December 21 : Wellesley Woodlands

Wellesley Woodlands are on the border of Farnborough and Aldershot on former Army land. Named after the 1st Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley), the woods comprise 110 hectares of mixed woodland (https://thelandtrust.org.uk/space/wellesley-woodlands/?doing_wp_cron=1577458134.5638270378112792968750).

Welcome to Wellesley Woodlands

There are many woodland trails named after the various trees (Oak Trail, Sycamore Trail etc) and our route would follow these around the woods, passing a large monument to Wellington and returning to the car. The woods also extended to, and beyond, the Basingstoke Canal where after moving our car we would look for two more caches.

Various wood walks


That was the plan.

We got off to a very inauspicious start as we made a couple of navigational errors driving to the car park (‘We were never lost …just not sure of where we were”). We eventually booted up and strode away from the car, and headed for our first cache – a travel bug hotel. We had just entered the woodland when it started to rain. Now, common sense would have said..’head back to the car and wait for it to pass over’.

Nope. Let’s continue.

The rain stopped. Clearly we had made the right decision. Onwards.

Then the rain started again, heavier, colder this time. Almost hail. Aaargh! The bare winter trees provided no shelter at all! We got absolutely soaked.

No shelter here …


… or here !


The footpaths became quagmires, and the dog walkers we passed were all wrapped up and their dogs were more like bundles of fur covered in mud. They all had the right idea…head to the car. We seemingly had no sense whatsoever.

We arrived the travel bug hotel, and found the log almost too wet to sign – not due to the prevailing weather, but months previously the cache had let water in, and had still not dried out. We etched our signature and headed back to join our main target, the 5 cache Wellesley Woodlands series.

Travel Bug Hotel


Some distance away a few park runners/fun runners jogged by (how protective their Santa hats were we weren’t sure) and one lone dog walker passed us. The rain had eased slightly, but we were still very cold.

We joined the Wellesley Woodlands series at cache 4 and it should have been a simple find. The GPS took us the correct tree, but we decided to overthink the hint, and walk 10 yards further to examine a different, and better looking host. (What does ‘double tree’ mean ? Two adjacent trees or a twin-trunked tree ?)

Eventually we trusted the GPS and found the cache under its tell-tale pile of sticks.

We were cold, wet, and bordering on the irritable. The car was relatively close by so we adjourned for some coffee and took stock. After surveying different options, we decided on abandoning the Wellesley Woodlands series (we had numbers 1,2,3 and 5 left which formed a good discrete mini-series for another day) and drove the mile or so to another car park to find two caches by the canal.

Footbridge over the canal…


…and the peaceful canal underneath


The first of these caches was a Challenge/Mystery cache with a Beatles theme. Qualification for finding the cache was depending on finding 20 caches each with a word with a Beatles connection. (There were over 60 words to select from and we had spent some time the night before validating our 2950+ finds against this master list. We subsequently discovered there was a Challenge Checker on https://project-gc.com/ which would have saved us time.) The words we had in our cache finds included ‘John’, ‘George’, ‘Beatles’, ‘Liverpool’, ‘Help!’, ‘Lady’ (Madonna), ‘Yellow’ (Submarine), ‘Abbey’ (Road).

The cache was hidden next to the canal towpath next in, according to the hint, some silver birches. This is quite an old cache (January 2014), and since then various silver birches have been cut down. It took us some time to locate the correct location and then several prods of the geopole to find the superb, and apt, cache container.


We walked along the towpath to our final cache. As we did so, we saw a couple of geese, and couple of runners, and some speeding kayakers.

Graceful and slow…


…graceful and fast

The cache was called for some reason ‘Yesterdays Onions’ and was again hidden in a silver birch. We hadn’t learnt any lessons, as for the third time in as many caches, we looked at the most obvious location first, oblivious to a better host nearby.

Still find it we did, which brought our finds for the day to 4 out of 4. Although the weather had brightened, we were still damp and slightly cold, and had left a mini-series for better caching weather.

November 24 : Hartley Wintney: all sorts of trees

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Just after Sunday lunch, we set off for an afternoon’s caching in and around Hartley Wintney, on the northern border of Hampshire. As it was a gloomy, dark afternoon, we only had five caches planned. But of those five caches, three were multicaches, two with two stages, and one with three, so that gave us a total of nine things to find/solve, which was plenty to do in the hour or two before sunset (actually, it was fairly dim already).

All Souls, Hartfordbridge

All Souls, Hartfordbridge


Our first cache (and first multicache) was a church micro, All Souls at Hartfordbridge, just off the A30. We’d done some online research before we set off, and reckoned we’d found the information we needed to get the coordinates of the final cache. And we were right; we parked within feet of the final location and had found the cache within 30 seconds! The church is now a private house, but the graveyard is still accessible down a short path, so we went and had a quick look anyway. (Editor’s note: the church is for sale, if you want to move http://www.mackenziesmith.co.uk/view_property/?profileID=100921027628 )
Vaughan Millennium Orchard

Vaughan Millennium Orchard


After driving the short extra distance to Hartley Wintney, we parked the geocar in a lane leading to the Vaughan Millennium Orchard, the starting place for our next multicache, Orchard & Heath. The orchard is a great idea, with well over 100 varieties of cultivated English fruit trees, with varieties grown from the time of the Roman invasion to the present day. It’s used for special events: Apple Day, wassailing, open air theatre, and more http://www.hartleywintney.org.uk/visitor-attractions/vaughan-millennium-orchard It’s not at its best in late November but it must have looked magnificent just a few weeks ago when the leaves were turning and there would have been fruit on the trees. We did wonder: what happens to all the fruit?
Heading for the heath

Heading for the heath


Anyway: Orchard & Heath is an extremely old cache, set in October 2003. We had never, ever, found a cache set in that month. It’s also a big cache, an ammo can, and we had a huge trackable with us, which we hoped would fit in it. The trackable is Keys, which had been going since 2007, acquiring keys as it went, now weighed over a pound, and was now, umm, quite big. Having worked out the coordinates for the final cache location from things in the orchard, we set off for the heath, following a short section of the Three Castles Path out of the village http://threecastlespath.uk/
Orchard & Heath - a very old cache

Orchard & Heath – a very old cache


Keys trackable - moving on

Keys trackable – moving on


Previous logs had said that the cache can take a long time to find, and we were prepared for an extended search in the gloom under the trees. Arriving at the likely area, we each picked a patch of ground and started looking. In less than 10 minutes there was a triumphal cry from Mr Hg137. He had spotted something that ‘didn’t look quite right’ and the cache was hidden underneath. And, yes, the trackable did fit into the cache, and we were pleased to see it on its way.

Returning to the village, we found a cache near the entrance to the golf club, then walked along the main street. The shops were still open and cast a cheery glow over the gathering dusk. We were heading for St John’s Church, the location of our next multicache and next Church Micro.

As before, we’d tried to do some research beforehand to speed up our search time, but we hadn’t got very far, so worked out the coordinates from scratch by finding and counting various things on a noticeboard, the war memorial, and a nearby seat. We struggled with the numbers on the seat, since it was dark, the writing was very small, and neither of us had bothered to bring anything which we could use as a torch. Anyway, we came up with some coordinates that seemed plausible, and set off to the final location, to be confronted with … an oak tree covered in ivy. Our hearts sank. We struggle to find caches in ivy. We struggle even more when the cache is in ivy and isn’t on the ground. We prepared for another long search, but once again we struck lucky and found the cache after a short time. (Editor’s note: much more about oak trees in a minute. In the postscipt at the bottom.)

There was now only one cache left on our list, Beetling Bugs, hidden somewhere in a fallen oak tree. We walked across the common, through the regular lines of oak trees, and found a fallen tree, even in the dark – it was quite big! We circled it, looking for the cache, till I spotted something that looked natural, but not completely natural, and the cache was hidden behind, tucked under the trunk.

Caching over, we walked back to the geocar in darkness. We had finished just in time!

A postscript about oak trees:

Mildmay Oaks

Mildmay Oaks


One thing you notice when you visit Hartley Wintney is the oak trees, rows and rows of large, mature oak trees. They are the Mildmay Oaks, or Trafalgar Oaks, and there is nothing quite like them anywhere else. http://www.hartleywintney.org.uk/visitor-attractions/the-commons-mildmay-oaks

After the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 there was a shortage of timber to build and repair warships. A ship like HMS Victory took around 6000 trees to build, 5000 of them oak trees. https://www.historytoday.com/archive/construction-hms-victory-begins And it needed a lot of repairs after the battle, so lots more trees went into that. Admiral Collingwood, head of the Royal Navy, appealed to landowners to plant oaks so there would be enough for future warships. Lady Mildmay, the owner of the area around Hartley Wintney, responded to the appeal and had the oak trees in Hartley Wintney planted, set out in rows to maximise production. They have survived because warships began to be made from metal before the oaks were fully mature, so they weren’t cut down for ship’s timbers.
(Editor’s note: that’s the end of the history lesson; I was just curious about the trees, so I investigated.)

Here are a few of the caches we found:

September 28: Avon Traveller

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Our short caching trip around the disused part of Blackbushe Airport yielded a trackable: Avon Traveller, which we found in a largeish cache placed between the airport and the Castle Bottom nature reserve.

Avon Traveller

Avon Traveller


Avon Traveller was dropped off in August, 2016, just south-east of Bratislava, Slovakia, with a mission to reach Salzburg in Austria. It was picked up just one day later and spent some weeks touring the area, being dropped off four months later and just 20 miles away. A year later, it had travelled to the Tatra Mountains, and a few days before Christmas, it had reached Vidov in Czechia.

By mid 2018 it had reached the Three States Border Cache, placed high up in the Sumava mountains (Böhmerwald) , just 50 metres from the border stone of three states: Czech Republic – Germany – Austria. By September 2018 it had reached Salzburg, its target.

What then? It moved a lot in the next month, visiting Germany, northern Italy, and San Marino, before being dropped in Ljubljana, Slovenia. From there it was taken to England, first arriving near the (new) Severn Bridge, just north of Bristol. It has stayed in England ever since then, and has ‘done’ Kent and Cambridge thoroughly, otherwise it has travelled up and down the Thames Valley, roughly where we found it. What next for it? We’re not sure, but will carry it around for a little, then place it so it can continue on its way.

September 28 : Blackbushe : planes, cars and karts

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Blackbushe

Blackbushe


The summer weather had vanished immediately after our previous caching trip, on 21st September, and it had rained every single day since then. After a week, a day dawned when the rain was still falling, but as showers with sunshine between them.
Disused runway at Blackbushe

Disused runway at Blackbushe


We set off for Blackbushe, scene of one of our earliest ever caching trips in January 2013. My abiding memory of that day was the cold: it was snowing, there was a biting wind, and we gave up after a bit as our extremities (and everything else) began to freeze. This was a chance to see the area in warmer conditions. We parked close to some houses and had a short walk through trees to reach one of the perimeter roads from the old airport. We were close to one of the caches we had found on our last visit, and Mr Hg137 spotted a family lurking, in just that way that cachers do when they don’t want to be spotted. He walked back to talk to them, and his instinct was right, they were indeed (newish) cachers. After a bit he returned, and we went on our way, out in open space among the grass and gorse, walking down one of the disused runways, with cars visible on the A30 in the distance, and light aircraft landing at Blackbushe Airport ahead of us. These runways are a big draw for runners, or dogs, which can run free, or a good place to learn to ride a bike; we saw all of those. At the end of the old runway, we turned off to follow the airport fence and almost immediately found our first cache, hidden in a thorny bush. We signed the log as quickly as we could, for the family we had seen earlier were approaching, and we didn’t want to be caught ‘on the cache’.
So many cars!

So many cars!


Going away from the airport, we walked along the edge of the car auction site, also based at the airport https://www.british-car-auctions.co.uk/Auction-centres/Blackbushe/ So many cars! We reached a wooded area and dived inside to search for our next cache; no-one could hear any noise we made as there was go-kart racing going on close by, you could smell the fuel and most certainly hear the noise. (Editor’s note: Camberley Kart Club have races on the fourth Saturday of each month http://www.camberleykartclub.com ) (Editor’s second note: there is a lot going on at this airport!)

Emerging from the woods, we set straight off for our third cache. “Straight” meant that we bushwhacked our way the direct way through heather, gorse, and brambles, rather than following the not much longer, and more obvious paths along the old runways and roads. We used to do this when we first started caching and I thought we now knew better – clearly not!
This way?

This way?


Our last cache was just outside the airport, on the edge of Castle Bottom nature reserve https://www.hants.gov.uk/thingstodo/countryside/finder/castlebottom Once again we were under trees, which played havoc with the accuracy of our GPS (it can’t get a good fix if it can’t see the GPS satellites) so we blundered about in the bushes for a few minutes before finding the cache in a tree stump atop a bank. To end, we retraced our steps, back through the trees to the airport perimeter road, and thence to the geocar. A final success was that we had stayed dry throughout, which had not seemed very likely when we set off!

Here are some of the caches we found:

June 22 : Yorkshire Geocoin

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.


On our short geocaching trip round Mattingley, we dropped off a trackable – the Seven Deadly Ducks – and picked up another – the Yorkshire geocoin. One side has a picture of the Yorkshire Rose, the other highlights the position of Yorkshire within England, with the caption “God’s own county”.


This is a copy, on laminated plastic, of a geocoin, and I suspect that it isn’t the original replica, either. The trackable set off in September 2008, so this replica, which looks almost new, has either had a very quiet, tidy, untroubled life, or it has been replaced at some point.

Regardless of all the above, the mission for this trackable is to …” travel round Yorkshire” … It has spent a lot of time doing that, but it has also left the county a few times. It’s been to Chester, briefly, plus longer trips to Worcestershire and Leicestershire, and in May 2019 it was in Essex, before being transported to Kent, then Surrey, then Hampshire, where we found it.

June 22 : Mattingley

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.


Today was a day off from walking the South Downs Way; it was the local gardening summer show, and we needed to stage our entries in the morning (photos, plus one token flower), then to return, late afternoon, to collect our winnings (we hoped). It was a glorious sunny summer’s day and we decided on a short, local caching trip to fill in the space in between.

There are lots of newish caches north of Hartley Wintney and Hook, which can be divided up into several circuits. We chose a set of fifteen caches starting and finishing at Mattingley church, looping out north and west to Hound Green. We parked outside the church, as it seemed to be the best (only) place to park in the whole village. Our first cache was the nearby Church Micro. The church is an interesting wooden-beamed, herringbone-bricked structure, which seems, Tardis-like, to be much bigger on the inside than on the outside. The clues to the actual cache can be answered by looking around in the churchyard and the final cache container is a short walk away under the gaze of many curious cows, both large and small.

Mattingley church

Mattingley church


Our next cache was a short walk along a lane, hidden behind a bus shelter. But not simply a bus stop, and not something we have seen elsewhere … it is also a war memorial, and some of the names mentioned in this shelter are the same as those also commemorated inside the church. https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/190775


Our walk continued with a short, noisy walk, and not much fun along the B3349, and we were very glad to leave the road and turn up a track, with another cache to mark the exit from the road. The track became a path, the path became narrower, and overgrown with brambles and head high nettles. We arrived at a broken stile and clambered over it with various amounts of elegance and grace (it was a bit high for me, so I managed neither!) And then we realised that the way to find the next cache was to balance on the top rail of the broken stile and reach far, far up. Mr Hg137 tried this – he is taller than me – but all the reaching and searching didn’t find us the cache. Our only failure of the day, as it happened ☹

Spot the stile!  In the middle of the 'path'!

Spot the stile! In the middle of the ‘path’!


We bushwhacked our way along, and the vegetation got less as we entered some woods. (Phew, it would have been very hard work if it had been like that last bit all the way round the route!) We found several more caches, swapped a trackable, and were just leaving the last of these when we espied a walker coming from the opposite direction. He asked if we were geocachers. It was pretty obvious that we were, so we fessed up. And, from the map he was carrying, it was also obvious that he was a cacher, too. Nice to meet you, Uncle E! It’s a while since we’ve bumped into any cachers except at meets. We swapped tales about the route, then went our way, leaving him to tackle the nettles and brambles.

Emerging onto a minor road at Hound Green, we admired the village noticeboard. A little way along a quiet lane, another cache marked the place where we were to turn back into the fields. We walked through head high barley, so much softer than stingers and thorns, then reached the edge of a cool, dark wood and plunged in, looking for yet another cache. Uncle E did not find this cache and we made very hard work of it, too. We left the path to search in the woods much too early, while we SHOULD have continued along the path till we were as close as possible before diving in. Every single tree looked alike, and had a pile of sticks at the base, but we got as close as the GPS would let us, then eventually found the cache under some weeny stickoflage. But we found it!

At the other end of the wood was another cache, much more easily found, then on, around field edges, towards a farm (a clue may have been the cache name – ‘farm view’ !). It was obvious where we were intended to go as there were ‘Private’ and ‘Keep Out’ signs stuck on every other possible turning; previous cache logs have said that the landowner isn’t friendly. On reaching the farm buildings, we were directed round a complex series of kissing gates, stiles, turnings, back and forth, round and round, till we reached the far side of the farm, just a few yards from where we had started. We felt we weren’t wanted here. (Editor’s note: we would have been away from that farm and out of the landowner’s way more quickly if we could simply have walked along the natural line of the path down the farm drive.)


It was now a straight walk of about a mile and a half back to Mattingley, along the edges of fields and across a little stream. The cache names describe it well – ‘Mossy’ – ‘Green Fields’ – Hawthorn Row’. Then we emerged into the lane that led to the church and arrived back at the geocar. We had left one final cache for the day, ‘Mattingley Church’, to provide a point to navigate back to if we had got lost, and it turned out that we had parked almost on top of the cache! The car provided cover while we searched, finding a tiny, tiny container unobtrusively concealed in a tree.

And what of our entries in the show? Our carefully chosen photographs won no prizes; the token flower, picked just before we set out – won its class!

And here are some of the caches and other items we found on our way:

A geocoin:

Wood geocoin

Wood geocoin

And some caches:

April 12 : South Downs Way : Butser Hill to Harting

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Butser Hill

Butser Hill


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

Meon Valley


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

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

Butser Hill trig point

Butser Hill trig point


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

A3 from Butser Hill


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

Nice sign!


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

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

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

Shipwrights Way – Hampshire Downs sheep


Shipwrights Way - Cheese Snail

Shipwrights Way – Cheese Snail


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

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

Don’t tread on the garlic!


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

Here are some of the caches we found: