Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Geocaching Adventures, Part 8 - December 2010 & January 2011

I doubt that any of my geocaching buddies are even still popping by my blog after I’ve done my best to scare them off with all that Art Journal stuff! But never mind, I enjoy writing up our geocaching outings just for my own sake anyway, so here goes with December and January’s tales….

It has been another quiet couple of months due to the cold and mainly wet weather, and the little inconvenience of Christmas in the middle of everything, so we haven’t done huge amounts of caching, but those that we have done, we have, as ever, thoroughly enjoyed. Quality over quantity and all that!

The recent introduction of Favourites Points on the geocaching website has helped us a lot with that, actually – over the past few weeks, we’ve been deliberately seeking out caches that a lot of people have “favourited” or “favoured” or whatever the verb is, and it has really paid off! We also placed a cache in December and I’m glad to report that it has already been “favourised” 5 times, yay!

So – our first outing in December was to the Lawns, a lovely park in central Swindon which looked especially pretty in the bright winter sunshine. This park was the location of one of the first geocaches we ever found back in March 2008 – a fantastic multi by RoobyDoo, sadly since archived – so it was great to go back. We found a couple of caches there this time – #218 The One In The Lawns, a micro at the entrance to the park inside which the kids were delighted to find a travel bug, and #219 The Lawn, a larger trading cache with stuff in it further in.

We had a nice walk around the semi-frozen lakes after nabbing the caches, and enjoyed it so much that while we were there we scouted out a spot for the new cache we already had in the planning stage – a BIG letterbox hybrid, now active, called X Marks The Spot. This was the one that we had originally considered placing in Nightingale Woods, as mentioned in my last roundup post.

This is the cache that has already got 5 favourite points, which I’m chuffed about. I think that’s partly because the location is so lovely, partly because the box itself is a whopper and it has lots and lots of nice swag inside, and partly because kiddies especially seem to be enjoying following the treasure map that we included on the cache listing as an alternative route to ground zero. It’s definitely the kind of cache that we as a family would enjoy doing ourselves, so hopefully other families think so too!

A few days later it was time for our #220, the bi-monthly Swindon Soiree event. And this time it was a Christmas special – which involved a visit from Stanta! (yes, I spelt that right ;) ). The kids were mightily chuffed to win a prize in the raffle – a cool interactive I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here DVD game – thanks Mrs Mole! And it was great to meet up with Hannah from The QCs for the first time in the flesh after much communication via blogs and Facebook.

That was us all geocached out then until after Christmas. Life’s too busy in the run up to the big day to do much other than faff about with presents, decorations and other prep.

The day after Boxing Day, with the snow still on the ground but starting to melt, we went out for a walk to shift a couple of the millions of calories we had consumed over the previous 48 hours. We had planned to do a new series over Avebury way, but we overslept and wouldn’t have had time to do it justice, so instead we headed over to Mouldon Hill which is a new-ish country park over the other side of Swindon. We chose it as we hadn’t been there before, and we knew there were a few caches there. As it turned out we only found two little ones – #221 Mouldon Fields – and #222 Mouldon Hill – as the kids (including Jay :) ) were having more fun throwing snowballs about. Also we did start out after a third, but in following the arrow came to an impassable barrier, and the boys were thirsty and cold by then, so we didn’t bother looking for an alternative route. We give up far too easily, us :)

A couple of days later we had a trip planned to Marwell Zoo in Hampshire, and Hannah QC just happened to mention that there were a couple of good caches very close to the zoo, and I’m glad she did as they were well worth checking out.

Up on top of the Viaduct
The first was #223 Viaduct View (Hampshire). This one was a LOT of fun! It’s a nice old cache (hidden September 2001), and it involves finding your way up on top of a gorgeous old viaduct and walking along up there enjoying the views (M3 in one direction, somewhat prettier the other way!) to get to the cache location. It’s the kind of feature that people must drive past every day, but I bet they don’t even realise it’s possible to get up to the top (the path wasn’t clearly marked). This is the kind of adventure-in-your-own-back-yard that geocaching is so good at providing.

The second cache – #224 the Marwell Cache and Dash - involved solving an easy zoo-related puzzle to obtain the co-ordinates (it MUST have been easy if I could do it! I’m flat out rubbish at puzzle caches). The cache was hidden very close to the zoo, and as suggested by the name was an easy pickup with no hiking involved - so we tackled it just before we went animal spotting. I thought we had got the wrong location at first, as the GPS was pointing beyond a locked gate on what was clearly private property. But a quick re-read of the cache description indicated that the landowner had given permission to climb the gate and recover the cache. Good job the kids were there as my dodgy knees don’t do gate climbing – I struggle enough with a stile! :)

So I sent them over, and they quickly found the cache, or so they thought….but when they opened it, it was empty. Hmmmmm. They kept looking, with me yelling helpful directions from the other side of the gate, one of which was for them not to look in a particular spot as I was pretty sure the cache wasn’t there. After 10 mins of fruitless searching, we gave in and checked the hint, which of course revealed that the cache was in the spot I’d told them specifically to stop looking in, ooops! Not sure what the first box was that they found, a decoy maybe? The real cache was a good size, and had some good trade items in it, so the kids were happy. Connor traded for these charming fake teeth (don’t worry they were in a sealed plastic bag!) – doesn’t he look adorable? :D

And then we went to the zoo – I’ve already posted some of my zoo piccies on the “Z” entry for our A-Z Year, but here are a couple more….

On New Year’s Eve, Jay was off doing boy stuff with his eldest (fixing cars and things, and probably eating bogeys or whatever it is that boys do when there aren’t any girls around), so I went out for the day caching with the kiddies. We had a full day with no hockey to rush back for, so this was our chance to go and tackle RoobyDoo’s new series near Avebury that we had been eyeing up for a week or so.

can you glimpse Silbury Hill in this photo?
Happy to report that the East Kennett series – starting at #225 EK1: Silbury Glimpse - was ACE. It’s only a short one, 7 regular caches and a bonus, over around 2 and a half miles, although of course we made it last hours, being the slowest geocachers in the world :) We can’t help it, we like to stop and look at stuff, and explore, and dawdle...

I managed to set out for our expedition woefully unprepared - I lugged my heavy DSLR camera around all day with no less than 3 lenses, but forgot to bring a memory card for it, so couldn't take any pictures, doh! (except with my phone which isn't quite the same). I also forgot our logbook stamps. And worst of all I didn't pack spare batteries for the GPS which was running dangerously low. So we did the whole series by checking the heading and rough distance for the next cache, then switching the GPS off and walking the guesstimated distance to the next one, then switching it back on briefly to get the position. It was a bit nervewracking but happy to report that the GPS got us all the way round and to the bonus cache, just! Phew :)

that little blip on the horizon is the West Kennett longbarrow
Luckily we did remember our big bag o' swag :) and we happily filled up the caches with lots of goodies, as some of them were looking a little bare.

We got SO muddy doing this series – the heavy snow had only just melted and I guess it had softened up all the mud – the whole way round it was squelch squelch squelch. Thank heaven for good walking boots.

The boys really enjoyed the day’s walk, it’s a fascinating area with plenty to keep their interest up, and they loved collecting symbols from each cache to determine the location of the bonus cache at the end. I see that the series already has 9 favourite points despite only being a month old, and it fully deserves them.

After completing the series, we relocated just down the road and climbed up to the famous West Kennett longbarrow where there is a virtual cache that was #233 for the Chaos Crew. For some odd reason I haven’t been to the barrow since I was in my teens despite many visits to the Avebury area now that I live in Wiltshire.

It really is spectacular, you can explore quite far inside it, in the pitch black, which was kinda spooky, but fun. Reece enjoyed making Connor and I jump out of our skins by jumping up from behind a stone with the torch held under his chin yelling “aarrghh” :) We stayed until it started to get dark, by which time we had the whole place to ourselves. Very atmospheric indeed. I love ancient sites. At the risk of sounding like a sad old hippie, they have a resonance to them that you just don’t feel anywhere else. It’s the viiiiibes, maaaan :)

We did no caching after this until the 9th January, when we were spurred into action by an event cache called #235 “On Holiday By Mistake” which we had signed up for some months back. In all honesty, none of us woke up that Sunday in a caching mood, it was a cold morning, my knees were playing up (old lady that I am) and we knew that the event involved climbing up a whopping great big hill. But we didn’t want to let anyone down, so off we set. And of course we were glad we did, it was a lot of fun.

Connor and I were due to meet Jay and Reece there, and we set off bright and early, and made such good time that we stopped to pick up a driveby cache on the way - #234 A Road Anarchy A417 - Stand & Deliver. It is very close to the Highwayman pub on the main Swindon to Gloucester Road (the clue’s in the name :) ), and we found this lovely old stagecoach there. It was lovely and sunny by this point, and we were getting in a caching mood. Then the cache itself (a slip of green, mouldy, slimy paper in a dripping wet film tub wedged behind a road sign) kind of put us off again. Every time I do one of these cash and dash micros I remember why I don’t do cash and dash micros! Still, if you ignore the nasty cache, the location itself was worth stopping off at just for the stagecoach….

Of course, having only stopped off because we thought we were in plenty of time, our little detour made us late, and when we got to the congregation spot for the event, everyone was waiting for us. Ooops!

This event involved a bracing walk up to the trig point at the top of Painswick Beacon, followed by a well earned pub lunch. The other eventers raced off, and by the time I had said a quick hello to Sandra of the Lydford Locators, and tightened Connor’s boot laces, the crowd was already out of sight, so Jay and I and the boys did the walk on our own.

We were beginning to feel like this really wasn’t much of an event for socialising, but when we finally reached the beacon we found that the others had been nice enough to wait for us there, and we ended up having a good old natter with a few of the other attendees which cheered us up. I had to be nagged to the top of the hill by a fellow cacher (who turned out to be a Canucks nut, small world!) as my knees were not co-operating at all. But I’m so glad that I did manage to scramble to the top as the views from up there were out of this world! And the kids had lots of fun clambering up and down the hill fort undulations with the mini Lydford Locators.

Group photo at top of beacon, you can *just* see my head to the left of Jay's - we look like midgets compared to everyone else :D
It was a short DOWNHILL (hooray :D ) walk back to the pub for an expensive but delicious roast dinner, and much fun was had there by all – it is always fab to put faces to names you have seen online or in logbooks. There was a fun quiz too, and by some miracle we came third, which was quite some achievement in a room of very brainy people!

Oh and we managed one more cache before we went home, #236 The Beacon, which strangely wasn’t up at the beacon at all, but instead very close to the pub car park. This was a good sized cache in some pretty woods, with some decent trade items in, so the kids were happy. I think everyone at the event found this cache today, the owner must have been somewhat startled by all the “found it” emails flooding in out of the blue!

By the following weekend, I was really starting to miss “proper” caching big time – we’d picked up one or two here and there, but we hadn’t really got stuck in for a while – so with Connor at his dad’s for the day the rest of us set off to tackle the Leigh Fields series, starting at #237 Leigh Fields 1 – High Bridge.

As we pulled up to park the car we saw that all the fields around us were flooded. It had rained non stop all week after all. Definitely a good day for me to test out my snazzy new gaiters that I got for Christmas!

We found the first cache in the series easily enough, and then, well, that’s as far as we got! That was because we got within 50 feet of Leigh Fields 2 – Derry Brook, and saw this:

The brook had breached its banks and the bridge (yes, there’s a bridge under there) was under about a foot of water. As Jay and Reece were gaiterless, and already had wet socks from the walk through the squelchy fields, we decided that this series is maybe best saved until a sunnier day...

While in the area, we visited a much-lauded cache called #238 Lonely Church (Wilts). This is a good example of a cache that might not have leapt out of the listings at me, but the fact that 10 of our fellow cachers had awarded it one of their precious favourite points made it a must-see.

We couldn’t park too close to the lonely church in question, and had to walk up the world’s muddiest lane. I don’t think either of the boys were in the slightest bit impressed! But when we arrived at the gorgeous location, everyone agreed it was worth the squelchy approach.

From the cache page: This church was built in the early 1200s, but the village centre subsequently grew some 1/2 mile further down the road. The villagers decided to move the nave of the church in 1896, but the chancel remains in its original location, now some distance from any other buildings. It is a very peaceful location.

We spent some time exploring inside and outside of this lovely serene little building. In fact it was a while before I remembered we actually had a cache to look for! It was a fair old size and Reece dropped a travel bug off there, and picked himself a funky hairy red nose from the swag selection. All in all a great cache, we never would have come across this amazing location without it, and so we added one of our own favourite points to its tally.

The following weekend, we were headed down to Basingstoke for the day (for a pub lunch, a swim in the Aquadrome, and an ice hockey game in the evening), and we knew we would have about an hour to kill mid afternoon, so once again we used the new “favourites” feature to help us to choose a good cache to hunt in the area. We came up with one called #239 Roman Coins, in the old Roman town of Silchester, just outside the ‘Stoke, that looked very promising.

Once again, it was a dingy wet day, and as we trudged up from the car park in our pacamacs in the cold, I think we were all wondering whether we might have been better off staying in the nice warm pub for an extra hour instead! But when we turned the corner and saw the remains of the old North Gate to the old Roman town of Calleva, it was, as ever, all worthwhile. The gate must have been quite a sight in its prime, it’s still pretty spectacular now.

The cache itself was an easy find, and we were chuffed to find a travel bug in there attached to a replica Roman coin – how apt! This, as it turned out, had been launched there that very morning by a local 8 year old boy who wants it to make its way to Rome. We have been in touch with him and offered to take it to France, a good step on its journey, if he didn’t mind us hanging on to it for a month first. He was happy with this, so we will try to find a nice safe cache in Paris to deposit it into in a couple of weeks.

There were some other caches nearby, and more Roman ruins to explore, but we spent so long at the North Gate that we ran out of time. We will definitely come back here one day, next time Swindon Wildcats are away vs the Bison maybe.

And that was it then for January until we snuck a quick virtual in right at the end of the month - #240 the Agricultural Cathedral (Oxfordshire).

It was a sunny afternoon for the first time in ages – still bloody cold mind! – and we thought we would take a little drive out. Many times as we have driven along the A420 (the main road from Swindon to Oxford), we’ve passed one of those brown National Trust signs for the “Great Coxwell Tithe Barn”, but we’ve never stopped off to investigate. Well, a barn doesn’t really sound that interesting, does it? But it is one of our Project Zero goals to visit 5 more NT properties before our membership runs out in June, and this was our closest not-yet-visited NT place, plus there is a virtual cache there too which is always a bonus, so off we went.

Of course the barn turned out to be considerably more interesting than I thought it would be – and a lot bigger too – in fact it was huge!

The blurb from the cache page:

Great Coxwell Barn is a medieval tithe barn, generally considered to be the finest of its kind. It was built shortly after 1300 for a farm attached to Beaulieu Abbey. King John gave the Royal manor of Faringdon to the Cistercian monks in 1203 to use for a new abbey. Although the abbey itself was built at Beaulieu, Faringdon remained an important part of their income.

William Morris used to live near here and regularly took visitors to see "the finest piece of architecture in England". It is also called the cathedral of barns, partly because it is so impressive and partly because of the construction - medieval people knew how to build huge churches and Cathedrals, so used the same design - in wood - for this barn. The building is almost complete despite it's great age.

We had a good explore around, and bought some postcards, and then went on to have a look around the 12th century church nearby, which was fascinating in its own way.

A great end to another couple of months of caching – the weather may have put us off doing loads, fair weather cachers R us, but we did have fun with what little we did do.


VickiA said...

If you're a fair weather cacher I dread to think what you'd class me as. I can't remember the last time went geocaching. I really should download some and drag my lot out now the weather is getting "better".

Tracy said...

I have been checking your blogs at least three times a week since Dec eagerly awaiting the next cache instalment, I don't get out caching as much as I would like and the next best thing is to read about someone who does. We are doing the A-Z year this year inspired by reading about on here of course.

P.J. said...

It looks like these were some excellent caching adventures!And I don't think you scare people away. I like the art stuff! :) I, too, haven't been caching much. Snow, cold... not any more. I used to cache in all weather. Now, not so much!

Eddie said...

So much wonderful history to see in our own back yards - thanks for the wondeful write up!

Friends of Carlotta said...

Reading some of your blog and finding it interesting. I am a geocacher as you know but u do find collage and the like interesting as well.

Morti said...

Hi Sarah!

I've followed your geocaching exploits on and off for the last couple of years whenever I've hopped onto your blog, and often thought it would be fun. Then, two things spurred me into trying it out. Firstly, I finally got an upgrade to my old iPhone, so now have GPS, and then we moved house at the end of August. The day after moving, I spotted a couple, clutching a smartphone, hovering around outside our house. It wasn't till two weeks later, and another couple appeared that I finally sussed what was up, had a look on Geocaching.com, and discovered that there was indeed a cache hidden within 30ft of our front door.... ROFL. Needless to say, we've now completed two caches, we'll do the one out front this weekend (I've sussed it but we want Lil Miss B to try and find it herself) and we've firmly caught the bug. Thanks for the inspiration in the first place Sarah! Oh, and I've moved even closer to you now - Upavon, just the other side of Pewsey... LOL