July 25 : A circumnavigation of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst

A few weeks ago, when lockdown was easing but we felt geocaching still had some inherent dangers, Mrs Hg137 proposed a walk circumnavigating the Royal Military Academy. We never got round to undertaking the walk before we resumed geocaching, so today we thought we could combine both.

Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst


The whole Academy is fenced, sometimes double fenced, and well protected. However roads and footpaths pass near to the perimeter. Sadly though there aren’t many caches right next to the perimeter, so in order to make the circumnavigation a caching walk, we extended the perimeter by about half/three quarters of a mile. This gave us a 9 mile walk, and options on 10 caches.

The first part of our walk was on pavements, firstly behind the Meadows Shopping Centre and then along the A30 heading towards Camberley. Behind the Meadows is the Wish Stream which marks the border between Berkshire and Surrey.

Wish Stream

The day was grey, with slight drizzle in the air, and a trudge along the A30 was not the most scenic couple of miles we would walk this year. We walked by a stone marking Arthur Sullivan (now on the wall of Macdonald’s Drive Thru) and the main entrance to the RMA itself.

As we drew level with Camberley Town Centre we turned away from the A30 into Kings Ride. More pavements, but quieter and uphill. Partway along we reminisced about a first-to-find we had made many years ago in this road (part of the ‘Fine Pair’ series). Sadly the red telephone box half of the Fine Pair has been removed, as has the cache.

What we did find though a was large grassy meadow. Hidden behind an estate of houses, it supplied us with our first cache find of the day. As we left the meadow a lady with 3 dogs entered. Two of the dogs, of medium size, were off-lead and ran by us. The other, still on a lead gave us several deep barks. It was huge (and we discovered, still only quite young). The Caucasian Shepherd Dog barked again, pseudo-aggressively. The owner told us that the dog was barking because we were wearing sun hats (‘aka drizzle protectors’). We removed the hats, and the dog stopped barking. We moved on, thinking that the young dog will be very big and strong in later life.

At the end of Kings Ride, the road became a footpath. (Shown confusingly on some maps as ‘Kings Ride’ !). Here was the start of a three part multi-cache. We had looked at the waypoints before we left, and decided it would add a mile on our walk. We had a quick look at the first waypoint, tried doing the complex arithmetic, gave up, and moved on.

We were intrigued by soldiers running hither and thither yards ahead of us. Barossa Nature Reserve is owned by the Ministry of Defence, but maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust so it seemed reasonable for soldiers to be there. We had walked in Barossa many times before but never seen any soldiers.

We soon discovered what they were doing. A timed navigational exercise. Pairs of soldiers and sometimes individual soldiers were running from electronic checkpoint to electronic checkpoint.

We could hear the pressure as the soldiers ran by…’where’s the checkpoint ?…where’s the checkpoint ?… is that B ?… is that B ? ‘

Wish Stream


As we climbed into the woods, re-crossing the Wish Stream back into Berkshire, we were passed by more soldiers, until we came upon hundreds of them. All socially distanced, all waiting their turn to be briefed on the exercise!

We climbed even further to a large crossroads of footpaths, called Lower Star Post. Nearby was our second find of the day, a barely hidden cache. Our problem was taking the correct path from the Star Post. The cache, SP6, is over 18 years old!

Lower Star Post


Eventually we reached the Devil’s Highway, a former Roman route that linked Silchester with London. We had walked part of the Silchester section on our Sandhurst (Gloucestershire) to Sandhurst (Berkshire) expedition a couple of years ago. We joined the Devil’s Highway at the Upper Star Post and a cluster of caches were a short distance from it. One, a puzzle cache, was placed close to the nearby Crowthorne Reservoir. Another puzzle cache took us closer to the RMA perimeter, before we returned to the Devils Highway to find DC6 – Devil in Disguise. Here we walked through a curtain of ferns to find a log protecting the cache. Also protecting the cache was an ants nest, and it took some minutes to retrieve the cache without disturbing the myriad of insects.

Near to the RMA fence


The Devils Highway is very straight and goes under the busy A3095. Before the tunnel was another cache DC 5 – The sign of the Devil. The co-ordinates pointed deep in woodland where the hint of ‘magnetic’ made no sense. But reading previous cacher’s logs we guessed we had to lift a lid to find the cache. On the Devils Highway were a couple of ‘cache friendly’ hosts. As Hr Hg137 lifted the lid off one, a clunking, cascading sound could be heard. We surmised that was the cache. Sadly we couldn’t reach where the cache, if indeed it was the cache, fell. We walked away disconsolate, hoping we hadn’t wrecked a cache.

We went under the A3095 and had a fine view of the Broadmoor Hospital from Joshua Jubb Way. The Hospital has recently been rebuilt, and Joshua Jubb Way is a new road, built for construction traffic. Joshua Jubb was the original designer of Broadmoor in the 19th Century.

Broadmoor Hospital


Nearby was an area known as Butter Bottom, and the area gave its name to well-hidden cache. The hint required knowledge of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ – a book we had both read, as well as seeing the film. Sadly we couldn’t remember how the ‘hobbits hid from the Black Riders’ so did a detailed search of the trees and bushes nearby.

Private lake near Butter Bottom


Butter Bottom became a lane and then farmland and passed by Crowthorne Rugby Club (we didn’t know that even existed!). Soon we were on the Northern Edge of Sandhurst, at the top of Owlsmoor Road. Owlsmoor is a district of Sandhurst, built during the latter half of the 20th century. We had two caches to find in Owlsmoor Road, the first took us to a small park we didn’t know existed, and the second to an ivy-covered tree. Suffice to say we found the cache in the park quite easily, and the ivy hide thwarted us.

We were still about 3/4 mile from home and rain, which had eased from the morning’s drizzle but had returned with a vengeance.

We just about made it back before the rain got too heavy, passing the side gates of the RMA.

The varied walk (pavements, woodland, farmland) was just over 9 miles. We found 7 caches out of 10 and found some places we didn’t know existed.

The caches we did find included :

February 29 : Leap Year Day : Church Crookham and Fleet

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.


Leap Year Day started with rain (again). But by afternoon it had improved into bright sunshine and scattered showers and we decided to risk a drenching and go out for some caching. Off we went to north-east Hampshire, between Church Crookham and Fleet, and parked near Basingbourne Park, roughly in the middle of the area we planned to cache. We had chosen a mixture of ordinary caches and puzzle caches, and had spent some time solving the puzzle caches during a previous rainy day.

Our first cache was a puzzle cache, ‘Square Cache’, one of those we had solved earlier. Counterintuitively, the cache was hidden in a circular place … We left the area and walked towards our second cache and the sun went in and it got colder and darker and then began to hail, then rain. We took refuge behind bushes and trees a short distance from the cache, watched the muggle dog walkers plod, heads down, into the rain, and waited till the squall passed. The rain stopped, we emerged and walked up to the next cache; there was something ‘not quite right’ which just had to be the cache. At first we couldn’t extricate it, and though it was a ‘real’ object. But no, a second attempt removed the cache container. Very cleverly done!

Basingbourne Heath

Basingbourne Heath


Strange springy path!

Strange springy path!


We left the tarmac paths and entered a wooded area. But were we off tarmac? The paths beneath our feet looked like tarmac but were weirdly bouncy – we wondered if they were made from recycled tyres. We weaved through the woods, passing a small patch of rather soggy heathland (we weren’t expecting that!) and also finding two of the three caches in the ‘Basingbourne’ series; two were straightforward finds but we gave up on the third. There had been a great deal of rain recently and the area for some way around the cache was very wet indeed. We tried approaching from a couple of directions but without success. We were wearing walking boots, not wellies, so we decided to keep our feet dry and leave this cache for another day.
Too soggy to go in there!

Too soggy to go in there!


Back to the puzzle caches, and we found three more of these in the area between Basingbourne Park and the B3013 which runs south from Fleet. As before, we had mixed fortunes with finding the caches; the hiding place for one could be spotted from the other end of the street; another required a good rummage among roadside bushes and tree roots; and the third needed a long, scratchy and dispiriting search among bushes and small trees, where we were about to give up at the time we finally, finally spotted the cache. (Editor’s note: no, I’m not saying exactly where they were, you need to solve the puzzles yourselves.)
An unusual pet?

An unusual pet?


And then we got the last cache very wrong. It was a challenge cache and we had checked and knew we qualified (we needed to have found a selection of caches with a connection to water). We were so smug at all this that we had mentally already found the cache and signed the log that we hadn’t read all the way to the bottom of the cache description where the actual location of the cache was specified, not at the published coordinates but at a waypoint listed alongside the cache. And so we searched in the wrong place – then approached from another angle, and searched again – and again – and didn’t find the cache. Eventually we gave up, went home, and found out the real location when we re-read the cache description, properly, at home. Grrr.

Here are some of the caches we found:

November 30 : Woosehill/Sindlesham

For some reason, November is our lowest caching month by a distance. This year has been different, as we were on our fifth November caching trip, this time primarily in woodland which separates the Wokingham districts of Woosehill and Sindlesham. It was an area that both of us had some knowledge of, as Mr Hg137 used to live in Woosehill, and Mrs Hg137 worked in the Sindlesham area and often frequented the woodland paths on a lunchtime walk.

Welcome to the Woods!


Mr Hg137’s experience counted for nothing at our first cache. A DNF near to Woosehill’s supermarket and part of the ‘Off Yer Trolly’ series. We were looking for a cache in a bole of tree (of which there were surprisingly few) next to the pedestrian walkway known as Smith’s Walk. A busy thoroughfare, given its proximity to the supermarket and doctor’s surgery, and after a few minutes feeling freezing cold ivy leaves we abandoned.

We parked the geo-car at the furthest part of Woosehill next to a Tennis Court. We had parked here a few years ago, when we were the first to find (FTF) the very first Counting Vowels cache. On that occasion (see our blog entry https://sandhurstgeocachers.wordpress.com/2017/11/10/november-10-ftf-wokingham-chestnut-avenue/ ) we drove there twice as the cache owner had made a mistake with the coordinates, and we walked miles to register a DNF in our quest for the FTF.

What is it about that Tennis Court and our caching ability ? Our second cache of the today’s walk was at the Tennis Court (part of the ‘Anyone for Tennis’ series) and having studied the hint we believed we were looking for a magnetic bolt. We searched all ends of the tennis court, but our reward was nothing. Two caches attempted..two DNFs.

We were somewhat demoralised as we walked to ‘The Stones’ – we didn’t want three DNFs.
We didn’t get three DNFs as we found the cache quite easily as a large stone hid the cache.
Phew ! We were away!

Third attempt… first find of the day!

Our route around the woodland had been worked out before we left home. There were three parallel roads/tracks (Chestnut Avenue, a woodland path and Sadler’s End). Our route would weave its way from Chestnut Avenue through minor tracks to the main woodland path, a couple of caches on or near that path, before more minor tracks to reach Sadlers End. Here we would attempt a few caches on its length, before heading back via minor tracks to the main woodland path, then more tracks back to Chestnust Avenue. Of course the route wasn’t a perfect circle, so some backtracking was needed to find the outlier caches.

By and large the tracks were very good, if slightly muddy to walk on. The overnight frost had caused a fresh leaf-fall so many of the muddy bits were covered in leaves. It also meant there were times when we couldn’t see the footpath at all as the whole forest floor was covered in leaves.

Holly


Many of the caches or hints described the nearby foliage (‘Rhododendrons’, ‘Holly’. ‘The Gnarled Old Tree’) which narrowed down the search area considerably. Most of the caches were surviving well in the wet Autumn, with one exception, ‘Power Lines’. Here the cache lid had been broken and the log was only just dry enough to etch our name.

The majority of the caches were small, disappointingly so, as we had a trackable we wanted to drop off. It was at our third cache ‘Come and Disk Over Me’ that we were able to do so and pick up a new trackable in its place (Sawyer Koala Bear).

The woodland paths eventually came out close to Wokingham Tennis Club, and here we found our only seat of the morning – so we sat and drank coffee watching a junior coaching session. The trainer was lobbing balls over the net to about 4 children who had to forehand return the ball back. If they succeeded four times they could award themselves a ‘token’ and we saw differing piles of tokens mount up between the trainees.

Setting up for the training session


Next to the Tennis Court is Wokingham Cricket Club, the home of one of our longest searches. The previous cacher, Amberel, hadn’t found the cache and we were concerned we would get our third DNF of the morning. There really was only one structure to search given a hint of ‘magnetic’, but the cache was not in the obvious place. We then read the logs from previous finders, and these told us to look for a piece of wire. We found the wire..but no cache! It was only after a little more searching did we find a SECOND wire…and then the cache came to hand. Phew!

We had arrived at Sadlers End and we had a longish walk to our next cache. We passed a few houses, and nearly got run down by the parents driving their ‘tennis trainees’ home. Our next cache was called ‘Motorway View’. As our walk had progressed, the distant hum of the M4 had become more noticeable, but it was only as we approached the cache did we see the motorway. The hint for this cache was ‘Stand to right of drain cover. Five paces towards motorway, then look right’. There were two things wrong with this very explicit hint. Firstly we couldn’t see the drain cover! The whole path was covered in leaves – we eventually found the metal cover after some prodding with the geo-pole. Secondly ‘paces’. Our stride lengths are different. Was the cache setter long-strided, medium-strided or tiny-strided ? We both paced a distance and after a little search found the cache. And the view of the motorway.

Motorway View


After finding another cache in Sadlers End we made our way back to the woods. Our shortest, and probably less-legal route was to climb over two 5 bar gates, and walk around a farmer’s track. We were at the furthest point from our car, and felt quite cold. The weak winter sunshine had barely permeated the woodland, so we opted for the quick, over-the gate escape route and followed a series of very minor tracks arriving at our next cache hidden under a decaying log.

We had just a couple more caches to find – including a very old cache – originally hidden in 2004. Hidden under a fallen tree, we spent some time looking at the first fallen tree near Ground Zero, rather than walking on a little further to find a larger tree shielding the cache.

Our penultimate cache was hidden in the Woosehill Estate. Called ‘No Mans Land’ because all the roads in that particular part of the estate are named after battles. The pedestrian walkway which hosted the cache was between all these ‘battle’ roads, and hence was in No Mans Land.

After finding our last cache, ‘Chestnut Avenue’ we headed back to the car near the Tennis Court DNF. As Mrs Hg137 changed from her muddy walking boots to her driving shoes, Mr Hg137 had one final look for the elusive cache. Did he find it ? Of course not!

Still, despite the 2 DNFs we found 13 caches, a variety of cache containers some of which are shown here :

February 6 : Ottershaw, part 2: tigers, otters, and dogs

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

We’d been to see the Lego animals at Wisley, and very good they were too.



Afterwards, on our way home, we stopped at Ottershaw to finish off the cache series that we had started in mid-January, planning to find the caches in the northern half of the series, around Ether Hill and Queenswood. Our first cache was close to the car park; we found it very quickly, though it won’t be that simple come the spring, when the vegetation starts to grow, and afterwards sat unobtrusively on a nearby seat to sign the log and watch the many, many dogs enjoying the open space, some fast some slow, all waggy (and that’s just the dogs!), who were accompanied, of course, by their owners.

There were just as many dogs in the woods. We had to resort to the ‘make a fictitious phone call’ trick so that we didn’t look suspicious while a dog-walking muggle and friends moved out of sight. My, these woods are dog heaven! It was worth waiting, as we then found a trackable lurking in a large cache. We carried on through the trees, choosing a random route, and finding an ammo can (even bigger!), then a small cache at the edge of a golf course. Everywhere, everywhere, were dogs and dog walkers; just how many dogs live around here? A final cache lay just over the A319 in Ottershaw Chase. For a moment, there were no dogs, and no muggles, and we had a chance to search uninterrupted. It paid off, as we found another cache and another trackable.

An, on the way back, we passed a lady excercising SEVEN dogs …

Five caches and two trackables was a successful haul for a short caching trip. And so, so many happy dogs …

January 18 : BlueLamb Geocoin

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.
While finding caches in the woods near Ottershaw, we came upon this tiny little thing:

Mr Hg137 said it couldn’t possibly be a trackable, it was too small and didn’t look right, but it had all the right words and numbers on it, so we took it home with us. Arriving back at home, I did a little research on what we’d found and what it had done in the past.

The first anomaly was that it shouldn’t have been where we found it … its last recorded location was three weeks and six miles away, in Lightwater. No matter, the last cacher who had it must have failed to record that it had been moved.

Having sorted out the ‘where’ and the ‘when’, it was on to the ‘what’. It turns out that this little scrap of laminated card is a proxy for a trackable called the ‘BlueLamb Geocoin’. The owner has chosen to send out a proxy for the trackable, rather than the original, as lots of trackables go missing (we know, it’s happened to us too). We come across theses before, though the others we’ve come across have been pictures of the original trackable. And here is what the original looks like:

The geocoin, or its representative, started off in Alabama, has travelled to all corners of the main part of the USA, then crossed the Atlantic to travel round France and Germany, and has now hopped over the English Channel where it has visited Worthing, on the south coast, before moving to the area south-west of London. We’re not sure where we will take it. Hampshire, maybe, or the Isle of Wight?

January 18 : Ottershaw

Ottershaw is a village on the outskirts of Chertsey and Woking, just minutes away from the M25.
More importantly, from our perspective, Ottershaw is on our route home from RHS Wisley.

So, on a cold-ish Friday morning we set off for a quick visit to Wisley (we were hoping to see the big Lego exhibition – but we were a week early – doh!) and then find a few caches on the return journey.

Wisley provided us with some winter colour with snowdrops and colourful Alpines in the warm greenhouses. So, with no Lego to see, we headed off to find some caches.

We had loaded 12 caches, 8 of which were part of a series called “Eli’s Walk”.

Our first three caches, though, were not part of this series. Instead we started with a very simple church micro (no graves to find, no numbers to calculate, no waypoints to enter into the GPS). This was number 60 in the Church Micro Series – the cache was placed in March 2008. The Church itself, Christ Church, was built in the mid-19th Century and became the Parish Church for the (then) scattered villages between Woking and Chertsey. It was designed in the studio of Gilbert Scott – and his Gothic Revival style is clear to see on the Church.

Christ Church, Ottershaw

Our next two caches could be described as “Cheesy”. One was called “Say Cheese” and the other “Ottershaw Supreme”. Both were hidden just off tracks in woodland. This is a photo of one of the caches…but we recommend finding the other..just for the fun of retrieving the log!

“Who ordered the pizza?”

And so onto Eli’s Walk. We crossed the busy A320 and started the series at cache 3.

We reached a crossroads on an unmade road, the GPS pointed in one direction towards a 5-barred gate. Blocking the route was a van. We asked the driver whether there was a footpath beyond the gate, and he informed us that it was ‘just houses’. We needed another path!

We walked on slightly concerned that the GPS was still pointing away from our route and our map didn’t indicate another path. A lady dog-walker approached. We enquired how we could get to ‘Ottershaw Park’. This was the name of the track that the cache was on.

‘Ottershaw Park ?
No, you can’t go there.
That’s a private estate.
The back entrance is down there but you’re not allowed in’

We were now mightily confused.

We walked on further and looked back. Both the van driver and dog walker had disappeared. We decided to investigate the track that no-one wanted us to walk along.

Ottershaw Chase


As we did so, we saw a swing gate and noticeboard side onto the path. This reassured us, as, to our limited knowledge, not many private estates have such features. In fact there were no houses to see! The noticeboard stated we were in ‘Ottershaw Chase’ not ‘Ottershaw Park’ which was the name shown on the geocaching map.

We were in woodland! And the cache was only 300 feet away!

Our GPS wobbled. A lot. We searched 3 trees before laying claim to our fourth find of the day, a small Tupperware container.

We walked on, accompanied by the sound of woodpeckers thrumming bark, and magpies swooping in and out of branches. An occasional squirrel scampered up a tree as we approached.

As we arrived at our next cache (number 5 in the series) we finally understood the dog-walker’s words. There WAS a private estate of houses, and we couldn’t enter. Nearby though was a cache hidden under a log pile. The GPS was out about 40 feet here, and we walked past the log-pile before widening our search area.

We paused for lunch. It had been a long morning. And a nearby, super-large, stile was just big enough for both of us to sit on without encroaching upon the private housing estate of Ottershaw Park.

We decided at lunch to use this stile as our furthest point of the day. We would have two more caches to find as we returned to the car, and it would leave 5 Ottershaw caches to find when we next visited Wisley.

Our penultimate cache was ‘magnetic’. For some reason we conjectured about the type of magnetic container before we arrived, and of course guessed wrong. Our search was hindered by a Southern Water Van parked nearby with its driver watching us as he chomped on his lunchtime sandwiches. We searched gates, fences, several padlocks, a nearby Southern Water building, more gates, drain covers… all to no avail. Then on our third search of a particular area we found the cache. Very well camouflaged, yet hidden in plain sight.

“Base of tree” – sigh.


Our final cache, like many others, seemed to be a little-bit-out GPS-wise. The hint ‘base of tree’ didn’t help much as we were on the edge of woodland with trees surrounding us. As we searched a number of light aircraft were landing and taking off from the nearby Brooklands Airfield, causing us to look up periodically rather than looking down for caches. After our tenth failed tree search, we saw the host, and the cache neatly hidden.

So, after a slightly false visit to Wisley we found 7 caches out of 7 and left ourselves some more caches to find on another visit!

Here are a couple of the caches we found :

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 4 : UK Mega 2017, Devon – Day 1, Otterton, Ladram Bay and elsewhere

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

I had finally been permitted a day off work. So, bright and early, we were heading down the A303 towards Devon, towards the 2017 UK Mega Geocaching event at Bicton College.

Close by Bicton College lies the River Otter, Otterton village and Ladram Bay, with its red cliffs and sandstone stacks. The bay is one of my favourite places – ever, ever – we last visited in May 2016 and posted about the caches then. But, for the Mega event, LOTS of new caches had been placed and we planned to do quite a few of them.

Jurassic Coast

Jurassic Coast


We parked in Otterton and switched on the GPS. Mr Hg137 had spent several hours loading up 76 caches for the weekend and we were fully prepared. The GPS fired up … and there were just two (yes, two) caches visible. Aargghh! Something had gone wrong, and we didn’t have a caching route for today, or the rest of the weekend. We thought … how to load some more caches … we had a GPS, we had a laptop, where to find some wifi? Aha! The village pub. We grabbed GPS, laptop and cable, and rushed to the village pub, the Kings Arms http://www.kingsarmsotterton.co.uk where we bought a drink, asked for the wifi password and sat outside, loading caches. The village seemed to be quite busy, and suspiciously many of the folk wandering around seemed to be carrying GPSs. Hmm, a lot of geocachers about!

Mission accomplished, we walked back to the start of our day’s caching route which would lead us out of Otterton, over tracks to Ladram Bay, then up Peak Hill for a view across to Sidmouth, then back along a green lane to the village. We would usually have parked at the car park at Ladram Bay, but the price for doing this has risen to a rip off price of £10, and that is way, way too much for an afternoon’s parking. Oh well, another customer lost forever.

Slippery, slidy path down to the bay

Slippery, slidy path down to the bay


Our first couple of caches were from the ‘Strolling around Otterton’ series which had been recently placed, ready for the Mega event. Mr Hg137 became confused when one of the hints read ‘behind TP’ and he spent a little while looking for a tepee rather than a telegraph pole. Never mind, he worked it out soon enough. Then we left the village and walked towards the coast along a muddy, sunken lane leading downhill towards the bay. We had joined the route of the ‘Mega Byways’ series and found some more caches as we slipped and slid and eventually emerged into Ladram Bay Holiday Park.
Ladram Bay

Ladram Bay


The South West Coast Path crosses here, and we joined it to walk up the hill to the east of the bay, pausing for lunch at a picnic bench overlooking the beach. Here’s a video of the super little bay https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9e5nTQvGgY
As we set off uphill away from the bay, we stopped to read a noticeboard, and for a chat to two people coming from the other direction. Their GPS gave them away as geocachers. They were Lydford Locators, and we found more than 50 of their caches as we worked our way down the upper reaches of the Thames in early 2015. We were duly awed to meet them and they were … puzzled by us two fans.

We carried on up the hill on a path between the cliff edge and a cornfield, finding caches as we went. We recognised another geocacher, Simply Paul, who we had last seen at the 2016 Geolympix in Ashridge Forest. And we kept spotting people behaving oddly, stopping at regular intervals or disappearing into hedges and bushes. Cachers, cachers everywhere! (Goodness knows what the locals and muggles made of all this ….)

Peak Hill, Devon: view west

Peak Hill, Devon: view west


We reached the top edge of the field and went into woodland, then spent a little while searching around in ivy before finding our next cache. All the time a family were approaching up the hill, and we just managed to replace the cache before they arrived. Hello to caching family, BECKS RLLR plus geodog, and we kept on bumping into them for the next mile or so. Leaving them to look for the cache we had just re-hidden, we huffed and puffed our way to the very top of the hill, 157 metres above sea level, leaving the woods for heathland and for a fine view out to sea. A short way further on, the south-west coast path began to drop towards Sidmouth, and the view opened out.
SWCP Panorama

SWCP Panorama


Mr Hg137 suddenly realised that there was a cache, named ‘SWCP Panorama’, that he had omitted to load during our earlier, rushed episode at the pub. He cast around like a bloodhound on a scent, and the cache was soon found. It was under a pile of large pebbles that looked as if they had been regularly disturbed – that’s the thing about Mega events, the caches are found a lot in a short time, and there are usually signs of searching, or even a cacher holding the cache!
Bars Lane, Otterton

Bars Lane, Otterton


We turned back inland and down Bars Lane, a sunken tree-lines track which turned into a lane, and with a few stops for cache finding and a few diversions down side paths for more cache finding, we made our way back to Otterton. As we reached the cache where Mr Hg137 had searched earlier for a tepee, we bumped into yet another group of cachers – this group were clearly from Scotland and they were the organising committee for the 2019 Mega event, which is to be in Ayrshire. So many cachers!

Arriving back at the car, we decided to attempt one more cache. This one was called ‘Spoiler’. You get some coordinates as a start point, are told that the cache is within a two-mile radius, and are given a photo taken from the cache site. And that is all the information you get. We’d done one of these before, in London’s Docklands, and hours, days and weeks of research had gone on to find the right place. This one was a bit easier. We knew that the cache was inside a circle based on given coordinates – we drew a circle on the map. We perused likely places using every kind of online map – and got a few candidate places. We researched further – bingo! Mr Hg137 found some drone footage. We had found the place. We drove there, down some very narrow Devon lanes. Walking round the location, we found the cache at the third attempt, when we had finally managed to line up the photo and the view exactly. Phew! Success. We headed off to Honiton and our hotel, to rest up, load some more caches, and prepare for the rigours of the Mega Day on the morrow.
A secret location somewhere in Devon!

A secret location somewhere in Devon!


Here are just some of the many caches we found:

July 1 : Elvetham

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Elvetham Heath: nature reserve

Elvetham Heath: nature reserve


Our 2000-cache milestone was not far off, and we had a date planned/hoped for when we wanted to reach it, but we needed to get closer first. So we were out again, heading back close to Fleet again. On a warm, cloudy, muggy Saturday, we parked in the centre of Elvetham, a suburb of Fleet, unnoticed among the many shoppers. Our main objective was the ‘Nature Reserve’ series, placed in and around the many green spaces in Elvetham. But first, something different, neither green nor spacious, a cache from the ‘Off Yer Trolley’ series, which are based around supermarkets. We followed the GPS to the likely location, which was … somewhere in the recycling area. We poked around behind metal bins and fences, and eventually found the cache, while getting puzzled glances from the man emptying the clothes recycling container.
Our start point!

Our start point!


After that, it wasn’t far till we were off the roads and into the nature reserve, an area of trees and heathland, criss-crossed by good paths. There are about a dozen caches, plus a bonus, spread about the reserve and some of the suburban residential area. I’ll describe the bonus cache first (though we didn’t necessarily do it first, I’m just concealing its exact position!) It was a puzzle cache, with three cryptic clues. We had managed to solve two of the three, which left us with a not-too-big rectangular area to search. Luckily for us, just one path crossed this patch, and a detailed search by both of us all along the sides of the path eventually found the cache. We never have worked out what the third clue meant …

Now for the rest of the series. We set off past a small pond, with interesting carved picnic tables, through trees and along gravel paths and boardwalks over boggy areas. There were lots of muggles out and about, walking dogs, accompanying their scooter-riding children, and just taking the air. It was good to see it so well used, but it did make it harder to find an undisturbed moment to retrieve each cache as we arrived at it. After three successful finds, it all went wrong at the fourth cache, when we spent an unproductive few minutes furtling in the roots of birch trees and finding nothing.

Moving on, the next cache had the intriguing name ‘Doris the Destroyer’. Who or what, we wondered, was Doris, and should we worry? It turned out that storm Doris felled a tree, making a hiding place for a cache …

On again, we got closer to the M3, and it got noisier. The next cache was called ‘Puzzle Box’ and a LOT of other finders had marked it as a favourite, so we felt it must have something special. The other finders also said that the published co-ordinates were not quite right. Both of those comments were true: we spent another few minutes pootling about at the edge of some trees before finding – literally – a box which was a puzzle. After some false starts, sliding, and pressing, we finally made it to the inner place that held the log. Ho hum: if we had known this cache existed, we might have set it up to be our milestone 2000th cache.

We walked on, past the edge of the nature reserve, away from the motorway, and back into roads and houses. Another cache was found. A previous cacher’s log said it all: “Easy for us, invisible to muggles”. A little further on, we approached another cache, named ‘Vertically Challenged’. Perfectly named, no way could I reach that! Mr Hg137 was delegated to swarm up a fence, and then a pole. At a stretch he just, just reached the cache container.

Vertically challenged

Vertically challenged


As we had been walking in a circle (ish), we were getting back to our starting point and had only one more cache, Redwood, to attempt. We like Redwoods! Well Mr Hg137 does! He can barely walk by one without knuckle thumping it (do it, it’s different from other trees). Also SEQUOIA, its true name, is one of only a few 7 letter words which contain 5 different vowels. None of that helped us: all the possible hiding places on the tree were either empty or were twelve feet in the air. We used a couple of branches to try to ascertain if anything lurked within. Nope. Sadly for us it was a DNF (did not find) – especially as we wanted the ‘RED’ for a ‘snooker challenge’ cache. (Editor’s note: the cache was missing and has since been replaced.)

To sum up: it’s always sad to end on a failure, but overall this is an excellent little series with well-kept caches hidden in creative ways over surprisingly varied terrain, in yet another place close to where we live, but have never visited.

Here are some of the caches we found:

June 29 : WWSW (Fleet)

Mrs HG137 had had an idea.

We were about 40 or so caches away from 2000 finds, and with 13 July (13/7) less than 2 weeks away, she thought it would be a good idea to see if we could get the 2000th cache on that date (our caching name includes 13 7).

Idyllic grassland near Fleet


The WWSW series in Fleet would provide a good opportunity to get over half of those caches. (WWSW stands for Westie’s Walks, Sloshed Walker and was first laid out nearly 10 years ago in 2008. It is relatively close to our house and we always said it would be a good winter’s walk, but as we have never done it in the winter, today seemed a good day.)

The route crosses Army land, and is occasionally ‘red flagged’ if the Army are on manoeuvres. Fortunately for us, the Army were elsewhere, and the full route was open to us.

We initially parked in an industrial park, and somehow managed to find a half mile longwinded route to cache 1, when a simple footpath was yards from our car.

Cache 1 was behind a sign deep in some woodland. The log though had suffered in the rain and was very wet. We decided the remove the log, and leave it out (behind the sign) in the sun for the duration of our walk. It was a Thursday, on a old circuit, so the chances of anyone else finding the cache today was very low indeed.

Onwards (over the noisy M3 motorway) to cache 2 and just as we approached the site, we were surrounded by dog walkers. Diversionary activity needed! Out came a mobile phone and a fictitious phone call ! Maybe not an Oscar-winning performance, but definitely enough to give us time for the muggles to pass. Then wrestle with a large cache and some small Armco before we could sign the log.

Woodland track


The next 2 caches were a lot harder. They had been placed on the far side of a stream (fortunately fairly dry), but the stream was guarded by 4 foot stinging nettles! Swipe! Swipe! The caching pole was being used wisely! Swipe! Swipe! Jump! Caches retrieved, logs signed… now to jump back and avoid those nettles again!

The next few caches were relatively straightforward, and to the trained eye visible from the path..It was searching for one these that Mr HG137 DID receive a phone call, so Mrs Hg137 did some sole retrieving and log signing!

The path was easy going and the lightly woodland soon gave way to a magnificent view of Minley Manor. This building was once owned by the MOD, but is possibly being turned into a hotel. It has also been used as a film location on a couple of occasions.

Minley Manor

Minley Manor


We walked onwards and suddenly the nice track gave way to grassland (or at least the most direct route to the next cache did). We made heavy weather of trying to find the right tree but eventually we did. We should, at this point, have walked back to the path, but instead we walked through a grassy meadow stopping for coffee on a large fallen tree-trunk. As we drank, we were aware of the myriad of butterflies visiting the meadow. A beautiful sight.

Butterflies

Butterflies


Our route out of the meadow led us up a slight hill, to an easy cache find, and then towards a pub where we found a another simple find (and a suit of armour!).
Is this the pub's bouncer ?

Is this the pub’s bouncer ?

We had walked 2 or so miles and now had our first road crossing. A fast single carriageway. A few minutes later we were in woodland, and the next cache didn’t take much searching as it had been poorly hidden by the previous finder.

Pleasant path through woodland


We then found our first non WWSW cache of the day – a Motorway Mayhem cache yards from the M3 Junction 4a. Over the years we’ve seen caches under twigs, leaves, bark but never under such a large piece of concrete! It took two of us to lift it!

More effort at the next cache too..as it was 7ft up a post. Mr HG137 was definitely getting a bending and stretching workout!

We recrossed the M3, pausing to see a steam train being taken to a festival on the Watercress line. Yes, a steam train on a motorway!

Express Delivery!


Our next cache was our first troublesome cache of the day. Hidden in Armco, but the coordinates were some 40 feet out. We both felt gingerly in various parts of the Armco – finding spiders, cobwebs, dust, grime until we found the cache. Finding caches like this, are often a ‘hard sell’ to the non-geocaching community!

A pleasant path down a woodland path followed. Well it would have been pleasant, except for its proximity to the noisy M3. We grateful for some quick finds and after about a quarter of a mile or so, the path turned away and became quieter.

Is there a cache here ?


Then we saw the digger. A JCB. On a footpath. It was undertaking ditch clearing, and was scooping mud/debris out of a ditch one side of the footpath, and building a mound on the other side. The dry, unrutted paths we had been following – were a quagmire…and somewhere near the JCB was a cache. We decided to have one quick look for it, and if it wasn’t found immediately we would move on. Fortunately the coordinates were spot on, and while the JCB driver was looking deep in the ditch, the log was signed.

Dredging a ditch…

…and Mrs Hg137 the other side of the dredging


The path gave way to a tarmac road and some farmland fields. Each field had a stile leading to it, and the cache was near one of them. We fruitlessly searched each stile for our next cache, but to no avail. Our first DNF of the day. We even paused for lunch near one of the stiles, and undertook a second search after eating, but nothing was found.

The cache containers on the route had been quite varied from small Tupperware boxes, to larger ones, a rat’s tail cache in a pipe, to a fake stone. The final few containers included a film canister as well as a letterbox hybrid. For us, this is what makes a series interesting, a variety of containers, and a variety of hiding locations.

The route finished by walking alongside some heathland. Before we reached our final caches we passed by some rangers from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife who were undertaking a survey on birds-foot-trefoil. We told them we were geocachers, which yielded no surprise whatsoever. We were glad we did as our next 2 finds were undertaken very close to their parked vehicles.

I think the rangers may have seen us!

We returned to cache 1, and replaced the now-dry log back in the cache, and returned to the car.

This was a very varied walk, heathland, expansive views, tree lined path, noisy motorways! Amazing what can be packed into a 4 mile walk! We’d also found 25 caches.. suddenly our 2000th cache is much nearer!