November 17 : Cranleigh and the Surrey Hills

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Where to go caching? All summer, our caching routes had been determined by our walking quest for the year, from Sandhurst (Gloucestershire) home to Sandhurst (Berkshire). We completed that in early November, and now we had to choose a route for ourselves. After a little thought, we settled on Cranleigh, at the foot of the Surrey Hills. We walked there last year on our route from Sandhurst (Berkshire) to Sandhurst (Kent), and had planned to return one day; today was that day.
We were to tackle the ‘Cranleigh North Walk’ (CNW) series, a four-mile route covering sixteen caches, starting at Smithwood Common. Two other caches, not part of the series, were close to our start point, so we added those, and did them at the beginning.

A Fine Pair

A Fine Pair


It was cool, almost cold, and slightly misty as we soon found the first of those two caches, one from the ‘Fine Pair’ series (themed around a phone box and post box within sight of each other – an increasingly rare thing), and the other called ‘Four Elms’ and named after a now-departed pub. As we walked towards the start of the main walk, something gave us pause: two Remembrance Day crosses in a front garden. Just over a hundred years ago, two residents, a father and son, judging from the ages, had set off for war from that house. Neither returned, and they are buried in different parts of Europe. Very sad.

We looked for the path that would lead to the first of the CNW series, fording a small stream and setting off along a hollow ‘path’. We soon realised we had made a mistake – no way was this a path! – and we hadn’t brought a machete, but we bushwhacked determinedly on, and arrived at the first cache in the series after about twenty minutes, scratched and dishevelled. In hindsight, which is easy, we did the same kind of thing when we first stated caching – we chose the shortest (but not necessarily easiest) route to a cache. It seems we have not fully learnt that lesson!

Hard going ...

Hard going …


... maybe there was an easier path?

… maybe there was an easier path?


It got easier after that, luckily: there weren’t nearly enough hours of daylight left if we’d kept on at that pace. We carried on uphill, along (clear, unscratchy) woodland paths, climbing uphill and stopping briefly for a panoramic view out to the south. It was warmer now, and the sun was breaking through the mist, so we stopped for a coffee and a few minutes to admire the view. Setting off again, we reached a narrow lane, and climbed the hill while being passed by Lycra-clad cyclists; some even had enough spare breath for a brief conversation (though some did not!). After a little while, we turned off the road and onto a track, stopping to talk to a muggle sweeping leaves; she said it’s a great, if remote, place to live, but you do get snowed in sometimes …

We walked on along a track high in the late autumn woods, with golden leaves thinning to bare branches. Once, a tiny broken branch showed us the way to the cache; a few, we couldn’t find; another, we nearly missed till we almost walked into it … there was an excellent variety of things to find (or not find).
Letterbox cache here somewhere ...

Letterbox cache here somewhere …


... found it!

… found it!


Further on, along a woodland path, we arrived at a letterbox cache. It was a distance, and a direction, away from the published coordinates. We each took a bearing, and paced off in what we hoped was the right direction, ending within two arm’s length of each other – and the cache was between us. Teamwork!

The caches kept coming, and a varied selection they were, too. Some of the containers included fake pine cones, mushrooms, and a (very realistic) plastic hedgehog.

We dropped down from the wooded hills, then followed a track onto farmland. Rounding a corner, we suddenly came a large piece of wooden sculpture. While admiring it, two muggles also arrived to look at it. They told us that the sculpture is called Xylem Voices, by Walter Bailey, and it forms part of the ‘Inspiring Views’ trail https://www.surreyhillssociety.org/events/inspiring-views-trail (Editor’s note: we had seen another of the pieces in the series, Perspectives, up on the Greensand Way while walking last year.)

Xylem Voices

Xylem Voices


We were nearly back at the car now, finding the last two caches in the series as we walked through the fields, then along the road for a short distance as the sun dipped and the afternoon cooled.

To sum up: this is a beautiful walk, through woodland, open fields and commons and almost all on paths and tracks, a great way to spend a sunny late autumn day.

Here are some of the other caches we found:

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August 3 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Uffington to Sparsholt Firs (Ridgeway)

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” – Noel Coward

A six mile walk. In a 30+ degree heat. A very steep climb to the Ridgeway. And 26 caches.

Were we mad ?

In fact our first two caches were not part of our six mile route. They were hidden close to the village of Uffington. The first was a cache in the ‘Village Sign’ series. This cache was a multi, and we had worked out the coordinates on our previous visit to Uffington, but not collected the cache. As we entered Uffington, we pulled over in a small car park and wondered whether the car and driver in the car park was another cacher. It wasn’t. It was a salesman busy making call after call while we hunted, just out of his eyesight. A quick find – one down, twenty five to go !!

First cache of the day!

Our second Uffington cache was a puzzle cache we had solved a few days previously. With very little information supplied in ‘Terse Puzzle’ GC36970 we had somehow solved it quite quickly. Parking the car, locating the cache and driving away took much, much, longer…

We parked the car easily enough and walked into the wood containing the cache. We arrived within 10 feet of the cache and looked at several host items. The first three were barely large enough to hold anything, let alone a cache, and it took us sometime to see the actual host. Guarded by 3 foot, slightly desiccated, stinging nettles.
A few minutes search and the cache was ours. It was last found at the beginning of March, and the previous finder had remarked about snow… we remarked about the 30 degree heat !

Then we heard voices. We tidied away the cache quickly and walked out of the woods to the voices. It was a farmer and his wife trying to coax 70+ cows from one field, across a road, passing our car, and into another field. The cows didn’t want to. Whether it our parked car that spooked them… we don’t know. After a few minutes we offered to help – we blocked one side of the road and the farmer stood the other and the wife coaxed the cows across. Some cows looked at us suspiciously … especially Mrs Hg137’s red shirt!

We are not MOOOving!

And so after two caches, one salesman and 70+ cows we parked the car at the start of the walk.

It was 1030 and although we hadn’t ‘started’ our walk, there was a seat and a quick coffee break was agreed. It was at this point Mr Hg137 realised there was no milk in the coffee! It was black! And we both take it white!
For once, lady luck smiled upon us. Next to the car park, was the village shop. We decided against buying a pint of milk, since it would have to be carried in a rucksack all day and it would be cheese by midday. So, powdered milk it was.

Sitting, drinking our coffee we could see much of our route. A flattish mile or so’s walk to the Ridgeway slope, a fierce up, a walk WESTWARDS to White Horse Hill and Uffington Castle, then retracing our steps heading EASTWARDS to the car.

Easy.

Apart from the heat.

High on the hillside.. the Uffington White Horse

We set off, through a playing field and then numerous farmer’s fields. Each separated to the next by a mixed bag of stiles. Some tall, some wobbly, some covered in brambles, all different. The White Horse (high above us) became closer and more distinct, until we lost it, when we entered woodland and our next cache. We didn’t really have to search for it, as it hadn’t been well hidden. Fortunately a quick find, as a dog walker was yards behind us. She only caught us up as we were ‘finishing business’ at the next cache (a false stone). She headed off across a campsite, where a mixture of brightly coloured tents and tepees had been pitched.

We crossed the not-very-busy B4507 and started to climb. Within yards should have been a cache 5 feet up a tree. We failed to find it. We took on water, as our very steep ascent was about to start.

Sneaky!

About halfway up was another cache, cleverly hidden in a ‘false branch’ – welcome respite from the puffing and panting of a 400 foot steep (at times 45 degree) ascent.

Halfway…up this steep slope!


The path levelled near a gate and – as one comes to expect – so does a cache. Not quite where we were expecting it to be, but a straightforward find. A few more feet of climbing on a far gentler slope and we arrived at the Ridgeway… and another cache.

A bison.

Hanging on the ‘Ridgeway footpath sign’.

Mr Hg137’s hands were sweaty, and as he unscrewed the base…it slipped through his fingers. Amongst stinging nettles and brambles. We searched the ground. We parted the brambles. We poked and prodded the nettles. But no bison base could we find. The bison base, contained the log, which we had yet to sign. Twenty minutes later we gave up our search. We would be returning past here later so we could search again.

Whoops! Just the top half of the bison remains

We headed West, to the top of White Horse Hill. A fabulous viewpoint. We undertook two caches at the top – the first an Earthcache based on the formation of The Manger – a curious dry valley formation.

The Manger

Our second cache, a multi, involved collecting numbers from three different signs, and calculating a set of co-ordinates. Fortunately the final cache was only a short walk away, and a large container too. We found a ‘bee’ trackable which we hived off for release elsewhere on our journey. We had loaded a couple of other caches near the White Horse Hill, but the high temperature put us off walking further than we absolutely had to.

Is this really a horse ?

The White Horse we had seen from afar is barely visible at the top of the hill. The chalk body is roped off (to prevent vandals/erosion), so we couldn’t get close to it. Uffington Castle is an Iron Age hillfort surrounded by ditches. It is still very impressive to walk around, and with views in all directions one can see why it was so important in years gone by.

Mrs Hg137 walks around the ramparts of Uffington Castle

Our route back to the car was a 3 mile walk along the Ridgeway. It is an ancient trackway, perhaps 5,000 years old linking Avebury (in Wiltshire) to Ivinghoe Beacon (Buckinghamshire).

The Ridgeway is a Bridleway

We walked the full 87 miles back in 2012. Indeed we found our first geocache towards the Eastern end of the Ridgeway (a large ammo can hidden in yew tree roots).

The Ridgeway is predominantly a chalk ridge with extensive views over Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Much of the Oxfordshire views has one, major feature – Didcot Power Station. Originally it had 6 towers, – three were brought down a few years ago, the remaining three are due for demolition shortly.

The 3 remaining towers of Didcot Power Station are just visible in the haze


Despite the Ridgeway being a chalk ridge – frequently the views are obscured by trees either side of the track. These trees provided excellent hiding places for our remaining caches. Sometimes in the boles, sometimes in ivy, and because of the quantity of trees, frequently hard to find the correct tree.

We had searched (unsuccessfully) a second time for our dropped bison, but fortunately found the other caches we attempted. Looking for a cache in a tree was an excellent way of finding cool shadows on this baking hot day.

Hot chalk, lots of trees, but little shade

Eventually we stopped and took stock of progress.

We had a just over a mile to go, and 10 caches to find. We were hot, our water bottles were getting low, and time had slipped by as the day had gone on (the cow crossing, buying milk, a lost bison, and slower and slower searches). We decided to change our searching strategy.

We would attempt every third cache until we reached our car. This would increase our walking pace, and our search time would be reduced.

We walked by, and looked longingly at, two likely hosts and arrived at our first ‘third’ cache. Could we find it ? No. We searched high, low, in ivy, in branches. Nothing. We agreed to attempt the next cache, in its place. Same again.. high, low, nothing. So much for saving time and energy.

The next cache was successful as well as the very next one (the second ‘third’). A final push and we’d be near the car for our final cache of the day..until…until… we saw a waterbutt. Next to the path. Waterbutts are often used to hide caches… yes we were 10 feet from a cache (hint ‘underwater’). Our fried brains meant it took us two circuits of the butt to find the cache and as we did so, we noticed above the butt… a tap. A drinking water tap.
We filled our bottles, doused our hair, drank and drank and drank.


The tap was a memorial to Peter Wren, who died at the very tender age of 14.

Revived, we had bounce in our step for the last quarter of a mile. A final quick find under a signpost and we collapsed in a heap by our car.

Last cache of the day

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”

A six mile walk. In a 30+ degree heat. A very steep climb to the Ridgeway. 21 caches attempted, 18 found.

Were we mad ?

Probably.

Some of the caches we found included :

April 21 : MAGGIE – Misty the Maine Coon Travel Tag

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

On our caching walk between Barrow Wake, overlooking Gloucester, and Colesbourne, in the Churn valley, we found not one, not two, but THREE trackables. This is almost unheard of! One of the three was this nice shiny new trackable, pictured meeting our own trail trackable, which we use to mark our progress on long walks.

MAGGIE – Misty the Maine Coon Travel Tag

MAGGIE – Misty the Maine Coon Travel Tag


Maggie the Maine Coon cat has been around since August 2017, starting off near Lothwithiel in Cornwall. She hasn’t travelled far since then – caches are visited much less in winter, so there is less chance of them being found – but she has been to some great places – to Truro, then to Oare on Exmoor, and thence to the Cotswolds.

All this sits well with Maggie’s own stated mission:
‘To explore past my little garden where I am allowed to roam. I love an adventure, take me far!’

And here is Maggies’s mission, in more detail, as given by her owner:
‘Our little Maggie trackable is in honour of our little cat who watches us leave very regularly with the geopooch to find geocaches. If we could take her geocaching with us we most certaintly would! Maggie loves climbing trees and anywhere green. Please help me to explore!!’

April 21 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Barrow Wake to Colesbourne

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

A week had passed, and we were ready for the fourth section of our epic walk from Sandhurst (Gloucestershire) home to Sandhurst (Berkshire). We *should* have driven straight along the A417 to Barrow Wake, overlooking Gloucester. But the road was closed after an accident, and a scenic tour of Gloucestershire followed, via Cirencester, Stratton, Seven Springs, Crickley and Birdlip, and arrived at our start point later than planned. Just then the traffic started flowing again…

Crossing the A417, we set off up Shab Hill past the telecoms masts and down a country lane. We were high up, following the Gloucestershire Way, with good views all round, and caches spaced at regular intervals. But, if road building programmes have their way, this will all look very different soon http://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/cheltenham-news/cotswold-motorway-plan-flatten-air-1393656

This could be a road soon!

This could be a road soon!


Our success at finding those first few caches was mixed – we found some, not others, and at least one was out in the open in an adjacent field! We spotted a seat – the first one we had seen – so stopped for an early lunch overlooking the Churn valley and Coberley long barrow. Just then a curly-haired, ginger dog appeared, soon followed by a muggle lady. We were sitting on ‘her’ seat. We shuffled up, and chatted, while the curly-haired ginger dog made covert attempts to get into our rucksack and steal our lunch leftovers.

Dog and owner walked on, and we followed them after a pause, as it gave us privacy to search for caches. It was cooler now, and not so sunny, and was that a drop of rain in the air? We reached the valley bottom, crossed the river, then the A435, and set off uphill across one of the biggest and dreariest fields we’ve ever crossed. Luckily, there was a cache at the far side of it … Unluckily, it was well wedged, and a few minutes of cursing and un-wedging ensued before we got to sign the log.
Upper Coberley

Upper Coberley


Climbing still, we walked through Upper Coberley, a prosperous looking hamlet (we looked much too shabby and muddy to be walking through here!). At the top of the hill we turned right, and the Gloucestershire Way turned left; it had served us well, but it was heading north and we were now going east.

We started on an undulating walk on tracks through the Pinswell plantation, along a ridge, through woods sprinkled with bluebells, primroses, daffodils and dandelions, and gently downhill towards Colesbourne, slowly losing the views as we went. Along our way, at regular intervals, were caches (they do help to keep you on the right track!), which were part of the Pinswell Loop series.

Expansive views ...

Expansive views …


... amid lovely old trees

… amid lovely old trees


Two caches are worthy of longer descriptions. One was sodden: water dripped onto our feet as we opened it. Inside was a geocoin: its subject – U-boats – sort of appropriate that it was underwater!

The other had many favourites: we didn’t know why. On arrival, we walked through some impressive stone gateposts and started looking for the cache. We couldn’t find it, and after about ten minutes admitted we were stuck and looked online for a spoiler photo (cheating, maybe?) We realised we had walked over the cache container several times …

We skirted the edge of the Colesbourne estate which is known for its snowdrops https://www.colesbournegardens.org.uk/ though they had finished by time of our visit. Crossing the Churn again – it was bigger now – we walked into the village and the end of this day’s walk.
River Churn, Colesbourne

River Churn, Colesbourne


We’d found thirteen of the fifteen caches we had attempted, and the threatened rain hadn’t happened. Superb walk, and a lovely bit of the Cotwolds, off the tourist trail.

Here are some of the caches we found:

April 8 : 10 Years! Glorious Gloucestershire

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

10 Years! Glorious Gloucestershire

10 Years! Glorious Gloucestershire

While out walking across Crickley Hill, we had the chance to find one of the twenty oldest caches in England, Glorious Gloucestershire. Taped inside the lid of the cache container is a geocoin, placed in 2011 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the hiding of its parent cache. One of the logs for this trackable was from someone who remembered the party to celebrate the cache reaching its 10th birthday …

Very few trackables placed in 2011 have survived – and even fewer caches are around from a decade before, 2001, when geocaching was a very new pastime.

Well done to both trackable and cache!!!

Editor’s note: The trackable number that appears in the picture is NOT, definitely NOT, the real traclable number. I’ve concealed it so that it can’t be discovered by cachers who don’t visit the cache!

April 8 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Shurdington to Barrow Wake

After two day’s walking through the Severn Valley and the outskirts of the Cotswolds, our third day included climbing Crickley Hill. Approximately 500 feet of it.

Shurdington is at the bottom of Crickley Hill and our route would take us to the top, and then we would descend about half way to the Air Balloon pub, and then another short climb to the Barrow Wake car park overlooking the village of Birdlip.

Lots of ascent and with 10 caches to find – and heavy rain forecast for mid-afternoon – we couldn’t loiter too long.

After a short walk we left (cacheless) Shurdington and arrived at a track. This would be our route for the next hour or so. Initially flat, but rising steeply before flattening out nearer the top.

The first flat section yielded three caches. The first, GWYTHERS FARM, was part of a FARM series where cache container had a dairy connection. We had found a similar container the day before at REDDINGS FARM, but it was still a surprise to find a relatively unusual cache container.

One pint or two ?

Our next two caches were even more unusual. They were two caches in a ten cache trail based on the ‘Ships of the Culture’ series of books. (We were unaware of this series, but discovered many of the caches were based on names of spaceships in those books). The author, Ian M Banks, must have a real sense of humour as the first cache we found in the series was…a Carrot.

A Large Plastic Orange Carrot.

One of your seven a day

The second cache we found was a toilet. Yes, a small toilet. The toilet paper was of course used for logging.

Flushed with success!

Still chuckling, we started our climb started in earnest. The track became stonier and stonier. A small stream criss-crossed our path, and as we walked higher we were enclosed by trees on one side and a six foot muddy bank on the other. This muddy bank had to be climbed to reach our next cache.

Armed only with a geo-pole, a bit of endeavour and large amount of effort, Mrs Hg137 failed to climb the slippery six foot slope. Mr Hg137 noticed a slightly easier ascent route, found the cache, threw it down for Mrs Hg137 to sign, before the return throw and re-hide. That was our only scramble up the bank, as it soon became a typical Cotswold Stone Wall.

Our next two caches were relatively straightforward, one required pulling a small piece of string to extricate the cache from a hole, the other was hidden under a familiar cacher’s pile of sticks. The log of this cache was particularly wet, so we decided to have lunch and let the paper dry out for 10 minutes or so.

Pull the string!

We turned onto the Cotswold Way which would lead us to the top of Crickley Hill.

One of the flatter paths!

But first, two more caches which were some way from the main, busy footpath. One was hidden in an old bale twiner, the other in a hollow tree reached by descending a slightly too muddy path.

Eventually we arrived at the top of Crickley Hill. There are three caches at the top – a multi (which we didn’t undertake as its 9 waypoints would take us well away from out intended route), an earthcache and a standard cache.

With hindsight (Ed : hindsight being only useful when things don’t quite go to plan) we should have attempted the earthcache first. But we didn’t.

We headed straight for the standard cache, possibly on a footpath, but in all fairness not, straight down a steep, wet grassy bank. Using only a wire fence (and a geo-pole) for support we inched down the hillside to find GLORIOUS GLOUCESTERSHIRE. An easy find, once at GZ, and it was only when we were at GZ that we noticed a very much simpler footpath leading from the where the earthcache started! Whoops!

View from Glorious Gloucestershire

It was when we logged the cache, later that night, we appreciated the age of the GLORIOUS GLOUCESTERSHIRE cache. It was first hidden in August 2001. It is the UK’s 20th oldest cache, and is classified as ‘Ancient’. Our labours had found a very old cache indeed.

New container.. but an ANCIENT cache!

The other reason we should have completed the earthcache first, was not only did we have to answer questions about how a landslip had occurred, but we had to look at the many hills that we could see from Crickley Hill. Sadly, the rain clouds were rolling in, and we could barely appreciate the (what should have been) expansive view.

We rushed down the hill, passing the Air Balloon pub and arrived at our car just as the heavens opened. (The unusually named pub is allegedly named after the final landing place of one of the first UK balloon flights in 1784).

The rain deterred our visit to a puzzle cache we had solved near Barrow Wake.. that will have to wait for another day.

A couple of the other caches we found :

September 7 : Long Mynd – Pole Bank

Long Mynd, looking down Townbrook Valley

Long Mynd, looking down Townbrook Valley


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

Pole Bank, highest point of the Long Mynd


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


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

Carding Mill Valley


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