April 20 : Leicester

We were in Leicester attending a 10 game 2 day Scrabble event. Mrs Hg137 lived near Leicester for many years, and knew many of the Scrabblers at the tournament, so it was a good couple of days catching up with old friends as well as taxing our brains.

College Court Conference Centre

When the Scrabble had finished, and our brains were recovering from the hard work-out, we went geocaching before we drove home.

The College Court Conference Centre, was surrounded by lots of mid-20th houses so we were expecting deviously hidden nanos and micros. We were not disappointed!

We were though disappointed to get a DNF at our first cache!

Our brains must have been asleep. We couldn’t find the cache…there were two trees to check, several signposts, a green communications box and much, more besides. The cache site was on a corner of two streets with several houses overlooking our search area. Despite looking hard, we gave up after 15 minutes searching, and moved on.

Criss-crossing one of Leicester’s suburbs the next cache site was in an alleyway. One muggle came by, but otherwise the alley was quiet. Alleys are notoriously difficult to search as generally they are busy thoroughfares, with few sightlines of oncoming people, and of course are near to houses.

After inspecting the obvious host for several minutes, it was only once we had peered at the street furniture on hands and knees did we spot the hidey-hole.

Phew! Our brains were recovering!

The third cache was near the entrance to a park. We could hear a bowls match going on behind a hedge, the swings and slides in the park though were unused. (It was a very hot afternoon, so the lack of people was no surprise). The hiding place, well indicated by the hint, took some finding. Again we spent a few minutes of fruitless hunting, until we took a step back and noticed the cache from afar! Strategic placement of Mrs Hg137’s handbag made the retrieval unseen by a passing muggle. (Why do muggles always appear at the crucial moment?)

And so onto our final cache. It was named after a former Lido, sited nearby. (A shame, as it was such a hot day a Lido would have been very, very tempting). Here we discovered the estate’s roads were named after towns on the Isle of Wight. As we wandered along, watching the GPS distance dropping with every footstep, we thought about our various holidays on the Isle of Wight and what we had seen in each town.

A relatively quick find awaited us – fortunate as two men and four dogs appeared from nowhere while we were signing the log!

We’d found three caches out of four, but the journey home was a celebratory one as we had both done rather well in the preceding Scrabble tournament. Mr Hg137 had finished well above his start position in Division A, and Mrs Hg137 had finished 2nd in Division B. Only the one DNF spoiled our fun…so it will be a target for us if we return for the Scrabble tournament next year!

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:

August 9 – Jealott’s Hill – between Bracknell and Maidenhead

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

The weather forecast was … mixed. There had been heavy rain the night before, and the arrival of the remnants of Hurricane Bertha were predicted for the next day, but in between was a small patch of nice weather. As forecasts can be wrong, and there was a chance of getting very, very wet, we chose a short set of local caches. We had high hopes for these as they were set by JJEF, two nearby cachers who exercise deviousness and ingenuity in their cache setting – not, for them, the typical film canister under a stone!

Hogoak Lane

Hogoak Lane

Setting off from near the centre of our planned route (just in case a quick retreat from the weather was needed), we set off along the ‘Hogoak Lane’ series, a pleasant country track. Disaster! We failed to find two of the first four caches in the series. We hadn’t got our caching heads on right, or we had failed – not for the first time – to get inside the hiding methods of JJEF. There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ JJEF cache, but there is often wood involved, are frequently hidden in a completely natural-looking way, and can be very hard to spot.

Things improved as we crossed the Drift Road – lots of fast cars here – and much more searching continued: up trees, in hedges, under bridges, and amongst leaf litter. We were having more success now, until … we got to a cache we couldn’t open. We found a log, cut in two, hinged and closed with a padlock, and with a stick that presumably contained the key sticking out of the log. But the stick just would not come out, though we twiddled and wiggled and pulled it. We weren’t giving up, oh no; out came the Swiss Army knife, the hinges were unscrewed and the log was found and signed, before everything was rebuilt. (And no, nothing is being given away by this description, as we reported the problem to the cache owner and the container has been speedily replaced with an updated model.)

Cache opened at last!

Cache opened at last!

Back across the Drift Road – more fast cars and speeding cyclists – and down another country path. On our way, we found a ‘letterbox’ cache, a sort of cross between a normal geocache and the letterboxes that can be found on Dartmoor. These caches contain an ink pad and stamp in addition to the usual contents: a good chance for me to get covered with red ink while using the elephant stamp inside!
Wildlife spotted ...

Wildlife spotted …

Not so wild life ...

Not so wild life …

Soon we were back to the geocar, with 15 out of 17 caches found. And we were also on our way to completing the ‘7 souvenirs of August’ challenge – the letterbox cache gains us the Collector souvenir, with our other caches today giving us the Explorer souvenir.
Letterbox stamp

Letterbox stamp

March 29 – Geocacher’s flash mob … and a swing bridge

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here again.

Time for something different: a geocacher’s flash mob.  The location was described on the event cache (a sort of time-limited geocache) with the hint  ‘Look for the big brick thing over the canal.’   And so we arrived in Church Crookham, at Poulter’s Bridge over the Basingstoke Canal, where a motley bunch of geocachers and geodogs were assembling.  We stood around for a chat in the warm spring sunshine – soooo different to yesterday – and talked to friends old and new; we’ve met up with quite a few other geocachers now in various places and ways (in the field, in the pub, via email etc) and it’s always good to put a face to a name.   Then it was time to sign the log, take part in the group photo, and to spread out into the surrounding area to claim some local geocaches.


Inventive cache container

Inventive cache container

A short series of five new and unusual geocaches had been released especially for this event and we found them all.  It wasn’t that hard, really, as there was a sort of extended crocodile of geocachers making their way from the flash mob around the circuit.  Many plaudits must go to ‘The Mad Cacher 007’ for such an inventive set of caches.  After finishing the circuit, we walked back along the towpath towards the geocar, arriving at a swing bridge over the canal.

The swing bridge

The swing bridge

Well, we already knew about this swing bridge because we knew that there was a geocache right underneath it, but it is very hard to reach, difficulty 4.5 out of 5.  The approved method is to approach in a boat, though the more agile get to the cache by climbing under the bridge, suspended above the water.  We didn’t have a boat and we didn’t fancy the climb … but I did have a key, which had been languishing on my keyring since the days when I did a lot of walking along canal towpaths … and it opened the padlock on the bridge.  We were thinking about what to do next – bridges are heavy – when a posse of other geocachers came into view.   A unanimous decision was made to go for the cache. The bridge was manhandled open and swung round.

Another discussion followed about where exactly the cache container might be and how to get to it (thanks to ‘Fay, R+R’) and then Mr Hg137 and others crawled underneath, emerging some little while later with the cache and quite a bit of the towpath mud. Log signed, cache replaced, and bridge swung back and locked again.

Job well done. Smiles all round. Teamwork!

PS Mr Hg137 was NOT allowed back into the geocar in his muddy state.  He was required to partially disrobe before entering the car!

March 1 – Hog’s Back reservoir – mud and the first day of spring

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

A crisp, bright March 1st meant it was the perfect day to be out geocaching. We set off early, planning to do a figure-of-eight walk from the Hog’s Back, near Guildford, to and from the nearby village of Compton. Many others were also out enjoying the spring sunshine, and we grabbed a couple of caches before stopping for a long talk with Cocoa, a chocolate labrador, and her chatty master, who told us about the many rock stars who live / were born / are performing nearby (Paul Weller, Brian May, Andy Fairweather Low, Eric Clapton).
We slithered down a steep, chalky path, finding more geocaches, to join the North Downs Way. Part way along this track, another cache was said to be hidden some way up a gnarly oak tree. This one took some finding, and I felt rather exposed while clambering around in the tree; the cache was eventually spotted but I was too short and too nervous to reach it – over to Mr Hg137, who is somewhat taller than me.

On we went, heading towards Compton; we took rather too much time over finding/not finding some geocaches along the way and it was around an early lunchtime when we emerged onto the lane near the Watts Gallery ( ) We had planned to be finished by now, so it was a unanimous decision to head for the teashop.
The Watts Gallery tea room describes itself as ‘A delightful café in the old pottery on the North Down’s Way with a changing seasonal menu.’ It merits the description; on the day we visited it was an eclectic mixture of families out for the day, art lovers of every shape, size, and age, a celebration lunch party, lycra-clad cyclists … and two muddy geocachers (us!). A great place to visit, and the warm sausage sandwiches were superb. (And we plan to come back later to visit the gallery, and revisit the Watts Chapel.)

We tore ourselves away and set off on the return leg of our journey. We had just collected another cache when a group of people came into view … somehow they just looked like geocachers (maybe the way their GPS was swiftly hidden was a clue). It was ‘Martin the Meerkat’ and family, out for a walk and to collect previously missed caches.

We headed back to the Hogs Back, collecting more caches along the way, as well as two trackables, which we will move on soon. There were more clever and inventive geocaches, and one more embarrassing DNF (did not find), where we were both futilely climbing around on a steep bank, when a passing walker remarked “I know what you’re doing” …
A great day out, and some superb geocaching – thanks to Kirret who set out the series of very varied caches.

PS I’ve not mentioned how any of the geocaches were set. They were varied and creative and I don’t want to spoil it for others.

PPS The churchyard at the Watts Chapel has just (March 7th) got Grade II listed status

June 18 Day 169 Caches Found 1 Cumulative Total 201 (+1 bonus)

After we failed to find the “Blackwater #12” cache, we received an email from the cache owner, Chilli Pipers, telling us that the cache was still safely in position, so it was our poor finding skills that were the problem.

Early on Tuesday morning Mr Hg137, suited and booted, was on his way to a business breakfast, passed by the cache site and had another look around. Still no joy.

On Tuesday evening Mrs Hg137 was heading off to her yoga class – got to keep supple for all that caching! – and both Mr and Mrs Hg137 parked up near the spot and had yet another search. After searching almost everything at the site, and nearly getting our fingers stuck in a crack in a tree, we found it … we might even have laid hands on it earlier when we were searching. The lesson here is to stick at it and you will find it!

April 26 Day 116 Caches found 8 Cumulative Total 145 IOW Day 1

We were visiting the Isle of Wight to participate in a weekend Scrabble tournament. We decided to extend our visit by catching an earlier ferry and finding some caches first. We decided to find 9 caches in a circular-ish walk near Chillerton.

7 of the caches were placed by once Cache Owner, and 2 by another. The 7 placed by the first Cache Owner were fair, but sneaky. Frequently a small piece of sawn log had been hollowed out, and a film canister placed inside. On another occasion, the cache was a specimen bottle tied on, and dangling behind a tree! Of the 7 we found 6 successfully, but failed on the 7th, as it started to hail right into our faces!

sneaky cache!

Of the 2 caches set by the other Cache Owner, we found both. One of them was found after an extensive search. Our GPS guided us to an ivy bank, and we couldn’t find the cache. Other logs shown in http://www.geocaching.com indicated the cache may have been hidden on the other side of the footpath. It wasn’t there either! We spent some time looking on both sides of the bank, until we eventually found it hidden in ….. (sorry too much of a spoiler). The cache was a plastic box and were able to place Sir Knight Nettle in it, as there were nettles nearby !

The 4 mile walk took us high on one of the Isle of Wight chalk ridges and we were very lucky to have extensive views in all directions.

A great start to the weekend… fingers crossed the Scrabble is as good!