October 1 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Boxford to Thatcham

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Boxford Church

Boxford Church


We’re walking in stages from Sandhurst in Gloucestershire (just north of Gloucester, on the banks of the River Severn) home to Sandhurst in Berkshire (home of the Royal Military Academy). The next leg of our epic walk was to be from Boxford, along the Lambourn valley into Newbury, then along the Kennet and Avon canal to Thatcham. About eleven miles, plus some geocaching on the way to keep us occupied!
The oldest working window in England

The oldest working window in England


We started in Boxford, another of the pretty small villages spaced at intervals down the valley of the River Lambourn. Our first cache of the day was the Church Micro cache at St Andrew’s, which claims to have the ‘oldest working window in England’ (a hole with a wooden shutter, as far as I could see). Having inspected that – it took about ten seconds – we soon found the information we needed to locate the cache, then had a short walk to find it and sign the log.

Next came a rural section along paths and tracks, following the Lambourn Valley Way, sometimes next to the river, sometimes a little higher up the side of the valley. We watched a farmer tilling the fields and passed a long, south-facing slope planted with young grape vines.

We emerged at Bagnor where we had lunch by the river just outside the Watermill Theatre. Of the caches so far that day, some we found, some we didn’t. Some we thought were missing, some we thought were just our ineptitude. We had an excuse for one of our failures as there was logging going on within a few yards and we didn’t want to hang around with heavy machinery in action close by (well, that’s how we rationalised it, anyway).

Watermill Theatre

Watermill Theatre



Once under the A34 Newbury Bypass, we were away from the open landscape and the wide chalk valley and the surroundings were immediately more suburban. We walked behind houses and along paths, crossed the A4, then downhill towards St Mary’s Church, Speen. There’s a cache just outside the churchyard, but we couldn’t search for it because a muggle was tending a grave in the churchyard. We did a slow circuit of the church – tried to look inside, but it was locked – and returned to a now-empty churchyard. We weren’t being watched now so it was easy to hunt for and find the cache. But the cache, ‘Elmore Abbey’, isn’t named after the church – it’s named after the one-time Benedictine monastery immediately behind (the monks have since moved to Salisbury http://father-gerald.blogspot.com/2013/01/stbenedicts-priory-salisbury.html ).
Speen church /Elmore Abbey

Speen church /Elmore Abbey


Mr Hg137 sneaked up the drive for a glance at the now ex-abbey, then we set off along the Speen Moors Walk, https://info.westberks.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=36688&p=0 on a path by small streams, under the viaduct of the Lambourn Valley railway, and gradually heading into Newbury. There’s a series of caches along there, the SMW (named after the walk!) and we found them as we walked. We arrived at Goldwell Park, where we couldn’t the cache located there, and sat at a picnic table to think about where we had gone wrong (we didn’t read all the old logs, we think the coordinates were incorrect). While we ate a banana and drank some coffee, a personal trainer and two trainees (victims?) emerged from the adjacent leisure centre and did some circuits involving ropes, press-ups, and running on the spot. Phew!
A last look at the River Lambourn ...

A last look at the River Lambourn …

... and goodbye to the Lambourn Valley Railway

… and goodbye to the Lambourn Valley Railway


We left the trainees to their efforts and continued to the Kennet and Avon Canal, crossing on the Monkey Bridge. It’s a new(ish) bridge, replaced about 10 years ago, because the previous incarnation was steep and hard to cross. There’s a cache tucked under the bridge and we found it after a short search, banging our heads on the underside of the bridge.

Duck board?

Duck board?


Had we but realised, that was our last find of the day. We walked on to the town centre – the first and only town of any size that we will visiteon this walk. We visited the parish church, St Nicholas, made a diversion to fail to find the associated cache, and failed. At Newbury lock, we stopped to look at the ‘Ebb and Flow’ sculpture which sits a short way from the lock and consists of a large bowl that fills and empties as the lock is used; no boats used the lock so we didn’t see it in operation http://www.peterrandall-page.com/sculptures/ebb-and-flow
Newbury lock

Newbury lock


Ebb and Flow

Ebb and Flow


We followed the canal towpath east out of the town. We failed to find another cache under a bridge – a passing muggle asked us if we were ‘sheltering from the rain’ (it was dry), and finally failed yet again as we left the river/canal to return to the gecoar, parked at the Nature Discovery Centre in Thatcham https://www.bbowt.org.uk/explore/visitor-centres/nature-discovery-centre Not a great end to a long walk, but we were now a lot closer to home.

Here are some of the caches we found:

Advertisements

September 23 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : East Garston to Boxford

East Garston

Plans.

We had great plans for this stretch of our Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst (Berks) walk.

There were loads of caches to find, lots of standard caches, several multis, a puzzle or two and a three location Earthcache to complete (measuring water flow at three very different bridges over the River Lambourn).

Plans.

As the weekend drew nearer, it became obvious it was going to be a wet one.

A very wet one…but there were a few hours on Saturday morning before it was going to rain. We decided we would get up early, and speed round (omitting the multis, the puzzles and the Earthcache) and only look for the easy caches and finish (hopefully) before it rained.

Plans.

When we awoke on Saturday morning and studied copious website weather maps over breakfast (sad, I know, but necessary). We discovered the rain was moving through quicker and our window of fine weather would be closed almost as we started the walk. We abandoned.

What of the weather the next day, Sunday ? Even heavier than Saturday. Groan.

Plans.

Sunday arrived, and so did the heavy rain. As did another breakfast review of weather websites. The rain should clear late morning. Really ?

For most of the morning we looked through the window at the rain, then the weather websites.. rain should be clearing. Window. Web. Window. Web.

At 10:45 we agreed if we saw no appreciable improvement by 11:15 we would abandon for the day.

Suddenly from nowhere at 11:12, the rain eased, it got lighter. We’re on!

We frantically made up a picnic lunch, loaded a haversack, picked up the GPS and cameras off we went. Driving through drizzle. (Our heads collectively sunk, we were going to get very wet…then…just as we were 5 miles from the start of the walk a small azure streak appeared in the sky. It got wider and wider and wider … and as we parked up, the rain had cleared and much of the sky was blue!

The River Lambourn at East Garston

We walked through the quiet village of East Garston, and headed for our first cache. A little off our path, near a water butt. Nettles surrounded the butt on all sides, but a few swipes from the geo-pole and we had access the butt. We searched high and low, but sadly no cache to see. After the adrenalin rush to get walking, this was a let down.

An even bigger let down at our next cache site too, as it was another DNF ! This time the cache should have been in or near a post. Lots of posts to check – metallic ones surrounding an electricity substation, wooden ones making up a stile and field boundary. Many covered in ivy, surrounded by nettles. We didn’t want to DNF the first 2 of the day, but after 15 minutes we agreed to move on. Our enthusiasm for being able to walk and geocache had taken a beating!

The cache site was at a junction of footpaths, and our minds were made up when several dog walkers appeared. (Most people, like us, had been trapped inside all weekend, and our afternoon’s walk was to be heavily punctuated by families and dog walkers all enjoying the September sunshine).

And so we moved to cache three, the first of 8 caches we would attempt in the Lambourn Valley Way series (LVW). This cache had recently been replaced, so we knew it should be there. Somewhere. Several rootles through the leaf litter, and we had a cache in our hand. At last !

Our luck was even better at the next cache! Not only did we find it (as well as a well hidden dog-poo bag) but there was a seat, and we could stop and eat the hastily made picnic we’d assembled earlier.

Surprisingly the seat was dry, less surprising the footpath (the ‘Lambourn Valley Way’) was not muddy. The River Lambourn, and its immediate surrounding banks, are chalk. A very, very porous rock. All the rain over the last 24 hours had disappeared through the chalk almost as soon as it fell. Bonus!

Lambourn Valley Way


We walked on, and found our next cache in an unusual manner. Hidden in an oak’s roots. But accessing the roots was a time consuming business. Over the many years, the oak had grown several low branches which meant to access the roots, we had to walk into a ‘branch cul-de-sac’, look for the cache, walk out of the cul-de-sac and walk into the next. After 4 such cul-de-sacs, the cache found. Lucky too as a family of five fast approached!

Our route took us into the small village of Great Shefford.

The village boasts several multi-caches. As we had started late, we said we wouldn’t attempt them unless they were directly on our route. One was, based on the Great Shefford Village Hall, sadly the final was a 1/3 of a mile back the way we came – we abandoned.

The footpath so far had been sandwiched between the River Lambourn and agricultural fields. As we left Great Shefford, we lost the river for company. We went by an old church (and its multi), some distance from our path – we tried to second guess where the final would be…(Hint : ‘magnetic’), but we gave up.

We crossed a ploughed field and arrived at another cache. With the hint of ‘tree roots’, we despaired when we saw how many trees we had to search. Then.. from nowhere we saw the container unhidden perched in the bank of some tree roots. We noticed a dog walker approaching, so we undertook lots of delaying actions (phone calls, boot lace tying, photos) until the dog walker had gone by. There was only 1/10 of a mile between caches so we had to employ every known trick to ensure he passed us, before the next cache.

As we approached GZ, another dog walker strode towards us… it really was getting busy. Fortunately a quick find at GZ meant we didn’t see a third walker in the space of two minutes!

We followed a small tarmac drive, until we saw the river Lambourn again – or rather a multitude of streams or rivulets many of which could have been the main channel.

Seven swans-a-swimming

Having crossed the river we climbed away from it (finding a cache in a tyre – yes really! – and a well hidden hanging nano) before our navigation let us down.

In fairness a combination of circumstances let us down. Firstly the large field had a damaged finger post, so we were unable to determine how we should ascend over a rising grass field. It was not helped because cache LVW22 had been removed from the route. If this cache had been present we would have used that as an interim waypoint. The route we took was thwarted by a fenced enclosure of sheep, and after much consideration we chose the correct way around the field and arrived about 20 yards away from a stile! Phew!

Had we not been concentrating on our navigation, and cursing about lack of signage, we might well have spotted Welford Park in the distance. Famed for its display of early Spring flowers, and also host to the TV series ‘Great British Bake Off’.

We had just 2 caches to find. The first of which was hidden 6 feet up, in ivy. Joy, upon joy.
And it had been DNFed by the previous two cachers. We gave it a few minutes, and somehow we found it – well lodged and well disguised.

The straight lines of the M4 …

… and the straight lines of a farmer’s field

Our day had been tranquil walking for the most part, but as we walked on the roar of the M4 became more apparent. We crossed the motorway, and found shortly after our last cache of the day quite easily.

So, somehow we managed to find 8 caches on our trip; it promised more but, given the weather over the weekend, was 8 caches more than we thought we might get!