out of going down the ladder when he got there, but no, he was remarkably brave and went down straight away with just Reece for company while Jay and I kept lookout at the top. 

After the bunker re-visit we went on to find a cache that we had been planning to attempt yesterday when we got the call.  It was #178 Wayland's Smithy.  The kids liked this one because it sounded like "Waylon Smithers" from the Simpsons :)  The Smithy is a stunning example of a neolithic longbarrow.  It's a hayuuuuge one.  Plus you can go inside to the entrance chambers, which is cool.

It was quite a trek to this one (about a mile and a half) from the Uffington White Horse car park where we had parked up, and the kids moaned a little about the distance, but that was all forgotten once we got there, and they both declared it well worth the long walk. 

We found some evidence inside of some Wiccan activity - I suspect left over from Lammas celebrations.

The cache itself wasn't at the long barrow site itself, but a few hundred feet away in a lovely bit of woodland.  We picked up a cute little troll travel bug here.

After a while exploring by the Smithy, we walked back towards the car, past Uffington Castle (an Iron Age hill fort) and the Uffington White Horse.

Somewhere between these last two we found a micro cache - #179 Knighton Loop 2 - Lapwing.  This is part of a larger series, but we didn't have the energy to do the whole thing today.  Would love to come back and tackle it one day though as it must go past some spectacular scenery.  It was a very clever little hide, even the kids don't mind a swagless micro if it is as neat as this one was :)

And there was a trigpoint nearby, and I like those, not sure why, maybe because you usually only find them in really cool places.

So that wraps up our September adventures, every one a gem.

 I must admit, this month totally re-kindled my love affair with geocaching :) :) :)

Next, it's onwards and upwards into October!!!  Which includes some caching overseas....


Erika Jean said...

oh my gosh, that bunker one is SO cool! said...

wow, what amazing adventures you have over there! When we Americans consider something really old, it's like 100 years old at best.

That bunker is so awesome! I can't believe it's open and accessible like that! What a neat experience for your family!

Thanks for sharing the great photos and story with us!

Jennifer Stumpf said...

Wow, I love all this! You guys lead such interesting lives! I love how active you are with the geocaching! Ever so cool! I like the little pins, too. :-) What a great post. Thanks for sharing!!

Eddie said...

Great story, loved following you along on your journies to the historical areas. Hope to be back in the U.K. in 2011 and hit up Stone Henge and Bath for sure. At least now I know where some of the caches are around Stone Henge! :)

Ed in Vancouver Canada