April 5 : South Downs Way : Exton to Butser Hill

The next section of our South Downs Way walk would take us from Exton to a small off-road car parking space just a little distance from the top of Butser Hill (part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park estate).

Meon Valley


The route would take us away from Exton, briefly following the River Meon, and then climbing and contouring around Old Winchester Hill, descending to cross the River Meon before ascending once more towards Butser Hill.

When we walked the South Downs Way (SDW) seven years ago, today’s section was one of those which enthralled us least. Today though was different. Early spring, verdant green colours abounded. Birds sang from the tree tops.
The slightly-hazy views were far reaching. And what we both remembered as a traveller’s caravan site had disappeared revealing farmer’s fields.

No caches in this tree!

The path out of Exton is quite tricky terrain. Following recent rain, the path was slightly muddy, narrow and covered with tree roots. We picked our way carefully, aware that the River Meon was only feet away. We were slowly climbing, and eventually reached the Meon Valley Cycle Trail. As we did so, we heard voices behind us, and two gentleman were approaching quite quickly.

They too, were walking the South Downs Way, and also paused at the Cycle Way. This was a slight problem as there was (or at least could have been) a cache for us to find. The cache had had many DNF’s as well as being temporarily archived. We thought it would be good to give a quick search anyway. After the two men disappeared, we undertook our search – but, of course, to no avail.

The next section of our walk involved the steep climb up Old Winchester Hill. Like our preceding visit, 7 years previously, the path was wet following the recent rain, and being chalk was very, very slippery. It was a case of two steps forward and one slither back !

Steep up, slippery mud!

About two thirds up the hill, the South Downs Way contours away the top, and the highest point of the hill is not visited. (Editor’s note : probably because the hill is Iron Age Fort and Bronze Age Cemetery). As we contoured round we passed a field full of sheep and new lambs.

Busy counting sheep!

A farmer on a quad-bike was zooming around the field, subconsciously checking the sheep, but not going close to any of them. We wondered how he was going to leave the field, as we was roaring at speed to the footpath near us. As he approached the wire fence, he stuck leg out, pushed the wire down with his foot, and drove straight over. Clearly its not always walkers that damage wire fences!

A bit higher now!

We proceeded onwards and arrived at a seat. Sadly for us, the two men we had seen earlier were there, having a brief stop. We cast our eyes further and saw another bench about 100 yards away…we went to this bench and paused ourselves for coffee. It was fortunate we were ‘forced’ to use this bench as it was a cache host! We’d walked close on 2 miles and this was our first cache of the day! The cache was called ‘Life of Bryan’ and we were expecting to find a snail cache. (We knew ‘Bryan’ was a mis-spelling, but we’ve seen worse).


But no, it was a cleverly attached cache. The reference to ‘Bryan’ was the bench marked the life, and passing, of Bryan.

Having found our first cache we had several more to find in the next mile and a half.

Is there a cache nearby ?

The first a multi which we had researched before we left. We had read the logs and discovered that if we had solved it on the walk we would have had a half-mile back-tracking to reach the final. However the cache owner had just given enough away in the cache description we could google our way to the two answers. So we arrived at GZ hopeful our internet research was correct, and when the cache hint matched our locale all we had to do was search! We found it after a couple of minutes – quite pleased we had saved ourselves a half-mile walk!

A simple descent to the farm below

As we left the Old Winchester Hill, the South Downs Way takes a large V shape to avoid a steep descent. We walked along a road, passing an enterprising man selling coffee from a van (Mon-Fri 10-3), before we had a more simple descent towards a farm by the River Meon. Halfway down we found another cache, and at the farm too our fourth find of the day was our simplest.

Lunch at the River Meon

This way!

As we crossed the River Meon, we espied some picnic tables, close to the Meon Springs Fishing Club. We chose a table furthest away from the club, as the club sold food, and we had our own. The Fishing Club, is part of the Meon Springs Experience. You can glamp in yurts or shepherds huts. You can clay pigeon shoot as well as fish. The South Downs are available to explore. There’s even self-storage units too ! A good little sideline for the farmer whose land the various activities are held on!

More up, more mud!

We saw the yurts from afar, as replete from lunch we slowly climbed out of the Meon Valley. Three caches broke our climb, one placed by the South Downs Authority, another was cracked, and broken it was full of water. The other, an ammo can, placed way back in 2006 by Esscafe. We met Esscafe at cacher’s meet in Imber shortly after we started geocaching. She was a prolific geocacher (the cacher with the most finds the UK at the time of her untimely early passing a few years ago).

Somewhere in this valley is the source of the River Meon


Esscafe’s Ammo Can

The effort climbing away from the River Meon was worth it, a slightly hazy, but recognisable view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight were visible.

Towards the top of our climb, near a pair of transmission towers, were two more caches. One was magnetic and stuck to a gatepost, the other well camouflaged as something unsavoury!

The remainder of our walk, was broadly flat, with views over the Meon Valley to the North. We passed the Sustainability Centre, which promotes greener living with various courses and wildlife sessions.

And then a major landmark on our 100 mile South Downs Walk. The 20 mile marker! Placed again by the South Downs Authority, this was the cleverest hide of the day and worthy of the favourite point we gave it.

20 mile marker!

Three of our last four caches were part of mini-trail called SOUTHDOWNS MEON VIEW 1, 2 and 3. These varied in difficulty from a barely hidden container, to a film canister squashed into a tree crack. The cache that gave us most difficulty was a bison. There were two main reasons for our problems at this cache; firstly we were expecting a film canister, secondly a family of three and two dogs parked right next to us as were searching and we had to wait some minutes for them to move on.

Our last cache, ‘The Box in a Box’ had recently been checked out by the cache owner, and the two boxes were pristine.

So in the end we found well over a dozen caches. Most yielded a great view, over the very scenic Meon Valley.

Some of the caches we found :

February 4 : Shanklin Town, Isle of Wight

St Paul’s Church, Shanklin

Our plans for the morning were thwarted by light drizzle, a gusting wind and a high tide.

We had intended to spend the morning revisiting a multi-cache placed just above the high water tide. But the wind and rain meant the sandy beach was narrower than we would have liked so filed the cache away for a future visit.

Instead we focussed on three town centre caches.

We drove away from the hotel, and found – after several circuits of the local roads – a parking place and headed off for our first cache. It was only 200 feet away, and we were very surprised to find when we arrived it was ON church property. We thought we could see the cache from the pavement, so we entered through the gates of St Paul’s Parish Church. Of course, what we saw from the roadside wasn’t the cache, but we did then spot a nearby piece of camouflage and delightful watertight cache container. We dropped off the Blue Lamb Proxy Geocoin here, as we weren’t sure what other size containers we would find.

Good solid container

We then walked about 1/4 of a mile passing by many a Shanklin house, and more infuriatingly a small supermarket where we could have parked without angst for an hour or two. We took a small footpath between houses and arrived at a piece of woodland. This was the Sibden Hill and Batts Copse Nature Reserve, and hidden just inside was our target. The hint was quite curious “at the base of pipe tree”.

Sibden Hill & Batts Copse

Clearly the cache was near the ground so we searched behind various trees, in roots, in fallen trees all to no avail. Then we saw a tree growing around a metallic pipe. Why the pipe was there, we don’t know, but this was the tree we needed. A small brick covered the cache, and once removed we wondered how we had not see the pipe on our initial inspection.

How did we miss this ?

Another 1/4 mile walk followed, retracing our steps in part but we soon turned off to follow the wonderfully named ‘Red Squirrel Trail’. This is a 32 mile cycleway/footpath primarily following the route of an old Isle of Wight railway. The route starts in the extreme North of the Island at Cowes, and loops round both Sandown and Shanklin in the South East. Such a long trail to follow and we walked about 300 yards!

Red Squirrel Trail


The path should have been tranquil, but waterjet-cleaning was going on in the neighbouring caravan park, which made it quite noisy. This time a hollow tree formed the host, but in our haste to bypass a large puddle we walked right by GZ !

Last cache of the day!

So three caches found, and with time ticking and a ferry waiting, we headed back to car (via the supermarket to buy some sandwiches) for the journey home.

February 18 : Sandhurst to Sandhurst (Kent) : Guildford to Winterfold Heath

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

We resumed our walk from Sandhurst (Berkshire) to Sandhurst (Kent). We were away from train lines, with no obvious bus route or other transport between the two ends of the route, so we planned to park a car at each end, then to walk between them. Simple, but the car shuffling does take time. This meant we could start the day with a first cache at the Park & Ride south of Guildford, overlooked by curious shoppers catching the bus into town.

First cache of the day

First cache of the day


Rejoining our past trail, we set off south on the banks of the Wey at St Catherine’s Lock, on a cold and misty morning. A round pillbox on a little knoll overlooked the river and the railway beyond and we climbed up to look in and around it, then scrambled around on the bank to find the cache hidden nearby.
Pillbox, watching over the River Wey

Pillbox, watching over the River Wey


A little distance on we passed the boat moorings in the entrance to the derelict Wey & Arun Canal, then left the river to join a disused railway line, now part of a long-distance path, the Downs Link Way https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Downs_Link , which runs from Guildford all the way to Shoreham-on-Sea on the coast.

Downs Link Way

Downs Link Way


It meant level, well-surfaced walking for a few miles, but only an occasional cache to distract us. To break up the long, cache-free section, we added in one extra cache, up a busy and pavementless road, from the ‘Fine Pair’ series (a post box and phone box in view of each other, an interesting but increasingly rare series as phone boxes disappear).
Small letters only!

Small letters only!


Back on the railway track, all was peaceful … Suddenly, a muddy mountain biker sped past us … then another … then another two … then some more. Oh dear, we hadn’t unwittingly stepped into some sort of charity event, had we? It turned out that we hadn’t – it’s a well-established trail ride – http://www.trailbreak.co.uk/bramley-trail-ride – and the riders were respectful of the many other path users.
Watch out for cyclists!

Watch out for cyclists!


The end of the trail ride was at Bramley. This was also our lunch stop, and a chance for us to search for (and find) two unusual multicaches (those with multiple stages to the final cache). The first was one from the ‘Church Micro’ series. We had a quick look at the church, but didn’t hang around as people were gathering for a 70th birthday party. Instead we moved off to a seating area nearby – once the village animal pound – where there were seats and we could eat our lunch and solve the Church Micro. The early mist had now disappeared and it was a bright warm spring day, with daffodils and crocuses sprouting.
Bramley church

Bramley church – birthday party about to start


And there had been another multi cache based on Bramley and Wonersh station. We collected the numbers for that and solved that too. The station is now disused, as the line was decommissioned during the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. And before that, the station had come to notice during World War 2 when a train was bombed and lots of passengers were killed or injured http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/70/a3379070.shtml That’s another bit of local history I wouldn’t know about without geocaching.
Bramley and Wonersh station

Bramley and Wonersh station



Picnic lunch eaten, we set off to find the final locations of the two caches. One was the neatest, tidiest cache we had ever seen; even the sticks covering the cache were regular, even, and tidy. And the second cache was the newest we have ever found (so far) as it was only placed 12 days before we found it. Good result; we usually do very badly indeed with multicaches: our options for failure multiply exponentially as the number of steps increase.

After another couple of miles on the railway track, we turned off to join yet another long-distance path, the Greensand Way https://www.ldwa.org.uk/ldp/members/show_path.php?path_name=Greensand+Way

We were headed for Shamley Green, and as we approached, we started to find caches from the SGB series (Shamley Green Bipedal-motion). And there was a great place to stop for an afternoon coffee, on a sunny seat by the church, not far away from the matching Church Micro cache.

Shamley Green church

Shamley Green church


A steady – and warm! ascent followed, taking us up to the ridge line of the Surrey Hills, among the birch trees and heathland of Winterfold Heath https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winterfold_Forest with expansive views towards the South Downs: we thought we could just make out Chanctonbury Ring, hazy on the horizon. There were caches nearby. But somewhere here our finding methods took a wobble. Mr Hg137 set off confidently into a bramble thicket, announcing that it ‘was only 300 feet away’. Minutes later, we weren’t any closer. We struggled back to the path and tried again. Soon we were standing on a near-vertical slope, peering at a birch tree – it was the wrong one. Mr Hg137 scrambled on, and was soon removing a cache container from the entrails of a plastic lizard…

We walked on along the ridge, and suddenly came across a structure that resembled a curled-up pangolin. We looked and wondered, and did some research later.
Perspectives - 1

Perspectives – 1

Perspectives - 2

Perspectives – 2

Perspectives - 3

Perspectives – 3


It’s called ‘Perspectives’ http://gilesmiller.com/artworks/perspectives A steady stream of muggles appeared through the woods to visit the peaceful spot looking out from the ridge.

By now the sun was near the horizon and it was noticeably cooler. We walked the remaining mile to the other car, set about some reverse car shuffling, and headed home in the dusk.

A most interesting and varied walk!

Here are some of the many caches we found:

May 26 : Devon / Cornwall : Day 5 : poems, surf, and chefs: Greenaway, Polzeath, and Padstow

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Polzeath surfers

Polzeath surfers


Greenaway is my family name. And I well remember the toe-curling, red-cheeked embarrassment at school when we studied John Betjeman’s poem ‘Greenaway’. But this meant that I knew there was a beach in Cornwall of that name, and a little research showed that there was also a cache of the same name near that beach. So there was no way, no way at all, that a visit to Cornwall was not going to include a visit to Greenaway. And here is that poem … it’s not that long if you aren’t into poetry …
South West Coast Path - to Greenaway

South West Coast Path – to Greenaway

GREENAWAY
by John Betjeman

I know so well this turfy mile,
These clumps of sea-pink withered brown,
The breezy cliff, the awkward stile,
The sandy path that takes me down.

To crackling layers of broken slate
Where black and flat sea-woodlice crawl
And isolated rock pools wait
Wash from the highest tides of all.

I know the roughly blasted track
That skirts a small and smelly bay
And over squelching bladderwrack
Leads to the beach at Greenaway.

Down on the shingle safe at last
I hear the slowly dragging roar
As mighty rollers mount to cast
Small coal and seaweed on the shore,

And spurting far as it can reach
The shooting surf comes hissing round
To heave a line along the beach
Of cowries waiting to be found.

Tide after tide by night and day
The breakers battle with the land
And rounded smooth along the bay
The faithful rocks protecting stand.

But in a dream the other night
I saw this coastline from the sea
And felt the breakers plunging white
Their weight of waters over me.

There were the stile, the turf, the shore,
The safety line of shingle beach
With every stroke I struck the more
The backwash sucked me out of reach.

Back into what a water-world
Of waving weed and waiting claws?
Of writhing tentacles uncurled
To drag me to what dreadful jaws?

The beach at Greenaway

The beach at Greenaway


To return to the post … We parked the geocar on – yes on – Polzeath beach, after Mr Hg137 had reassured himself that it would not be swept away by a wave coming from the distant sea (it wasn’t). It was then a super walk on a sparkling clear May morning, of about a mile along the coast path, to a seat overlooking the little beach of Greenaway. Once there, a mid-morning coffee was drunk, while a gentle search around the seat revealed the cache. Success! But I had an additional plan. I was going down ‘to the beach at Greenaway’. And so we did. There are a few steps down to an unspoilt small sandy beach surrounded by rocks. What a lovely place!
Surfers at Polzeath

Surfers at Polzeath


After that indulgence, we walked back to Polzeath, where there was another cache overlooking the bay. We spent a while looking for it, before re-reading the description and hint and realising what and where we needed to look. Then we turned the geocar south around the Camel estuary to arrive in Padstow. The nearest cache to our parking place was the Church Micro at Padstow, so we set off to find it. We were thwarted … by a wedding, which was about to start, with photographers planning their shots and guests beginning to drift in. It didn’t seem right to intrude on that so we moved on, intending to return later.
I want your lunch!

I want your lunch!


The busy, crowded harbour seemed like a good place to have lunch, so we ate our sandwiches, defending them against a seagull that wanted them, and wondering exactly where the cache we knew was on the other side of the harbour could be. Lunch completed, and the seagull vanquished, and we strolled over to the slipway where the cache would be hidden. But we didn’t find it. More correctly, we couldn’t even look for it, as so many muggles were fishing for crabs off the slipway that we couldn’t make ourselves conspicuous by searching. Once again, we moved on.
Padstow harbour

Padstow harbour – right by a cache – much too busy to search here!


We meandered on, past Rick Stein’s cookery school, the National Lobster hatchery http://www.nationallobsterhatchery.co.uk , and a cycle hire business, heading for the Camel trail http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/cameltrail which is a disused railway line heading inland from Padstow to Wadebridge and eventually to Bodmin. Suddenly the bustle of Padstow was behind us and we were looking out over the river, with only cyclists, runners and walkers for company. There are caches all along this trail, but we had time for just one, from the ‘Benny’s Quest’ series. Luckily, this was just out of view of the trail, so we had time and space to search without attracting attention. We needed that space and time as we hunted around for a while before finding a cache fashioned from a piece of pipe, hidden in the shade in a wall.

We needed to return, so we walked back into Padstow, and through the narrow streets by the harbour, full of trendy shops, galleries, and restaurants, including a couple more of Rick Stein’s restaurants. We arrived back at the churchyard, hoping for another try at that Church Micro, but the wedding wasn’t quite over – the organ was still playing and there were still guests in the churchyard. Yet again, we moved on; we just didn’t time that one right.

It was still only mid-afternoon, but we had an evening appointment, at the open air theatre at the Sterts Centre. Off we went, stopping for a meal at the Cheesewring Hotel http://cheesewringhotel.co.uk/ in Minions, which we had visited three days earlier – it bills itself as the highest pub in Cornwall at 995 feet above sea level. And the play … it poured with rain all evening, and, while it was nice and dry under the theatre canopy, it was really hard to hear anything above the rain. Luckily, we’d mugged up on the plot of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ first … as the only thing we knew about the play was the famous stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” … which is what I’m about to do now! Growl!

Here, in no particular order, are the caches we found:
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