“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 !!
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!
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.
Apart from the heat.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 ?
Some of the caches we found included :