July 1 : Elvetham

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Elvetham Heath: nature reserve

Elvetham Heath: nature reserve


Our 2000-cache milestone was not far off, and we had a date planned/hoped for when we wanted to reach it, but we needed to get closer first. So we were out again, heading back close to Fleet again. On a warm, cloudy, muggy Saturday, we parked in the centre of Elvetham, a suburb of Fleet, unnoticed among the many shoppers. Our main objective was the ‘Nature Reserve’ series, placed in and around the many green spaces in Elvetham. But first, something different, neither green nor spacious, a cache from the ‘Off Yer Trolley’ series, which are based around supermarkets. We followed the GPS to the likely location, which was … somewhere in the recycling area. We poked around behind metal bins and fences, and eventually found the cache, while getting puzzled glances from the man emptying the clothes recycling container.
Our start point!

Our start point!


After that, it wasn’t far till we were off the roads and into the nature reserve, an area of trees and heathland, criss-crossed by good paths. There are about a dozen caches, plus a bonus, spread about the reserve and some of the suburban residential area. I’ll describe the bonus cache first (though we didn’t necessarily do it first, I’m just concealing its exact position!) It was a puzzle cache, with three cryptic clues. We had managed to solve two of the three, which left us with a not-too-big rectangular area to search. Luckily for us, just one path crossed this patch, and a detailed search by both of us all along the sides of the path eventually found the cache. We never have worked out what the third clue meant …

Now for the rest of the series. We set off past a small pond, with interesting carved picnic tables, through trees and along gravel paths and boardwalks over boggy areas. There were lots of muggles out and about, walking dogs, accompanying their scooter-riding children, and just taking the air. It was good to see it so well used, but it did make it harder to find an undisturbed moment to retrieve each cache as we arrived at it. After three successful finds, it all went wrong at the fourth cache, when we spent an unproductive few minutes furtling in the roots of birch trees and finding nothing.

Moving on, the next cache had the intriguing name ‘Doris the Destroyer’. Who or what, we wondered, was Doris, and should we worry? It turned out that storm Doris felled a tree, making a hiding place for a cache …

On again, we got closer to the M3, and it got noisier. The next cache was called ‘Puzzle Box’ and a LOT of other finders had marked it as a favourite, so we felt it must have something special. The other finders also said that the published co-ordinates were not quite right. Both of those comments were true: we spent another few minutes pootling about at the edge of some trees before finding – literally – a box which was a puzzle. After some false starts, sliding, and pressing, we finally made it to the inner place that held the log. Ho hum: if we had known this cache existed, we might have set it up to be our milestone 2000th cache.

We walked on, past the edge of the nature reserve, away from the motorway, and back into roads and houses. Another cache was found. A previous cacher’s log said it all: “Easy for us, invisible to muggles”. A little further on, we approached another cache, named ‘Vertically Challenged’. Perfectly named, no way could I reach that! Mr Hg137 was delegated to swarm up a fence, and then a pole. At a stretch he just, just reached the cache container.

Vertically challenged

Vertically challenged


As we had been walking in a circle (ish), we were getting back to our starting point and had only one more cache, Redwood, to attempt. We like Redwoods! Well Mr Hg137 does! He can barely walk by one without knuckle thumping it (do it, it’s different from other trees). Also SEQUOIA, its true name, is one of only a few 7 letter words which contain 5 different vowels. None of that helped us: all the possible hiding places on the tree were either empty or were twelve feet in the air. We used a couple of branches to try to ascertain if anything lurked within. Nope. Sadly for us it was a DNF (did not find) – especially as we wanted the ‘RED’ for a ‘snooker challenge’ cache. (Editor’s note: the cache was missing and has since been replaced.)

To sum up: it’s always sad to end on a failure, but overall this is an excellent little series with well-kept caches hidden in creative ways over surprisingly varied terrain, in yet another place close to where we live, but have never visited.

Here are some of the caches we found:

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June 29 : WWSW (Fleet)

Mrs HG137 had had an idea.

We were about 40 or so caches away from 2000 finds, and with 13 July (13/7) less than 2 weeks away, she thought it would be a good idea to see if we could get the 2000th cache on that date (our caching name includes 13 7).

Idyllic grassland near Fleet


The WWSW series in Fleet would provide a good opportunity to get over half of those caches. (WWSW stands for Westie’s Walks, Sloshed Walker and was first laid out nearly 10 years ago in 2008. It is relatively close to our house and we always said it would be a good winter’s walk, but as we have never done it in the winter, today seemed a good day.)

The route crosses Army land, and is occasionally ‘red flagged’ if the Army are on manoeuvres. Fortunately for us, the Army were elsewhere, and the full route was open to us.

We initially parked in an industrial park, and somehow managed to find a half mile longwinded route to cache 1, when a simple footpath was yards from our car.

Cache 1 was behind a sign deep in some woodland. The log though had suffered in the rain and was very wet. We decided the remove the log, and leave it out (behind the sign) in the sun for the duration of our walk. It was a Thursday, on a old circuit, so the chances of anyone else finding the cache today was very low indeed.

Onwards (over the noisy M3 motorway) to cache 2 and just as we approached the site, we were surrounded by dog walkers. Diversionary activity needed! Out came a mobile phone and a fictitious phone call ! Maybe not an Oscar-winning performance, but definitely enough to give us time for the muggles to pass. Then wrestle with a large cache and some small Armco before we could sign the log.

Woodland track


The next 2 caches were a lot harder. They had been placed on the far side of a stream (fortunately fairly dry), but the stream was guarded by 4 foot stinging nettles! Swipe! Swipe! The caching pole was being used wisely! Swipe! Swipe! Jump! Caches retrieved, logs signed… now to jump back and avoid those nettles again!

The next few caches were relatively straightforward, and to the trained eye visible from the path..It was searching for one these that Mr HG137 DID receive a phone call, so Mrs Hg137 did some sole retrieving and log signing!

The path was easy going and the lightly woodland soon gave way to a magnificent view of Minley Manor. This building was once owned by the MOD, but is possibly being turned into a hotel. It has also been used as a film location on a couple of occasions.

Minley Manor

Minley Manor


We walked onwards and suddenly the nice track gave way to grassland (or at least the most direct route to the next cache did). We made heavy weather of trying to find the right tree but eventually we did. We should, at this point, have walked back to the path, but instead we walked through a grassy meadow stopping for coffee on a large fallen tree-trunk. As we drank, we were aware of the myriad of butterflies visiting the meadow. A beautiful sight.

Butterflies

Butterflies


Our route out of the meadow led us up a slight hill, to an easy cache find, and then towards a pub where we found a another simple find (and a suit of armour!).
Is this the pub's bouncer ?

Is this the pub’s bouncer ?

We had walked 2 or so miles and now had our first road crossing. A fast single carriageway. A few minutes later we were in woodland, and the next cache didn’t take much searching as it had been poorly hidden by the previous finder.

Pleasant path through woodland


We then found our first non WWSW cache of the day – a Motorway Mayhem cache yards from the M3 Junction 4a. Over the years we’ve seen caches under twigs, leaves, bark but never under such a large piece of concrete! It took two of us to lift it!

More effort at the next cache too..as it was 7ft up a post. Mr HG137 was definitely getting a bending and stretching workout!

We recrossed the M3, pausing to see a steam train being taken to a festival on the Watercress line. Yes, a steam train on a motorway!

Express Delivery!


Our next cache was our first troublesome cache of the day. Hidden in Armco, but the coordinates were some 40 feet out. We both felt gingerly in various parts of the Armco – finding spiders, cobwebs, dust, grime until we found the cache. Finding caches like this, are often a ‘hard sell’ to the non-geocaching community!

A pleasant path down a woodland path followed. Well it would have been pleasant, except for its proximity to the noisy M3. We grateful for some quick finds and after about a quarter of a mile or so, the path turned away and became quieter.

Is there a cache here ?


Then we saw the digger. A JCB. On a footpath. It was undertaking ditch clearing, and was scooping mud/debris out of a ditch one side of the footpath, and building a mound on the other side. The dry, unrutted paths we had been following – were a quagmire…and somewhere near the JCB was a cache. We decided to have one quick look for it, and if it wasn’t found immediately we would move on. Fortunately the coordinates were spot on, and while the JCB driver was looking deep in the ditch, the log was signed.

Dredging a ditch…

…and Mrs Hg137 the other side of the dredging


The path gave way to a tarmac road and some farmland fields. Each field had a stile leading to it, and the cache was near one of them. We fruitlessly searched each stile for our next cache, but to no avail. Our first DNF of the day. We even paused for lunch near one of the stiles, and undertook a second search after eating, but nothing was found.

The cache containers on the route had been quite varied from small Tupperware boxes, to larger ones, a rat’s tail cache in a pipe, to a fake stone. The final few containers included a film canister as well as a letterbox hybrid. For us, this is what makes a series interesting, a variety of containers, and a variety of hiding locations.

The route finished by walking alongside some heathland. Before we reached our final caches we passed by some rangers from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife who were undertaking a survey on birds-foot-trefoil. We told them we were geocachers, which yielded no surprise whatsoever. We were glad we did as our next 2 finds were undertaken very close to their parked vehicles.

I think the rangers may have seen us!

We returned to cache 1, and replaced the now-dry log back in the cache, and returned to the car.

This was a very varied walk, heathland, expansive views, tree lined path, noisy motorways! Amazing what can be packed into a 4 mile walk! We’d also found 25 caches.. suddenly our 2000th cache is much nearer!

June 10 : Blackwater River Path

Yateley, Sandhurst

One of the many Fishing Lakes

It is quite unusual to find new caches, indeed high quality caches, within 2 miles from home.

Somehow a 5 cache series (BRPW 1-5 – Blackwater River Path Walk) had sneaked under our radar. As had 6 other caches close to them. The series circumnavigates a number of fisherman’s lakes which until a few years ago was private land. Since then a small part of the land has been made into a small car park and also some allotments.

Yateley, Sandhurst

Allotments

Interestingly we looked at placing caches at this location, but never quite got round to getting approval from the land owner, but in all fairness, our caches would have very inferior to those that had been placed.

And so well before 9am, we parked the car, and looked for our first two caches. These were a short distance away from the fishing lakes. One cache camouflaged in a tree, the other, magnetic, overlooking…a sewage plant. Yes ! The wonderfully named Pooh’s Place was a magnetic cache attached to an disused gate, overlooking the ever-turning blades of sewage ponds. Lovely!

Good job you can’t smell photographs!

And so to the lakes. Our first cache was a travel bug hotel. We had two travel bugs with us – a Toy Story Woody (Woody’s Escape) and a metallic Africa. The cache led us a merry dance. The title of the cache included the word ‘Waterside’ but with a lake one side of the footpath, and a fabulous ‘cache friendly’ tree near a river on the other..we looked at the wrong ‘Waterside’ for a very long time.

Eventually we found the cache. Smaller than many travel bug hotels we’ve found and as we couldn’t squash ‘Woody’ in, we deposited ‘Africa’ and walked on.

Yateley, Sandhurst

Onward, onward

The fishing lakes were being well used. Or at least probably were. Many of the anglers were packing up after a night’s fishing, others were slowly waking up and the remainder…well let’s just the snoring would keep the fish away! We tiptoed (in walking boots!) past and in our quietness failed to notice the stump hosting our next find. So we walked back and found the cache just out of what would have been a slumbering angler’s eyeline.

The caches we had found so far were all good, but were not the main event as the next 5 caches were the BRPW series. 4 of these were ‘bird box’ caches, and each had to be opened in a different way. Does the lid move ? What about the pole at the front – does that turn ? What if we press this ? All good fun!

The exception was well concealed cache in a hollowed out branch attached very discreetly to a small trunk.

Away from the road we had the paths and lakes to ourselves and we barely saw anyone for the majority of the walk – but what we did see were hundreds of dragonflies. We stopped several times to take pictures, but taking a picture of a moving dragonfly is very, very difficult.

Yateley, sandhurst

Stay still while we photograph you!

Towards the end of the route, we think our navigation went wrong as the path became narrower and narrower. And nettlier and nettlier. The geo-pole was exceeding useful in cutting a way through to the final two caches. These two were hidden in wood, one found easily. The other, less so. Being the last cache of the day, and no DNF so far for the day, we wanted to find them all and spent 15 minutes looking in totally the wrong place.

Find it we did, and a fine morning’s caching was complete. None of the caches were film canisters under a pile of sticks. Each provided a little moment of euphoria as the cache container was extricated from its natural looking hide. A fine series and well worth the favourite points we awarded.

Here are a few of the caches we found …

Yateley, SandhurstYateley, SandhurstYateley, Sandhurst


One sad note, and one we are very ashamed of.

We took the trackable “Woody’s Escape” out with us. Somehow it didn’t come back. We must have dropped it somewhere on route. We have searched our home, our bags, our car and the car park, all to no avail. Fingers crossed some cacher will find it and re-start it on its journey. To the owner of ‘Woody’ we are very, very sorry.

February / March : Duck Pound II

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

At the end of February, we were just starting a day’s caching high on Winterfold Hill, in Surrey, and came upon the first cache of the day, which was quite large, and contained a small white rubber duck, with red lips. A trackable, we thought.

Winterfold Hill - the duck is found

Winterfold Hill – the duck is found


On returning home, we looked again at our latest trackable find, so we could register it on http://www.geocaching.com But it didn’t have a trackable code written on it, so it wasn’t a trackable. Instead, it had a geocache code – so was it a cache? Hmm, this was out of the ordinary. A little research showed that the cache number belonged to ‘Duck Pound II’, a cache which is some miles away, north-east of Welwyn Garden City. We weren’t sure what the duck should do next, so we messaged the cache owner for suggestions. Should we return it? Or take it on our forthcoming trip to the Isle of Wight?
We soon had a reply, saying:
“How exciting and thank you for letting us know about one of our ducks. They’re not trackables, they’re more like advertising for our cache. When we placed the cache we filled it with these ducks, I also dropped a few off in caches I found to try to spread the word. We have heard about a couple of other ducks, but never one that has travelled so far. I’m sure the duck would love a trip to the Isle of Wight. Would you reply to this just to let us know if you do drop it off please, it would be interesting to know where one of our ducks has got to.
Spread the ducky love.”

The duck won't fit in here!

The duck won’t fit in here!


So the duck came with us on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, and we thought we would place it (hard to tell the sex of a rubber duck!) in a cache next to a creek close to the ferry port. That didn’t work, as the cache was hidden in a snail shell – no room for a duck there! As the weekend went on, we found other caches, but nothing duck-sized. Finally, on the last morning, we came upon a cache that was big enough, overlooking the sea on the steep southern shoreline of the island, close to Ventnor Botanic Gardens, and here we released the duck.
Ventnor - the adventure continues ...

Ventnor – the adventure continues …


Good luck, and keep on advertising your cache!

March 6 : Isle of Wight : Ventnor, a duck, and a ferry port

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

The Scrabble tournament was over (Mr Hg137 came second !!!), and our return ferry was not till lunchtime, so we had the morning free. We are gradually working our way around the caches of the Isle of Wight, and the venue we had selected for today was … Ventnor.

Ventnor

Ventnor


We zigzagged our way down the steep road to Ventnor seafront, where there is free parking until 10am in March. So there was no hurry, but also no time to waste. Our first cache was an earthcache, set by Heidi Seekers. Now, we’ve done several earthcaches by the same cacher before, notably one at Freshwater Bay, where we were nearly blown away/drowned/swept out to sea as we tried to get to the right spot. But there were no such dramas today, the wind was light and the sea was calm and gentle, and we solved the earthcache by standing on the beach, in just the right spot, and commented on things underfoot and about us.
Iconic Isle of Wight business!

Iconic Isle of Wight business!


Our second cache in central seafront Ventnor was at the bandstand, where the pier used to start (it was demolished in 1993). We found the location, and looked around. Where was it? Time ticked on towards the end of free parking time and we couldn’t see it. After a while, we climbed on a seat a little way away, and looked again from a higher viewpoint. NOW we could see it now, but oh err, it was very high up. We tried stretching (a lot), giving each other a bunk up (epic fail!) and looking around for a very tall person, monkey, or passing ladder owner (no suitable candidates). Paid parking time was now 2 minutes away and I was sent back to the geocar with instructions to move it and ‘drive around’ if a warden appeared. As I left, Mr Hg137 was removing his shoes. Ho hum. I waited – no warden appeared – and Mr Hg137 appeared a few minutes later, exuding triumph. Turns out that he’d piled up his shoes, stood on them, and they had given him a crucial inch or two of extra reach.

That was central Ventnor done, and we drove off (still no traffic wardens) to try for some more caches close to the Isle of Wight Botanic Gardens. The site has a huge car park, which was virtually empty in early March. We asked if we could park there for about an hour. We were told it would cost £5. We left, and parked, for free, on the roadside almost next door. (Editor’s note: you overpriced, Botanic Gardens, and lost a customer. If it had been 50p, or £1, we would have used the car park, and maybe the café, but we didn’t, and we won’t be back.)
Once parked, we headed off downhill on a path towards the sea, and soon arrived at our next cache. From a few steps away, we couldn’t see where the cache could be, based on the description, but suddenly everything fell into place and the location was obvious. We left something here, ‘Duck Pound II’ but this deserves a blog post to itself.

Skirting the Botanic Gardens, we walked along the coast path for a little way and then came to some steps. We descended, and emerged at sea level in Steephill Cove http://steephillcove-isleofwight.co.uk/steephill_cove.html The description from the website sums it up:
“Arguably the prettiest place on the Island, situated just south of the Victorian seaside town of Ventnor, Steephill Cove is a traditional, unspoilt fishing cove with a safe, sandy beach, nestled between rocky cliffs and smugglers’ coves.”

Once down at sea level, we walked along the path along the sea defences, soon arriving at the location of the next cache. It was behind some gabions (rock filled wire cages). I bravely offered to climb over them to get the cache. No problem at all – just a loss of dignity as I rolled over the gabions. Mr Hg137 didn’t laugh, but he did take a picture …

A slight loss of dignity ...

A slight loss of dignity …


Time was passing, and we had one more cache to find before crossing the island to the ferry terminal. It was further along the bay, and we walked to about a hundred feet from the cache, according to the GPS. At this point, all our caching experience deserted us. What we *should* have done is walk up the nearby path, which would have taken us to just a few short steep paces from our target. What we *actually* did was to launch a full scale, slippery, sliding onslaught on the cliff face, arriving at the correct place out of breath and with all poise gone. It amused two passing dog walkers, anyway … and the cache was hidden in another of those pesky gabions!
View from the cache ...

View from the cache …


By now, ferry time was calling, and we arrived at Fishbourne ferry terminal with exactly 30 minutes to spare. Having parked, we had a quick look to see if a ferry was approaching – it wasn’t – and then rushed back up the hill to look for the cache hidden at the entrance. After a rushed find/sign/replace, we were back at the geocar just as the ferry came into view.
Fishbourne

Fishbourne


Another great morning’s caching on the Wight!

March 5 : Sandown

As we mentioned on our previous posting we were visiting of Isle of Wight to play in a Scrabble tournament.

This was a fairly lengthy affair with 20 1-hour games spread over a 48 hour period. (When you allow for sleeping and eating doesn’t leave much time for caching).

Sandown Pier from our room

Sandown Pier from our room

We had stayed in the hotel before and had managed to find all the caches that time would allow when not playing. Imagine our delight this year to realise that a new cache had been placed in an alleyway right next to the hotel!

The alleyway led from the hotel to the High Street (sandwich lunch), and the hotel car park. We went through the alleyway several times during the Scrabble weekend, each time without a GPS.

The alleyway, and a small cul-de-sac beyond, are not the Isle of Wight’s finest. Looking tired, pipework slightly rusty and with a typical ‘unloved back of buildings’ feel to it. Every time we traversed the alleyway we couldn’t find the cache. We stuck our fingers into every gloriously dirty hidey-hole, looked at every metal/magnetic surface and even tested a few screw heads to see if they were loose. Nothing.

At the end of the tournament (at which Mr Hg137 did quite well finishing second), we decided to take the GPS with us. Now we had a clear fix as to the part of the alleyway to search, and within two minutes had the cache in hand! Isn’t technology wonderful!

We then told a couple of Scrabble friends (one a cacher too) that we had found the cache, and with a little bit of assistance (“It’s between here …. and …. here”), they too had the cache in hand.

Cache in Hand

Cache in Hand

March 3 : Isle of Wight : Wootton to Sandown

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Wootton Creek, Isle of Wight

Wootton Creek, Isle of Wight


We often go to the Isle of Wight in early spring, to take part in a Scrabble tournament held there. So off we went on a dank and rainy morning, catching the 10am ferry from Portsmouth, and arriving Isle of Wight with a few hours free before the start of the tournament. All that remained was for us to make our way to the Trouville Hotel, on the seafront at Sandown near the pier. We thought that we would make our way slowly, and collect a few caches on the way …

The rain had stopped while we were on the boat, but it was still well damp underfoot. Mr Hg137’s forward planning had taken account of this, and caches had been selected that could be found without getting too muddy. (Editor’s note: what Mr Hg137 was probably thinking was that I had slipped in the mud on our previous IoW Scrabble/caching trip, and I had to change in a rainy hilltop car park before arriving at the Scrabble tournament … )

A good omen for the Scrabble tournament?

A good omen for the Scrabble tournament?


The first cache chosen was on the opposite side of Wootton Creek from the ferry terminal at Fishbourne, and was called ‘Down the Pump’. What did that mean? Hmm – what it did mean was that the cache was located at the end of Pump Lane, overlooking the creek, and was found after a short but damp search.

Of the remaining four caches, one was hidden by a gate at the side of a lane, and was duly found without either of us getting dirty. The other three were all from the Sidetracked series, based around railway stations. Two were at Wootton and Havenstreet stations on the Isle of Wight steam railway http://www.iwsteamrailway.co.uk/ which runs from Wootton to Smallbrook Junction, and the other was at Sandown station, on the Island Line from Ryde pier to Shanklin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Island_Line,_Isle_of_Wight We readily found two of the three, but the third eluded us, in spite of a lengthy search through piles of autumn leaves. (Editor’s note 2 : it has been found several times since, so we clearly didn’t search that well.)
Sandown Station - posh motor!

Sandown Station – posh motor!


And so we arrived at our destination, in good time, and, most importantly, NOT muddy!