February 27 : Blackwater

Blackwater Pond

During the current lockdown we have gone out walking most days, and caching about once a week. However we are running out of caches to find in Sandhurst so today was the day we ventured into Blackwater to find a cache. (The government rules state ‘stay local within the same town’ but Blackwater is less than a mile away, so is it more or less local than walking 2 miles from home in our own town of Sandhurst ?)

The cache we were targeting was a multi – based on several of the historic buildings of Blackwater. There were 6 places to visit, from which various numbers would be found forming the co-ordinates for the final cache.

Its hard to imagine Blackwater’s history today

We realised if we walked around all 6 waypoints we would be stretching the ‘stay local’ tag to the extreme, so we opted for a little help from an online friend.

A Photograph of Blackwater in years gone by

Our online friend took us to a house with a ‘wattle and daub’ wall, a memorial hall honouring the fallen of WWI, an impressive church as well other notable buildings. Most of this history is well hidden from everyday life!

Normally with multis, one has to visit each waypoint, as the required number is hidden away from Google’s cameras. However we got lucky with our online searching. Very lucky.

Is this number significant ?

Each waypoint question was clearly findable online, and, without leaving our armchairs we had a candidate location for the geocache. We also discovered that the ‘potential’ location was on a footpath, which was useful as the hint mentioned ‘ivy’.

Pubs are always good for a bit of history

And so it was we found the cache without visiting any of the waypoints! Tucked away, behind a tree with ivy, lying on the ground was the cache. It was last found back in May and the weather hadn’t been kind to it – as water had permeated inside and the contents and the log were wet. That aside, we were grateful for the quick find, as we could amble back home passing a few of the waypoints to further validate our online findings.

Clearly this wasn’t what the cache owner intended, but finding the cache is what counts!

February 20 : Return to Snaprails Park, Sandhurst

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

On a cold day at the end of January, while on a daily lockdown exercise walk, we tried – and failed – to find the one cache we had set out to discover. Most dispiriting!

Four weeks on from that attempt, we were back in Snaprails Park, ostensibly out for our daily exercise, but really to have another attempt at this cache. At least it was warmer today!

Pokemon people

Pokemon people

There were many people in the park, more than we were expecting, but most of them weren’t together, or looking at the scenery, or each other, simply gazing intently at their phones. We thought for a bit … aha! … Pokemon … we confirmed our suspicions by asking one of them.

This tree ...?

This tree …?

This path? ...

This path? …

Here? ...

Here? …

So confident was Mr Hg137 of finding the cache that he hadn’t even brought the GPS. That meant it took a few moments hesitation before finding the correct spot. This log? … that tree? … this path? … that bush? And then began our slow, steady circling of the place. The first circuit yielded nothing, save a puzzled glance from a muggle. I returned to the path, paced up and down a bit, collected my thoughts, and started a second circuit. There was one place I’d not tried before, and … there it was!!! I extracted the container, alerted Mr Hg137, and we stepped away a short distance to sign the log. I’ve learnt not to shout, “I’VE FOUND IT!!!” on these occasions, as it attracts attention, a quiet whistle is a better way of getting Mr Hg137’s notice; he calls it ‘the Mrs Hg137 bird whistle’.

After returning the cache to its previous position, and hiding it as before, invisible to a passing glance, we walked back through the park, heading triumphantly home. The park was emptying now, as the Pokemon people melted away, their work also done for the day.

Homeward bound

Homeward bound

February 13 : Finding a Sandhurst DNF

Owlsmoor Playground

Note: this blog is about a single find for a puzzle cache. This blog has endeavoured to give little or no information about the puzzle solution or the hiding place.

DNFs (Did Not Find) are part of the geocaching game. As Mrs Hg137 often remarks “it wouldn’t be much fun if you found every cache every time”.

True words.

Sometimes DNFs are so well hidden, they are impossible to spot.
Sometimes weather conditions are against the finder.
Sometimes it is just not possible to undertake a full and detailed search as the location is very busy.
Sometimes the co-ordinates (either the setter’s GPS or the finder’s GPS) do not share the same level of accuracy.
Or sometimes the cache has disappeared.

Owlsmoor Community Centre

Owlsmoor Community Centre

During July 2020, between the various pandemic lockdowns, we undertook a caching trip with a difference. A circumnavigation of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. The perimeter is almost visible from our house and we walked for about 9.5 miles that day, collecting caches as we went.

One cache, a puzzle cache, Its Owl Numbers to Me, we had solved before we left home, and realised the cache was hidden about 0.5 miles from home.

Owlsmoor Numbers ?

Sadly by the time we reached it last July, we were tired, it was just spitting with rain…and we couldn’t find it! A DNF.

We also noted that the cache hadn’t been found for some time and alerted the cache owner, they checked the cache and said it had gone missing, and they would replace it.

The cache was part of a mini-cluster centred around the Sandhurst district of OWLsmoor and should have been in ivy.

Owlsmoor Ivy

Six months later.

We were alerted that the cache container had been replaced, and hidden in a slightly different way feet from the original location.

We decided that on one of our daily ‘exercise’ walks we would attempt the cache again.

This time, we arrived at Ground Zero, there was no-one around (unsurprising, given it was below zero in temperature) and we laid hands on the cache almost immediately.

So after a 7 month break, a satisfactory outcome – hooray !

February 4 : Sandhurst

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

For once, we had a non-exercise, valid reason to be out of the house. For the first time ever, we’d both been offered flu vaccinations (we thought we were too young to qualify, but never turn down a good offer…) so we went off and got jabbed. So there we were, in central Sandhurst at 9am. It seemed a good idea to do our daily walk from here, so we could go on a different route, as we’ve walked everywhere near our house many times by now. Coincidentally, a GPS had found its way into Mr Hg137’s pocket, loaded with a nearby, unfound geocache. How fortunate!

We followed the arrow suggested by the GPS, which – of course – directed our daily walk past the location for this cache. And, equally coincidentally, we’d done a little research beforehand. We don’t know why, but we often struggle to find the caches set by these cachers (VR7)’s caches, so we had read every word of the cache description, had memorised the hint, read all the logs, looked at any pictures, and were as prepared as possible before we approached the area.

Our GPS tried to point us onto the railway tracks, but we knew from the cache description that it wasn’t on railway land – and we weren’t planning to climb any fences or embankments today. We watched a train stop at the station, then a careful look round showed us a location which could be correct, and further investigation confirmed it. Soon we were holding the cache in our hands. Brilliant! And, though were not showing any pictures, it was a cunningly disguised and well hidden cache; muggles must walk by here daily, with the cache hiding place in full view, and simply not spot it.

Having signed the log and replaced the cache container in its hiding place, we continued on our walk, round some bits of Sandhurst we haven’t visited recently, then back along the main road to the geocar. An hour’s exercise well spent!

January 26 : A puzzle solved…and a puzzle found in Sandhurst

Although we have quite good logical, puzzle-orientated, minds we sometimes struggle with some of the puzzle caches that have been set.

The cache owner may have displayed some pictures, numbers, letters or phrases from which to extract the cache co-ordinates. Sometimes we don’t even understand the question!

A local cache owner has created a series of 26 puzzles named after each letter of the alphabet. Some times the letter is meaningful in the solve, sometimes not.

Cache Q is a rare, relatively simple, solve. That is, assuming you see the answer….

Mr Hg137 had solved the cache sometime ago, and realised the final hiding place was close to one of our (few) daily walking routes. But for much of 2020 this cache had been DNFed (did not find), by cachers who went looking for it. But early in 2021 another cacher had find the cache implying the cache was there to be found!

As we hadn’t found a cache in 2021, Mr Hg137 mentioned the puzzle to Mrs Hg137 (mainly for confirmation of the solution). Mrs Hg137 couldn’t work out the puzzle, she made a few valiant attempts (including singing the song ‘I can sing a Rainbow’ … Ed : don’t ask !). Mr Hg137 provided a different musical nudge and Mrs Hg137 zoned in on the solution and confirmed the final hiding place.

Today, was the day we went for the find.

A small amount of snow lay on the ground, there was light drizzle in the air. No-one in the their right mind would be out. (Except us, of course). We had a clear run at GZ, following the hint explicitly… and drew a blank.
The hiding place was a sign very close to a prickly berberis bush. We both incurred blood scratches as we searched. Eventually we found the cache. Or, at least. we think we found the cache.

We retrieved the log, signed it and noted…there were only 2 signatories – the first to find cacher..and a finder from 2016 !

We returned the cache as found and claimed the cache. But the puzzle that remains… did we find and sign the correct cache log ? We’ve messaged the cache owner….and we’ll wait and see. Fingers crossed this was our first find of 2021 !

January 23 : Snaprails Park, Sandhurst

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here. Happy New Year!

How / if / where to go geocaching, and remain within lockdown guidelines? We thought hard about what to do, and came up with one cache we hadn’t found, well within walking distance, in Snaprails Park in Sandhurst.

Snaprails Park

Snaprails Park

Our chosen cache was from the Counting Vowels series, where you visit a number of signs (and other things with words on) total up the number of occurrences of each vowel and use that to generate the cache coordinates. It’s one of our favourite series, and we’ve found twelve so far out of the eighty or so in the series; most of them are set by mikes54, but this one has been set in collaboration with VR7. Moreover, it was last found at the end of October 2020, so it shouldn’t be harbouring any nasty coronaviruses if it hadn’t been touched since then. All this sounded promising, and it also gave us chance to go to somewhere slightly different on our daily walk.

We walked to the park, passing under the gaily painted underpass to reach the western edge of the park, and the start of the cache. Runners, walkers, and cyclists passed us, children played in the playground, while squirrels chased up and down the trees and ducks paddled in the stream.

We worked our way round the little lake in the winter sunshine, collecting coordinates as we went. A checksum was provided with the cache descriptions; it came out correctly and the coordinates took us to somewhere that matched the hint. So far so good.

But we simply could not find the cache. We went round and round the object where we thought the cache *should* be and searched in as many likely looking spots as we could find. But no cache.

So many leaves to search through!

So many leaves to search through!

We think the cache may have got buried in leaf litter in the three months since it was last found – and we also know that we find VR7’s caches very hard to spot, we’ve come to grief over their caches before. But it gives us an excuse to walk this way again soon!

December 31 : End of Year Highlights

What a strange year !

Every year we have published, on this blog, pictures of our best caches of the year. Just containers we liked, or locations we loved.

This year is our ‘highlights’ blog is different.

To start with, we have found about 75% of our normal amount of caches. (We’ve adhered to, mainly, the Government guidelines of exercising close to home for an hour and as the year progressed not travelling too far.) We did have 2 mini-breaks (visiting the Cotswolds and Dorset) – but most of our caching has been local. When the ‘tier’ system came in, this also meant we couldn’t travel in/out of different tiers – restricting us further. As a result, the diversity of caches hasn’t been so varied.

But we have still had a few adventures and a few caches we can look back on fondly.

In February we attended a Scrabble tournament on the Isle of Wight, and managed a short caching trip before we returned on the ferry. The series was set near to the Postal Museum, and we found probably one of the best, and apt, cache containers of the year – a small letter box!

Post Box Cache

A couple of week’s later – we found a simple cache container in the centre of Reading. But the beautiful fox that ‘helped’ with the hunting was wonderful to see. Its moments like this that may geocaching special.

During the various lockdowns, we solved a few local puzzle caches, so that when we did go out, we had caches to find. We solved online jigsaws, sudokus, famous Berkshire Residents and various codes. We solved various puzzles on the theme of ‘Apples’, and even solved puzzles contained within the cache to unlock the log book!

On one of Summer’s brighter days, we cached along the River Thames and unexpectedly saw a number of vintage boats. The significance of the boats was explained by one of the owners… they were all Dunkirk Little Ships. Every year there is a ‘social meet-up’, but this year they just settled for mooring together adhering to COVID guidelines.

Dunkirk Little Ships

Dunkirk Little Ships

A notable achievement for us, though not in the same league as the Dunkirk Little Ships, was the completion of our ‘finds by hidden date’ grid as shown on http://www.project-gc-com. We realised we had one date to find – Christmas Day – and an aptly named local cache ‘Hope Yule find it’ completed our grid.

Here though are our top 3 caching experiences of 2021.

In third place, Stuffagps 4: Over Under… At this cache, as the name suggests, we had to reject our GPS and revert to basic map navigation and calculation. An old cache (placed 2007), and a pre-GPS method of finding. So great to achieve!

A very old log book !

From an old cache, to two brand new caches. In equal second place we have Counting Vowels #79 – Limmerhill and Fox Hill Woodland . We are not First-to-Find hounds, as many other cachers are, so for us to be the first to find on 2 caches on the same day is rather special. And worth the early start on a cold December morning to achieve.

But the top spot caching experience of the year goes to….wait for it …. (cue ‘drum roll’)…. Giant’s Jaunt in Cerne Abbas. Although the final container was nothing special, the finding was. In the style of a multi, but written as a poem with no co-ordinates, we had to wander around the village of Cerne Abbas looking at buildings, signs etc collecting numbers. A fantastic ‘treasure-hunt’ cache and highly recommended if you are in the village.

On a different note, the various lockdowns have meant more people have been reading this blog..in previous years we have has 2900-3000 views each year (broadly 8 views a day). We had overtaken this total by the end of September and with over 100 views in one day in November alone…we have become much more widely read.

To all our readers, new or old, cachers or non-cachers, thank you for reading.

Here’s to a much better 2021

Stay local, stay safe.

December 19 : Martin’s Heron

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Coronavirus restrictions change so fast! On Friday afternoon, we had planned out a nice little caching route, just over the county border in Hampshire. Then came the daily coronavirus briefing. Oops, Hampshire would be off limits from midnight that night because our location (Berkshire) was moving to tier 3 restrictions, while Hampshire was remaining in tier 2. So no boundary crossing for us … On Saturday morning, we thought again. The sun was shining and it seemed a shame not to go out. Aha! We found some caches in Martin’s Heron, to the north-west of Bracknell.

Savernake Park

Savernake Park

Off we went; we just squeezed into the car park at Savernake Park and set off round the lake towards the first cache. A muggle and dog approached. Mr Hg137 paused … it was someone he knew … all of a sudden it turned from us searching for a geocache to us demonstrating how to geocache to a possible new cacher. Sadly, we couldn’t get near the cache, let alone find it, so it wasn’t a great demonstration, and Holly the dog was not very impressed either. Anyway, the most likely route to the cache is now blocked off with a woven wooden fence, we couldn’t find another way in, and eventually gave up.
Mural under the railway

Mural under the railway

We walked on northwards, under the railway, along a path following a small stream which marks the edge of Martin’s Heron. Crikey, there were lots of muggles about, and they were all heading to/from the nearby Tesco! In a short gap between passing muggles we approached the next cache, took note of the hint, headed for a likely location, and found the cache after a fingertip search.
Maybe there's one up here?

Maybe there’s one up here?

Found one!

Found one!

Geocaching-wise, it now went rather wrong. We failed to find the next three caches, either on our outward walk or on a repeat search on our way back. We rummaged in ivy, Mr Hg137 did some speculative tree climbing, we peered under stones, behind fence posts, and into the depths of bushes, all without success. A few days later, we looked at those caches again; other cachers had been out after us and they, too, hadn’t succeeded; maybe it wasn’t us being bad at searching but that the caches were missing?

All that not finding things had taken some time. The afternoon had moved on, the sun was setting, it was getting steadily darker, and Christmas lights twinkled in the twilight. We walked back towards the lake through the gathering gloom, approaching our final cache (please, please could we find this one, so far we’d only found one out of five!). We honed in on the correct spot (phew, found one at last!). The cache didn’t look too bad at first sight but we opened it and – oh dear, it was sopping wet, and there was a hole in the side of the cache container. We removed the slug and tipped out the water, but there was no chance the log was signable, it was just too wet.
A rather wet cache

A rather wet cache

Oh well, it had been good to get out and to go somewhere new. As for caching, sometimes there are successes … and sometimes there are quite a lot of failures!

And coronavirus restrictions change so fast! After arriving home, we watched the daily coronavirus briefing. Our location (Berkshire) was moving from tier 3 to tier 4, after just a single day in tier 3. So not much going anywhere for us for a little while …

December 12 : Old Basing

Just to the East of the Hampshire town of Basingstoke is a village known as Old Basing.

Dotted around the village are various caches, about 15-20 in various mini-series. We loaded all the caches in our GPS, but knew we wouldn’t get round them all.

Bolton Arch

We parked by some impressive gates known as the Bolton Arch. Many years ago, when the Basingstoke area was developed the Arch was the entrance to a hunting estate called the Crab Tree Plantation on the Hackwood Estate. The estate has all but disappeared and survives as parkland either side of the noisy, and mainly invisible M3.

Our first cache of the day was by the Arch. The GPS and a very strong hint lead us to a very obvious corner. We were expecting to find a nano cache here, attached to some metalwork. When will we learn.. never assume anything! We looked and couldn’t find.

We checked the GPS, checked the corresponding mirror location in the Arch..nothing. We searched the original again…and eventually saw something we had overlooked the first time. Log signed, after far too long a search.

Thinking about it, the first cache of the day, seems to set the tone for the remainder. And it was fair to say, that we struggled on our circuit of the Crab Tree Plantation.

Some of our struggles were due to the vast number of dog-walkers out and about. The cache owner of 4 of the caches clearly knew it was a dog-walking area, as they had named caches with an anagram of dog names (CHURLER, IVER TREE and LOE POD.. but we disagreed with the spelling with DROBA LOLICE!).

It took us some time to reach IVER TREE as a dog was being exercised with a chewy ball near to GZ. We didn’t fancy crossing the wet,winter grass in front such energetic canine fun, so took a longer route, keeping to a footpath. We found the cache (second tree we looked in, of course) and walked away unnoticed.

The next cache took us to a very small, young copse. A circle of young-ish silver birches surrounded a picnic bench, and few oak saplings stood some feet away. The GPS and indeed the clue hinted at the saplings, but as Mr HG137 approached them he saw something unusual at the base of one the birches.

At the same time two dog walkers were coming close to the copse. We decided to wait.

Rather than walk around the copse, the dog walkers came towards us. Whoops ! We’d been rumbled ! And we hadn’t even got the cache in hand!

“Are you geocachers?” one of the dog walkers asked.
“Er, Yes” we replied.
“What you want is down there” – the man pointed at the base of silver birch Mr Hg137 had seen earlier.

It turns out they were geocachers too.

We had a good natter, socially distanced of course, and discovered they were CelticTykers. We also discovered they run the public list of ‘Counting Vowels’ caches..we told them of our FTF in that series, just a few days earlier!
Our problem at the cache was that the log was wedged in its container. We tried tweezers, twigs, cocktail sticks and ear-rings (!) to remove the log but couldn’t. But with CelticTykers to prove our find we felt we could still log the find. Nice meeting you CelticTykers.

We headed downward and in the distance we saw a car parked on the grass and people surrounding it. We discovered they were Black Dam and Crab Tree volunteers who look after the Plantation and were about to undertake some bush removal.

Volunteers about to start work

Our next cache was the other side of the River Loddon. The source of the River Loddon is about half a mile upstream, so the ‘River’ was more like a ‘Babbling Brook’. The water was clear, we speculated that this section of river must pass over chalk to keep it so clear.

Juvenile River Loddon

What wasn’t clear was the bridge we had to cross. Mud, mud, mud ! We slipped and slithered our way across heading to ‘Jubi’s Cache’ – a non-dog-name cache.

We crossed this bridge after a few minutes slithering

Sadly our searching was in vain. Hidden in ivy, and we think with some clever mechanism (hanging on string?) we couldn’t find it. We gave up, had another look at the clear waters of the Loddon and paused for coffee.

The morning had not gone well. The finds had been slow, and our chats with CelticTykers and the Nature Volunteers had been longer than we thought. We decided to attempt the last two ‘dog’ caches and leave. We could leave the remaining Old Basing caches for another day.

Would we have been quicker if we had run around ?

CHURLER was an easy find, at a vacant seat (first bit of luck all day), and then a trek through some woodland to our last cache BRODA LOLICE. The cache was apparently visible from the path in some logs. We searched the logs copiously. We squinted our eyes against the low winter sun to the log pile – to no avail. After 15 minutes we gave up.

We returned to the car, disappointed with our haul of 4 caches from 6, but then remembered the remainder we hadn’t attempted. Old Basing…we will be back!

December 7 : First to Find : FTF : Limmerhill and Fox Hill

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Spoiler alert: if you are expecting nice pictures of wintry sunshine, you’ll be disappointed, it wasn’t that sort of day!

Monday morning: shopping time: a reasonable way to fill an hour on a foggy, cold morning. But then some new caches were spotted, not too far away, and … no-one had found them yet. Shopping lists and shopping bags were abandoned and we donned our caching gear.

Some explanations: new caches are often found within minutes of being published, whatever the time of day. Some cachers have automatic phone alerts when a new cache appears (we don’t) These two had remained unfound for oh, 18 hours or so, which meant that time was of the essence. And ‘caching gear’ means walking clothes – a waterproof coat, walking trousers, and boots. We were likely to get wet or muddy – it had been wet, it was cold, and it was winter – and ‘shopping clothes’ weren’t going to be right.

Off we went, in the opposite direction from the shops, and reached our destination about 20 minutes later. We were in Woosehill, on the north-western side of Wokingham. Mr Hg137 used to live here, just up the road in Mars Close, and Mrs Hg137 used to work nearby, just the other side of the woods on Bearwood Road, so we were both on familiar ground.

The first new cache was one from the Counting Vowels series, where the hopeful finder collects words from various signs, and sums the various vowels to get numbers that can be turned into coordinates. As we walked around the waypoints where we could find those word(s), Mr Hg137 began to reminisce … ‘I worked with someone who lived there’ … ‘I used to walk through there’ … ‘I’m sure this seat/sign/turning is new’ … We made our way through paths between houses, and then off the tarmac, into the mud, and into Limmerhill woods, and, after a little way, arrived at the spot indicated by the coordinates. A rummage in a likely spot produced nothing; but, aha, a deeper rummage, to a second layer, unearthed something that shouldn’t be there, and inside was the cache! Better still, the log was blank; we were the First To Find (FTF)! We joyfully signed it with date and time.

Lots of signs!

We decided to follow the suggestion in the cache description, and turn the walk into a circular walk, which (coincidentally) went close to the location of the second new cache. By walking in a kind of spiral, we honed in on the likely location. We had a very comprehensive hint (in the cache description), but, being new, there were no logs from other finders, nor a tell-tale ‘cacher’s path’ to follow. Mr Hg137 searched in the appointed place, but emerged cache-less; I thought I’d heard a giveaway noise, so I had another look, and grabbed hold of the cache, a few inches away. Once again, there was a blank log and once again we had got there before anyone else. (It turned out that two other local cachers, VR7, had been eying up the caches, but hadn’t been quick enough.)

Having achieved our aim, we returned, triumphantly (if a bit cold by now), to the geocar. We reflected on our morning’s successes. We’ve been caching since just after the London Olympics in 2012, so just over 8 years. In that time, up to this morning, we’d achieved just four FTFs:
– the first was in the cold, cold snow, in midwinter
– the second was in the dark, on New Year’s Eve, about 10pm, when a massive Alsatian loomed, howling, out of the dark
– the third was in the late autumn, daylight, not too cold, nor too muddy!
– the fourth was also on New Year’s Eve, luckily in daylight this time, but in incredibly muddy woodland

These two caches were also found in the winter, in cold and mist and mud. Hmm, a pattern is emerging here. Maybe we’ll have to wait till another cold, wet, muddy, winter day till the next one!

PS What of the shopping? We did the absolute minimum (some milk) and went shopping the next day instead.