August 4 : UK Mega 2017, Devon – Day 1, Otterton, Ladram Bay and elsewhere

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

I had finally been permitted a day off work. So, bright and early, we were heading down the A303 towards Devon, towards the 2017 UK Mega Geocaching event at Bicton College.

Close by Bicton College lies the River Otter, Otterton village and Ladram Bay, with its red cliffs and sandstone stacks. The bay is one of my favourite places – ever, ever – we last visited in May 2016 and posted about the caches then. But, for the Mega event, LOTS of new caches had been placed and we planned to do quite a few of them.

Jurassic Coast

Jurassic Coast


We parked in Otterton and switched on the GPS. Mr Hg137 had spent several hours loading up 76 caches for the weekend and we were fully prepared. The GPS fired up … and there were just two (yes, two) caches visible. Aargghh! Something had gone wrong, and we didn’t have a caching route for today, or the rest of the weekend. We thought … how to load some more caches … we had a GPS, we had a laptop, where to find some wifi? Aha! The village pub. We grabbed GPS, laptop and cable, and rushed to the village pub, the Kings Arms http://www.kingsarmsotterton.co.uk where we bought a drink, asked for the wifi password and sat outside, loading caches. The village seemed to be quite busy, and suspiciously many of the folk wandering around seemed to be carrying GPSs. Hmm, a lot of geocachers about!

Mission accomplished, we walked back to the start of our day’s caching route which would lead us out of Otterton, over tracks to Ladram Bay, then up Peak Hill for a view across to Sidmouth, then back along a green lane to the village. We would usually have parked at the car park at Ladram Bay, but the price for doing this has risen to a rip off price of £10, and that is way, way too much for an afternoon’s parking. Oh well, another customer lost forever.

Slippery, slidy path down to the bay

Slippery, slidy path down to the bay


Our first couple of caches were from the ‘Strolling around Otterton’ series which had been recently placed, ready for the Mega event. Mr Hg137 became confused when one of the hints read ‘behind TP’ and he spent a little while looking for a tepee rather than a telegraph pole. Never mind, he worked it out soon enough. Then we left the village and walked towards the coast along a muddy, sunken lane leading downhill towards the bay. We had joined the route of the ‘Mega Byways’ series and found some more caches as we slipped and slid and eventually emerged into Ladram Bay Holiday Park.
Ladram Bay

Ladram Bay


The South West Coast Path crosses here, and we joined it to walk up the hill to the east of the bay, pausing for lunch at a picnic bench overlooking the beach. Here’s a video of the super little bay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9e5nTQvGgY
As we set off uphill away from the bay, we stopped to read a noticeboard, and for a chat to two people coming from the other direction. Their GPS gave them away as geocachers. They were Lydford Locators, and we found more than 50 of their caches as we worked our way down the upper reaches of the Thames in early 2015. We were duly awed to meet them and they were … puzzled by us two fans.

We carried on up the hill on a path between the cliff edge and a cornfield, finding caches as we went. We recognised another geocacher, Simply Paul, who we had last seen at the 2016 Geolympix in Ashridge Forest. And we kept spotting people behaving oddly, stopping at regular intervals or disappearing into hedges and bushes. Cachers, cachers everywhere! (Goodness knows what the locals and muggles made of all this ….)

Peak Hill, Devon: view west

Peak Hill, Devon: view west


We reached the top edge of the field and went into woodland, then spent a little while searching around in ivy before finding our next cache. All the time a family were approaching up the hill, and we just managed to replace the cache before they arrived. Hello to caching family, BECKS RLLR plus geodog, and we kept on bumping into them for the next mile or so. Leaving them to look for the cache we had just re-hidden, we huffed and puffed our way to the very top of the hill, 157 metres above sea level, leaving the woods for heathland and for a fine view out to sea. A short way further on, the south-west coast path began to drop towards Sidmouth, and the view opened out.
SWCP Panorama

SWCP Panorama


Mr Hg137 suddenly realised that there was a cache, named ‘SWCP Panorama’, that he had omitted to load during our earlier, rushed episode at the pub. He cast around like a bloodhound on a scent, and the cache was soon found. It was under a pile of large pebbles that looked as if they had been regularly disturbed – that’s the thing about Mega events, the caches are found a lot in a short time, and there are usually signs of searching, or even a cacher holding the cache!
Bars Lane, Otterton

Bars Lane, Otterton


We turned back inland and down Bars Lane, a sunken tree-lines track which turned into a lane, and with a few stops for cache finding and a few diversions down side paths for more cache finding, we made our way back to Otterton. As we reached the cache where Mr Hg137 had searched earlier for a tepee, we bumped into yet another group of cachers – this group were clearly from Scotland and they were the organising committee for the 2019 Mega event, which is to be in Ayrshire. So many cachers!

Arriving back at the car, we decided to attempt one more cache. This one was called ‘Spoiler’. You get some coordinates as a start point, are told that the cache is within a two-mile radius, and are given a photo taken from the cache site. And that is all the information you get. We’d done one of these before, in London’s Docklands, and hours, days and weeks of research had gone on to find the right place. This one was a bit easier. We knew that the cache was inside a circle based on given coordinates – we drew a circle on the map. We perused likely places using every kind of online map – and got a few candidate places. We researched further – bingo! Mr Hg137 found some drone footage. We had found the place. We drove there, down some very narrow Devon lanes. Walking round the location, we found the cache at the third attempt, when we had finally managed to line up the photo and the view exactly. Phew! Success. We headed off to Honiton and our hotel, to rest up, load some more caches, and prepare for the rigours of the Mega Day on the morrow.
A secret location somewhere in Devon!

A secret location somewhere in Devon!


Here are just some of the many caches we found:

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July 29 Simons Wood, Wokingham

This was week 3 of the Mary Hyde challenge. This week to gain the Mary Hyde souvenir one had to find or deposit a trackable. Finding trackables can often be tricky, as frequently caches are listed as ‘containing a trackable’ but due to various reasons, the trackable is missing. We were therefore grateful we had a trackable in our possession, Annerschter (aka Henry’s Cat). But where to place it ? The weather was forecast to very wet so a short caching trip was planned in Simons Wood on the border of Wokingham/Crowthorne/Finchampstead. Fingers crossed we would finish before it rains!

Simons Wood is owned the National Trust, and is a heavily wooded, and in places heavily rhododendron-ed. The National Trust are slowly removing many of these large invasive plants, but it will still take some time until Simons Wood loses its ‘jungle’ feel.

Is it a jungle or is it Simon’s Wood?


We’ve cached here before – way back in July 2014 when we found one the UK’s oldest geocaches, first hidden in 2003.
Today would be on the other side of the Wood and we would circumnavigate a property known as ‘The Heritage Club’.

Our first find, was well hidden under a fallen tree. We quickly discovered though, it was not a simple find. The cache had been procured from cache maker JJEF, and we had to work out how to open the cache! Like many of JJEF’s caches, it only takes a minute or two..but it gave our ‘little grey cells’ a light work out. As the cache was quite big, it was here placed Annerschter in.

No prizes for guessing where the cache is …

…here!

The second and third caches were harder to find. The hints were ‘near a circular clearing’ and ‘in the roots of a silver birch’. Well, woodland is always changing. Clearings are not clearings for long, silver birches tend to form a mini forest of their own.

For both caches we spent 10-15 minutes looking at a myriad of hiding places, and came close to DNFing both.

Amost a DNF !


Fortunately persistence paid off, and we were successful at each.

Our route back to the car passed the gates of ‘The Heritage Club’, a grandiose title which can easily be mistaken. It is not some 17th century building, or 19th century steam railway.. it is in fact a nudist holiday camp.

The Heritage Club

The Heritage Club

This accounts for the very high, prison-like fences surrounding the property. Given our struggles to find the last two caches we probably wouldn’t have seen anything if the fences weren’t so high!

Last cache of the day

The skies were darkening and cars had headlights on (at 11 am on a July morning!) we had a quarter of a mile yomp along a pavement back to the car. One cache to find – magnetic behind a road sign – and we would have finished. Yards from the car park, the first raindrops fell and we reached the car without getting too wet but having gained another Mary Hyde souvenir.

July 22 : Teddy the Hamster

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

On a short (just four) caching trip, we acquired a trackable as part of the prize for solving one of the devilish caches.

Teddy the Hamster

Teddy the Hamster


This trackable has a simple mission, and I can’t possibly comment on whether this is a good mission!

“Out of Bracknell and as far as possible! “

The trackable started off in autumn 2015, but became inactive around the end of the same year. It was relaunched, with a new owner, in June 2017, and was then placed in a cache somewhere in Bracknell. Wherever that was, it wasn’t where we found it, and we’re uncertain how it got to the Green Hill cache series in another part of Bracknell.

No matter, we have hold of the trackable now, and it would be churlish of us not to help it with its mission, so we plan to take it to the UK Mega in Devon in early August.

July 22 : Green Hill, Bracknell

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Caution: this blog contains some pictures that may spoil your enjoyment of these caches if you plan to do them yourself!

“The Lost Treasure of Mary Hyde: Spanning the globe and the seven seas, we introduce you to the infamous Captain Mary Hyde. Her ship, The Golden Cache, was the fiercest, and the bearded buccaneers and sea legged sailors reported to her. Legend has it that she ruled the high seas for many years, and found no shortage of riches throughout her reign.

Avast ye! Join us for a swashbuckling geocaching adventure through daring feats and stormy seas. Make yer way through a four week souvenir journey to find the lost treasure of Mary Hyde.”

I was on standby for work, which meant I couldn’t venture very far from home. Normally we would stay at home and catch up on domestic things. But the geocaching people had launched their summer challenge, ‘The Lost Treasure of Mary Hyde”, and our caching trips of the weeks before had qualified us for the first part of the challenge.

Green Hill, Bracknell

Green Hill, Bracknell


Week 2 of said challenge was to find some geocaches which had been nominated as favourites by many previous finders. We pondered … where could we go to find a group of these … not too far from home … who places caches that are much liked by others? A-ha! Light dawned. The local cacher JJEF places interesting caches with nifty puzzles, often built from wood. We looked around for some of those caches, and found a small series of four, ‘Green Hill’, on the edge of Bracknell.
Maybe there's a cache in here?

Maybe there’s a cache in here? Maybe not!


Parking the geocar in a handy spot near a park, we crossed a busy road and were immediately in woodland. At intervals there were metal pipes, each with a padlocked cap; this was a reclaimed landfill site, and the pipes were venting points. We knew that the first cache we were looking for was close to the way into the woods, but we couldn’t get our GPS to give us an accurate fix, and we spent a while investigating those metal pipes. A rethink had us looking elsewhere and we were soon unravelling the first puzzle, and signing the cache log.
Up there?

Up there?


We soon spotted the next cache, up high in a tree. After lowering it, we realised we had to unlock a padlock to reach the cache log. Out came a piece of paper and a pen, and we fiddled about with combinations of numbers until we had the answer. The third cache, too, was amongst the trees. ‘Amongst’ meant just that, and I took a full scrub-bashing, branch-ducking route to the cache, while Mr Hg137 … took an easier route around the back. Once again, we had to hunt around for something nearby which would give us the method of opening the cache; another few minutes, has another cache log signed.

The fourth and final cache of this little series also needed us to find a tool to unlock the outer cache container to get to the inner cache container to sign the log. This time, the cache container was chained to one tree, while the other part of the cache was chained to another. Shenanigans ensued, and we managed to get the two close (enough) to each other.

That was the series complete, and it had been a good and thought-provoking morning. Before going back, we had just one other thing to do. A little way on, we emerged onto the A329. Mr Hg137’s father used to work just here, at Polysius, and we crossed over the road to look at the site. It’s closed now, and surrounded by fencing. Doubtless it will be converted into ‘executive apartments’ (aka flats) soon. And on that sad little note we returned to the geocar, the next part of our treasure quest safely achieved.

Polysius

Polysius


Here are some of the caches we found (remember the spoiler warning and don’t look if you want to keep the mystery for your caching trip!):

July 15 : Hatchlands Park (and surrounding area)

Hatchlands Park

Hatchlands Park, East Clandon Surrey, is a National Trust property with extensive parkland set around a Georgian property. The parkland is open most days, but the Georgian house, with 6 rooms set out in the early Robert Adam style, has limited days opening. Today just the parkland was open, and with it a small circuit of 11 geocaches for us to find.

We’ve discovered before that geocaches on National Trust land are not so well maintained, as the geocaches serve as ‘introduction caches’ to non-geochers – consequently containers are not always as well hidden as they might be.
This has the knockon effect of being moved, picked up by someone else thinking the cache is litter. Hopefully this wouldn’t happen today!

Our first target though was a Church Micro in East Clandon. Unfortunately we drew a blank here, as the cache, we have subsequently found out, went missing. Cache 2001 would have wait!

East Clandon church


We didn’t have to wait long, as the first cache in Hatchlands Park was near to the entrance gate. A large tree, with copious tree roots. We grovelled around for a few minutes before finding the largish container full of goodies. The log book was a National Trust Hatchlands Park notebook. Very posh! Indeed many of the containers we found we similar large pots, each with a NT notebook inside.

Typical cache contents


Our second cache, again in tree roots, was visible from some distance away. Fortunately in a corner of the park rarely visited but we did our best to hide better.

The ‘wetter than we would have liked’ coffee spot


It was here we had our disaster of the day! We had paused for coffee, and we were using a brand new thermos flask. This had an added ‘feature’ of a lipped top to make pouring easier. We had also not verified the base of the thermos was fully tightened. And so it was, as we poured coffee using the lip, the base came apart and boiling hot coffee spilled over maps, pens, haversack and our clothing. We’ve also discovered the ‘lip’ meant coffee could escape from the thermos if the flask wasn’t upright! Our warning to you… a lip might look a good feature…but unless you can guarantee to keep a full flask absolutely upright, do not buy it!

Quiet paths


After much washing down we walked on around the parkland. The path took an oval circuit around paddocks, and grassland. As we walked on, of course the path became busier and busier – invariably as we neared a cache site.


Sometimes the caches were hidden in fallen logs, other times ‘rabbit holes’ and under seats. The most memorable was the last cache we found. A large box container 20 or so film canisters. But which one contained the log to sign? We set about opening a canister at a time, until – about 15 pots in – we found the one with the log! Great fun!

Where’s the log ?


The drizzle which had been with us on and off all day got slightly heavier, and we found with exceptional good fortune the covered picnic area just in time for lunch. A few people looked in on us, but most were exercising dogs and were on a route march to get back to the car without getting too wet.

Is here a good spot for lunch ?


We had one cache to find 500 feet away, again in tree roots. Sadly for us, this was our only DNF at Hatchlands Park. Three very obvious hosts to look at, but the container had gone AWOL. (Reading subsequently logs, someone had taken the cache back to the Picnic Area and left the cache near a tree some 500 feet from where it should have been!) No wonder we didn’t find it!

We left Hatchlands Park via a children’s play area, with fantastic wooden sculptures, a tree house, and a small animal area. This is a good idea, as, it means the ‘boring cultural’ visit can be traded against visiting the animals and play area.

Our caching day was not yet over, as just a couple of miles south of East Clandon we had two more caches to find. ‘A cache with a view’ did indeed have a view, sadly the light drizzle meant the towers of London were not that visible. A week later the ‘Ride London’ bike race would pass this spot, and as we searched for both this cache and a nearby puzzle cache we were aware that many enthusiasts were out training and learning the route.

A view.. sadly the cyclist can’t see it!

Good job we didn’t come a week later!

July 13 : Cache number 2000!

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Cache 2000 !!!

Cache 2000 !!!


Somehow we managed to arrange our 2000th cache on a date that means much to us. (the 137 in our caching name and 13/7 is no coincidence).

After some dedicated cache finding we had got close to our 2000-cache milestone. The previous day we had gone out for a short evening caching trip and had found three caches, taking us to a total of 1,999, and we had carefully chosen another, which was due to be THE milestone cache. (Editor’s note: and we had also carefully checked it was there, because we didn’t want our one milestone cache on a special day to be a failure, definitely not!)

Because of work and social commitments, we didn’t stop being busy until the late evening … the very late evening. At around 23:00 we parked just a short distance from our target, armed ourselves with a torch and a pen, and headed for the cache. Luckily, it was just where we thought it would be (phew, relief!) and we signed the log, celebrated, and returned to the car. We hadn’t even attracted the attention of the people still drinking in the pub garden opposite …

July 12 : Sandhurst

Time was running out for us to reach 2000 caches by July 13th.

Our schedules had been usurped by work commitments, and the grand plans we’d had for the 13th had been scuppered by various employers.

Yet, we were still 4 caches short.

We devised Plan B. To find 3 local caches on the 12th, reconnoitre the Ground Zero for the 2000th cache, so in what little time we would have on the 13th, it could just be a cache and dash.

Sandhurst

One of the many bridges and football pitches at Sandhurst Memorial Park

Sandhurst Memorial Park is an area of about 28 hectares and includes numerous football pitches, a cricket pitch, tug-of-war practice area, a children’s playground, tennis courts, and most importantly is centrally placed in Sandhurst. Until recently there was only one car park, but another, Pyes Acre has just been built. From the road, the car park looked like it would hold about a dozen cars, but when we drove in, it took more like 50!

This was good news as our 2000th cache was just feet from the car park…but not today!

Instead we wandered around the perimeter of the parkland, crossing a couple of the football pitches and one of the many tiny bridges that criss-cross the park. (One of the reasons for it being such a large park is that the park forms part of the flood plain for the River Blackwater, so is tricky to build on. The tiny streams that the bridges cross are used as drainage channels.)

We arrived at our first cache, deep in a copse well away from the plethora of people enjoying the evening sunshine. Our GPS wouldn’t settle, but with the aid of the hint ‘In the roots of a cut down ivy covered tree stump’ we located our target.

Sandhurst

Somewhere..under there..

Sadly the hint did not add ‘…and surrounded by knee-high stinging nettles’. We hadn’t brought our geo-pole (aka machete) with us! A few branches would do the trick. Just. Cache 1997 signed, just before the stinging nettles started to fight back.

Cache 1998 was a little easier as it was under one of the little bridges we had crossed earlier.
But, in full view of a football training session.

Sometimes it is easy to cache in a busy place, as no-one stands out from the crowd. Two adults, pausing every-so-slightly-too-long on a small bridge, perhaps picking something up, drew no suspicion at all.

Our last cache was in woodland again, but much closer to the busy A321 near to a major traffic light junction. We pass by here every day, and within yards of the road is a well concealed cache. We had been a little concerned as many previous finders had said the co-ordinates were slightly off, and with impeding dusk we didn’t fancy our chances in dark woodland. Fortunately the GPS was bang on! And a quick find for cache 1999!

Roll on July 13!