May 19 : South Downs Way : Washington to Botolphs

The Washington to Botolphs section of the South Downs Way, is about 7 miles, of which the first mile or two is up quite a steep slope to Chanctonbury Ring, and then the remaining five miles is all down hill!
We were still staying just a few miles away with HF Holidays, which meant we were parking our destination car shortly after 9. The relatively spacious layby at Botolphs on the A283 was practically full at this time! Fortunately though we squeezed a car into the layby, and drove our other car back to the start at Washington.

Our target… Chanctonbury Ring

A steep ascent up to Chanctonbury Ring awaited us, but partway up we had a cache to find. It was a multi, which we thought we had resolved before setting off. Part of the ‘Sussex Trig Point’ series, it involved working out the co-ordinates based on the metal numbered ‘base plate’ fixed to the trig point. These base plate numbers can be found using Google, and it was a good that we used that tool before we set off, as we wouldn’t have liked the long walk back downhill if we had attempted the cache without the aid of the internet.

Sadly for us, we didn’t find the cache. It was supposed to be an ammo can, hidden under sticks. There were lots of piles of sticks, logs and leaf litter for us to rummage around, but after 15 minutes we gave up. During that time we’d been asked by three separate SDW walkers what we were doing, and disturbed a tiny wren.

Near to the top of Chanctonbury Ring, and yards from the trig point is a Dew pond. This was also our first find of the day and part of the ‘Ponds, Dew Ponds and Lakes of Sussex’ series of caches. We paused for coffee – fully merited by the steep ascent – and attempted to dry out the wet log sheet on a nearby hawthorn bush.
As we stood drinking, various dog walkers passed by and each of the canines charged to the lip of the pond expecting to run into, and drink from, a pond full of water. Sadly the pond was dry, and we could see each of the dog’s faces droop when their anticipated water reward was not forthcoming.

A cache.. and a dry dew pond!


The reason the Dew Pond was dry, was, we discovered from one of the dog walkers, that the South Downs Authority have established a few of the dew-ponds as ‘wildlife havens’ by planting bushes around the outside. A great idea, but the roots of the bushes extract what little water the Dew Pond holds. Meaning that there is little water to see at the surface.

Chanctonbury Ring Trig Point


Our highpoint, Chanctonbury Ring, was clearly visible. Although it is a few yards away from the SDW we walked inside the prominent tree feature. Planted as a series of concentric rings back in 1760, by the then land-owner Charles Goring, the rings are very dark and allegedly haunted.

Inside Chanctonbury Ring

Various legends abound about the ring … if you walk anti-clockwise around the ring 7 times on a moonless night, the Devil will appear and serve you porridge. Alternatively if you count all the trees Julius Caesar will appear or thirdly, if you run clockwise around the trees three times a lady on a white horse will appear and you can ride down! I know which I’d prefer!

Sadly the trees today are not the original trees. The Great Storm of October 1987 blew down every tree at the summit and for a few years the top was tree-less. Since then the Goring family have replanted, and the trees visible are the result of the planting 30 years ago.

Farewell Chanctonbury Ring

A little further down the hill from Chanctonbury ring was another cache. This one tucked into a small, less-imposing copse which we took an age to find. The GPS wobbled, there were several hint items, but eventually we found the cache.

Our long downhill awaited, punctuated by many caches in very quick succession. These were all marked as ‘letter box’ caches and each contained a stamp and some ink as well as a log book. Most were relatively small in size, but all were part of a ‘Sealed with a Loving Kiss’ series. Each of the caches was named after a stamp from around the world. We found caches named after an 1852 25 centime Blue, Louis Napoleon from France, an 1871 Telegraph stamp from Brazil, a 1913 Albanian stamp and many more. It would fun to Google these stamps and see the differences across the world (but with over 150 caches in the full series, this could take some time!). We found 15 ‘stamp caches’ during the day so there are many more for us to find. (It should have been 16 but one of the stiles, used as a hiding place for one of the caches, was being used for a rambler’s lunch, so we didn’t even try finding the cache!)

A Rocket Stamp

We paused ourselves for lunch next to a cache. As we ate, a group of Duke of Edinburgh teenagers stopped. Paused for a drink and walked on. We chatted with them, they were aiming for Cissbury Ring (an ancient Iron Age hill-fort a few miles away). We wished them well…little did we know our paths would touch again later…

Duke of Edinburgh Group heading to Cissbury Ring
(we have deliberately blanked a face).

One of the few other non-stamp caches we found was another ‘Trig Series’ multi. Here, the Trig Point was no longer accessible to read the ‘base plate’ so the cache owner provided the final co-ordinates without us having to do any arithmetical calculations. The final cache was adjacent to a farmer’s field, where the farming team were busy penning, and sorting, sheep. It was a little distance from the South Downs Way and as we turned away a small animal – we guess a stoat – ran across our path. We were grateful of the diversion, as another stamp cache awaited us at a busy memorial ‘bench’ which we passed by, but minutes later as we returned, was free for us to pause for a welcome drink.

Memorial to Walter and Mollie Langmead

The next mile or so of our walk skirted around Steyning Bowl, a dry chalk bowl presumably gouged by the last Ice Age.

Looking across Steyning Bowl…

… and the top of the bowl in the other direction

Part way along, we had an Earthcache to answer. Unusually the questions were not geared around the geology of the area, but of the agriculture (or lack of!), and industry. Besides the agriculture of crop growing, we were yards away from a large, noisy pig farm. Sty upon sty, sow upon sow, piglet upon piglet. Some running around, most lying down, resting. Never have we seen so many pigs!


We descended further until the track gave way to a tarmac road, and here we spotted several sheets of paper lying by the roadside. We picked them up, as they looked important. They were. Described over a number of sheets of paper was a Duke of Edinburgh expedition from Botolphs to Cissbury Ring. It belonged to the DoE party we saw earlier!

There was a contact number on the sheets, which we phoned. The organisers said that the group had just finished and admitted to their crime (!) and asked us to shred the sheets, which we did.

Peaceful River Adur


Our final mile was walking along the River Adur, and here we found our last ‘stamp’ cache, and a tiny nano hidden around the Adur footbridge.

A great 7 mile walk – with loads of caches, lots of myths, legends and… pigs! Oink ! Oink ! Oink !

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April 12 : South Downs Way : Butser Hill to Harting

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Butser Hill

Butser Hill


The next section of the South Downs Way (SDW) was calling to us, and we set off from high up, walking up the gentle ascent leading to the summit of Butser Hill, and admiring the views to the west over the Meon Valley. It wasn’t far to the first cache of the day – Hill Bagging Series #7 – Butser Hill Marilyn. Sadly, a muggle was parked up almost on top of the cache, looking at the view while talking on his phone. What to do? We decided to ignore him and had soon found the cache.
Meon Valley

Meon Valley


(Editor’s note: A Marilyn is “a hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres (nearly 500 ft) or more on all sides”. So it is a hill which is relatively high compared to its surroundings. The Marilyns are so-called by the list’s compiler, Alan Dawson, after the more famous mountain list – the Munros.)

Soon we were out on the springy turf of Butser Hill, part of Queen Elizabeth Country Park https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryparks/qecp/explore It seems silly that the SDW bypasses one of the highest spots for miles and miles, so we left the official route to bag the hill-top. Skirting some bickering cattle (a dominance fight between two of them?), and we were soon at the top of the hill with views all round. A couple appeared from another direction, touched the trig point, as did we (you just have to, don’t you?). We stopped for a chat. They were on a short walk to break in their new walking boots before walking the entire SDW in the summer.

Butser Hill trig point

Butser Hill trig point


Chat finished, we assembled the information for the earthcache based upon the summit point (the are usually based around geological things), and stopped for a cup of coffee with a great view before rejoining the SDW and setting off down the hill. The way down the ‘nose’ of the hill towards the A3 is very steep indeed, and my walking pole came out as my knees began to protest. Just as the slope eased, we contoured around the hill to find another cache, on Oxenbourne Down. It was not strictly on our route, but we had been intrigued by the number of favourites given to the cache, so stopped for a look. On arrival, nothing was obvious at first, but another look – and think – suggested that there was something there that needn’t be there – and sure enough, it was the hiding place for the cache, almost invisibly integrated into part of the landscape.
(Editor’s note: The nearby stile and gate are a great viewpoint for photos of Butser Hill. We’ve tried and failed to take decent pictures of it in the past and this is a good spot.)
A3 from Butser Hill

A3 from Butser Hill


Returning to the SDW, we went under the noisy A3 and into the main car park for Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Our next cache was to be another earthcache, this one based upon an old milestone which is now at the entrance to the visitor centre. Or maybe not: we arrived at the appointed spot to find building work going on and no chance of getting anywhere near any milestones. After answering most questions, and a circuit of the building works, we went to the shop to question Beth, the ranger, about the milestone. She made a couple of phone calls and gave us some answers (which turned out to be wrong, but at least we tried). We were not the first to ask, it seems, so we explained why we were asking …
Nice sign!

Nice sign!


About now we checked our GPS and realised that we’d walked around four miles, but were still less than a mile from our geocar, parked on the other side of the A3. That was slightly dispiriting! We walked on through the park and turned away from the A3, going uphill through the woods towards the ridge of the SDW. And it became quiet; it was hard to believe that we were less than a mile from a major road.

There was one more cache to find in the park, hidden among a dark, forbidding grove of yew trees. Thick tree cover is bad news for geocachers as a GPS can’t get an exact fix if it can’t see the sky. We spent a while on a steep slope in the gloom searching tree after tree after tree, before finding the cache in a place we thought we had searched earlier. It happens like that quite often!

The eastern edge of the park is a major crossroads for long distance footpaths: at one point we were stood on the South Downs Way, and the Shipwrights Way, and the Hangers Way, and the Staunton Way. The Shipwrights Way is marked by sculptures relevant to the places they pass though and we passed two, a Hampshire Downs sheep and a Cheese Snail
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-26416352
Shipwrights Way - Hampshire Downs sheep

Shipwrights Way – Hampshire Downs sheep


Shipwrights Way - Cheese Snail

Shipwrights Way – Cheese Snail


Once out of Queen Elizabeth Country Park, we were back on the South Downs Way alone, walking along narrow lanes and chalk surfaced tracks, up on the ridge of the downs at last. We crossed the border from Hampshire into Sussex, the woods fell behind us and the views opened out, which gave us panoramas to admire.

After a long walk, we arrived at the next cache, part of the Petersfield Plod series. We had done some of the caches in this series before, and now we collected a few more. Then there was another cacheless gap before we neared Harting Down and reached the last three caches for our day’s walk. All were by the same setter, two of them placed for the local scout group, and the other, Badgers, a little way down a garlic-fringed side path. On finding this cache and signing the log, we spotted the signature of the last-but-one finder of the cache … the very same cacher we met three weeks earlier in Warwickshire … it’s a small caching world!
Don't tread on the garlic!

Don’t tread on the garlic!


We found the remaining (scouts) caches, but both led us a merry dance. One was hidden in undergrowth by a stile which had been turned into a gate, and the other had been dislodged from its hiding place and was lying out in a field. But find them we did – eventually. And the day’s walk, and the caching, were over for the day, for the geocar was close by.

Here are some of the caches we found:

March 8 South Downs Way : Winchester to Cheesefoot Head

Back in 2011, a year before we started geocaching, we walked, over a period of 6 months, the 100-mile long distance footpath – The South Downs Way. Since then, Mr Hg137 has been asked on numerous occasions to give a one hour talk on our walk and our photos have proved invaluable. However, we were aware those photos are 8 years old!

Winchester Cathedral

So this year we intend to revisit the South Downs Way, review our pictures and our knowledge and, of course, find some caches too!

The South Downs Way runs from the Roman/Saxon city of Winchester to the Seven Sisters at Eastbourne. Our first caching tour would take us around Winchester’s Centre and then a short 3 mile walk to Cheesefoot Head.

Winchester City Centre is relatively small but packed with treasures. At one end of the High Street is the Great Hall (hosting an imitation Arthurian Round Table). Halfway down the same street is St Swithun’s Cathedral and at the end furthest from the Great Hall, King Alfred’s Statue.

Looking down on Winchester

Our caching trip started on the outskirts of the City with elevated views along the High Street. Two simple caches (one under a seat, the other in tree roots). We also found in the general vicinity one of two puzzle caches we had solved. This puzzle consisted of three (straightforward-ish) logic puzzles to derive the final co-ordinates.. and then the fun started. The cache could only be opened by unscrewing the container revealing a hidden maze! Fortunately a nearby seat meant we could sit down during our 20 minute attempt!

After 20 minutes the cache was open..now we have to put it back!


Down at the High Street, we paused by the Museum/Mill where the South Downs Way officially starts. Back in 2011 we had been perturbed as there was no official start point, but this has since been rectified.

Winchester Museum/Mill

Nearby is King Alfred’s Statue. Erected in 1899 to mark the centenary of the warrior king’s death, the 17 foot statue stands on a two granite bases. The different types of granite form the basis of an Earthcache, which we managed to successfully answer.

King Alfred

We had a three more caches to find in the City Centre including another simple puzzle cache (found in a less-than-exciting car park) and a beautiful snail cache close to Winchester Cathedral.

A Snail for a Diver!

This cache was a tribute to the Diver, William Walker. Between 1906 and 1911 he dived 20 feet every day in water under the sinking Cathedral foundations and laid 25,000 bags of concrete, 115,000 concrete blocks and 900.000 bricks. This enabled the excess water to the drained, and the Cathedral re-stabilised. Without his work the Cathedral would probably have fallen down during the 20th Century.

Our final City Centre cache was in the busy High Street. Full of shoppers and tourists. The cache was placed exceedingly high (only Mr Hg137 could reach it), so it was almost impossible to grab it in a nonchalant manner.

There are more caches in the City Centre, many of them puzzles, but 7 finds seemed a reasonable reward for a morning’s exploring the ancient City.

We lunched in a park near King Alfred before setting out on our re-walking of the South Downs Way. Ominously, the skies had become more overcast but we were confident we could walk the 3 miles before the forecast rain was due.

The Start of the South Downs Way


The South Downs Way leads away from the Museum/Mill following the banks of the River Itchen. A very pleasant river, bubbling along between gardens on one bank and ancient Roman walls and Wolvesey Castle on the other.

River Itchen


The remaining Roman Walls of Winchester

Wolvesey Castle, Home of Winchester Bishops

When we walked the path in 2011 we knew we went wrong on this part of the walk and today we understood why. A South Downs Way signpost, set slightly back from our path pointed us away from the river at a very subtle angle. No wonder we missed it before. We walked on, and took a slight diversion to a cunningly concealed cache on a bridge over the River Itchen.

Back on the South Downs Way we had a mile of street walking. A mile we were dreading.

Probably the least scenic mile on the South Downs Way !

By and large the South Downs way is a scenic route…but there is one mile along a residential street – and not the most attractive one either! (This is one of the reasons we recommend walking the South Downs Way from Winchester..it gets this road out of the way early on, rather than the last mile!)

The road leads to the M3, and a small bridge. But as we arrived, the rain started. Should we walk for 20 minutes to our car in Winchester or press on for 45 minutes to our car at Cheesefoot Head ? We choose the latter and regretted the decision for the rest of the walk.

At last ! Beautiful Countryside…in the Rain!


What should have been views of light-rolling chalk downland was instead wet-slippery chalk shrouded in low cloud mist. To compound our misery, our final cache of the day – the first genuine South Downs Way cache – had gone missing.

A rather wet Mr Hg137


The rain was so heavy we decided against visiting Chilcomb Church to attempt a 3 stage Church Micro, and also the cache hidden yards from our car at Cheesefoot Head. That cache will wait for our next expedition.

Last view of Winchester


So our 2019 quest has started – revisiting a walk we undertook 8 years ago. As yet no South Downs Caches found, but we did enjoy the variety and history of Winchester before we left.

Some of the caches we found included :

December 28 : Guildford – The Chantries

The excesses of Christmas needed to be walked off and the Chantries seemed an ideal circuit.

The Chantries (or Chantry Wood) to give it is proper title is situated a few miles South East of Guildford and comprises 78 hectares of mixed woodland. It is also an Area of High Ecological Value within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The North Downs Way runs in its Northern boundary.

There are lots of paths (mainly running West/East) and plenty of hiding places for geocaches. Indeed there are just under 20 geocaches in the area, we chose to attempt 14 of them. We omitted a couple of terrain 4/5 tree climbs, a couple of puzzle caches we couldn’t solve and two quite detailed Earthcaches.

This left us a Compass series set by ===sgb (8 caches had been placed at strategic compass points around the wood) and 6 caches placed by The Perkins Family.

The wood is served by a smallish free car park, and at 9am it was already half-full. Our first cache (NORTHWEST) was hidden in a small hollow just off the main path. In order to get to the cache we had to walk past it on the path, and then pick up a small track and walk back. This was a recurring feature of our walk : get a good fix on the location, and then find the sometimes indistinct cacher’s path a short distance away.

We hadn’t got into this routine at cache 2 (WEST) as the GPS pointed straight up a steep bank. Armed with geopole, Mrs Hg137 hauled herself up the bank, grabbing tree after tree as she climbed. Meanwhile Mr Hg137 scoured the footpath just in case the GPS was wrong. It wasn’t .. and soon the ‘Found it !” cry was heard. This gave Mr Hg137 the opportunity to see if there was an easier route to descend. There was ! A few yards further on, a set of steps yielded easy access to the cache site.

Our next cache was our first failure of the day. Located in a wooden Den.
We lifted every log we could. We sat in the Den looking up, down, left, right. We walked around the Den but all to no avail. A great place for a cache, but clearly too clever for us.

The Den


Somewhat frustrated we walked on and were grateful for an easy find (SOUTHWEST). Then a longish walk leaving the wood to find SOUTH (stopping only to admire three roe deer as they ran within yards of us).

We didn’t find SOUTH.

It was hidden close to a stile, now very unused as it was surrounded by brambles and branches. The hint made little sense (‘Raccoon’) and after 10 minutes of being attacked by thorns we left defeated.

Five caches attempted, and only three finds. Several cuts and grazes accumulated. Time for a coffee, on one of the few seats we saw all day.

A fine view from a rare seat

Our next caches, set by the Perkins Family, were on ‘An Impassable Path’. Over time an official path had become very overgrown. This did not stop the Perkins Family placing three caches on its route, with a view that if cachers walked the path, the brambles, nettles would be cleared and the footpath usable again. This plan had worked as the path was very clear and not impassable at all. Our only problem was locating the start of it, but once we found the middle, we went up and down it quite quickly collecting three caches.

The Impassable Path


We returned then to the Compass series and found SOUTHEAST. Initially our GPS swung from tree to tree but we found it lodged between stones. Broken and with a gnawed logbook. We reported as needs maintenance, but this cache has had several such comments since August 2018. (Ed : It is always slightly disappointing if cache owners don’t respond to ‘needs maintenance’ requests – even adding a note stating when the maintenance will happen at least proves the maintenance request has been noted).

We were at the furthest point from the car park and this meant there were fewer people. In fact we probably went 45 minutes or so without seeing anyone. Our solitude was broken as we headed to EAST (straightforward once the cacher’s path was located), and then onto NORTHEAST.

Here we the cache was seemingly placed between two footpaths. We, of course, took the wrong one and had to walk back and find the cache (easily) from the other direction. Our last cache in the Compass series involved another longish walk to NORTH found under a very heavy log, which needed one of us to lift as the other grabbed the cache.

We then had a couple more Perkins Family caches to attempt.

The first was just off the North Downs Way. Up a slope. A fearsome slope. The tree cover caused the GPS to wobble. We precariously went up and down the slope, searching trees and logs until the GPS finally settled. The distance dropped from 24 feet (a major achievement after 10 minutes searching) to 20 feet, to 16 feet..to 12 to 10. We were there! Phew!

One cache left, and our longest and hardest walk yet.

The Chantries is riddled with dry river valleys. Several of these valleys are the subject of one of the Earthcaches we decided against so we were slightly annoyed at having to climb up a valley slope, down to the valley bottom and re-climb again to reach our final cache.

Exhausted we made our way back to the car. We’d found 12 out of 14 caches, walked nearly 4 miles and climbed 750 feet. Not bad for a post-Christmas workout.

Many of the caches were 1 or 2 litre food containers… two notable exceptions will appear in our ‘caches of the year’ which will be published in a day or so.

August 31 : Isle of Wight : The Needles and Freshwater Bay

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

So soon, it was the last full day of our week-long walking holiday on the Isle of Wight. The final walk for the week was a cracker, taking us inland from Freshwater Bay, towards the Needles, then a glorious finale along the bouncy turf of Tennyson Down.

Tennyson Down

Tennyson Down


We were walking in a group, so there weren’t many opportunities to sneak off and do a quick bit of caching without being left behind, but there was an opportunity at the Needles, where there is an earthcache. Information was gathered, and the required selfie was taken with the Needles in the background, ready for logging later.
The Needles

The Needles


This was a perfect place for a packed lunch, sat on the cliffs in the sunshine, overlooking the Solent and the New Forest. Well, it was sunny where we were, but dark clouds were forming over the mainland, and a funnel cloud formed and stretched nearly to the ground, before disintegrating as quickly as it had formed. Wow!
Twister!

Twister!


Anyway, the sun was still shining on us, and we began our return trip, eastwards along Tennyson Down, past the monument where we had cached two days before, and down the hill to Freshwater Bay.
St Agnes Church, Freshwater Bay

St Agnes Church, Freshwater Bay


Inside the Thatched Church

Inside the Thatched Church


On the edge of the village is St Agnes Church, known as ‘the Thatched Church’ because … it’s the only thatched church on the island. https://www.visitisleofwight.co.uk/things-to-do/st-agnes-church-p1069431 (Editor’s note: It’s not nearly as old as it looks! It was built just over a hundred years ago.) There’s a Church Micro based on this church, but we hadn’t collected all the information needed on a fleeting visit on the outward leg of the walk. A return visit was needed. With more time, coordinates were quickly derived and we’d soon found the cache, a short walk away.

So that was a superb walk, and two lovely caches, to end a great week’s walking. Tomorrow it was back to the ‘North Island’ – as the islanders call the mainland – and homeward.

August 3 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Uffington to Sparsholt Firs (Ridgeway)

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” – Noel Coward

A six mile walk. In a 30+ degree heat. A very steep climb to the Ridgeway. And 26 caches.

Were we mad ?

In fact our first two caches were not part of our six mile route. They were hidden close to the village of Uffington. The first was a cache in the ‘Village Sign’ series. This cache was a multi, and we had worked out the coordinates on our previous visit to Uffington, but not collected the cache. As we entered Uffington, we pulled over in a small car park and wondered whether the car and driver in the car park was another cacher. It wasn’t. It was a salesman busy making call after call while we hunted, just out of his eyesight. A quick find – one down, twenty five to go !!

First cache of the day!

Our second Uffington cache was a puzzle cache we had solved a few days previously. With very little information supplied in ‘Terse Puzzle’ GC36970 we had somehow solved it quite quickly. Parking the car, locating the cache and driving away took much, much, longer…

We parked the car easily enough and walked into the wood containing the cache. We arrived within 10 feet of the cache and looked at several host items. The first three were barely large enough to hold anything, let alone a cache, and it took us sometime to see the actual host. Guarded by 3 foot, slightly desiccated, stinging nettles.
A few minutes search and the cache was ours. It was last found at the beginning of March, and the previous finder had remarked about snow… we remarked about the 30 degree heat !

Then we heard voices. We tidied away the cache quickly and walked out of the woods to the voices. It was a farmer and his wife trying to coax 70+ cows from one field, across a road, passing our car, and into another field. The cows didn’t want to. Whether it our parked car that spooked them… we don’t know. After a few minutes we offered to help – we blocked one side of the road and the farmer stood the other and the wife coaxed the cows across. Some cows looked at us suspiciously … especially Mrs Hg137’s red shirt!

We are not MOOOving!

And so after two caches, one salesman and 70+ cows we parked the car at the start of the walk.

It was 1030 and although we hadn’t ‘started’ our walk, there was a seat and a quick coffee break was agreed. It was at this point Mr Hg137 realised there was no milk in the coffee! It was black! And we both take it white!
For once, lady luck smiled upon us. Next to the car park, was the village shop. We decided against buying a pint of milk, since it would have to be carried in a rucksack all day and it would be cheese by midday. So, powdered milk it was.

Sitting, drinking our coffee we could see much of our route. A flattish mile or so’s walk to the Ridgeway slope, a fierce up, a walk WESTWARDS to White Horse Hill and Uffington Castle, then retracing our steps heading EASTWARDS to the car.

Easy.

Apart from the heat.

High on the hillside.. the Uffington White Horse

We set off, through a playing field and then numerous farmer’s fields. Each separated to the next by a mixed bag of stiles. Some tall, some wobbly, some covered in brambles, all different. The White Horse (high above us) became closer and more distinct, until we lost it, when we entered woodland and our next cache. We didn’t really have to search for it, as it hadn’t been well hidden. Fortunately a quick find, as a dog walker was yards behind us. She only caught us up as we were ‘finishing business’ at the next cache (a false stone). She headed off across a campsite, where a mixture of brightly coloured tents and tepees had been pitched.

We crossed the not-very-busy B4507 and started to climb. Within yards should have been a cache 5 feet up a tree. We failed to find it. We took on water, as our very steep ascent was about to start.

Sneaky!

About halfway up was another cache, cleverly hidden in a ‘false branch’ – welcome respite from the puffing and panting of a 400 foot steep (at times 45 degree) ascent.

Halfway…up this steep slope!


The path levelled near a gate and – as one comes to expect – so does a cache. Not quite where we were expecting it to be, but a straightforward find. A few more feet of climbing on a far gentler slope and we arrived at the Ridgeway… and another cache.

A bison.

Hanging on the ‘Ridgeway footpath sign’.

Mr Hg137’s hands were sweaty, and as he unscrewed the base…it slipped through his fingers. Amongst stinging nettles and brambles. We searched the ground. We parted the brambles. We poked and prodded the nettles. But no bison base could we find. The bison base, contained the log, which we had yet to sign. Twenty minutes later we gave up our search. We would be returning past here later so we could search again.

Whoops! Just the top half of the bison remains

We headed West, to the top of White Horse Hill. A fabulous viewpoint. We undertook two caches at the top – the first an Earthcache based on the formation of The Manger – a curious dry valley formation.

The Manger

Our second cache, a multi, involved collecting numbers from three different signs, and calculating a set of co-ordinates. Fortunately the final cache was only a short walk away, and a large container too. We found a ‘bee’ trackable which we hived off for release elsewhere on our journey. We had loaded a couple of other caches near the White Horse Hill, but the high temperature put us off walking further than we absolutely had to.

Is this really a horse ?

The White Horse we had seen from afar is barely visible at the top of the hill. The chalk body is roped off (to prevent vandals/erosion), so we couldn’t get close to it. Uffington Castle is an Iron Age hillfort surrounded by ditches. It is still very impressive to walk around, and with views in all directions one can see why it was so important in years gone by.

Mrs Hg137 walks around the ramparts of Uffington Castle

Our route back to the car was a 3 mile walk along the Ridgeway. It is an ancient trackway, perhaps 5,000 years old linking Avebury (in Wiltshire) to Ivinghoe Beacon (Buckinghamshire).

The Ridgeway is a Bridleway

We walked the full 87 miles back in 2012. Indeed we found our first geocache towards the Eastern end of the Ridgeway (a large ammo can hidden in yew tree roots).

The Ridgeway is predominantly a chalk ridge with extensive views over Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Much of the Oxfordshire views has one, major feature – Didcot Power Station. Originally it had 6 towers, – three were brought down a few years ago, the remaining three are due for demolition shortly.

The 3 remaining towers of Didcot Power Station are just visible in the haze


Despite the Ridgeway being a chalk ridge – frequently the views are obscured by trees either side of the track. These trees provided excellent hiding places for our remaining caches. Sometimes in the boles, sometimes in ivy, and because of the quantity of trees, frequently hard to find the correct tree.

We had searched (unsuccessfully) a second time for our dropped bison, but fortunately found the other caches we attempted. Looking for a cache in a tree was an excellent way of finding cool shadows on this baking hot day.

Hot chalk, lots of trees, but little shade

Eventually we stopped and took stock of progress.

We had a just over a mile to go, and 10 caches to find. We were hot, our water bottles were getting low, and time had slipped by as the day had gone on (the cow crossing, buying milk, a lost bison, and slower and slower searches). We decided to change our searching strategy.

We would attempt every third cache until we reached our car. This would increase our walking pace, and our search time would be reduced.

We walked by, and looked longingly at, two likely hosts and arrived at our first ‘third’ cache. Could we find it ? No. We searched high, low, in ivy, in branches. Nothing. We agreed to attempt the next cache, in its place. Same again.. high, low, nothing. So much for saving time and energy.

The next cache was successful as well as the very next one (the second ‘third’). A final push and we’d be near the car for our final cache of the day..until…until… we saw a waterbutt. Next to the path. Waterbutts are often used to hide caches… yes we were 10 feet from a cache (hint ‘underwater’). Our fried brains meant it took us two circuits of the butt to find the cache and as we did so, we noticed above the butt… a tap. A drinking water tap.
We filled our bottles, doused our hair, drank and drank and drank.


The tap was a memorial to Peter Wren, who died at the very tender age of 14.

Revived, we had bounce in our step for the last quarter of a mile. A final quick find under a signpost and we collapsed in a heap by our car.

Last cache of the day

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”

A six mile walk. In a 30+ degree heat. A very steep climb to the Ridgeway. 21 caches attempted, 18 found.

Were we mad ?

Probably.

Some of the caches we found included :

July 13 : Bath and Chippenham : spas and Wombles

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

July 13th is a special day for us. Doubly special if it’s a Friday, too. So we both took the day off work and had something doubly special planned: a trip to Bath, to visit Thermae Spa, then a couple of caches in the city, followed by a diversion to Chippenham to look for a cache we had long been hoping to find: the Wombles Signature Cache.


Thermae Spa was a Millennium project which went monumentally over both time and budget http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/5230322.stm But it eventually opened and now brings over £10 extra million into the economy of the city each year. What to say about it? Well it’s certainly not cheap, but it is huge fun and an experience worth saving the pennies for. There’s a pool at ground level, a floor of saunas and steam rooms, and an ice bath (shiver!) but the highlight is the rooftop pool, overlooking the rooftops of Bath and the Abbey, and beyond to the surrounding hills. All this water is from the hot springs under the city, filtered and at a lovely warm 35C – it’s quite buoyant, like sea water, and leaves the skin beautifully soft. Photos are not allowed, but here’s one from the web.

Thermae Spa, Bath

Thermae Spa, Bath


Soon our two hour session was up and we were back out in the city streets with silky smooth skin and ready for a spot of geocaching.

But why so many people in mortarboards and gowns? It was graduation day at Bath University and a ceremony was taking place at Bath Abbey.

Still slightly damp, we repeatedly paced out the length of the Roman Bath while researching the answers to the ‘Hot Springs’ earthcache. Six times we tried, getting four (similar) different answers, yet all this marching up and down went unnoticed amongst the students, parents and tourists. Nearby is a traditional cache (ie physical, with a log to sign), ‘Abbey Green’ – there are very few caches like this in the centre of a tourist city and this one is very popular indeed, with seven visits on the day we were there. The owner must go through a lot of logbooks!

We walked back through the city … and past a lot of owls … they are part of the Minerva Owl trail https://minervasowls.org/

Somehow it was mid-afternoon already and we travelled to Chippenham, sort of on the way home, to look for THE cache of the day, the ‘Wombles Signature cache’, owned by The Wombles and placed on 1st January 2004. Dotted around the country in various caches, mostly in the south-west, are a number of Wombles. Half of them have a keyring attached with the westing coordinates for this cache and half have the northing coordinates. Find both northing and westing Wombles and you have the coordinates to the cache. We’d read about the cache, thought no more about it and then, in February 2018, we went out in the snow to do some maintenance on our own cache, (Berry Bank, GC452NG), and discovered that it contained a Northing Womble, Shansi. We noted the coordinates (several times) and carried on with caching life. In late June 2018 we found another cache at Badbury Clump in Oxfordshire , and found it contained another Womble, Welington. Once again we noted the coordinates several times. When we got home and checked, we’d got both northing and westing coordinates so were good to go for the cache. Hurrah! (Sometimes it takes years to find both coordinates – if ever – and we had found both by chance.)

We got an extra hint from the cache owner and parked in the suggested place, by the A350 (the cache is in woods and the GPS signal isn’t good in the summer when the trees are in leaf, hence the extra hint). We walked up and down the verge, next to the roaring traffic, and tried in vain to find a way into the woods. After a bit we were both grumpy and scared so we re-parked in a nearby housing estate and questioned several passing muggles on the best way to get into the woods. A bit more walking, a bit more muggle questioning, and we were among the trees at last and following the GPS. We were pleased when we arrived at a place which matched both the coordinates we had found and the hint. And we spotted something that … was the cache. Wow, we’d found it.

Where in the woods?

Where in the woods?

Where in the woods?

Where in the woods?


Now we ‘just’ had to open the cache and sign the logbook. Simple. Umm, no. We weren’t there yet. The cache is a very large ammo box, above ground level, and is firmly bolted down. It’s also locked shut by two fearsome 5-digit combination padlocks which can be opened using the numbers from the northing and westing coordinates. So we clung to something suitable and both worked away at the padlocks until we’d worked out which was ‘west’ and which was ‘north’ and got the locks open. We prised the stiff lid off the box and … a large Womble was gazing at us. Hello, Orinoco! We emptied out the contents of the cache – toys, geocaching-related stuff, trackables (we took one of the three and there will be a post about that soon, dear readers) – signed the log, and took a selection of pictures.
We went back to the geocar, and home in a state of high satisfaction.
Mission accomplished and a great day!

(Editor’s note: We met Mike Batt, he of the Wombles, at a wedding reception a while back, when he was singing in the house band at the wedding. He refused to sing any Womble songs … )