August 5 : UK Mega 2017, Devon – Day 2, Bicton Park

Note : the following blog contains many pictures of people. If you are identifiable in a picture, and want to be removed from the blog/picture, please request this in the comments section.

The 2017 Mega had arrived.

Actually the UK Mega event had been going on all week. Many hundreds of geocachers had camped at Bicton College, just outside of Otterton, for many days and had taken part on a variety of activities including letter-boxing on Dartmoor, and early morning swim and lots of local trips and excursions.

Bicton College

But Saturday was the big day. The day, when people like us, would attend for one day only. And nearly 2000 people did too!

Lots of cachers!


A giant convoy slowly drove into Bicton College passing the huge camping site. Lots of large tents, small tents, campervans. Somehow we squeezed into a car park space and walked, to the main building. Without really trying, and despite arriving at 9:50, we found ourselves pretty close to the front as the Mega doors opened. A local towncrier pronounced the event ‘Open’ and with that Signal the Frog welcomed everyone.

From Town Crier…

…to Signal the Frog


Inside the Bicton Park building were a variety of stall holders, and we were first at the Garmin stand to find out what went wrong the previous day. It seems that may have been a ‘duff’ cache which caused the problem, but with over 70 caches loaded its difficult to work out which it was.

Other exhibitors included Aberdeen Geocachers selling wares for their Mega in 2019, various stands selling geocache containers and trackables, a demonstration of http://www.project-gc.com and also UK Cache Mag.

UK Cache Mag

UK Cache Mag

Buy your caches here!

Buy your caches here!

We’ve met Adam, the editor, a few times, and he asked us to take a few photos for the magazine. We were able to help him, and we were really pleased that several of our photos appeared in the latest issue.

Outside there was also a hive of activity. 10 lab caches had been set up.

These were short ‘games’ – perhaps solving a mini-jigsaw, decoding a series of flags, hanging up some ‘washing’ or tipping water into pipes with a large number of drainage holes. As each activity was completed the name of a previous Mega location was spelt out. (Or at least spelt, similar to, a Mega location. Many of the Os had become zeroes, many of the Is had become 1s, many of the Ls had become (s. ). To claim the lab cache one had to enter the answer online. We solved 9 out 10, failing only on the puzzle which required a QR code reader which we did not have on our phone. Great fun!

Keep pouring!

Washing Day!

Piecing it together!

A marquee on the campsite had activities going on in the day, including lock-picking!
With hindsight we should have taken a look in the marquee, but somehow it slipped off our radar.

We instead undertook some of the geocaches laid out near the site. Many of these had been undertaken by those camping all week, but it gave a set of close-by caches for the day visitors too.

2 series caught our eye : an Animal series and a Roadside Rubbish series. Between them they formed a circular trip of just under 20 caches.

Where have all the cachers gone ?


Caching at a Mega event is easy. Stand roughly near a cache site, and someone will soon arrive and find the cache with you. Surprisingly though we did have several caches to find and replace on our own. Some times we struggled and another cacher would appear from nowhere, stick their hand in a bush and retrieve the cache seemingly without trying.

At one cache, “Lizard”, probably 20 cachers were gently fondling tree roots desperately trying to find an elusive toy. (As it turned out, the toy Lizard had been replaced by a Tupperware container).

Where’s the Lizard ?

The caches in both the Roadside Rubbish and Animal series were imaginative. Toys were predominantly used for the Animal series – though the porcelain cat was a scary exception.

The ‘rubbish’ containers were cats’eyes (how they were acquired we still don’t know), number plates, plastic bottles and most unexpectedly a small plastic dustbin!

The only exception to the Rubbish and Animal series was a wooden box (similar to, if not made by, local Berkshire cacher, JJEF). We arrived at this cache with another pair of cachers who performed the appropriate magnetic trick with a coin.

We found all the caches we attempted on the circuit and arrived back at Bicton College as the closing ceremony approached. Drum Majorettes were performing, a presentation to the next UK Mega (Yorkshire 2018) took place, and the Geocaching awards took place in the evening. We were really pleased to see that Washknight – See blogroll left for his blog – won in the Special Caching Achievement Award category.

Well done to him, and well done to all the organisers of the Devon Mega – a truly fantastic event.

Advertisements

September 24 – Yorkshire Mega 2018

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Geocachers are sociable people and they like to meet each other at events, as well as searching for caches furtively and alone. We’ve been to a few of these events: pub meals, flash mobs, etc. Occasionally, once or twice a year in the UK, there is a much bigger gathering, known as the Mega.

What is a Mega Event?
Mega events are the ultimate gatherings for geocachers. Officially, events must surpass the 500 attendees to qualify for “Mega” status. Many Mega events are held annually, offer plenty of planned activities and attract geocachers from all over the world. Traditionally the Annual UK Mega has a week long run up of side events building up to Mega Day itself.

We’ve been to two mega-events, one back in August 2013, and the recent Geolympix at the end of July this year. Next year’s event is in Devon, and the one after that … is in Yorkshire. The 2018 event is the tenth one – there have been eight Mega events and two Geolympix in the UK up to now.

The 2018 Yorkshire Mega is well advertised:

It’s got a website: http://www.mega2018.org.uk
It’s got a Facebook page too: http://www.facebook.com/groups/YorkshireMega2018
And it’s also on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ukmega2018

And the calling card we found is yet another way of spreading the word among the geocaching community.

July 31 – GeoJaanipäev 2016 Mega Event Trackable

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

GeoJaanipäev 2016 Mega Event Trackable

GeoJaanipäev 2016 Mega Event Trackable


It’s been a while since we found a trackable, and here was one to be rescued from an uncertain fate … we were out geocaching in the woods of the Ashridge estate, following groups of geocachers from cache to cache. Something glinted underfoot, and we looked down. It was this geocoin, dropped and alone on the path. It was already partly hidden by leaf litter, and would have soon been hidden from view. But it was spotted, and saved!

Once retrieved, we waited a little while to see if whoever had it before woujld log it – no-one did – then marked it as in our possession. We did a little research on its history, too … it’s very, very new, being purchased at the Mega event in Estonia, being placed in a cache in Finland on 20th July 2016, picked up later the same day, and being taken straight from there to the Geolympix, another mega-event, on July 31st. A short life so far, but eventful and filled with big geocachers events.

July 31 : Geolympix MEGA, Ashridge Estate

Bridgewater Monument, Ashridge Estate

Bridgewater Monument, Ashridge Estate

Caching Mega

Geolympix banner

Four years ago, the UK held its first Geolympix event in Oxford. That event was so successful that, this year, again coinciding with the Summer Olympic Games, the second Geolympix event was held.

Like the previous event this soon reached MEGA status with well over 500 cachers attending. The Ashridge estate near Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire is a large area (5000 acres) of woodland and open fields – ideal for geocaching. The estate is owned by the National Trust event and all the caches were placed with their consent.

Cachers gathering

Cachers gathering

Visitors from the USA

Visitors from the USA


A duck (on the back of bike) - yes really!

A duck (on the back of a bike) – yes really!

Cachers came from far and wide, including USA, Finland, Ireland, Cornwall and Yorkshire to our knowledge. Many of the cachers had t-shirts with trackable numbers on, others had bags and even plastic ducks with trackable numbers waiting to be discovered!

Lots of different events had been put on including caching exhibitors, a film festival, a talk on caching efficiency, National Geocaching Awards, and much besides. To give the event an ‘Olympic’ feel there were certain challenges that could be undertaken – could you find 26 caches in a day beginning with each letter of the alphabet, could you spell your caching name with the cache initials, could you find 11 caching types (icons) in 24 hours ? Reading the online logs after the event many people did undertake some of these challenges.

For sale :Quirky Caches aka JJEF caches

For sale :Quirky Caches aka JJEF caches

Adam Redshaw and his UK Cache Mag

Adam Redshaw and his UK Cache Mag

There were of course straightforward caches to be found and also some lab caches to undertake. Lab caches were a new concept to us, but primarily we visited a location, solved a simple puzzle to derive a code word, and then to claim the lab cache find enter the ‘code word’ into the lab cache website. We managed to find the code words hidden in a crossword, the underside of a rubber duck, locating and reading a QR code and solving a simple number substation code. All good fun but no actual caching container to find!

Many of the caches available to be found had been set out in the weeks preceding the event. We had loaded over 30 and we knew some more would be ‘released’ at midday. Our plan was to be alone in the woods at midday, and see if we could be the First-to-Find for one of these caches.

We starting caching at around 1015 and for the first few caches we didn’t need much geocaching skill. We were following the crowd! Every Ground Zero, had a cluster of cachers passing the log from person to person. As midday approached we did achieve our aim of being alone. We turned on our phone and tried for an internet connection. None. We tried again. Nope. And again.. our plans of attempting a First-to-Find were being thwarted by a poor broadband signal. In the end we gave up and continued our caching trail around the estate.

The next cache we found after this, was Britain’s Oldest Log. Apparently this was Britain’s second oldest cache, placed hours after Britain’s first cache back in 2001, but this cache was the first cache to be found – hence it has the oldest log!

Eventually the further we got from the Mega Hub, we saw fewer and fewer people. Caching was more relaxed, we could search in our own way, cursing the GPS signal, cursing the tree cover and generally having a relaxed walk finding caches.

Standing on a log, Mrs Hg137 just reaches this cache

Standing on a log, Mrs Hg137 just reaches this cache

There were three main series we attempted caches from : Cyclerama, Cyclerama Cross-Country and Home of the Fallen Trees. Of these the Home of the Fallen Trees had the more ingenious hides. Generally hidden in a fallen tree/log .. and lots of places to search!

Fallen tree location

Fallen tree location


We found two multicaches on route – both we made a bit of mistake with. Normally we transcribe the questions/formula for multi-caches so we can easily write down the answer. However we didn’t do it this time, and as a result were totally unprepared when we arrived at multi-cache. It was lucky that there cachers around at one of them, as we needed a phone to swipe a ‘yellow post’ to derive the final co-ordinates.
Ashridge Estate - lots of cache hiding places

Ashridge Estate – lots of cache hiding places

Ashridge Estate - lots of cache hiding places

Ashridge Estate – lots of cache hiding places


We finished our caching route about 330 ish and headed back to the hub. We hoping to meet with ‘Washknight’ You may have read his ‘Geocaching Blind’ blogs (see also left of this blog). He lives near to the site and had been nominated for one of the Geocaching awards. We sat on a log, drinking a well earned cup of coffee. Had we missed him ? We were wearing bright orange, sorry VERY BRIGHT ORANGE, T-shirts so we might be spotted. But we saw his party first. We had a great chat, and we wished him well for the Award Ceremony (sadly he didn’t win).. but it was great to meet someone whose adventures we have enjoyed reading
for the last year or so. (Ed : if you want to see how orange those T-shirts were, visit washknight’s blog).
Sam, Shar and Paul aka Washknight

Sam, Shar and Paul aka Washknight


We took a different route back to the car and found two more caches. One was almost a ‘gimme’ as we saw two cachers emerging from the bushes who told us the hint and where to look. We went over and found it… it was one of the caches released that day! So not exactly the first to find…but definitely in the top 20!
A very enjoyable, exhausting day. We walked about 7 miles, attended one event (the Mega), logged 4 lab caches, 2 multicaches and 19 standard caches. A great haul…but we discovered when we got home this made our total cache count..1599! If only we had attempted one more!

Some of the caches :

Footnote : We have subsequently read Washknight’s blog. They found a cache, which we found very early on in the morning. It wasn’t too hard to find (it was technically a puzzle cache), as it was behind large letters spelling the word “GEOCACHE” ! However the paper log had no reference as to what the cache number was so we couldn’t log it online. We now have that number, so we have logged the cache online giving us the magic 1600 caches. Woo hoo!

September 13 : Thames Path Staines to Walton

In which we are given an unexpected gift, accidentally prevent a cache from being found and ring a bell to catch a boat!

Staines Bridge, the start of our walk

Staines Bridge, the start of our walk


Prior to most of our caching trips, we undertake research. In the case of the Thames Path we research where to park at the start and/or finish and how to return to any parked cars at the end of the walk – ideally without incurring the large car parking fees associated with being close to the River Thames.
Our research today found several free, yes free, parking spaces near Walton Bridge, our intended destination. Better still there was a bus service that would take us to Staines where our walk would start. Excellent! Not only that but the car parking spot was very easy to drive to (about 5 minutes from the M3!).

While we were waiting at the bus stop – or more correctly double-checking we were at the correct bus stop, we were approached by a local resident in his front garden.

“I’ve something you might like”.
“Oh” we replied unenthusiastically (our minds were thinking about a bus due in a minute or so time).
I see you’ve got a walking pole… would you like two more
Er..”
I’ll just go and get them”

A few seconds passed. We looked at each other anxiously, one eye at each other, one eye looking for a bus and our third(!) eye at the gentleman’s front garden…

Here you are.. some local youths threw them in my garden some weeks back. They didn’t want them..do you?”

We took them. He accepted no money for them. A pair of practically new walking poles. What a start to our day! Just as we were trying to collect our thoughts along came the bus for our short trip to Staines.

At Staines, or as we have mentioned before, Staines-upon-Thames, we made our way from the bus station to the river. But not before our first cache of the day, under a seat near the war memorial. With two seats to choose it shouldn’t have taken us too long to find the nano.. sadly it did!

Within yards of resuming our walk along the Thames Path we encountered several monuments, statues and sculptures. Modern sculptures, the original London Stone marking London’s original jurisdiction of the Thames as well as a heron and a swan-upper .. all with yards of each other. None of them hid any caches though!

Our 8 mile route had few caches on the Thames Path, so after a couple of miles we broke off to visit the town/village of Laleham. Here was a church micro hidden near a very un-church-like location – a litter bin!

Our third cache on was back on the Thames, and quick easy find in a broken pole end. As we sat on a nearby seat, we became aware of runners coming towards us. They were in a race ! (Our previous Thames visit had something similar). This time we could just about read information on the tabards.. it was the Thames Path Challenge. http://www.thamespathchallenge.com. People were running (100km or 50 km) or walking 25km of the Thames Path coming straight for us! We gave a few a cheer as they went by, but our main efforts were dodging out of their way!

Looks hard work to us!

Looks hard work to us!

Nice hats!

Nice hats!


Eventually the path opened out to a wider green area, where our next target cache was to be found. “A bolt with a view” was the description so we knew what we were looking for.. a bolt. We spent ages looking for it, all the time being aware of a set of muggles arriving in the car park. We checked all the obvious metalwork to no avail, then we looked in a tree (really.. we did!) and back to the metalwork. Aha! Got it! Unscrew it, sign the log..and repla…bother the muggles are now trying to get the pay and display machine to work in direct eye-line of the cache. Lets wait!

We waited… and waited.. how long does it take to work a machine ? We waited.. Lets have lunch and replace it later. We made our way to a nearby picnic table and started to munch.

Some time later we were aware of two people with two dogs near the pay machine. Had they just arrived ? Are they paying ? Are they exercising their dogs for a short walk ? No, they are looking for something. They are checking metalwork… and look they are checking the tree too… they must be cachers… and we have the cache next to our Cheese and Onion crisps. Whoops!

We ran over, well Mr Hg137 did, and discovered that they were indeed geocachers. We apologised for holding the cache (explaining why of course) and we jointly replaced it. It had been 5 months since the last geocachers we had seen (in Oxford) so it was a real pleasure to meet huskyhustlers1 and their husky dogs!

HuskyHustlers looking for the cache

HuskyHustlers looking for the cache


We eventually finished our interrupted lunch and then continued on the Thames Path. By now the trickle of charity runners/walkers was a steady flow, which meant finding the next two caches a tad tricky. The path was at its narrowest and only just wide enough for two people to pass – so trying to locate two simple caches (one hidden in Armco, the other in a tree) was a bit of a squeeze.
Shepperton Lock

Shepperton Lock


We then had a long section to our next cache situated at Shepperton Lock (which we would have found a bit quicker if we’d had read the cache title!). Before we got there, we walked around a water meadow (we guess a euphemism for “flood plain”!). These meadows had become much scarcer approaching London, and according to the guide-book we are using, this was to be the last.

Immediately after Shepperton Lock the Thames Path splits for the first time on our journey. The Northern bank route follows paths and pavements, slightly away from the Thames, for about 1.5 miles to Walton Bridge. The Southern bank route is a little shorter and follows the riverside all the way to Walton. The actual river more correctly follows the Northern route but with so many meanders, the flow of the river was so poor in the 1930s that a separate water channel, the Desborough Cut was built.

The Southern bank route follows the Desborough Cut and from our caching perspective, 2 more caches.

However to get to the Southern bank we needed to cross. There is no bridge, just a ferry. Although the ferry runs for much of the day, it is a request service. Every quarter of an hour the ferryman is summoned by ringing a bell. We waited 8 minutes for the appointed time, and rang the bell.

Ring the Bell...Catch the Ferry!

Ring the Bell…Catch the Ferry!


Nobody came. We waited.

Some ten minutes the ferryman appeared and soon our 2 minute boat crossing was complete.

Here's the Ferry!

Here’s the Ferry!


One of the two caches we had to find was a puzzle cache based on a ‘safe combination’ we’d solved before leaving and another hidden somewhere deep in fallen tree-trunk, overgrown, nettly area. This was to be our only DNF of the day.

The Southern route was very much quieter as the charity runners/walkers were on the Northern bank. It was therefore a great shock to see hundreds of walkers going over Walton Bridge when we arrived there! Our last cache, with our best view of the river all day, was found with many of the walkers right behind us!

Thames Path statistics :
Route length : 8.1 miles
Total distance walked : 144.35 miles

Caches found : 9 Total caches found : 264
Some of the caches included :

April 11 Thames Path : Swinford to Oxford

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

River Thames, Port Meadow, Oxford

River Thames, Port Meadow, Oxford


It was Boat Race day, so it was most appropriate to be walking into Oxford.  And it was a fine morning, after earlier rain, and once again there were caches to be found.

We set off from Swinford toll bridge and, where Wytham Woods came down to the Thames, quickly found three caches, all quite large and easy to find.  My, so good to find caches so close together!  Then we were out into open fields, speckled with sheep and lambs, and heading for the most northerly point of the Thames, at Kings Lock.  From here it’s (mostly) east and (mostly) southwards towards the sea.   And, guarding the most northerly point, there be dragons …

Kings Lock, the most northerly point on the Thames

Kings Lock, the most northerly point on the Thames

... here be dragons

… here be dragons

The river turned south and under the noisy A34.  We passed an old metal boundary marker and into Oxford.  Our next stop was the multi-cache based around the ruined Godstow Nunnery http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godstow ; we collected the clues and solved the problem while eating lunch and watching boats go through Godstow Lock.  The final location of the cache was … upstream, the way we had come. 

Godstow Nunnery

Godstow Nunnery

Back we went to that boundary marker; we now recalled that we’d read about that in the cache logs.  But the GPS said we weren’t yet at GZ (ground zero, the cache location), so it was off into the undergrowth and nettles; and there, a little way away, was another metal boundary marker, with a cache nestling next to it.  Success, and an excellent cache!
IMG_9393
Back at Godstow Bridge, we turned aside to find another cache, hidden by Wolvercote Mill stream, one of the many side-streams of the Thames.  But the likely location of the cache was on a narrow bridge on a busy lane, and we gave up before we got squashed by a car. 
Trout Inn, Godstow

Trout Inn, Godstow


We passed the Trout Inn http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Trout_Inn , originally the hospice for the nunnery, and more recently the haunt of Lewis Carroll (in real life) and Inspector Morse (in fiction).  We went by the nunnery yet again, and headed off towards Oxford; the next mile or two passed the huge Port Meadow, an open space for the people of Oxford.  Children played, picnics were eaten, walkers and cylists came past, cattle came down to the river to drink, geese paddled by, and rowers practiced on the river – this is a VERY popular place.  We had just one more cache to find along the Thames; it was on Fiddler’s Island, one of the many, many islands along the river.  It’s a cache that’s described as ‘suitable for beginners’ as it is next to the path, not too high or low, and fairly easy to find.    But, though we found it (in the end), we still managed to make it quite hard for ourselves, by looking in the wrong place, in the wrong kind of trees, not believing the GPS, and all sorts of other errors.

On leaving the Thames at Osney Bridge, we had nearly a mile to walk back to the geocar.  There were two caches near our route back so we decided to find those, too.  The first was in Botley Park, at the edge of some allotments, and near a side stream of the Thames where there used to be a swimming place called Tumbling Bay.  We had rummaged around for some minutes, without success, when two ladies walked up, each with a GPS.  They were puskailves and Tarya, from Finland, who were at a conference in Oxford and who had sneaked off to do some caching.  They, too, searched for the cache, and found it in a place where we thought we had looked.  We felt very silly.

puskailves and Tarya, geocachers from Finland

puskailves and Tarya, geocachers from Finland


As a group of four cachers we set off towards our final cache of the day, on a bridge over yet another side-stream of the Thames. We talked about geocaching on the way and found out that these cachers had been all over the world to cache, both have about 5000 finds, and have arranged lots of events.  On arrival at the cache site, we searched once again we searched, and once again the two Finnish ladies beat us to the find.  Finland 2 – England 0 !

Finally we headed back to the geocar, after a lovely day’s walking and caching along a beautiful stretch of the river.

Thames Path statistics : Route length : 6.2 miles Total distance walked : 53.0 miles Caches found : 5 Total caches found : 92

IMG_9372IMG_9370IMG_9369

June 26 Day 177 Caches Found 0 Cumulative Total 205 (+1 bonus, +1 cacher’s meet)

… we attended a Cacher’s Meet !

Many counties near us have a ‘Monthly Meet’, generally in a pub in the evening, and tonight we attended the Monthly Surrey Cachers Meet in Farnham.

The organiser, Kitey, had arranged with the pub, the Shepherd and Flock, that the cachers would use the garden area. When we arrived there were several people in the garden area, everyone chatting to each other. It was not obvious to us who were cachers !

Eventually we joined a group of cachers, and we joined in the discussion of caches found, and caches set. Many people produced trackables, and most of the other cachers spent time recording the cache number of the dozens of trackables on the tables. We left ‘Percy and his Fan Club’ and replaced it with ‘The Penguin of Death’ and ‘Whiskers the Ginger Nut’.

Over time we met several other cachers, and there was a real mix of people there. Many were in their twenties, but there were people present who were probably in their Seventies!

It was very interesting that no-one gave their real names just their caching identity.. so as well as Kitey we met Spooney15, BaSHful, RiddleMeBis, PoisonParis, fredsdad, bassetthound14, DTJM and bleachedwestie to name but a few.

The meeting counts as a ‘found cache’ on the http://www.geocaching.com statistics. We will list such meetings separately so our ‘caches found’ total are ‘actual caches’.

PS For the roundabout geeks who read this blog – the Shepherd and Flock is in the middle of the largest inhabited roundabout in Europe (10 acres) featuring several houses, a pub and some allotments.