June 25 : : Kennet and Avon Canal : Great Bedwyn to Wootton Rivers – and Crofton

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

After a break of four weeks, we returned to our walk along the Kennet and Avon canal.   Our original plan was to walk to Pewsey, but we’d found that today was a “steaming” day at Crofton, so we decided on a shorter walk to Wootton Rivers, plus a visit to the beam engines.

We set off from Great Bedwyn.   Even though there was a rail strike, and NO trains, there was one man waiting forlornly on the platform for a train.   He said he’d checked the website … we didn’t see a single train all day … he might have had a very long wait.

Just before reaching the towpath, we stopped to find a geocache, called ‘What is a Brail anyway?’   (FYI it seems to be an area of woodland as there are two woods called ‘brails’ nearby.)    That done, we set off along the towpath, stopping to look for another four caches as we went (finding three); each of these caches took us away from the canal and onto paths or tracks leading into the countryside – which was very pretty indeed.  Summer had advanced since we were here last, and the vegetation has grown – a lot.   

After a walk of about a mile and three-quarters along the towpath – further for us with all those diversions – we’d reached Crofton.   Across the canal was Crofton Pumping Station, with a gentle wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, and behind us was Wilton Water, not a lake but a long, thin reservoir, the source of water for the pumping station.   Sadly, the canal-side gate to the pumping station is closed (Covid?), the only way in is to go further on and to walk back along the road.

Once there, we had a jolly good look round, climbed the stairs, questioned the volunteers, watched the boilers being stoked, the engines starting, stopping, pumping, and took loads and loads of photos.   After 90 minutes or so, we emerged, and ate our picnic lunch on the seats overlooking the canal, reservoir, and railway line – no, we didn’t see a single train!

Returning to the canal, we had a cache to find, ‘Crofton Beam Engines (Wilts)’ – we’d questioned the volunteers and had all the information we needed.  We worked out some plausible coordinate, passed items that others had mentioned in their logs, and arrived at a place that just ‘had’ to be the location. But we simply couldn’t find the cache, though we looked all around and widened our search too.   What a shame, we’d really wanted to find that one, it tied in with our walk.

We walked on up the remainder of the Crofton lock flight.   We passed bridge number 100; Mr Hg137 felt this to be a milestone moment, got excited, and took a photo.   At the top lock, we’d reached the summit level of the canal.   Water from the pumping station is released here and is used to supply the canal which descends on both sides.  The water arrives at the canal via an insignificant looking inlet just above the top lock. 

Bridge 100
Bridge 100

We were told that the pumping station can supply enough water to fill a lock in 15 minutes (electric pumps are used when the steam engines aren’t working).   We didn’t see many boats (and no trains at all), but it must be quite a task to keep the water level topped up.    FYI: at the time of writing, there are opening restrictions on the locks on either side of the summit because there isn’t enough water, the locks are only available for use between 08:30 and 16:30 each day.   Mr Hg137 asked how the locks could be closed:  I’ve seen it done in the past simply by fixing the lock gates shut with a padlock and chain.

For the next two and a quarter miles we walked along the lockless (and cacheless) summit level, gradually descending into a deep cutting.    About a quarter of a mile of the canal is underground, inside Bruce Tunnel, the only tunnel on the canal.   It was very quiet indeed – no boats, cars or people (and definitely no trains).    We climbed up a track and walked across the top of the tunnel.   And then we started to meet people, in groups: specifically, groups of 6-8 teenagers carrying maps and enormous rucksacks.   It wasn’t so quiet anymore.  Aha – DofE participants!   

Emerging from the cutting and a mile or so further on, we reached the Wootton Rivers flight of locks, where the waterway starts its descent towards Bath.    At the bottom of the flight of four locks we reached the road where our geocar was parked, close to the former lock-keeper’s cottage.   Those with a (very) long memory may remember it as the main location for the BBC series “The River” back in the 1980s.

Wootton Rivers
Wootton Rivers

We found our final cache of the day here, making seven caches found out of nine attempted.   We’ve been surprised that there aren’t more caches in the area, since it’s lovely countryside, well served by footpaths, interesting locations, hidey-holes a-plenty.   It would be a great place for a geocache series (or two, or three).   If only we lived closer – we could place some caches here ourselves!

PS We wonder how long that lone traveller waited for a non-existent train? There were NO trains!

And here are some of the not-so-many caches we found:

June 18 : Sandhurst (Ambarrow Court)

A busy day for us, in and around Sandhurst so we set aside a small caching trip of just 4 caches..

Before we attempted them, we spent a few minutes entering some items in the Sandhurst Gardening Club show. We’ve been members for just under 20 years, and try to enter some of the classes if we can. This time of year, many of the competition classes are for roses and early Summer flowers which we don’t grow many of, so we limit our entries to the non-horticultural classes. This year we entered some photos, some strawberries, a homemade gluten free cake, and some homemade Garibaldi biscuits.

We admired, with a little envy some of the other entries, but with many entries still be brought in, we had no idea how we would fare.

Ambarrow Hill is a 21.5 acre woodland site, where we have cached before (A long, long time ago – November 2013). Since then a couple of new caches have been added. these were our targets of today, as well as two other caches on a nearby footpath.

The first cache we undertook was part of the Counting Vowels series. As we have explained before on this blog, there are several waypoints (generally at noticeboards). We collect a word or two from each noticeboards (a bird’s name, a type of flower). After writing all the words, we count each vowel, and use those numbers to derive another waypoint to find the final cache. This cache was no different, the waypoints took us around about half the wood, and we learnt much about the wildlife and of the former Victorian house that stood on the site. The house was used by the Royal Aircraft Establishment after the owners died in 1906. A building remained on the site until 1969/1970 and since that time it has been owned by Bracknell Forest Council. It is now jointly managed by the Council and the National Trust as a Nature Reserve.

The woodland now consists of many paths, so following a compass bearing from waypoint to waypoint was quite tricky, and we probably could have walked a shorter route than we did to find the cache. But, after a little bit of looking the cache was ours.

We then walked to the furthest part of the woodland to locate our second cache. We groaned when we realised who the cache owner was… Sunflower Twin. We have problems with their (his/her?) caches. They should be straightforward, but we just can’t spot them. This cache was no different. The coordinates were a little off, but the hint alluded to two trees and there was only one such pairing. But…we couldn’t find the cache. Despite reading the logs of previous finders, we were none the wiser. After about 20 minutes fruitless searching..a few drops of rain started to fall. This seemed a good opportunity to abandon and leave the DNF and the two un-attempted caches for another day.

All we had to do was see how our Gardening Club Show entries had fared.. We were pleasantly surprised.

The Garibaldis were highly commended, the gluten-free cake came third, as did the strawberries. And the photography…we took all 3 firsts and all 3 seconds between us!

So an unsatisfactory caching day, but a triumphant Gardening Club one!

June 6 : Skipton and Gargrave

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Today was our ‘day off’, part way through a walking holiday based near Malham at Newfield Hall.    Geocaching doesn’t mix well with being on a guided walk (it holds everyone up when we disappear into bushes!) so we reserved our geocaching for the day when we didn’t have a walk planned for us.

Off we went to Skipton, about six miles away.   It had been a while since we visited, so we had a look round, wandered up the wide High Street to Skipton Castle, visited the market, and reacquainted ourselves.  We also fancied a boat trip on the canal, so took ourselves off to sit canalside and watch the boats go by while we waited for the first trip of the day at 10:30. And, while doing this, we espied the statue of Fiery Fred Trueman and thought ‘aha, there’s a cache hereabouts’!   So we worked out some coordinates, and tootled off to a place not so far away (22 yards?  Not quite, but not so far off!) where we soon found the cache.  (FYI: Fred Trueman lived in the nearby village of Flasby and is buried at Bolton Priory, also close by.)

Fred Trueman statue
Fred Trueman statue

Narrowboat ‘Leo’ was now ready for the first boat trip of the day and we spent 40 minutes or so getting an entirely different view of Skipton on a beautiful, quiet, smooth trip along the Leeds and Liverpool canal, then a short trip along the Springs Branch which runs behind the castle.  It’s a different, calmer view of the world from the water …

Having seen Skipton, we moved on to Gargrave.  We had both visited the village a couple of days before, but were part way through a day’s walk and didn’t have time to stop and look for caches.   Today was different.   We started off with a cache near the Village Hall, then crossed the River Aire and walked up to St Andrews Church.  A Church Micro cache starts here; we spent a little while hunting for the waypoints. They are all there, somewhere, but the grass has been (deliberately) allowed to grow in places and that made some things hard to spot.  We ate our picnic lunch in the sunshine while assembling the coordinates.

We spent the afternoon wandering around part of the ‘Gargrave South’ geocache series, which heads south-west out of Gargrave along the Pennine Way, then returns along the Leeds and Liverpool canal.    We ascended gently out of the village, finding caches as we went, and crossing over the railway line that leads from Skipton, to Settle, then on to Carlisle.   As we crossed the railway bridge, a lady came walking towards us, wearing walking boots, carrying a large rucksack.  We asked her if she was walking the Pennine Way.   She replied that, no, she was walking from Lands End to John O’Groats (LeJog), doing 18 miles a day, with no rest days, and was about 41 days into an 83 day walk.   Eek!  That is serious walking and put the paltry amount we had been walking daily – 9 to 14 miles – to shame.  Good luck Rachel Douglas from New Zealand, and ‘may the road rise up to meet you’!

LeJog - Rachel Douglas (New Zealand)
LeJog – Rachel Douglas (New Zealand)

After a few miles, and a few caches, we made our way down to the Leeds and Liverpool canal, reaching the towpath by the locks at Bank Newton.   We walked back towards Gargrave, along the most northerly section of the whole canal.   There were a fair few boats, slowly working their way up the locks; there are 91 locks on the 127 miles of the canal, so they get lots of practice!  

Twelve out of thirteen caches from the ‘Gargrave South’ series later, plus six locks, an aqueduct, and several bridges (foot, road, and rail), we were back at our start point.  But first … there was a very new cache hidden close to our geocar.   It would be churlish not to look for it.   The only snag – it was called ‘Across the Beck’ and that was exactly where it was.  Mr Hg137 climbed down and teetered around on stones in the beck while clutching a handy piece of rope, dangling from a tree.  Miraculously, he didn’t get wet … but he didn’t find the cache. Never mind: we’d had a grand day out in and around the edge of the Yorkshire Dales.

And here are a very few of the caches we found:

May 27 : Kennet and Avon Canal : Hungerford to Great Bedwyn

Little Bedwyn Church

A Friday excursion for us, and unusually we drove to our start point (Hungerford  Station) and walked to Bedwyn Station where we would catch a train back. The downside of organising our day like this, is that we know the times of the returning trains (one an hour) and approaching our destination the time of the next train may play on our mind.

We left Hungerford passing under a couple of the town’s bridges which we had seen from above on our previous walk. The town had a slight hustle and bustle, people shopping, the Rose at Hungerford was being prepared for a day’s sailing.

The last building in Hungerford, at least on the towpath, is St Lawrence’s Church.     Rebuilt 1816, it is the furthest East church made from Bath Stone – all the stone came along the canal ! Some effort !

We had a mile to our first cache, and having passed a broken swing bridge (fortunately we didn’t need it), we found out why the caches were lacking. A nature reserve known as Freeman’s Marsh. We saw rich grassland, heavily buttercupped.  As we entered the nature reserve, Mr Hg137 caught his finger on one the gates and a splinter lodged in his finger. We removed some of the splinter quite quickly, and left the remainder until our first coffee stop.

Conveniently enough this was near our first cache, and near a bridge over the canal. Splinter removed, coffee drunk we found the cache quite quickly. It was interesting to note that the canal crossing had once been a swing bridge, as some of the mechanics of the swing-bridge still remain.

Once a swing-bridge, now an elevated bridge

About 200 yards away from the canal, by the A4, was another cache, Part of a new series based on the owner’s ‘snugglies’ they have acquired over the years. This one was ‘kiwi’. The cache wasn’t a fruit or a bird…but a film pot!

Back on the canal, we walked onto Picketfield Lock and another cache. Here, reading the previous logs helped, as the coordinates pointed one side of the canal (hint – ‘in ivy’)  but the cache was actually hidden on the other side of the canal (‘base of tree’). Quite how the coordinates and hint have become so separated is unclear. As we gingerly crossed the canal via the lock gates, a boat was entering the lock. We offered to help them through the lock, but the boat was part of a pair, working and closing the locks together. By the time we had found the cache, signed the log and returned to the lock, the second boat had arrived.

We wandered on a few yards and realised our map shows an aqueduct. The canal passes over a river ! The River Dun is a small chalk stream river, also known as Bedwyn Brook, as the source is near Great Bedwyn. The River Dun joins the Kennet at Hungerford.

After a flurry of 3 caches in a short space of time, we then had a mile or so to walk to our next cache. As we did so, we left Berkshire and entered Wiltshire.

We arrived at Fore Bridge, and undertook a quite old (2004) multi-cache. We made note of several numbers on road signs, and walked away from the canal. The old caches tend to be best caches. Large and well hidden. We were not disappointed – the cache was an ammo can (reached sadly via small outcrop of nettles) and the contents were dry. The can was hidden in a tree root so large the ammo can and several large items of ‘logoflage’ filled the roothole.

We returned to the canal, and walked towards Little Bedwyn. Little Bedwyn, is a small village a couple of miles shy of Great Bedwyn. We turned away from the canal to find 2 caches. The first was part of 55 cache series (JG series) set around the two Bedwyns. Some of the caches have been archived, but well over 40 remain. The second cache was part of the Church Micro series. Unusually for this series of caches, it was a straightforward hide – no numbers to work out.  The cache was hidden in a fence stump in a green park/playing area. We walked out of the park to the church to look inside. On the kissing gate were two plaques, which marked two royal occasions, and gave the impetus for upgrading of the gate and the park.

Two royal events commemorated in Little Bedwyn

The church was quite cool inside, with perhaps space for a congregation of 100 or so. A couple of maps were mounted on the church walls. One was a montage of all the village buildings in 2000, and the other a map of the various trees planted in the park (some of which are no longer there!).

Perhaps we loitered too long in the church, or maybe it was our refreshing drink in the park. Either way we suddenly realised we had a good mile to walk to Bedwyn station, and 4 caches to find…and all in 45 minutes.

The 4 caches were all part of the JG series, and were surprisingly hard to find. Two were hidden, dangling on a wire (protected by nettles), one of the others required us to cross the canal via the lock gates. All 4 caches took time…and with Great Bedwyn Station not getting closer quickly enough, we resigned ourselves to an hour wait for the next train. We did get within 150 yards of the station, as the crow flies, when the train left, but we had a canal and road to cross so it was too far to run for the train.

Our train loss, was our caching gain, as it gave us a chance to explore Great Bedwyn and find a couple more caches. One next to the station, the other closer to the village centre.

We attempted 12 caches, and found all 12. This was the first time on our Kennet and Avon journey we had found a full house on our travels!

May 21 : Kennet and Avon Canal : Kintbury to Hungerford

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Just a short section of canal for us today, three miles or so from Kintbury to Hungerford.  That would leave time for a walk around Hungerford afterwards.

Leaving Kintbury station, we were on the towpath and walking almost immediately.  Some very impressive houses and gardens, including the very large vicarage, overlooked the canal.   While admiring the gardens, we crossed a small footbridge along the path – almost unnoticed, the River Kennet diverged from the canal for the final time – we were onto the canal proper.

Kintbury Vicarage
Kintbury Vicarage

The towpath here was grassy, and much softer underfoot than the gravelled/metalled path we had mostly walked so far.   A little further on, a horse in harness was standing on the towpath; we assumed it was connected with the horse-drawn boat company based in Kintbury.   But no, this horse once drew a gipsy caravan, owned by a lady who now lived on a canal boat, and the horse was to start a second career as a boat horse.

It was about a mile between Kintbury Lock and the next lock, Brunsden (or Brunsdon) Lock.   We hoped to find our first cache of the day here, a very old cache, placed in 2004.   It wasn’t immediately obvious where it was, and there was much furtling around in bushes before one of us emerged, not too badly nettle-stung, clutching an ammo can.   The container is a bit worn, the hinge was broken, the inside damp, and the logbook black and mouldy.  We left a sheet of paper to act as a new logbook.

Our next part of the walk continued along the canal, past Wire Lock and went looking for the three caches in the ‘Brown’s Kintbury K&A’ series.    After varying amounts of searching, we found two : one, we spotted from afar, one had an average amount of looking, and one we simply couldn’t find : we searched up and down over around 25 paces (50 feet) of hedgerow, without success, watched throughout by three muggles and two short-haired German Pointer dogs.   After a bit, we did explain what we were doing, lest we seemed a bit … odd … later on, we met them again, and gave them a little talk on geocaching, lest they still thought we were … odd.

By now, we’d reached Dunham Lock.   A wide-beam canal boat was passing downhill through the lock, with two life-jacketed ladies, of a certain age, operating the gates.  We asked if they were OK, and they replied that they were fine, just waiting for the boat to turn round.   We walked on a little way, found a seat, and ate our picnic lunch.   The two life-jacketed ladies were still there, leaning on the lock gates.   That boat had been turning round for a long time … Mr Hg137 conjectured that they were beginners and that the boat was stuck somewhere.   Umm, wrong.  The boat returned after a little while and passed us.  It was the Rose of Hungerford trip boat, full of passengers.  Just as well we didn’t go and give benefit of our ‘knowledge’ as those ladies were the crew, who knew much better than us what they were doing!

Our final few yards along the towpath brought us to a footbridge over the canal – we’d reached Hungerford.  Had we only known, we would be back on that final stretch of towpath twice more, to collect two caches; if only we had known, we would have assembled all the coordinates first and done them in one go!

Time for some sightseeing (and caching) in Hungerford.  One main road, the High Street, leads uphill away from the valley where the A4 road, the canal, and the railway all run roughly parallel, east to west.  The town centre is full of old buildings, many of them listed, and it’s a pleasant , bustling place to be.

Our ‘town trail’ took us to the bridge over the River Dun, back over the canal on the Diamond Jubilee footbridge by the canal wharf.   And back along that final stretch of towpath, to collect a cache. We then walked up the High Street, with its selection of independent shops, pubs, and antique shops (which often appear on Bargain Hunt on TV), and continued almost to the edge of town.    As we walked, we found geocaches (or saved the coordinates to visit later on).    Among them, we found three Church Micro caches in a row – it seems that the population of Hungerford spend their time in church when they are not eating, drinking, or buying antiques!   

Reaching the top of the hill, we wandered back down to look for the Sidetracked cache near the station (and our geocar, parked in the station car park).   It took us some while to find (and a good few trains passed by) because we simply didn’t understand the hint.   ‘Googie Withers’???   How does that help???   Anyway, we found the cache by sheer persistence and did some research later to understand the hint (we get it now). Then there was just one more cache to find.   Yes, it was back along that final section of towpath for a third time!

May 14 Kennet and Avon Canal : Newbury to Kintbury

We had had a mini-break from walking and caching the Kennet & Avon Canal, and returned today for the 6 miles or so between Newbury and Kintbury. We parked the car at Kintbury station and travelled the one stop back to Newbury.

The station is about half a mile from the canal so it gave us the opportunity to find some caches in Newbury’s town centre. (Previous readers of this blog, will know that Newbury has a Did-Not-Find jinx on us, so this may not have been a good idea).

Little did we know quite how bad the jinx would be.

Newbury Station

Our first attempt was a ‘Sidetracked’ cache, part of the Nationwide series of caches set near Railway Stations. We walked a short distance from Newbury station, across the car park and searched. We found the hint item, but didn’t find the cache. (Annoyingly another cacher, with only 2 finds to their name, apparently ‘found it’ within hours of us. Did they stand at Ground Zero and assume that was enough, or did they find something we didn’t. We may never know).

So one cache attempted, one DNF.

Newbury Baptist Church

Our next cache was part of the ‘Church Micro’ series. We collected information at Newbury’s Baptist Church and walked to a likely GZ. The hint was ‘choo choo’ so clearly we were looking for a train or sign to the station. There was one, but …no cache!

Two caches down and two DNFs.

(Ed : We have later discovered that the sign to the station has recently been replaced… and the cache has never been placed back onto the new sign).

Our third cache was part of the Curry Micro National Series. We found 2 Curry Micro caches on our last visit to Newbury, and here was a third. They must like curries in Newbury ! Again we collected some numbers, derived some coordinates, and strode off. The hint alluded to a metal barrier. There were a lot at GZ. It took us some minutes to spot a barrier, slightly out of the way of the others, and once there made a quick find. Phew!

Three attempts, just one find.

We arrived at the canal, had a quick coffee overlooking the pedalo pond. (It is filled from the canal, but had been closed for cleaning (to be honest, it looked the same as before) and was being re-filled.

Fully revived we started our walk along the canal. We passed a few restaurants, coffee shops, lots of swans and a kayak school. The canal and its environs were busy.

Newbury Lock was also busy – it is close to the town centre, so it is easy for people to relax there. There is a sculpture ‘Ebb and Flow’ which is filled and drained every time the lock is used. There is also a plaque to John Gould who was the main driving force for restoring the canal in the 1960s.

After a short while, we crossed back to the town centre, to attempt to find a cache we logged as a DNF back in 2018. We collected information from the churchyard and walked towards GZ. As we did so, we noticed a BBC sound van, and so being the inquisitive types we are, we wondered why.

Apparently the BBC Symphony Orchestra were going to perform a Vaughan Williams concert in the church that evening for a later Radio 3 transmission. https://www.newburyspringfestival.org.uk/celebrating-vaughan-williams/

Back the cache. We arrived at a familiar location and started looking. ‘Hanging’ was the clue and we had a few poles and ivy to check. Just like 2018, we couldn’t find it. Grr!

Four caches – three DNFs. The Newbury jinx is alive and well!

We returned briefly to the canal, before attempting our last Newbury cache (thank goodness!). Part of the ‘post post’ series, the cache is generally attached to post boxes. We found it ok, but as we were signing the log… a lady wanted to use the post box for its proper intention… posting a letter!

Thank goodness – a cache we could find!

We left Newbury disheartened. There were only 3 more caches to attempt and 6 miles of canal footpath. The day was becoming hotter.

As we got further and further from Newbury the footpath became quieter and quieter, An occasional runner, a walker or two, a cyclist. The only noise we could hear was birdsong, and the scrunch, scrunch, scrunch of our boots on the stony, gravelly, track.

Occasionally a boat came by,or we overtook one at a lock, but our journey was quiet and uneventful.

What noise there was came from railway line or the A34 Newbury Bypass. A mock-memorial is under the A34 citing the number of the trees removed by the bypass.

After about 4 miles we arrived at Hamstead Lock. Here there were about 8 or so adults and children attempting to paddleboard (note the word attempting, as there was an occasional splash as they fell in). Nearby was a cache. The hint was obvious, but it still took us a minute or two to locate. Sadly, the cache was lidless, but most of the contents seemed dry.

At Hamstead Lock we were to make a diversion to a relatively old cache placed in 2006. It was a multi with a difference. We had to examine various pillars and posts in the grounds of Hamstead Marshall Park.  Only the pillars and church remain of a once great castle and one can only imagine how imposing a castle would have been on this site.

We assigned numbers to the various posts and derived some coordinates. We arrived at a location draped in ivy (Hint – hidden in ivy). But, despite looking all around the ivy, in the ivy, and much more besides we didn’t find it.

We discovered later the diversion to this DNF was a mile extra onto our day’s walk. Even more dispiriting.  

Our next cache, another DNF! was far more painful. Near to Dreweat’s Lock. We had to walk through knee-high, and sometimes thigh-high, nettles. Mrs Hg137’s walking pole helped a bit, but we both got stung. And we couldn’t find the cache !

We were within a two miles of Kintbury, but just after Copse Lock the footpath was blocked … by a horse. We discovered the horse was called Monty and is one of two horses used to pull a canal boat on day or half-day trips. Monty and his boat had come from Kintbury, but his towing rope had got caught in some moored boats, and the boat was being turned round in a ‘punting motion’ while an untethered Monty blocked the towpath eating grass.

We edged by, and finished quite hot and bothered at Kintbury. A poor day’s caching (3 caches from 8 attempts), but we saw the preparations for a BBC concert, a canal-boat-towing horse, and the remnants of an historic castle. All-in-all quite varied!

May 7 : Send in the giraffes!

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

First – the giraffes!   Here is some information, originating from a report on the local paper’s web site:

… “A family of giraffes has caused a stir among residents and school pupils in Send. The life-like animals, created using welded metal rings, were introduced to the village early in 2013.

“Parents with children park outside and we thought it would cheer them up going to school,” said the owners. “In today’s recession, where there are no smiles around, we thought we would put a smile on people’s faces. Everybody’s been photographing them. Up to 11pm we’ve had cars there because they’re lit by a streetlight. They look so real and we have put plants around them so eventually it will look like a jungle.”

The giraffes have been named Alfie, Grace and Lily and although they were bought in Chichester, they were hand made in Africa. “ …

We were in Send for a morning’s geocaching; the giraffes were also the starting point for our first geocache.   We assembled the coordinates from signs close by, walked off a short way, and made our first find of the morning, smiling as we went – they were so cute!

Once on our way, we found another cache, close to a tiny bridge over a tinier stream.   Afterwards, while making some notes and re-setting the GPS, a rough coated dachshund trotted by – followed by another – followed by two muggles. We greeted them all and they went on their way – Mr Hg137 remarked that one of them looked familiar. Later, another dog walker told us that it was Philip Hammond, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, who lives locally.  (Of course it was!  Seeing him in an unexpected place, we couldn’t quite match name and face.)

Following footpaths through fields and trees, dodging vicious nettles (not always successfully), and along a country lane, we made our way to the village green, collecting some more caches along the way.  The green is a good sized triangular open space, with a few trees around the edge.   One of the trees has a cache hidden in it … well, near it; we were overly influenced by the cache title (Magpie Tree) and spent a while looking in the tree before a re-read of the cache description led us straight to the correct spot, close by.   Reminder: read the directions before starting the search.

Magpie Tree
Magpie Tree

We sat in the sunshine on a seat near the tree, had a coffee break, and watched the groups of cyclists whizzing along, admired the green, admired the Manor House, and generally did some people / dog / cyclist watching.   After a few minutes we realised that the sun had gone and some threatening dark clouds were rolling in – and then the first plump drops of rain began to fall.   We took refuge under the Magpie Tree, but it got damp, so we moved to better cover, the nearby bus shelter.

Send Manor
Send Manor

A few more minutes passed, the rain stopped, and we emerged.  We took a tour through the village to return to the car and walked down to what used to be the A3, which now runs a little way to the south.   We found our final two caches of the morning – one: a very small travel bug hotel – the other: very high up on a bus stop, much swishing with the geopole required – then returned to the geocar, parked within sight of the watching giraffes.

RHS Wisley
RHS Wisley

And off we went to the nearby gardens at RHS Wisley, which were resplendent with spring colour. A good morning out!

And here are some of the geocaches we found:

April 30 : Kennet and Avon Canal : Thatcham to Newbury (circular)

Victoria Park, Newbury

One of the difficulties of undertaking a long linear walk, is determining where to start and finish a day’s walk. If we take two cars (as we normally do, parking one at the start of the walk and the other at the destination) there needs to be adequate car parking. Public transport can of course be used, but if the start and end points are not near bus stops or stations, then this becomes impractical.

We had a dilemma. Thatcham to Newbury was a bit short (3 miles), and Thatcham to Kintbury (the next decent car parking) was well in excess of 10 miles, and closer to 12 once we added in deviations for geocaching. Thatcham station was over a mile away in the wrong direction and bus services seemed sparse.

We opted for a short walk along the canal and a slightly different route back.

What could possibly go wrong ?

Well for one…the town of Newbury.

We have geocached twice in Newbury. With mixed success. The town seems to have a Did-Not-Find jinx on us. The omens were not good.

The previous week we had finished in the Nature Reserve at Thatcham, with a DNF. Given that Thatcham is only a couple of miles from Newbury Town Centre…the DNF jinx messages were already being thought about.

The cache we couldn’t find was ‘A Froggie goes a Wooing’ and as we parked a few hundred yards from it, we thought we would attempt it again at the start of this day’s walk. We had read, and re-read the logs on http://www.geocaching.com and within seconds found the cache (a frog, obviously). Not hidden as the hint suggested, but close by. Phew ! Maybe we would find a few Newbury caches after all!

Nearby was Thatcham’s Community Orchard. We had seen it back in 2018 when we walked from Sandhurst in Gloucestershire to Sandhurst in Berkshire and we wondered how much it had grown. By our estimates it had grown about a foot or so – it is difficult to compare an Autumn picture (2018) with a Spring blossom picture in 2022.

We walked to the Kennet and Avon towpath and headed to Newbury. As we have mentioned before, there is a paucity of caches on the towpath, and our next cache we believe should have been a snail. The logs were less than helpful (‘coordinates out 100 metres out’ and no obvious hint as the method of hiding). We searched for 15 minutes, but with a canal towpath with lots of trees, a fence line and much more besides…we gave up.

We gave up on our next cache too. It hadn’t been found for over a year, with several DNFs by other cachers. This didn’t inspire us to search for too long. So three caches attempted and two DNFs…the Newbury jinx is working its magic again.

The canal was relatively busy – we followed a couple of boats working as a joint team as they approached each lock and swing bridge. A crew member of the first boat running ahead to undertake preparatory work at the ‘obstacle’, and a crew member of the second boat, closing the ‘obstacle’ once both boats had gone through.

As we approached the centre of Newbury, the canal and towpath got much busier, and here, under a bridge was another cache. One we had DNFed on a previous visit to Newbury. We had discovered that the cache was missing then, but had been replaced as a false bolt/screw. These magnetic caches are very effective, and if the colour of the false bolt matches the metal it is latched onto, it is very difficult to spot. What made it easy for us, was that a previous finder had NOT lined up the false bolt with other screws on the bridge. Its random positioning shouted ‘why am I here’ ! An easy find, because the previous cacher had not replaced it accurately.

It was lunchtime, and just after the bridge, was a large park, with seating. Ideal!

Victoria Park is Newbury’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’. There is lots to do and watch – a children’s play area, tennis courts, bowling green, a skate park and a boating (pedalo) lake. We sat and ate lunch overlooking the pedalos. Each pedalo was powered by two people with varying degrees of success. Fun to watch – less fun to participate!

We had four caches to find to North of the park. Two of them were part of the National ‘Curry Micro’ series of caches. We collected numbers from objects near to each curry house and walked to each of the cache locations. The first took us to a tree on private property (some offices). Being Saturday, the offices were deserted, and we searched the tree, fruitlessly. We scoured other likely hosts, all on the same private property. We read the previous finder’s logs, and realised we were searching a few yards from the correct location. Cache located…but you needed to be 7 foot tall to reach and replace it. (Somehow we did this!)

The second Curry Micro was in the opposite direction, and hadn’t been found for some time (two DNFs since January). We were not that hopeful of finding the cache, but within seconds we had it in our hands. Maybe the Newbury jinx has been broken!

Nearby were several pubs and hotels, one of which is used for a monthly geocaching meet, organised by Cunning Cachers. They have also placed a nearby cache. And it was cunning! Hidden in a barrier. We saw three car park barriers near to GZ, all of which were private property and ‘didn’t feel right’. After much searching, we sat on a nearby wall, about to log a DNF when…we saw another barrier – and the cache was soon ours! Phew!

We walked back to Victoria Park. On its northern outskirts was a cache in the ‘Post Post’ series of caches. These tend to be magnetic nanos hidden underneath the post box. This cache was no different. We needed some stealth here, as the post box was near to the manned entry to the Bowls Club Car Park. The Bowls Club had a home match and visitors were slowing down at the postbox before being let in.

We paused for a quick coffee break in the park, before heading back to Thatcham. We had a long pavement walk and only one cache to find. The pavements took us by a supermarket, and a DIY shop, which we had observed from the canal path earlier.

Our last cache ‘Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree’, was indeed in a Chestnut Tree. A glorious tree and a fine host ! A great hiding place to finish our day’s walk !

Had we broken the Newbury jinx ? We had 2 DNFs, but we did find the other caches we attempted.

April 23 : Kennet and Avon Canal : Woolhampton to Thatcham

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

We parked in the car park behind the Rowbarge pub at Woolhampton, ready to start the next stage of our walk, from Woolhampton to the Nature Discovery Centre at Thatcham.

Last week the Devizes to Westminster canoe race was in progress and there were lots of canoeists and support crew.  We blogged about it on April 16th. – it’s enough to say that anyone who takes part needs to be very, very fit and very, very determined (and that goes for the support crews too!).  This week it was much, much quieter.  We could hear a cuckoo, the first of the year (it seems early to hear one, shouldn’t it be May?).

We set off westwards along the canal, and had a 3 mile walk along the towpath to our first geocache at Thatcham Town Football Club, a cache from the ‘football micro’ series.   After passing Woolhampton, Healeys, Midgham and Colthrop locks, we arrived at Thatcham station and turned away south to the football ground.  We just got there in time, as Thatcham were playing Chertsey, and players, staff and supporters were beginning to turn up (for info, it was the final game of the season and Thatcham lost 0-5). 

The cache had not been found for almost five months and we were worried we would struggle too – we needn’t have been, the GPS took us to something that matched the hint and a little tiptoeing through the undergrowth soon found us what we were searching for.  

We crossed back over the waterway and rejoined the towpath as it had swapped to the other side of the canal.  We saw signs warning boaters to watch out for debris in the water and soon found out why: a large tree had fallen during Storm Eunice and had taken out both the power lines and an unfortunate canal boat as it landed.   Much of the tree had been removed, but some parts remained behind a pontoon, plus the remains of the squashed and sunken boat.   Oops.  And someone was on board the boat when it happened.  Oops again. 

A few yards further on we reached Monkey Marsh Lock, one of the only two remaining turf-sided locks on the canal.   Boaters aren’t especially fond of them as they take a lot of water to fill, and it’s hard to get on and off the boat while they are in the lock.

Monkey Marsh Lock
Monkey Marsh Lock

A little further on again, we came to Monkey Marsh swing bridge; there is a lot of getting on and off boats to work locks and bridges on this canal!   There was a very new cache here – then only 2 days old – and we found it under the watchful eyes of a family of muggles sat on the other side of the canal.

At this point, we left the canal, crossed the railway line, and took a detour from our route to find some more caches.   There hadn’t been many to find so far, and we wanted to increase our total for the day.  We had a walk round a housing estate in southern Thatcham, looking for caches, most of them named after the road they were in … Braemore, Glenmore, Hebden.   We had mixed success, finding three out of five.  One of those we couldn’t find was missing and has since been replaced, and one of those we did find had a mushy wet log which we replaced.  But mostly nice simple finds in the sunshine.    After a while we ran out of caches to look for and returned to the canal.  We checked on that very new cache we had found earlier was still there, it was, those muggles hadn’t gone to look, then went on our way.    

We found two more caches along the towpath; one had been in a tree, but part of that tree had come down during Storm Eunice (it must have been very windy here!) and the cache was now on the ground under its horizontal host. 

At Widmead Lock we left the canal to return to the geocar.  Overall, there had been a real mix of canalside scenery – some very rural, some large industrial estates, plus the bridges, locks and pill boxes adjacent to the waterway.

We completed the day’s walk through yet another type of scene, the lakes of the Nature Discovery Centre. We’d been here before, in October 2018, during our walk from Sandhurst (Gloucestershire) home to Sandhurst (Berkshire).    Back then we had found all the caches in the area, but a new one had hopped into place, ‘A Froggie goes a Wooing’.   We went to look for it, as we had read much about the interesting cache container and thought it would be a great way to round off the day … but we couldn’t find it … though we thought we had a good look and feel around all the likely places. Never mind, we’ll have another look when we return to start the next section of the walk.

Here are some of the caches we found:

April 16 : Kennet and Avon Canal : Theale to Woolhampton

Easter Saturday is a special day on the Kennet & Avon Canal as it hosts the Annual Devizes to Westminster canoe race.

We have seen the canoeists on the Thames before, but we had not seen them on the canal.

Westminster here we come!

There are two distinct competitions. The first is over 4 days with overnight stops, the second is a 24 hour race. We hoped to see competitors in each race.

The 4-dayer had started from Devizes on Good Friday (15th April) and the canoeists had paddled 37+ miles to Newbury. Today, after a night’s rest, the canoeists were paddling from Newbury to Marlow, a distance of another 38 miles.

As is customary with our linear walks, we drove two cars to our destination (Woolhampton), parked one car up and before we drove the other car to our start (Sheffield Bottom, Theale). We checked the canal. Canoeists were coming through ! Some of them had already completed 7 miles of their 38 ! We took some photos and hurried to Sheffield Bottom.

Here the car park was heaving with support crew for the canoeists , and we suspect no canoeist had come through. We squeezed our car into a space and started our walk.

Our first cache was a multi we had calculated the previous week. As we walked towards Woolhampton, the swing bridge at Sheffield Bottom opened (holding up traffic!) to let a canal boat through.

Within yards we saw the first of the canoeists, sometimes paddling as the sole visible boat, other times a group came down together. Whether they were racing each other, or keeping each other company we didn’t know.

We were so transfixed we missed the small turn away from the canal to the cache. Eventually we realised our mistake, turned round and walked away from the canal. The cache, an old one placed in 2006, was an ammo can. Lots of goodies inside, and we left a few Lego cards.

We returned to the canal and watched as more and  more canoeists went by.

The canoeists have to get out at each lock, lifting their canoe/kayak out of the water, carry it around the lock and then re-float the boat the other side of the lock. This portage system is also needed at some of the low spanning bridges. Some bridges are high enough that the canoeists can duck and pass underneath. At one such bridge we watched three crews successfully duck under… but the fourth…hit the underside of the bridge with a loud ‘thud’. Fortunately, or it appeared to us, no major incident other than a sore head.

That ‘ouch’ moment !

The swing bridge led to a gated area where a cache was hidden. We searched, and failed to find. We thought we tried all possible hiding places, but gave up. Fortunately this was part of a a series of gated caches, so we recrossed the bridge to walk to another cache in the series.

As we did so, a canal boat wanted to use the bridge. We assisted in the opening of the swing bridge and its closing. Far easier to do than we were expecting.

As we arrived at the second gated cache, we found the cache almost immediately and realised how our previous DNF could be found. We returned, and of course found the cache within seconds. Doh!

There is a definite paucity of caches on the Kennet & Avon. We had over a mile to walk to our next cache, and this was some distance from the canal. A quick easy find on an historic bridge over a tributary of the Kennet.

As we arrived back canal-side we were advised by the race marshals that the last of the 4-day canoeists had just gone through, and it would be some tine before the 24 hour paddlers would appear.

Farewell canoeists !

We soon realised how much ‘action’ the canoeists produced, as the canal went very quiet. An occasional canal boat went by, and the resident wildlife (herons.swans) decided it was calm enough to return to the canal.

Have the canoeists all gone now ?

We paused for lunch at a disused lock. When the canal was rebuilt in the late 1980s, the lock at Ufton Nervet had a drop of just 18 inches. Rather than rebuild an expensive lock, changes were made to the locks nearby to add/subtract 9 inches at each weir to make the Ufton Nervet lock redundant.

Generally the locks and swing bridges work well on the canal, but shortly after lunch, we spotted a problem. The hydraulically controlled road swing bridge had failed at Padworth. No traffic could cross the road, and no boats could pass under. A Kennet & Avon Engineer was hard at work, testing and checking the various hydraulics. As we left the bridge, we imparted what information we knew to the half-dozen or so boats arriving at the back of the queue. (The lead boat, had been there an hour, the crew had even had lunch awaiting the engineer).

Shortly after, we arrived at Aldermaston Wharf. Here there should have been a visitor centre, describing the history of the canal. It was now a tea room/restaurant. We headed on, toward the station, finding at cache near the station (part of the National Sidetracked series of caches), before returning for an ice cream. The day was hot, and we thought we deserved it!

We crossed over the canal and passed by Aldermaston Lock. Inside was a boat, Zoria, we last saw in the swing bridge queue. It had decided to turn round and head West not East. We had a brief conversation with them  – we discovered the swing bridge would be closed for another 2 hours !

We had a couple of cacheless miles to Woolhampton. Zoria trundled at about 2.5-3 miles an hour, we trundled at about the same speed. Sometimes we overtook it, other times, it overtook us. Partway along we were joined by a family of paddleboarders. They too went at about 2.5-3 miles an hour – so for two miles we played cat and mouse with Zoria, and cat and mouse with some paddleboarders!

We arrived at Woolhampton, and the Rowbarge pub was doing a roaring trade. This was the paddleboarders destination, but the Zoria was held up the another road bridge and lock. Nothing wrong with either, just a queue. We waited for them to leave the lock, bade them farewell and headed for home.

We had hoped to see the 24 hour canoeists pass through, but we were a about 30 minutes early for that, but we were grateful for the 6 caches found and the plethora of canoeists we did see. Three of the caches we found are shown below.