Friday, October 15, 2010

Sunrise....Sunset..... (I love Fiddler on the Roof, showtunes! yay! if I were a man I would be SO gay :) )

At first glance, you'd think this is an entry from my Colours CJ... but it isn't - it's the Take Ten CJ - but this participant has chosen colours as her theme.

Confused?  Yes, me too.

All you need to know, is that I chose "Orange" :)

I loooove sun imagery, and sunrise/sunset colours, so this was an easy colour choice for me.

And it was good practice for the colours CJ - it's trickier than you expect it to be, working within a tight colour range - usually I would take a sunset right through from yellow to purple, but with this one it was orange all the way. 

Hopefully it worked, and hopefully Frances, the CJ's owner, likes it
Next month.....the Highwayman.....which is going to be an interesting challenge.....

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....

Friday, October 08, 2010

A to Z Year : August 13th - September 23rd : letters Q, R and S

If you had said to me at the outset of this A-Z adventure, that we would manage to find LOADS of things to for the letter Q, I don’t think I would have believed you, in fact I would have been rather quizzical, and perhaps I would have questioned your sanity! But, you know what? Q was quite a doddle!

It helped that we didn’t have a lot of other things already scheduled for this fortnight that we needed to work around, so we could pretty much devote ourselves to Q-related activities.

For a start, we made sure we watched loads of episodes of the TV show QI – hardly a chore, as it’s one of our favourite programmes anyway. Who doesn’t love Stephen Fry?

And I decided to make my current CJ entry a mini quilt – entirely fabric – instead of one of my usual paper based pages. It didn’t half take forever! In fact by the time I finished it, we weren’t in Q fortnight any more, but we were when I started it, so hopefully that still counts.

Our first big Q-event was a day trip to Windsor to see the Queen! Well that was the idea, but it turns out she wasn’t home. Oh well!

But all was not lost as we saw the castle anyway, and also there is a series of geocaches in Windsor Great Park which are dedicated to the Quercus Robur – that’s the Great English Oak tree to me and you – so we did those instead of having afternoon tea with her Maj :)

We did find one Queen in Windsor before we set off for home – a lovely old locomotive on display near the station – built in Swindon, no less.

And we also walked past this giant Q on Windsor High Street, which was a nice coincidence.

All in all – a quality day out!

Earlier the same week we had also been to Legoland (2 trips to Windsor in the same week, no less, we're almost locals) - where, thanks to it being the summer holidays, the queues were horrendous!  an hour and a half for the log flume! 

Thankfully, they have a marvellous little contraption for hire at Legoland called a Q-Bot, which allows you to pretty much skip the lines, so we got a couple of those.  They aren’t cheap - £15 per person in the summer holidays, ouch! – but I only got them for the boys, and as I had got our main entrance tickets free with Tesco vouchers, I didn’t mind parting with thirty quid to avoid them being stuck in queues for half the day.  I had taken my little quilt along to work on anyway, so I didn’t mind so much missing out on most of the rides.
The following week, Connor and I headed over to Quedgeley one evening to see Jay - and he took us out for dinner at the Gloucester Quays complex, to the Angel Chef Chinese buffet, which was delicious, can't wait to go back there!

Oh and I made a new geocaching blogger friend called Hannah, whose surname begins with Q :) :) :)

We were back to Quedgeley the following weekend, as we stayed over at Jay's for the whole weekend for a change.

We went shopping in Gloucester first, mainly for computer games, and we very nearly bought this one just because it was the only one that started with Q :)  but we resisted as it was pretty pricey and we couldn’t find one in the second hand section.

Next, as a Q-related treat, we took the boys to the local Laser Quest – I thought they would both love it, but it turned out I was only 50% right.  Reece had a brilliant time charging around shooting people, but Connor found it all a bit dark and claustrophobic and bailed out after a few minutes.

At least I got a photo of them both in their gear first:

My other plan had been to take them both quad biking – but I couldn’t find anywhere local where it was offered for their age, sadly, most places were for 14+ or even 16+ only.

We did at least SEE someone riding a quad the next day while we were geocaching, I guess that almost counts.

That evening we had a visit from Michelle & Tracy as they are also doing the A-Z thing and therefore needed to visit Quedgeley to tick off another Q. They had been to a Playhouse Disney event and brought us back some quirky hats :)

We had quiche and quorn escalopes for dinner – yum.

Oh, and Reece found a Q on the end of his Smarties tube :)

The following day, we went on a different kind of quest – on a geocaching trail called the Coldwell Quarks series.

And yes, we chose it just because it had a Q in it, but I’m so glad we did as it turned out to be the best series we have done yet!
I’ve already covered this series in detail with lots of piccies in this post, so won’t repeat myself here. But here is a Q-related item we found in one of the churches along the trail :

Connor and I completed Q fortnight with a midweek visit to London to visit my dad, and also the Queen (seeing as she wasn’t home when we went to Windsor).

This wasn’t a real royal audience, of course, it was the waxwork Queen at Madame Tussauds.

We “met” Freddie Mercury too – from the other Queen.

And the whole experience involved us standing in lots of queues, as the place was packed!

To end Q-fortnight, here’s my favourite quotation:

There is no use trying, said Alice; one can't believe impossible things.

I dare say you haven't had much practice, said the Queen. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Next it was R fortnight, which ran from August 27th to September 9th

The big news for this fortnight was that we gained a new resident – Sanrio the cat – Rio for short.

She is an adorable little thing, she followed Ethan home one day and has refused to leave ever since. We have tried really hard to find her owners, but with no luck. So it looks like she’s ours now!

The first weekend during R fortnight was the August bank holiday. We didn’t have Reece with us to start with as he was up at Alton Towers with his mum and brother enjoying the rides. I would blog a pic but nobody took a camera – shock horror! I never go anywhere without at least my camera phone, would be lost without the ability to snap snap snap away.

For example – I used the start of R fortnight as a good excuse to stock up on my favourite tipple, Reef (yummmmmm) – and it got subjected to a little photo shoot before I would let myself drink any :)

Neither could I resist this shot of Connor playing Rayman Raving Rabbids on the Wii, which he dragged out especially in honour of the letter R.

On the Saturday we mainly chilled out – nothing wrong with a bit of Rest & Relaxation – and then in the evening, some recreation – a game of skittles!

This was organised by Jay’s workplace, and so I got to meet a lot of his work colleagues, including his boss Rachael.

The following day we went to Tyntesfield House near Bristol. This is a unique National Trust property, in as much as it is unfinished, but you are still allowed to look around. It is a relatively recent acquisition for the Trust, and therefore it is still undergoing major renovation and restoration (you can see why we chose to go here for R now :) )

It really is a fascinating place, it’s going to be amazing when it is all “finished”, but it’s also a real treat to be able to see it as a work in progress.

One of the most exciting bits was climbing up a tower of scaffolding to a viewing platform up at the rooftop level – it makes you feel a little like Mary Poppins (or Dick Van Dyke if you’re a boy), as it’s not a view you ever usually get of such a grand building. Or of any building really, unless you install TV aerials for a living :)

They also had a trail for Connor which involved hunting all over the grounds for clues – one of which was in the Rose Garden, guarded by this rather handsome lion – rooooaarrrrr!

The NT staff here are even cool, hip and “bang on trend” enough to have hidden their own set of 6 geocaches throughout the grounds. We only found a couple today but we were very pleasantly surprised at the size of them – they were listed as size Small, but I think my caching buddies would agree that these big boxes were at least Regular size.

The following day, with Reece back in the gang, we attempted a rescue mission. One of our geocaching travel bugs - Three Boys One Shoe - was logged into a cache on Selsley Common near Stroud, which was reputedly in a really bad state of repair (broken lid, contents soaked, etc)

We thought it best that we should find the cache, retrieve the travel bug, and then re-locate it somewhere safer.

Sadly when we got to the cache, which involved a nice long walk up on the common, and solving some clues to find the final location, the travel bug wasn’t there :(  It looks like that one’s lost now. We really don’t have an awful lot of luck with trackables!

But never mind, it was a glorious day anyway, and we had a rip-roaringly good time up on the common, relishing the stunning views, and watching the paragliders running off the side of the hill (ok they jump more than run, but that doesn’t begin with R, and I’m on a roll here! :)  )

And Reece wrote R+O on the hill using rocks - a very sweet declaration to girlfriend Olivia, awwww

The weekend after that, we had a free day on the Saturday and so we wanted to do something R-specific. We had a good look around the local “things to do”, and found a place called The Living Rainforest in Berkshire – perfect :)

We didn’t do any research about the place before we got there (not like me!), so didn’t really know what to expect, but we were really impressed with it when we got there.

There are two large greenhouses, within which they have recreated a convincingly immersive rainforest ecology. There are all sorts of animals and birds in there, some roaming completely free.  And lots of amazing looking plants too.

We went in there twice, the first time there were a few other families in there and maybe all that noise and activity kept a few of the animals at bay – because the second time we went through – wow! – it was just us in there and we saw SO many more of the free roaming lizards, birds etc out and about.

But the most exciting thing we saw was the miracle of reproduction – up close and personal. No, we didn’t interrupt any of the animals in a moment of intimacy with their mate :)  But we did see a giant tortoise laying her eggs, which was sooo cool. She had dug a hole, into which she laid the eggs (those things shoot out like ping pong balls lol, making a very satisfying “ploppp” sound :) ), and then presumably later on she buried them.

We went and told a member of staff what was happening, and they were excited about it too, so it must be quite a rare event.

I’m really glad we came here, yet another great experience that we probably would never have had if it wasn’t for the A-Z Year!

Finishing up R fortnight, on the second Sunday we finally saw the return of ice hockey to Swindon after the long summer – it was their launch day today for the new team, so we all returned to the rink to see the new roster revealed.

Some of us wore red shoes, to match the Swindon Wildcats kit colour.

After the skate-out, the team put on a barbeque in the garden of the nearby pub (that was very nearly rained off, but the sun came out just in the nick of time).

Connor had his photo taken with lots of players including captain Lee Richardson and coach Ryan Aldridge

And some brave people took the risk of eating meat that the players had rather inexpertly cooked. Hopefully they didn’t all wake up the next day with the runs :D

Finally, for this mammoth A-Z roundup – the letter S – S for Sarah :)

We went swimming twice during this fortnight – partly for S and partly because we had some free family swim vouchers from British Gas, which was handy. It’s a pity they were only valid for September – they were saving us £20 a visit!

After our soak on the first S Saturday, we headed over to Stroud, to a gallery called the Space, to see Jay’s brother Simon’s first ever solo art exhibition. Very exciting!

Bros :)
It was great to see all his art up on the walls, and we bought one for the hallway at home (a smaller version of the big piccie with Reece in the photo), so one of the first things people see as they come into my house now is a cornet of delicious Winstones ice cream by my super talented brother-in-law (kinda) (I mean he’s only kinda my bro-in-law, he is definitely super talented!)

And Connor got to try on Si's cool bug-eye sunglasses :)

We hotfooted it back to Swindon in time for the first Saturday night hockey game of the new season (well, it was a pre-season friendly, but it’s still hockey!). Our opponents this week were the Telford Tigers, which meant the return to the rink of my favourite ever Wildcat (who now plays for Telford) – the Slovakian forward Tomas Janak.

I brought my camera along and got the mickey taken out of me big time as I snapped away, with 9 out of 10 pics being of Tomas – Jay had to keep reminding me there were other players on the ice :)

On the Sunday, I was supposed to meet up with my sister and our cousins Susan and Liz in Somerset – that would be all the girls from the Southam line together as all our mothers were sisters – but sadly that got cancelled at the eleventh hour.

S is for Soldiers
So instead, we went to a very cool National Trust property up in the North Cotswolds called Snowshill Manor. This place is awesome. It used to be owned by this chap who was a bit like Ripley from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, in as much as he amassed this amazingly eclectic collection of wonderful stuff from all over the world. He filled his huge stately home with his collection, to the extent that there was no room to live in it any more, and he had to live in the stable block next door instead.

All of the items in the collection are displayed in themed rooms, with low lighting and no labels or signage, to add to the sense of theatre.

The most stunning of all the rooms is the Samurai room – full of mannequins wearing full suits of spectacular Samurai armour. The dingy light, and the way their masks all seem to be staring at you, make this room very spooky!

The grounds were great too, and there was a really fun trail for the kids where they had to find little displays showing them how to spot evidence of the various animal occupants of the area – each display showed the animal’s tracks, plus a model of their droppings (I’m resisting the temptation to use the sh** word, S fortnight or not!), complete with the appropriate smell!

They had to sniff each one and mark on the sheet which one smelled the worst :) 

There was also a lovely restaurant here where we had a delicious Sunday roast, a games tent where we found a vintage Snakes and Ladders game to play, and a really cool second hand book shop, where we bought some bargains, like a massive Art Attack book for only £1.

After looking around the manor (for hours, it was SO fascinating!), we took a walk through a sheep-filled field to a nearby geocache, called the Alternative Snowshill Collection. The cache owner asked for animal themed swag only in this one, so we had come prepared. We swapped all our animal goodies for non animal-themed items, to try to get the theme back on track.

On the way to the cache we found this amazing natural sculpture. From a distance it had looked like a pair of hands meeting in an arch – think Monty Burns as he says “eeexcellent” – but as we approached we could see that it was simply a tree that had been blown over into a strange shape.

It made for a great photo op all the same.

During the week I started work on a Shakespeare CJ – my entry was the Taming of the Shrew

On the second S weekend, we had big S-related plans. We were going to visit the world’s most famous stone circle at Stonehenge, and also Old Sarum castle.

As we drove down towards Salisbury, however, we hit really bad traffic. The M4 was closed because of an accident, and it seems that everyone and his dog had diverted down the tiny little road through Marlborough, and we pretty much stopped moving altogether.

So by the time we reached Woodhenge – the first stop on our planned journey (yes, I know it doesn’t begin with S, but Jay and Reece hadn’t been there before, I wanted to pick up the virtual cache that I missed the previous time, and it was on the way, so ner) – we were already severely behind schedule.  I was wondering if we would have time to do Stonehenge and Old Sarum justice, given we had to be back in Swindon by 5pm for hockey.

Then, serendipitously, we met some fellow cachers (they spotted our GPS as we were having our qualifying photos taken for the Woodhenge virtual cache), who told us that Imber village on Salisbury Plain was open!

You may remember our visit in the summer to Tyneham village in Dorset – which was evacuated in wartime for use as a training ground for the army, and then never given back to its former inhabitants. Imber is another similar ghost village, again the villagers were promised that they could go home after the war, again the army reneged on their word :(

It is very rare that the public are granted access to Imber – unlike Tyneham which is open most weekends – so we spontaneously changed plans and headed up there, via another virtual cache called the Sun Gap.

It was fascinating to visit, if a little squished (but I guess that’s because it isn’t open very often so everyone has to come at once). And we were lucky enough to hear the bells ring from the church for the first time in 70 years, as a new set of bells has only just been installed.

On the way home we followed a different route to avoid the bad traffic, and ended up driving through Avebury. We had sandwiches there for lunch at an old pub in sight of Silbury Hill, which took our virtual cache count today up to 4 (Woodhenge, Sun Gap, Imber and Silbury). And the boys played on the tree swing.

That evening, after more Swindon Wildcats hockey (sadly without swoon-worthy Slovaks this time), we collected our new pet Giant African Land Snails.

They aren’t very giant yet - that's centimetres not inches :)

As there are 3 of them, we have named them after the 3 brothers in the movie Slapshot – Jeff, Jack and Steve.

They are so cute, we are looking forward to seeing them grow (hopefully to a sufficient size whereby I can stencil the Chiefs logo on their shells lol)

And that’s S wrapped up. As usual this has been a monster post, thank you for sticking with it if you made it this far down.

I’ll be back soon with tales of the letter T (just coming to an end) and U (which we are totally unprepared for, with precisely zero ideas so far!)