April 5 : South Downs Way : Exton to Butser Hill

The next section of our South Downs Way walk would take us from Exton to a small off-road car parking space just a little distance from the top of Butser Hill (part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park estate).

Meon Valley


The route would take us away from Exton, briefly following the River Meon, and then climbing and contouring around Old Winchester Hill, descending to cross the River Meon before ascending once more towards Butser Hill.

When we walked the South Downs Way (SDW) seven years ago, today’s section was one of those which enthralled us least. Today though was different. Early spring, verdant green colours abounded. Birds sang from the tree tops.
The slightly-hazy views were far reaching. And what we both remembered as a traveller’s caravan site had disappeared revealing farmer’s fields.

No caches in this tree!

The path out of Exton is quite tricky terrain. Following recent rain, the path was slightly muddy, narrow and covered with tree roots. We picked our way carefully, aware that the River Meon was only feet away. We were slowly climbing, and eventually reached the Meon Valley Cycle Trail. As we did so, we heard voices behind us, and two gentleman were approaching quite quickly.

They too, were walking the South Downs Way, and also paused at the Cycle Way. This was a slight problem as there was (or at least could have been) a cache for us to find. The cache had had many DNF’s as well as being temporarily archived. We thought it would be good to give a quick search anyway. After the two men disappeared, we undertook our search – but, of course, to no avail.

The next section of our walk involved the steep climb up Old Winchester Hill. Like our preceding visit, 7 years previously, the path was wet following the recent rain, and being chalk was very, very slippery. It was a case of two steps forward and one slither back !

Steep up, slippery mud!

About two thirds up the hill, the South Downs Way contours away the top, and the highest point of the hill is not visited. (Editor’s note : probably because the hill is Iron Age Fort and Bronze Age Cemetery). As we contoured round we passed a field full of sheep and new lambs.

Busy counting sheep!

A farmer on a quad-bike was zooming around the field, subconsciously checking the sheep, but not going close to any of them. We wondered how he was going to leave the field, as we was roaring at speed to the footpath near us. As he approached the wire fence, he stuck leg out, pushed the wire down with his foot, and drove straight over. Clearly its not always walkers that damage wire fences!

A bit higher now!

We proceeded onwards and arrived at a seat. Sadly for us, the two men we had seen earlier were there, having a brief stop. We cast our eyes further and saw another bench about 100 yards away…we went to this bench and paused ourselves for coffee. It was fortunate we were ‘forced’ to use this bench as it was a cache host! We’d walked close on 2 miles and this was our first cache of the day! The cache was called ‘Life of Bryan’ and we were expecting to find a snail cache. (We knew ‘Bryan’ was a mis-spelling, but we’ve seen worse).


But no, it was a cleverly attached cache. The reference to ‘Bryan’ was the bench marked the life, and passing, of Bryan.

Having found our first cache we had several more to find in the next mile and a half.

Is there a cache nearby ?

The first a multi which we had researched before we left. We had read the logs and discovered that if we had solved it on the walk we would have had a half-mile back-tracking to reach the final. However the cache owner had just given enough away in the cache description we could google our way to the two answers. So we arrived at GZ hopeful our internet research was correct, and when the cache hint matched our locale all we had to do was search! We found it after a couple of minutes – quite pleased we had saved ourselves a half-mile walk!

A simple descent to the farm below

As we left the Old Winchester Hill, the South Downs Way takes a large V shape to avoid a steep descent. We walked along a road, passing an enterprising man selling coffee from a van (Mon-Fri 10-3), before we had a more simple descent towards a farm by the River Meon. Halfway down we found another cache, and at the farm too our fourth find of the day was our simplest.

Lunch at the River Meon

This way!

As we crossed the River Meon, we espied some picnic tables, close to the Meon Springs Fishing Club. We chose a table furthest away from the club, as the club sold food, and we had our own. The Fishing Club, is part of the Meon Springs Experience. You can glamp in yurts or shepherds huts. You can clay pigeon shoot as well as fish. The South Downs are available to explore. There’s even self-storage units too ! A good little sideline for the farmer whose land the various activities are held on!

More up, more mud!

We saw the yurts from afar, as replete from lunch we slowly climbed out of the Meon Valley. Three caches broke our climb, one placed by the South Downs Authority, another was cracked, and broken it was full of water. The other, an ammo can, placed way back in 2006 by Esscafe. We met Esscafe at cacher’s meet in Imber shortly after we started geocaching. She was a prolific geocacher (the cacher with the most finds the UK at the time of her untimely early passing a few years ago).

Somewhere in this valley is the source of the River Meon


Esscafe’s Ammo Can

The effort climbing away from the River Meon was worth it, a slightly hazy, but recognisable view of the Solent and the Isle of Wight were visible.

Towards the top of our climb, near a pair of transmission towers, were two more caches. One was magnetic and stuck to a gatepost, the other well camouflaged as something unsavoury!

The remainder of our walk, was broadly flat, with views over the Meon Valley to the North. We passed the Sustainability Centre, which promotes greener living with various courses and wildlife sessions.

And then a major landmark on our 100 mile South Downs Walk. The 20 mile marker! Placed again by the South Downs Authority, this was the cleverest hide of the day and worthy of the favourite point we gave it.

20 mile marker!

Three of our last four caches were part of mini-trail called SOUTHDOWNS MEON VIEW 1, 2 and 3. These varied in difficulty from a barely hidden container, to a film canister squashed into a tree crack. The cache that gave us most difficulty was a bison. There were two main reasons for our problems at this cache; firstly we were expecting a film canister, secondly a family of three and two dogs parked right next to us as were searching and we had to wait some minutes for them to move on.

Our last cache, ‘The Box in a Box’ had recently been checked out by the cache owner, and the two boxes were pristine.

So in the end we found well over a dozen caches. Most yielded a great view, over the very scenic Meon Valley.

Some of the caches we found :

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April 28 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Foss Cross to Bibury

Bibury

The next section of our walk back to Sandhurst would pass through Fairford. As the crow flies it was a distance of about 8 miles. To reach Fairford would mean walking through one of the largest cache series we have seen (the Great Cotswold Walk or GCW series) comprising over 130 caches!

Foss Cross to Fairford caches


What to do ? Do we walk to Fairford and ignore every cache on our way ?

Do we walk to Fairford and attempt every other cache ?

We did neither. We decided to break our route at about the 4 mile mark in Bibury. This would give us about 30 caches to find and a reasonable walk too.

Coln Rogers Church

Of course there were a few other non-GCW caches to find, and after about half-a mile’s walk we reached one of these. A Church Micro set in the tiny village of Coln Rogers. A small Saxon church. In the foyer, there was a memorial plaque to the villagers who fought in WWI. But, almost as interesting was another plaque. This village lost no-one during the fighting in WWI. Such villages are known as “Thankful Villages”.

Our route away from Coln Rogers was tricky. Some of the ‘public footpath’ signage was obscured by verdant Spring hedge growth, which meant we started to walk through someone’s front garden! Whoops!

Then the sting. A fierce uphill climb, up a muddy path to reach a bridleway. The path was muddy and slippery and the tree branches were excellent tools to aid ascent.

At the bridleway we had a choice. To head South to Bibury, or North to a village called Calcot before taking a different path to Bibury. We again did neither. We headed South to find three caches (one had a high number of favourite points, but actually was a cache on a stick hidden in ivy) then return and head for Calcot. The bridleway was very muddy, but no so muddy that a horse rider galloped past us while we searching for a cache.

The bridleway yielded 4 caches, all very easy finds. In fact all the GCW series were easy finds. The cache owner gave very specific hints for each which made every find very quick. The payback for these quick and easy finds is that the majority of the caches were small film canisters, with perhaps half-a-dozen exceptions.

The highlight find of the day was in Calcot. The cache was part of the ‘Fine Pair’ series, where both a red telephone box and red post box are in very close proximity to each other. Like many of the post boxes we had seen recently this was now a mini library. Second hand books festooned shelves, and on the floor of the telephone box, was a large metal box used by children to put money in. It took us a couple of minutes to realise that this was the cache!

A Fine Pair.. and its cache!


From Calcot we walked on a small road at first, then a track, then open fields.

Mmm… best not to ask!

The GCW finds came relatively frequently and quickly found. One of the trickiest to reach was screwed into the ‘orange hat’ used to mark the underground gas pipes. We wondered how the permission had been granted for placement on such a structure!

A field of slightly-interested cows were passed, and then.. a lake. A large expanse of water covered the footpath. We had seen pictures on http://www.geocaching.com, but didn’t realise it was a semi-permanent feature. The cache owner knowing this, had placed the next cache some way from the ‘true’ footpath, so that it could be used a bearing to guide cachers around the lake. Very thoughtful.

Has anyone got a boat ?


We had seen no-one all day, then suddenly there was loud barking. We were approaching some kennels and the dogs were barking at a Duke of Edinburgh’s party heading in the opposite direction to us. As usual a collection of teenagers exhibiting little map-craft were being ‘guided’ by a leader some yards behind. We warned them of the lake and the cows!

The kennels were just outside the small village of Ablington, where we decided to go slightly off route and collect a couple of extra GCW caches. Here a bus stop seat provided us with the opportunity for a breather, and to sign the log of an adjacent cache – wedged in a squashed film canister tucked behind the village notice board, in a concrete bus shelter.

Coln Valley


We had been following, albeit from afar, the River Coln from the North, but at Ablington we crossed the river to walk on the river’s Southern bank to Bibury. We struggled with a couple of these caches – our brains must have been fading – or the GPS wasn’t as accurate as it could have been, but we arrived in Bibury having found every cache attempted.

Bibury is one of THE tourist honeypots in the Cotswolds and it was mid-afternoon, and visitors were everywhere. (You can even get a Cotswold Tuk-Tuk ride in the Cotswolds! https://www.cotswoldtuktuktours.co.uk )

Fortunately for us we could bypass the town and head in from a different direction. A cache under a horse trough and another next to the Cricket Field both retrieved with minimal muggle interference.

Bibury Church


Our final cache on our walk was, like our first, a Church Micro. This time we had some memorial stones to find and undertake a simple calculation to acquire the co-ordinates for the final hide. (The term ‘simple calculation’ doesn’t apply if its the last cache of the day!). We then discovered we had walked by GZ some 15 minutes earlier. Grr! However what a find! The cache was hidden in a coffin shaped container! A macabre end to the day’s very successful walk.

As we headed to the car, we took the obligatory photos of Bibury (now thankfully much quieter), and we realised we had equalled our best ever day’s caching. Then we remembered, there was another cache parked in a layby not far from where our other car was parked back at Foss Cross. So, on the way home, we pulled into this layby, and found, not for the first time, a film canister.. yielding us a record breaking number of 31 caches! Woo ! Woo!

Making progress through the GCW series!

Some of the caches we found :

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 :

April 7 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Down Hatherley to Shurdington

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here again.

The morning’s rain had passed, so in the drier afternoon we walked the second section of our epic walk from Sandhurst (Gloucestershire) home to Sandhurst (Berkshire). This section followed the Gloucestershire Way, starting from Down Hatherley Church, along the edge of a golf course, round the perimeter of Gloucester aka Staverton airport, then, in quick succession, across the A40, the Gloucester-Cheltenham railway, and the M5, before following a stream through Badgeworth and finally to Shurdington at the foot of the Cotswold scarp. Quite a varied walk!


It was some way to our first cache of the day, so we started with a pleasant walk through the silver birches fringing the golf course, watching the golfers hitting their shots with various amounts of competence. (We didn’t comment, not even on the worst efforts – honest!)

Gloucester Airport

Gloucester Airport


... and then the mud started!

… and then the mud started!


After crossing a road – no caches yet – our route led us on a fenced-in path that skirted the very edge of Gloucester Airport. And here the sticky, squelchy, slippy mud started … It sounds grim, but the airport was hidden behind a hedged bank, a skylark sang overhead, and we were walking/slithering along the reed-fringed Hatherley Brook. A while later, we emerged at an underpass which took us under the A40, and across cycle route 41. We had arrived at our first cache – Collie Capers – a series named after a favourite dog-walking route. And suddenly there were dogs (no collies though), cyclists, runners, walkers … We picked our moment, retrieved the cache, and had a coffee as they all streamed by.
Rickety railway bridge

Rickety railway bridge


On we went, following the stream. Our next target, and our next cache, was close to the main line railway from Cheltenham to Gloucester. It was called ‘The Rickety Railway Bridge’ and, oh crikey, did it live up to its name. It all looks solidly supported but I’m a bit worried that a mainline railway should be propped up like this?
Aah ... cute!

Aah … cute!


The one field between the railway line and the M5 is populated with geese and goats of all ages. The oh-so-cute goat kids (goatlets?) were totally underwhelmed by Mr Hg137 attempts to make friends.

Crossing the M5, we were immediately at our next cache. It was only as we approached we registered the Difficulty/Terrain rating (difficult, very difficult) and thought we may not attempt the cache. However, a careful up-and-over the mound of what looks like fly-tipped building rubble, and we were at GZ. Not so hard, really.

Our next few caches followed the line of a stream, along a more-or-less soggy path. They were all from the ‘Cheltenham Circular Caching Challenge’ series, which is described like this:
‘A series of in excess of 100 caches of a variety of terrains and difficulties set around the Cheltenham Circular Footpath by some of Cheltenham’s cachers

Devised by Cheltenham Borough Council, the Cheltenham Circular Walk follows a route of approx 26 miles and gives wonderful views of the Cotswolds escarpment. The walk starts and ends at Pittville Park and passes Cheltenham Racecourse and Dowdeswell Reservoir.

The Cheltenham Circular Caching Challenge of more than 100 caches follows this walk. It starts at Cheltenham Race Course with #1, and the caches are numbered clockwise. But you could of course start and stop anywhere along the route.’

Of the several caches we found from this series, one stands out: ‘No more Bull’ (the clue is in the title). We had walked through a muddy field, with cows. They seemed disinterested at first, but started to wander towards us as we walked. We speeded up, as far as is possible in ankle-deep mud. At the far end of the field was a kissing gate, and a cache. We narrowly beat the cows to the gate and slipped through to safety just in time. The cache was then retrieved under the close inspection of many big brown bovine eyes.

Just two caches remained, one, a large cache across a little stream – a bit of stream jumping was needed here, and the geo-pole came in very useful – and the other, the Church Micro in Badgeworth. We looked inside the church and had a quick refreshment stop before finding the clues. Had we realised one of the clues was right in front of us, we’d have saved ourselves some time! We argued about this clue, which asked what year in life someone was at the date of death – since if one is in one’s XXth year, one has yet to reach XX in age. (E.g. a one year old is in their second year of life). Anyway, we calculated 2 sets of coordinates, and found the cache at the first of them.

Badgeworth Church

Badgeworth Church


The description of the cache also asks for a report on something else in the churchyard – the toilets… They were closed. Apparently this is almost always so, judging by other logs!
Closed!

Closed!


And that was it for the day. Tired and muddy, we arrived at Shurdington, a little bit closer on our quest to walk home to Sandhurst from Sandhurst. Quite a varied walk!

Here are some of the caches we found:

April 6 : Sandhurst (Gloucs) to Sandhurst : Sandhurst to Down Hatherley

Last year, 2017, we set ourselves a challenge to walk from where we live in Sandhurst, Berkshire to Sandhurst, Kent. There is a third Sandhurst in the UK, which is just a few miles North of Gloucester.

This year’s challenge is to walk, (and cache of course) from Sandhurst, Gloucestershire to our home in Berkshire.
The distance is likely to be about 90 miles. As last year, we will try to walk a relatively direct route, but again like last year we do have to avoid certain obstacles such as Army Land, Airports, Rivers etc..

We are starting our challenge later this year as Winter’s short day-length coupled with a 2 hours drive would have meant very short trips. Then, the late Winter weather (“The Beast from the East” x 2!) scuppered our start dates in February/March.

So, some weeks later than planned, we booked a weekend away to start our walk and cache our way home.

St Lawrence, Sandhurst (Gloucs)

Sandhurst (Gloucs) is a relatively small, strung-out village just off the A38. There is one road in, and another out. Its location near to the River Severn means when the River floods, Sandhurst can be cut off.

We parked a car in the church car park and very quickly found our first cache. The GPS said ’17 feet away’ and before we could check the hint, the magnetic micro was in Mrs Hg137’s hand.

First cache of our journey home

Signed, replaced. Very easy. Fingers crossed for an easy ride for the next 90 miles!

Before we headed East, we wanted to see the River Severn. It had been on high flood alert (red alert), for the previous 4 days and we wanted to see how full it was. We never got there! After walking through a farm we arrived, just 2 fields away from the river-bank. But that first field was one large puddle! Water was gushing in from another field, our exit stile was in the middle of a lake. We abandoned our visit to the River Severn, though we both ended up with some of its water in our boots!

Should the River Severn really be this close ?


Sandhurst Church, where we found the first cache, is relatively old and dedicated to Saint Lawrence. It has been a place of worship since the 14th century, and also contains a 12th century font. The peace in the church was marred by roadworks going on within yards of our parked car!

No caches here!

The first couple of miles of our route were cacheless, even though we went over a couple of stiles and saw ‘useful’ trees which would have made good hosts.

In the distance … Gloucester Cathedral

Across flooded fields we glimpsed Gloucester Cathedral; shortly after we walked near to the Nature in Art Museum.

Nature in Art Museum/Gallery

The Museum acts a gallery for artists and artworks associated with Nature. As we crossed the Museum’s drive we made a navigational error. We were looking for a footpath, but we failed to realise until we had walked for 15 minutes, that there were two adjacent paths…and we had taken the wrong one.

This meant we had an extra half-mile road-walking to reach the tiny village of Twigworth. Here we crossed the busy A38,and headed for a bridge over the Hatherley Brook. We were expecting the Brook to have overflowed its banks too, but it hadn’t which meant we could try to find three caches close to its banks.

The first ‘Green Troll House’ was on one of the bridges. We took sometime to find this cache.

Somewhere on this bridge..


Magnetic. Hidden under feet, but not under the bridge.

Very specific. But we fingered the bridge all over. Young spring nettles defended (a bit too vigorously) a location or two and after 10 minutes we were about to give up. Then we saw the item, well concealed. A classic case of standing back and looking from a distance rather than fingertip searching.

…here it is!

The next cache was easier. Under a stile – one of those stiles, which now goes nowhere, as the footpath bypasses it. Everyone now walks by the cache without even realising it is there. (The stile did give Mrs Hg137 a chance to ‘relace her boots’ as a few people approached just as the cache was about to be replaced).

Our next cache was our only DNF of the day. Hidden by a kissing post – it was nowhere to be seen. We weren’t the only cachers to log a DNF, so we are fairly certain the cache has gone.

We continued following the Hatherley Brook, now adjacent to a Golf Course to Down Hatherley Church. We were on two long distance footpaths, The Glevum Way which circumnavigates Gloucester and the Gloucestershire Way which is a 100 mile path visiting Stow-on-the-Wold, Chepstow and Tewkesbury.

Two long distances footpaths at the same time!

Down Hatherley Church (St Mary and Corpus Christi) was the location for a fairly straightforward multi.

St Mary and Corpus Christi, Down Hatherley

Find two gravestones, extract a date or two, perform a simple calculation and find the cache. Most previous finders had mentioned that the co-ordinates were 30 feet out, so we went to the calculated co-ordinate site and split up. Mr Hg137 set off towards a distant tree, but Mrs Hg137 found the cache with the help of some nearby sheep!

We know where the cache is! Don’t ewe?

So we completed the first 4 miles of our ‘journey home’, found 4 caches as well as innumerable flooded fields. Fingers crossed it gets drier!

March 31 : Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!

Is there anything worse than a wet Bank Holiday weekend? Easter 2018 will go down as one of those washout weekends. And yet we managed a short caching trip (almost) avoiding the rain.

Flooded Fields of Wokingham

Our targets were 8 caches in Wokingham (7 standard caches and one puzzle cache) on the footpaths in the Luckley area. The paths were close to, and at times crossed, the River Emmbrook, and its many streams and rivulets.

Our first target was the puzzle cache, relatively close to a large supermarket car park. (As we parked the car, the heavens opened so we waited patiently for clearing skies before we set off).

The puzzle cache had recently been replaced and moved, though the puzzle coordinates had remained unchanged. This was a little suspicious, but we looked anyway. After 10 minutes we gave up, as we still had the other 7 caches to find, and we wanted to find as many as we could before the next downpour.

River Emmbrook

We were familiar with the first part of our route as it followed a footpath we had walked several times previously. The path bisected some fields associated with some stables, but today the horses were all in the dry, and the company we had was a lady clearing the fields some distance away.

Our first find of the day was almost in the lady’s eye-line, but we think we found it without being spotted. We were expecting to find the cache near an oak tree, so we looked at the 10-15 year old oak close by. It was a few minutes later we saw an oak SAPLING, which provided the location for our first find of the day.

First cache of the day!

At this point the paths got muddier and muddier. We crossed the Emmbrook (on a slightly rickety bit of concrete), and walked uphill. Streams cascaded either side of the path, green fields were underwater.

A broken fence provided an easy escape from the mud. About half-way up the slope was our second find, a reasonable sized container which was big enough to hold a trackable. We had brought the Swiss Mountain Cow with us, and bade it farewell overlooking Berkshire’s green (and flooded) land.

Farewell Swiss Mountain Cow!

At the top of the hill we turned onto our final footpath of the day. Very straight, and of course from time to time, very muddy. Our last 5 caches of the day were all along this path.

Mr Hg137 straddles the mud…

… Mrs Hg137 goes for the log and tree approach

Each cache was differently hidden, sometimes under a log, other times behind some metal joints. The views looking across the Emmbrook (mini-valley) were surprisingly good given we were only a mile or two from the hustle and bustle of the supermarket car park.

We walked close to Ludgrove School, where Princes William and Harry were educated. Initially we saw the school buildings, later we saw the playing fields. We examined an odd structure in one of these fields – it turned out to be a covered coat rack! We also walked past a pheasant farm – noisy as the farmer was busy feeding the birds!

Ludgrove School

Partridge Farm

We had so far avoided any further rain, but just as we were signing the log at cache 8, the rain started again. Fortunately we were under a tree, and it gave us surprisingly good cover.

Former Lucas Hospital, Wokingham

Field of Rooks

We then had to journey back the way we came – through the muddy footpaths. We then remembered a slightly different and parallel route, which led us past the former Lucas Hospital and a field of rooks. This meant walking on a tarmac road for part of our return journey – but after the muddy quagmires we weren’t going to argue.

We gave a final check of the puzzle cache – again no joy – and left with 7 caches found out of 8 – not a bad return given the mud-fest.

Here are some of the caches we found :

Postscript :
We emailed the cache owner of the puzzle cache and told him/her of our difficulties in finding the cache. It transpired that although our co-ordinates were spot on, the cache had moved ‘some distance away’. Fortunately for us we were visiting Wokingham the next day, and we were able to find the puzzle in its new location. So 8 caches out of 8 (with a bit of cache owner assistance).

August 19 : Farley Forage

Our plans today were the Farley Forage series and a couple of other caches on route. The caches were ‘squeezed’ between two other series we had completed recently – the Hampshire Drive By, and the Cache-as-Cache-can series in Farley Hill.

Passports at the ready!

The Farley Forage series was wholly in Berkshire, but due to quirkiness of the roads – and a troublesome (vehicle) ford crossing of the River Blackwater, we parked in Hampshire. Indeed this closeness of the county boundary was celebrated by our first cache of the day called County (Re) Boundary. This cache was a replacement for a previous one, and we suspect hidden in the same place. In a tree bole, 6 feet above a muddy bank.
Mr Hg137 scrambled up, located the cache and passed it down for Mrs Hg137 to sign the log and retrieve 2 trackables : Monkey Magic and a World Geocoin. What a good start to the day!

Farley Ford, standing in Berkshire, looking into Hampshire

We then started on the Farley Forage route, crossing the River Blackwater not by the ford but via a small concrete bridge and arriving very quickly at Farley Forage #1. We had read that the previous finder had reported the cache container was broken so we had taken along a film canister to provide a further layer of protection. It wasn’t needed as the cache owner had been out and fixed the cache before 9 o’clock!

The cache owner, Twinkandco, places small caches, generally nano sized, sometimes a film container, but nearly always connected to a piece of rural camouflage. Sometimes the container is inside some bark, or a log, sometimes with a ‘tail’ inside a tube.. but always great fun!

All of the caches are easy (ish) to find, but sometimes a bit of bank scrambling is needed for retrieval.

This series had been advertised as ” … very wet and boggy in places after rainy weather and WELLYS ARE HIGHLY RECOMMENDED“. We had worn walking boots, and we were grateful we had, as shortly after cache 4 came the mud. Two hundred yards of it. The path was one giant mudslide. We picked our way between the soft, squelchy mud, the really slippery mud and the much-easier-to-walk-on shaly mud. In fact while we were traversing the mud we almost forget to see how close the next cache was, and nearly walked by it.

Mud, mud..glorious mud!

The Farley Forage series consisted of 16 caches and we had two others to find on our 4 mile walk. The County (Re) Boundary was one, and we were soon at the other, Sandpit Lane. We had several host trees to search here, and it was only after a few minutes that we managed to find the cache.

The Farley Forage series contained one multi, and due to some over-zealous navigation on Mr Hg137’s part we approached the first part from the wrong direction thus meaning we had to retrace our steps for the final find.

We had walked uphill, away from the river and the paths were much, much drier.

Except at cache 7.

We had rounded a blind corner on the footpath, and discovered the cache was hidden behind a tree the other side of a large stretch of mud.

(We knew the cache was there, as a plethora of muddy bootprints pointed towards the tree!).

Mrs Hg137 ventured across, and retrieved the cache at the second attempt. It was just as the log was being signed when 2 people came round the blind corner.

We’d been rumbled!

But no! They were cachers too. Penwood Plodders – another husband and wife team. We made sure they endured the mud by asking them to replace the cache! We walked on with them for a cache or two, chatting about the Devon Mega, the mud and caching in general. It became apparent that their walking pace, and cache administration, was quicker then us, so we allowed them to speed ahead. Nice meeting you!

(Ed: in case you are wondering why it takes longer to write ‘hg137’ on a log rather than ‘Penwood Plodders’, its because we scribble down a brief note about each cache, our experience at it, as well as taking a photo for this blog).

That’s better… a bit drier here !

The next section of the route was relatively uneventful, the cache containers maintained their uniqueness. As we re-approached the River Blackwater we crossed a few stiles (always good hiding places) and well as a cache hidden deep in a nettle bush.

Somewhere.. near to this stile’s signage .. may be a cache!

Several times we thought we were catching up with Penwood Plodders, but every time they were returning to the footpath having left it to find a cache.

Penwood Plodders in the distance

For much of the day we could hear the sound of farm machinery, and as discovered caches 12-14 we were walking alongside the farmer’s field. What he thought of two pairs of ‘ramblers’ walking along the footpath and both pairs stopping mid-field, in the same spot, we shall never know.

I wonder whether he spotted us…

We were expecting more mud on this section as the river was only feet away, but the paths were dry and meant the mud layer on our boots was quickly being walked off.

We found all the caches on route – a very enjoyable 4 mile walk – full of interesting finds and varied countryside. If you are in the areas of Farley Hill.. we recommend the series to you!

Other Caches we found included :