Sunday, 25 November 2012

Geocaching - what it's all about

 Until last Christmas I'd heard of geocaching, but didn't know anything about it. That changed when Andrew's aunt started looking for local caches when we were both at his parents. She explained the basics, that there's a site that lists all of the caches and it's basically a treasure hunt. I really couldn't see the point or overall aim, but accepted it. Being a bit of a Googleaholic, I decided to look into it and ended up at the website. I entered my postcode and was suprised to find there were a number of caches within a mile of our house. My interest was piqued at that point. 

The following day we were at my parents and needed to get away from the roaring wood burner and out for some air. Again, I looked at the website and was surprised to find some caches in the nearby town. We printed out the relevant pages from the website and off we went. We were plagued by two problems; we used our iPhones as GPS devices, which we struggled with due to patchy 3G reception in the countryside, and were relying on torches on our phones and street lights to be able to see. We'd picked a multi-cache for our first cache and visited various points around the town, such as historical plaques and gravestones, picking up digits which we then used to come up with the location of the actual cache. As luck would have it, this was out of town and we were thwarted by both lack of 3G reception and light. We decided that stumbling around a field at night wasn't the smartest idea and gave up for the night. We returned the following morning on our way home. Due to the patchy 3G reception and inexperience, we struggled a bit to find the final location, but did so after half an hour or so. After digging around in undergrowth we found the box we'd been searching for and signed the log book. We were hooked.

We did a few more caches in the same way, before deciding we were sold on the idea enough to get a GPS unit. After much research, we got a Garmin Oregon 450 which came with UK Ordnance Survey maps. It also came with a month's complementary premium membership for the Geocaching website. This meant we could effortlessly export all caches meeting certain criteria to the unit. No more need for bits of paper.

I know initially I really didn't understand the point. With hindsight, the best thing is that it's a great excuse to get outside. We've been to Iceland, Jersey and Norfolk this year and visited places that we'd never have been to, if it hadn't been for the fact that there were caches hidden there. I was always a bit of a reluctant walker, but tell me there are caches on a footpath and I'll be pulling my walking boots on. As people ask me what it's all about, I thought I'd do a blog about a series of caches we did when we were in Norfolk recently.

We picked a set of sixteen caches about 15 miles away from where we were staying and headed over to the recommended parking spot. As all the caches were already on the GPS unit, it was a simple case of turning it on and seeing which way to head.

The blue pin in the last photograph shows the location of the first cache, and the arrow the direction of the GPS unit is pointing in, so it's usually a case of heading the way the unit tells you to go, as long as that means you're keeping to roads and footpaths. The route took us past the castle and out to a hedgerow, where we found the cache tucked away. All cache containers have a log of some description which you need to sign to show you've been there. The bigger containers contain swaps, and you'll sometimes find a trackable. This is a travel bug or geocoin. They all have tracking number and the aim is for them to move from cache to cache, picking up mileage along the way, and hopefully meet their overall aim. This first cache container housed a travel bug which wanted to get back to Germany, we picked it up and took it with us to help it on its way.

The route to the next cache look us along a country road and over to a field entrance where we found the next cache tucked in a tree. Again, this contained a travel bug, so we picked it up to take it across the country with us.

  We followed the road down past a stream and over to a ford which overlooked the fields, church and priory ruins. There was a bench next to the ford which a local resident was sitting on, enjoying the view with his dog. As Geocaching terminology would put it, you shouldn't give anything away to 'muggles' so we exchanged pleasantries with him, before using taking photos as cover for investigating the wall behind him where the cache was hidden. We found the spot quickly and extracted the cache and signed the log book.

We headed across a muddy field towards the priory. The next cache was a small canister, which had been hung from a hook set into the tree. It took us a while to locate, but then we signed the log and moved on.

We carried on around the priory and back onto the road. The next cache was right next to where a group of workmen had parked up in their van. We waited until they'd got to work, clearing the roof of a nearby building and then darted into the tree which the GPS suggested the cache was hidden in. Luckily we found it quickly, without them wondering what we were up to! The container again contained a travel bug which we picked up and took with us.

The walk then took us up past the church, the cache was well hidden, tucked into a road sign but we found it, signed the log and returned it to its hidey hole. I couldn't find my pen at this point, so Andrew patiently went back to find where I'd dropped it whilst I signed the log with a pencil I was carrying.

The route took us around the town and out towards the outskirts, where the next cache was also tucked in a sign. Unfortunately the log was so wet that we couldn't unroll it, let alone sign it. Hopefully the cache holder will be able to replace it soon.

The route headed out down a footpath passing fields, and surrounded by trees displaying Autumn colours. We found the next cache tucked in a stack of sticks.

We carried on up the path enjoying the countryside and headed out onto the road at the end. The next cache was again tucked into a sign, but in a more original manner. The batteries in our GPS had been complaining for some time, so we took the opportunity to put new ones in and recalibrate the compass before heading on our way again.

We continued up the road before branching off onto the footpath. The next cache was hidden in the hedgerow, tucked into a tree, and was difficult to get to through the undergrowth, which is why Andrew's crouching in a hedgerow!

From this cache, we headed across a tree plantation and crossed a road before heading up a path which skirted a piggery. The next cache was again tucked in a tree.

We walked two sides of the pig farm before reaching the next cache location. We found the cache holder, an ornamental mushroom, tucked into a tree but unfortunatley the log was nowhere to be found.

We headed out of the footpath and would have walked down the farm track but it was flooded and very muddy. Our walking boots weren't up to it, so we skirted the neighbouring field instead. The next cache was hidden against a tree and was a quick find.

We headed down the track and out onto the road. We were relieved to be off the muddy track, but after a sunny day, the evening mist seemed to be rolling in, so we quickened our pace. The cache was just outside the church yard, we searched for about quarter of an hour before finding it tucked into an ivy covered tree.

The route took us along a main road and then headed back down to the village. Unfortunately the penultimate cache in the series defeated us. We knew what we were looking for, but couldn't find it anywhere. We looked for about twenty minutes before giving up as the light was fading and we didn't want to have to drive back in the dark, given the misty weather. We continued up the road and across a footpath. The final cache was tucked away in a tree stump. We also found a final travel bug to take home with us.

From this point we carried on down the footpath and found ourselves back at the car after a good 6 mile walk around the area.

The final part of the process is to log all of our visits and finds onto the Geocaching website when we got home, which again is a fairly straight forward process. We've now found 159 caches which isn't bad seeing as 12 months ago I had no idea what geocaching was all about!

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