November 10 : FTF – Wokingham – Chestnut Avenue

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

FTF - First To Find

FTF – First To Find

Unusually for a Friday, neither of us was working, and we (naturally) had some caching planned, on the North Downs south of Guildford. The GPS was loaded, a map was prepared, a thermos of coffee was made, and we were all set to leave.

Just before setting off, we paused to check emails, and … there was a new cache less than 10 miles away, that was still unfound, despite having been published for two days. We ditched our previous plans, loaded the new cache, and set off at speed for Woosehill, on the north-west edge of Wokingham. (Editor’s note: that is incredibly rare, new caches are usually snapped up within minutes or hours of publication. Some cachers make a point of searching out new caches to get that coveted FTF – first to find – and a signature on a blank logsheet. )

Both of us know the area very well, as Mr Hg137 used to live in Woosehill, and it’s close to where I work so I walk there at lunchtimes. (Editor’s note, again: this was what swayed our decision to attempt a FTF on this cache.) We parked close to the likely target, and set off into the woods. The coordinates of the cache could be determined by visiting three noticeboards, counting the vowels on them, and doing a little sum with the answers to get the final coordinates. We did that. We checked the answers, and double-checked just in case. It seemed quite a long way to the final location, over a mile, but hey-ho, sometimes you have to strive to be the first … we set a waypoint in the GPS and set off across Woosehill.

It's a noticeboard - but not the right one!

It’s a noticeboard – but not the right one!


It was a pleasant walk on a sunny late autumn day, and a trip through memory lane for Mr Hg137. We walked through streets, crossed the main road, through Morrison’s supermarket, past the takeaway and the surgery, across a green area, across the Emm Brook and on into Wokingham. We arrived at the given coordinates, by a household hedge, which bore no resemblance whatsoever to the hint on the cache. We checked our arithmetic again. We checked the derived coordinates on the GPS. It all matched. Something had gone wrong, but what? Chastened and disappointed, we trekked back to the geocar and went home.
On the way - to the wrong place

On the way – to the wrong place

Still going the wrong way ...

Still going the wrong way …


Once at home, we logged a note for the cache and sent a note to the cache owner, describing our travails. While doing this, we were thinking about our arithmetic and workings and we wondered if the coordinates in the cache description were maybe wrong. We played around with Google maps, typing in coordinates that were slightly different to the published ones. Eureka! There was a typo in the westings of the published coordinates, which should have read W000 52… instead of W000 51… And that led to a spot not very far away from the noticeboards we had visited earlier.

Back into the geocar, and back again at speed to Woosehill. This time we could park really close, and we scampered across to our destination. And there it was! A new cache and an empty log and we had achieved the coveted ‘First To Find’.

Back home, we reflected on our morning while eating a very, very late lunch. Forty miles, two visits, several miles of walking. Was it worth it … yes!

PS To round off the story, we sent another message to the cache owner explaining the above (or a summary of it, anyway). He was most apologetic and amended the mistake in the cache description almost instantly.

PPS We never did drink that flask of coffee that was made at the start of this post. By the time we rediscovered it, a day later, it had gone cold.

PPPS Here are some more pictures of the cache. They weren’t taken right at the final location, so they show what it looks like, but not where it is!

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October 21 : Virginia Water (Part 1)

Virginia Water is an area of parkland with a large lake at its centre. It is part of Windsor Great Park, and thus is a Royal Park.

Virginia Water

Back in July, 24 caches had been placed in the grounds of Virginia Water, and these seemed to be excellent caching targets. The caches were of various types – a couple of challenge caches (for which we didn’t qualify), a couple of puzzle caches (which we ought to be able to solve), a couple of multis, but the majority were simple straightforward hides. There were also a few other older caches too, so we had well over 30 caches to attempt.

Virginia Water is a busy attraction. There are runners, dog walkers, cyclists, young families – so finding caches could be tricky. The terrain is broadly flat as the main feature is the 130 acre Virginia Water Lake, and the paths are very good to walk on. To walk around the lake, a well known charity-walking circuit, is 4.5 miles. (Often rounded up to 5 miles for charity purposes!).

Beautiful Autumn Colours

We decided rather than attempt all 30 caches on one visit, we would use Virginia Water as our ‘Winter’ project, and find 6-8 caches per visit. We also decided to utilise the layby on the nearby A30 rather than pay £10 for the (3-hour) car parking.

Dotted around Virginia Water are various attractions. These include ruins, a cascade and today’s target, a totem pole. This is about a 20-30 minute walk from the main entrance, and is probably the most visited attraction in the park. (20-30 minutes being an ideal distance for youngsters to walk with the expectation of seeing something special).

Our first caches were based on the totem pole. Both were of a similar genre, though for some reason were classed as two different types of cache (a puzzle cache and a letter box hybrid). Both required us to read information from the totem pole’s information boards, and derive a BEARING and DISTANCE. (Note, not a set of co-ordinates). Fortunately for us, both bearings were similar, and the difference in distances was less than a quarter of a mile.

Totem Pole on our sunny arrival

We strode purposefully to the first area. Checked our distance and bearing from the totem pole, and searched. A large hole under some tree roots looked inviting, especially as we were looking for an ammo can. Not there.
We searched in the nearby rhododendron bushes (there are a lot of rhododendron bushes in Virginia Water, and we suspect these will be a common feature in our caching quest). Not there. After 20 minutes searching we gave up. We convinced ourselves we must have got some of the calculation wrong, so abandoned and attempted the second totem pole BEARING/DISTANCE hide.

We arrived at a meeting of various footpaths. With the hint of ‘base of large tree’ this should be easy. Nope.
We looked at many of the trees we could see, most of them in rhododendron thickets, all to no avail. Again we doubted our ability to derive the correct BEARING and DISTANCE so we abandoned. (We did give ourselves a further excuse here as the totem pole distance was calculated in metres, and our GPS was measuring in tenths of miles.)

Lovely Leaves

So we had abandoned our first two Virginia Water caches. But we knew we’d be back, and we could double-check our calculations before our next visit.

We decided to attempt a further four caches, as the weather was worsening. Our first find of the day, in a broken stump, was tricky to extricate, made even harder as we were underneath a chestnut tree dropping nuts in the ever-quickening wind.

Our second find was, not unexpectedly, deep in a rhododendron bush. We were looking for an ‘X’, which Mrs HG137 saw, but as the GPS indicated that we were still 60 feet away, we ignored…until of course the GPS settled and we had to burrow our way into the bush a second time.

Our third find, the smallest cache so far, was relatively easy, apart from the slightly damp grass we walked across to find it.

Then the rain started. Cold, autumnal rain. Most of the park has well established trees, but as luck would have it, we found ourselves in an area of 7-10 year old saplings. No cover at all! Eventually we found a suitable tree to use as cover, precariously overlooking a stream. We took great care not to slide downwards!

Totem Pole – after the rain

Eventually the rain cleared, and with even blacker clouds on the horizon we attempted one more cache before leaving the Park. This time in a tree stump, and quite exposed, so we found some leaves and bark and hid it better.

Environmental Checking of the Water

As we had entered the Park we had noticed that a proportion of the car park had been sealed off with TV/Film vehicles inside. Being nosy we ascertained from a ranger that scenes from a forthcoming episode of ‘Silent Witness’ were being shot in the nearby village. Something to look out for!

‘Silent Witness’ filming caravans

We also discovered Virginia Water has been used in many TV programmes and films (including Harry Potter and Tarzan!), so if our photos look familiar its because you’ve seen them in film!

A couple of a caches we found :

October 15 : Legends – Swinley Forest

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Swinley Forest

Swinley Forest


Legends. A puzzle cache, set in Swinley Forest.
Five sets of coordinates. That’s all we had to go on.

We thought for a while, and entered some of the coordinates into Google Maps. They led to nowhere in particular. We thought for a bit, and typed in the rest of the coordinates. More thinking. Then light dawned, and we had the connection we needed. A few minutes of searching, we had the answer to the puzzle, and the geochecker confirmed we were correct. Well done to the cache owner, Colin Smudger, another clever puzzle.

We set off for Swinley Forest. Our first choice of parking spot was full, as it was a warm autumn day and cyclists, dogs, runners and walkers were out in force. But we know the area very well and parked a little way further away and made our way into the edge of the woods, and found the cache after a few minutes in the undergrowth.

Legends

Legends


We then went for a short walk. We have an affinity for this particular bit of young woodland and visit it regularly. In May 2011 there was a forest fire in this area of woods and over 100,000 trees were destroyed. Here are some pictures of the fire: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-13285853 We were part of the team of around 300 local residents who replanted about 10,000 of those trees in early 2012. We planted oak, alder, chestnut, western redwood, larch, pine …

Swinley Forest, January 2012

Swinley Forest, January 2012


Swinley Forest, October 2017

Swinley Forest, October 2017


Hence we visit ‘our’ trees from time to time, so see how they are getting on. And my, how they have grown. They were less than a handspan tall then, and many of them are much taller than me now. At the time I said that I would like to walk through the trees when they became a wood, and that ambition has now been achieved.
Into 'my' trees

Into ‘my’ trees

September 30 : Popham Perambulation

It had been some weeks since our last all-day geocaching expedition, and with Autumn taking hold, the Popham Perambulation seemed an ideal route to complete before the weather and daylight succumbed to Winter.

Fantastic views around the farmland


Popham is a small village just outside of Basingstoke near to both the M3 and A30. It has an airfield though we only saw one aircraft all day and that was at lunchtime. The Perambulation circuit consists of 16 caches, a bonus cache (based on numbers collected from caches along the way), and also a Church Micro: 18 caches, 5 miles.

The route took us around farmland – we must have gone round at least half a dozen fields, many of which had boundary hedgerows (ideally hiding places!). The route also crossed through several small copses (again ideal caching locations).

While we were on route to cache 1 we were aware of several vehicles driving into the first farm.
What were they going to ?

What is that vehicle doing ?

It was only much later we saw lots of pheasants (doing a good guard job over a cache) and heard guns firing. Then, we realised our route was close to a day’s shoot. Indeed while we were attempting caches 14, 15, and 16 the shooting party were preparing to shoot within yards of where we were looking. Minutes later and we would have been in the firing line! Phew !

The numbers that we needed to find the bonus cache had been placed in various caches on route. We were grateful that the numbers were duplicated in various caches, as we failed to find 4 of the 16 caches! Two of these DNFs were in ivy and after 10-15 minutes searching we gave up at each location. Another of our DNFs had genuinely gone missing and has subsequently been replaced.

Somewhere in the ivy, is a cache. Sadly we didn’t find it!

Many of the caches we found were relatively small and it took us a few cache finds until we found a cache big enough to fit the Schlumpfi trackable inside.

Farewell Schlumpfi!

St James, Woodmancott


The Church Micro was an easy find, as it was out in the open, so we hid it better. Our only disappointment was that the Church was closed, presumably for the following day’s Harvest Festival. The Church did have an unusual way of displaying parish notices!

The Church seats were an ideal place to have lunch, and it was here a light aircraft flew overhead, towing a banner advertising Winchester shopping centre!

After cache 16 we checked the numbers we had found, and discovered more by luck than judgement, our car was parked a few yards from the final hiding place.

Although we didn’t find all the caches which was disappointing, the walk around the chalk farmland around Hampshire was great circuit with some expansive views which we thoroughly enjoyed. Some of the caches we found included :

September 8 : Shropshire – Craven Arms – the way home

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Our holiday was over. We were going home. Rather than face the traffic jams on the M6, we chose to travel south across country, past Craven Arms and Ludlow, joining the motorway at Worcester, and stopping for caches on the way (obviously!).

Our first two targets were in, or close to, lay-bys on the A49. The first was ‘Treasy Peasy’, and was found … behind a tree. The second was ‘Bush’, and was found … erm … near a bush.

In a tree?

In a tree?


We continued south, reaching Craven Arms, a town named after a pub! Four of the caches here are placed along the main roads which radiate from the centre and are called ‘Craven Arms – Gateway to the Marches’ north / south / east / west – a very neat idea for a cache series. We opted to find ‘north’ and ‘south’ as we passed through.

Close to the southern edge of Craven Arms is the chocolate-box pretty Stokesay Castle http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stokesay-castle We parked in the English Heritage car park and walked a short way along the path into the churchyard of Stokesay Church, which leads to the castle. After a few minutes of gazing at both castle and church, and taking many, many pictures – it is soooo photogenic, we realised that we should desist and should instead look for the Church Micro cache which was close by. After a little more wandering about, we found the cache inside the churchyard, in a yew tree. That was a first for us, as all the other sixty of so Church Micro caches we’ve found elsewhere are outside the boundary of the church.
Stokesay Castle

Stokesay Castle


And that was the end of the caching, and the end of the holiday. We got back into the car and started the long drive home…

And here are two more of the caches we found:

September 7 : Schlumpfi on Tour

As we mentioned on our last blog, at the top of Long Mynd, hidden in the Pole Bank cache, was a trackable – “Schlumpfi on Tour”.

Schlumpfi is a German trackable, hence its name. The English for “Schlumpfi”, is “Smurf” which is of course what we recognised this charming character as. Our knowledge of Smurfs is not that great, so we are unable to identify which Smurf it is! (Regular readers may remember we have found another Smurf trackable, Smoulicek, which we blogged about in April 2015).

Schlumpfi started his journey near Dresden just under three years ago, and has criss-crossed Germany several times. Unusually for a Smurf he has not visited Holland or Belgium, but has visited Switzerland, Spain and a fleeting visit to America. He arrived in Britain in August 2017 starting his UK journey at Edinburgh Castle!

Enjoy the UK, Schlumpfi !

September 7 : Long Mynd – Pole Bank

Long Mynd, looking down Townbrook Valley

Long Mynd, looking down Townbrook Valley


Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.
Pole Bank, highest point of the Long Mynd

Pole Bank, highest point of the Long Mynd


It seemed as if we had hardly arrived, but we had reached the last day of our walking holiday with HF at Church Stretton. The final walk for the week took us up the side of the Long Mynd and along the broad ridge at the top.
The highest point of the Long Mynd, at an airy, windswept 516 m or 1693 feet, is Pole Bank. A few paces from the trig point, hidden in the heather, is a cache of the same name. As the rest of the party clustered round a nearby information board, I set off into the undergrowth and found the cache under a pile of stones.


But there was not one cache, but two. One was older, and damper, and the other was newer, drier, and hidden in a camo bag. I signed the log in the older cache, and left two trackables. In return, I removed the Smurf trackable that was already in the cache.
Carding Mill Valley

Carding Mill Valley


I turned around and my walking companions were already leaving. I raced back, grabbed my rucksack and caught them up. We walked back along the ridge and then down the beautiful Carding Mill valley to the teashop that marked the end of the walk.