Catalonia 2017

Last time I went to Catalonia everything was in black and white apart from Agnetha Fältskog’s trousers.
That was 1973, and I was 9.
We decided to return to see what’s changed.
It looked more than interesting enough for a fortnight’s holiday and anyway we’d promised the kids an “aeroplane and swimming pool” holiday.


Sant Feliu de Guixols - The Apartment


Barcelona Olympics

S'Agaro Beach

Santa Cristina

Park Güell

Parc Aventura



Aquadiver Waterpark


La Sagrada Familia

Chamonix Day 3-021.JPG

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Saint Omer

Saint Omer

Ah ! Time for GeoNord again. It was a great caching event last year (see Going Mega in France/) so Izzy and me decided to go and have another pop at it to see if it would be as good this year. It was a good weekend.


Friday was our travelling day, because it was still term time and hence I couldn’t really take Izzy out of school early. I know some parents do, but not me, well, not for this at least.

QE2_Bridge.jpgI took a half day off to make sure that I was actually ready to go as soon as Izzy was done with school, and I used the time between giving up work and fetching Izzy to get my car cleaned and to pack my bags for the weekend.

We had arranged to meet our companion for the weekend, Happy Hunter HP20, somewhere down near Milton Keynes railay station. We were a bit late though, because I forgot to pack my walking boots, so I had to go home again. While we were there I thought I might as well let Izzy get changed out of her school clothes too. She had sort of grudgingly accepted the possibility of travelling to France without getting changed, so as the opportunity presented itself I figured we might as well exploit it. Anyway, despite us being late, HHHP20 was still at the station (like he’s going to get a grump on and go home again for the sake of 5 minutes).

Back at the plot, all of this meant we found ourselves at Milton Keynes railway station with approximately 4 hours to relocate ourselves to the Channel Tunnel terminal at Folkestone. Under normal conditions that would be fine, but this was abnormal by virtue of it being a Friday night in the summer. I have said in many previous blog posts that I don’t like to assume that the M25 will be OK on a Friday night.

On this occasion it was not too bad, and we were around the other side of the QEII Bridge in less than two hours. Cool. We arrived at the terminal expecting we might get an earlier train, and true to normal form we were offered at check-in the opportunity to use a train 40 minutes earlier than my booking. Sorted. I like that. And look ! Here’s the photo of the bridge that I always add into posts where I’ve crossed it.

We had just about enough time to munch our way through some dinner of the fast food variety before jumping back into the cachemobile and doing the doings. There were some shenanigans with people driving up the lane to my right and then attempting to butt their way into our stream. Some numpty in front of me actually let one car come across. People apparently don’t realise that once you are through the passport control at Folkestone you’re just going on the next available train, regardless of what your ticket says. There is no need to jump lanes to try to get on your scheduled train. Anyway, the place was quite quiet. Once we got on the train, I noticed that the guy behind me, who’d been one of the “queue jumpers” that someone had apparently allowed to lane jump behind me, had a ticket for two trains later than the one he was now sitting on. So he wasn’t late for his scheduled train at all, he was just trying to queue jump.

The train journey was as uneventful as it ought to be, and we found ourselves in France at a nicely early 9:15pm local time.

Our destination for the weekend, Saint-Omer, is only about 35km away from Calais, so even with a bit of suspect navigation we still found ourselves at the hotel in time to meet up in reception at 10pm to go out for a beer.

Because it’s close to midsummer and France is an hour ahead of the UK, 10pm is still tolerably light, and we were able to mooch our way up into the town centre via our first cache of the weekend (La cathedrale Notre-Dame) in decent light. We found a bar on the square that served my new favourite beer (the Half Moon Brewery’s Brugse Zot), and settled ourselves in for a relatively relaxed beer and a bit of a session planning what to do on Saturday. Well, we were going caching obviously, but the “where” and the “when” bits still needed to be finalised.

Saturday – Mega Event Day

We agreed to meet in the hotel restuarant (in the loosest sense of the word) for our pre-paid continental breakfast at 8am. We were staying at the Ibis Budget Saint Omer. If you’ve been to one of these then I don’t need to explain. If you haven’t, I would summarise that they are basic, not very expensive, but generally clean and with rooms that are big enough. Anyway, on a caching weekend in the summer all we do in the room is sleep (and wash, I guess). We’re not there to enjoy a lavishly furnished room, massive swimming pool or Michelin starred restaurant. A decent bed, and some coffees and pastries in the morning, are just fine thankyou. The bed in question was the usual Ibis configuration of a double bed with a bunk single running crossways over the head of the double, so the rooms technically sleep 3 people.

Strangely, almost everyone else in the breakfast room seemed to be a geocacher. Some of them were British and some of those were people I recognised from previous events. Anyone would thinking there was a geocaching event on.

Speaking of which, we were out of the hotel at a very respectable 8:45am and made the short drive up to Saint Omer Wizernes Airfield via a wherigo cache that I’d managed to solve prior to the event. Yes, I have a way of extracting the final coordinates from a wherigo cartridge without playing the cartridge. Cheating, technically, but at Mega events many people cheat by sponging puzzle coordinates or lab cache answers off other people, or by caching in large groups when they don’t really go to every cache location individually. It often takes as much time to decompile and process a wherigo cartridge as it would to play it, but it means you can spend that time in your pyjamas at home late at night rather than using valuable outdoor time on event day. I pretty much always try to pre-solve all puzzles and multis before travelling, which is fair game, so why not also pre-solve the wherigos too ?

Back at the plot, we reached the event site quite early and queued up for our event packs. I’d bought one “Premiere Class” entry (which allowed all the event activities) and one “Supporter Pack”, which was much the same, but also included an special geocoin and a whole ammo can. Rather than carry a big metal can around with me all morning we went and put it in the back of my car, and whilst there I picked up my sunglasses. That proved to be a wise move.

At this event they had gone over the usual levels with the lab caches. The going rate is to do 10 of them for a mega event. Brugse Beer this year did 19 lab caches (why not 20, I’ll never know). GeoNord this year did 20. All of them involved actual activities too – physical things to find or do – whereas some of the Brugse Beer ones just involved reading the event book or taking a photo of something. We did all 20 of them, although as isd oftent the case when there’s a long queue, we “did” some of them by swapping answers with others in the queue. All the ones that looked like fun physical activities (like the chuck-a-duck, chuck-a-frisbee, hopscotch, archery and laser-maze-using-string) were done properly by at least one of us anyway. Of the 20 available, 16 were outdoors on the tarmac, three were in the big hangar where the bar was, and the other involved spotting a specific aeroplane on a fly-by, which no-one seemed actually to understand, however we did find someone who had acquired the answer by some foul means. I was logging them all onto my own account as we went around, just to make sure the “acquired” answers were actually correct.

By the time we’d done all this lot it was getting on towards drink o’clock, so we grabbed a seat at the trestle tables and Izzy dived into a sugar and cream topped waffle while the Happy Hunter and myself contented ourselves with a cold and fizzy one from the bar.

From here we decided to take a little walk to look for a few caches near to the event site. They’d placed a powertrail of over 100 letterbox caches, and they’d also placed another 5 wherigos which had end points quite close. We targeted 2 of the wherigos and the first letterbox for a visit via Shanks’ Pony. The first letterbox was well off the given coordinates, but was an absolutely huge (and practically unmissable) ammo can. We spent far too long there. The first wherigo was spot on where I’d decoded and we found it quickly. The second wherigo proved more of a challenge and we only found it when a couple of other guys racked up and started looking for it too. There was supposedly another wherigo in the woods here but we couldn’t figure out how to get to it from where we were, so we went back to the event site and jumped into the car.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to other wherigos and then around all of the letterboxes that we could reach from the car. We did a couple of short out-and-back walks, but mainly it was a process of me driving and HHHP20 jumping out to do the business. Of the 104 letterboxes, a good 50 of them could be reached from the roadside, and all of those ones were placed in locations where there was actually somewhere to get the car off the road. Lazy caching, I know, but it was a warm day, the caches were too far apart to walk all the way around (30 km total) and we didn’t have bikes.

While we were in the middle of doing this, we took the opportunity also to have a break at a cafe in Helfaut to grab some cold drinks and rather tasty pizzas.

Eventually we all hit the “meh!” point and decided to head for home. It was getting a bit late in the afternoon (probably “evening”, to be honest), so we did a quick turn around and headed out for a beer. We were at the same bar as the previous night but they didn’t do ice creams, so they suggested we walk to the other end of the square to get an ice cream for Izzy, and then bring it back to their bar and grab ourselves a beer. That worked for me. Izzy picked a mint-choc-chip ice cream that tasted like actual real mint leaves. I’ve never tasted one like that before.

After the beer we took a walk through central Saint-Omer to collect 7 wherigo caches, and then returned back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel we did a very quick turnaround and then went out once again to get dinner. By this time it was 9:30pm, so well past Izzy’s normal bedtime, but she was coping well and we were a bit hungry. We found a decent looking restaurant close to our favourite bar and had a light dinner. Those lunchtime pizzas were still weighing us down a bit. It was nice though.

So back home to bed, with sixty-something caches completed plus 20 lab caches. Not a bad total for one day.

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Sunday morning greeted us with more bright sunshine and another tray full of juice, coffee, pastries and bread at the hotel. Me and Izzy got down a few minutes before our agreed 8am call (again) and so managed to avoid the massive 8am queue (again).

The morning event for the daya was another event cache. This one was held at the La Coupole in Helfaut – an old V2 storage bunker and launch site that has been converted into a war museum. We had tickets for a tour of the facility, followed by the caching event itself, which was being held on the lawns just up from the car park. The tour was interesting but I guess I would have liked to have gone there on a day when we weren’t also trying to get some caching done. We spent about 90 minutes inside. Izzy and me left a little early as Izzy was getting a bit cold and hence wasn’t really enjoying herself. Outside in the sunshine we found a wherigo cache in the car park before HHHP20 came out. From there we did a walk around the back of the facility to grab another 4 of the letterbox series and two earthcaches. At the second of these we had the bizarre experience of bumping into a very familiar looking Dutch guy. It was the same one that had given me a look of some disgust at the GeoNord event last year while I was dismantling a field puzzle cache with a screwdriver (because we didn’t have the code to do it properly). He signed it though. And we didn’t actually do any damage to the container. Anyway, it was him, and he did recognise me once I’d spoken to him and taken my big hat off. Small world !

Adding in the event and another wherigo just over the road that meant we’d found 10 caches in the morning, and we decided we’d better get a move on with our main event of the day, which was a series of puzzles and wherigos that I solved some time ago in anticipation of coming to the event. There were 24 in the series plus yet further wherigos in the vicinity, making a total of 27 planned for this bit of the walk. we started heading off on a clockwise loop, having singularly failed to acquire chilled beverages at the main station – not a single kiosk in sight. By the time we’d done three caches we made a policy decision that continuing without drinks was a bad idea, so we did an about turn and headed back to the town to try to find a shop. We didn’t find one. We did, however, find a small bar, so we had the fastest drink ever before moving on. If we were in the bar for five minutes I’d be surprised. We felt a bit refreshed afterwards though.

From that point things perked up for a bit as we walked alongside a wide canal on the edge of Saint-Omer’s centre, heading southwards. The series was sort of a loop, only one that has been flattened out a bit – essentially you walk out down one side of the canal and back up the other side. We were going around in reverse order, but who cares.

It turned out to be quite a long walk and we’d all had enough by the time we got back to the car. Anyway, time was marching onwards and we’d discussed and agreed that if we had an hour spare we’d go to Belgium so HHHP20 could do a single cache there. So after the walk we decided to head for drinks at McDonalds. The one we went to didn’t have milkshakes though, which was a big disappointment, so instead we popped into the Subway next door and bought a load of cold drinks, some crisps and some cookies (for Izzy). The first bottle of diet coke didn’t touch the sides.

We took the scenic route up to Dunkirk from here rather than the autoroute. It went quite quickly and we were handily placed for hopping over the border into Belgium. The closest town was Adinkerke, scene of one of mine and Ami’s escapades in April (see Jeux Sans Frontieres), so the easiest caches in town were off limits. We drove around a bit and stopped for a while looking for a cache that looked quick and easy to do. We were in a bit of an empty spot, but eventually we picked one close to where we’d driven in and hoped we could find somewhere to park there. About 150m away there was a lay-by with a space, so we just had to make a short walk and then decide whether to look on top of the bridge of beneath it (a big road bridge). Gut feel said to go below, and the gut was right. So that’s Belgium “done” for HHHP20 with plenty of time left to drive back to Calais, despite the roadworks and queue on the motorway.

As we checked in we weren’t offered an early train, however the terminal itself was far more empty than any previous trip I’d made through there. We barely had to queue to get food. Irritatingly, though, they seem to close the gents toilets at this time of day (about 7pm) for cleaning. That happened in April too. Having decided we could hold on for a while, we went straight to our train, and didn’t have to queue for that either. As I drove into the start of the lane I noticed a green light at the other end, and for the first time ever I didn’t have to stop at all once we’d left the terminal – straight onto the train and Bob’s yer proverbial. The train we got onto also left a good 20 minutes before the time our ticket said. I guess it was so quiet that they couldn’t be bothered. Excellent news.

Having failed to use the gents in France though, we needed a stop in the UK at the first opportunity. Just to make HHHP20 eligible for a “three countries in a day” challenge cache, we stopped at the Folkestone services and did a cache in the car park before pulling into the fuel stop to fill up the car and empty ourselves.

From there it was a fairly dull journey home aside from the mandatory queue to get through the Dartford Tunnels. We got round to dropping HHHP20 of in HP20 (Aylesbury) at about 9:30 and just made it home for 10pm, whereupon Izzy proceeded directly to bed, without passing “Go” or collecting £200. She’d been awake the whole journey, picking her way through another Harry Potter book.

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So adding up all those caches took us up to the high thirties for the day and hence to something just over 120 for the weekend, which is a tidy sum for a 2-day trip, I reckon. And despite going home on Friday night to collect my walking boots, they remained unused all weekend.

The caches we found over the course of the weekend were:

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A Disappointing Achievement

A Disappointing Achievement

I set out with the great aspiration of completing two of my missing counties on the UK & Ireland map – I’ve been five short of the proverbial “full English” for a couple of years now and haven’t really bust a gut to do anything about it. Well, today was the day. I was going to Suffolk, but only just, because I was going to its border with Essex. This would allow me to do two of the five, the others being somewhat further afield.

17-06-04 Glemsford.pngI had chosen a likely looking loop around the village of Glemsford but ended up parking on the rather pretty main street in Cavendish, partly because I’d had enough of driving and partly because there were loads of parking spaces as i was driving through. This would allow me to join my chosen loop at about three quarters of the way around the numbered sequence. Before joining that loop there was a multi church micro, for which I found the information but then didn’t find the cache. This sort of set the tone for the rest of my day.

Once onto the chosen series, I ended up having a very similar experience to my bad day in Thrapston (see Thrapston Crapston). Maybe it was a bad day for the same reason – it’s June, and we’ve had lots of warm damp weather through April and May, so the proverbial undergrowth is now overgrowth, especially the nettles. Anyway, whatever the reason, I had a bit of a nightmare.

The length of the series and the number of caches availale meant I was planning to do about 50 caches and then, if time allowed, maybe hack my way around another series which leads from Cavendish over to Clare. This second series crosses the River Stour and therefore takes you over into the northern edge of Essex. I didn’t get anything like that far though.

The Glemsford series was posted as about 8 miles of walking, which with 46 caches I would expect should take me around 4 to 4.5 hours. I actually walked nearer to 12 miles than 8, and I only managed to find about two thirds of the caches – I think I DNF’d 18 of them – and by half way around it was apparent that I was going to have a rubbish day. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to just give up and go home, because at the point where I lost the will to live I was as far away from the car as I was going to get, so I figured I might as well keep limping my way around the series and attempting some of the caches, as I’d got to do the walking anyway.

So why did I miss so many ? Well the nettles and general undergrowth was one reason, fo sure. Another was that many of the caches were in the category of “very small cache hidden on a very large item” – I struggle with these at the best of times, if only because I can’t see the point of leaving a micro the size of my little finger end in an ivy covered oak tree the size of Wales when that tree is a couple of miles from the nearest human habitation. I regard that as a near criminal waste of a perfectly reasonable location for a large container. That’s a part of it. But seriously, when I’m faced with the prospect of looking for a tiny cache on a massive ICT several times in a row my enthusiasm drops off quite quickly. I can’t say they are bad caches – to each his own – but it’s not what I like doing, and I personally wouldn’t put such a thing as a Difficulty 1.5 or 2, which most of these were. As far as I’m concerned, a Difficulty 1.5 should be bleedin’ obvious. A needle in a haystack should be at least a D3 so that you’ve got some warning that you might be there a while. I specifically chose this series because it was 8 miles of low difficulty caches. Maybe they’re easier in the winter.

I also had an issue with the terrain rating on a couple of them. Two of the caches were tree climbs. One was rated as Terrain 4.5, which ought to need special equipment, but this one didn’t. The cache was only 15 feet up and the tree had branches the size of telegraph poles. The other climbing one was rated as Terrain 3.5, and therefore ought to be easier than the first. I spent ages looking for it on the assumption it should be lower down that the previous, but it wasn’t. Once I read the logs I picked up the hint it was higher. Indeed it was higher. I’d estimate probably 35-40 feet from ground level and up a tree which was comparatively feeble looking, especially for someone of my size. And then, to make matters worse, I dropped a full bottle of drink at one of the caches and so was left with only a few swigs to survive the back half of the walk.

Anyway, all of that sounds like moaning. And it is. But I’ll get over it eventually.

By the time I got back to Cavendish it was time to head home, which meant that I’d have to find some other way of getting a cache in Essex. I didn’t want to drive to just one out of the chosen series, as that would be a waste, so I checked out the villages on the way home, as I’d noticed some signs for Essex on the way in. Sure enough, Sturmer was just inside the Essex border. I missed the assigned parking for the cache I was trying to find (one from a short series) so I pulled off in the entrance to a long drive to weigh up my options. The easiest option seemed to be to find the cache I’d parked next to. I could see it from inside the car. So that was Essex coloured in. I might go do it properly one day, but for now it’s coloured in and I’m done with it.

So that was all a bit cack, because I was out caching (i.e. not driving there and back, just the caching part) for nearly 7 hours, and I managed to find just 32 caches.

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The caches I found were:

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The Oast with the Most

The Oast with the Most

OK, so I was really, really struggling to come up with some kind of funny pun on a Kentish theme. This was the best I could come up with. Get Dover it ! Deal with it ! Don’t turn it into more Thanet needs to be.

QE2_Bridge.jpgAnd while we’re on the subject of things I always do, due to a lack of intelligence, creativity or enthusiasm (delete as appropriate, or just leave all of them there if you want), here is the obligatory picture of the QEII Bridge. When I crossed it on this day it was still dark (just) and it was still free (just). But more of that later, like in the next paragraph.

The plan for the day, such as it was, was to go to the 2017 Kent Mega event, which was being held at its normal location of The Hop Farm – Kent’s premier family day out and home to the world’s largest collection of Oast Houses. It must be popular, because it has brown signs up on the M20. Anyway, that sounds like I’m extracting the Michael, which is not my intent. It’s a great location for a caching event, by virtue of it having masses of open space for caching and for parking.

As this particular part of Kent is at least 2 hours drive from home, even at the crack of sparrow-fart, I took the view that it was either going to be a full-on day of caching, or I wasn’t going to go at all. I took this decision at some point after getting home from a business trip to Munich on Wednesday night, and from there it was mainly a matter of agreeing the plan with Senior Management and deciding upon a more detailed schedule. As the event was running from 10am to 4pm that meant any serious caching would have to be done either before or after the event (or both). I opted for “before” with a decision to set off really early, do a load of caches, and then chill out a bit at the event in the afternoon. Any further finds made after visiting the event would be regarded as a Brucie Bonus. This meant an early start, and the early start meant I was going alone. Well, the kids have been out on more than one occasion in April anyway, and my late decision to go pretty much assured that all the other cachers I know had already made plans for the weekend.

17-04-29 Kent Mega.pngSo, back at the plot, I was in my car at a very fresh (bordering on downright cold) 4:15am, heading off down the motorway after first stopping to fill up both the car and myself. I didn’t really buy anything for lunch though, just breakfast and travelling snacks. Anyway, I’m not a great fan of the supermarket sandwich. It promised to be a long day, especially if you don’t like puns.

My first stop for caching was a part of jazzyjessups’ COE series (“Counties of Europe”), which seem very new and were therefore likely to have been put out specicially for the event. These consist of a couple of hundred caches of varying types. This first batch were mainly traditionals with a couple of multis thrown in for good measure. This first loop was just to the north of East Peckham, beginning at the redundant St Michael’s Church. I’d measured this stretch at something less than 4 miles and with a total of 22 caches. At normal caching speed for me that means about 2 hours. I think I signed my first log at just after 6:30am. As it turned out, 2 hours was quite generous, and I was back at my car at 8:10am, having found everything pretty much without incident. That’s a good start.

From there I drove down to another bit of East Peckham and set off on a somewhat longer loop, having done a couple of drive-bys on the way through. This second loop was supposed to be somewhere between 8 and 9 miles and contained 58 caches or so. In the end it turned out to be 10 miles, mainly because I didn’t execute my walking plan very well, so found myself at the end of all the caches but with a mile to walk back to my car.

Anyway, by the time I drove down to the event site I’d got 82 finds on the board and it was only 1:30 in the afternoon. I now see how people manage to do silly numbers like 200 in a day. I’d made 82 finds in a little under 7 hours and if I’d pushed it I could have started at least an hour earlier. At this time of year on a sunny day it’s tolerably light until after 8pm. Maybe one day over the summer, huh ?

Back at today, I did a trad stuck to the back of a sign on the way into the event site and then meandered up to the actual event. The event tent was very quiet compared to some I’ve visited. I guess lots of people were out doing caches. Anyway, I bumped into the Happy Hunter at the chip van (sounds like a cue for a song) and took note of the locations of the lab caches, which were across a field and in a small woded area. They were quite good fun, as these things go.

Then back at the chip van I bumped into the Happy Hunter again, this time along with Miss Chief and Nigel. As they were having a quick snack I joined them for a bit, as my little legs were ready for a sit down, and anyway it was warm. The lunchtime queue had gone, so my restorative tray of chips with mayo and fizzy drink were served up in double quick time.

Feeling somewhat refreshed it was then time to have a crack at the interesting looking Wherigo they’d placed at the event site ( Count to Five (HHCIB) ). The idea of this game is that you have to walk 100m or so out along each of five different footpaths trying to establish which is numbered 1, then 2, then 3, etc. Which number represents which path is determined randomly for each player as they start the cartridge, and at any point if you get your numbers out of sequence you have to go all the way through from #1 again. I started off walking randomly with Miss Chief and Nigel and as it turned out, the firs place we walkd was #1 for me but not for them, as a result of which we then split up to complete the task. Having foundf my #1 I then had 4 shots at finding #2. It took me all 4 before gettnig the correct one, hence four trips back to my #1 point. When I eventually found #2 I then had a one-in-three choice for my #3 and as luck would have it I chose correctly first time. Three down, two to go. Except I managed to guess correctly for my #4 aswell, meaning I was done apart from actually walking into my #5 zone to end the cartridge and get the cache coordinates. I then stood around for 20 minutes extra waiting for Miss Chief and Nigel (OK, mainly Miss Chief) as they managed to get every single choice incorrect – 5 attempts at #1, then 4 attempts at #2, then 3 attempts at #3, etc. – each time having to return to their start point to work all the way through again. It was truly impressive to watch.

By the time they’d done the event had officially finished, so we walked across the field to grab the actual Wherigo cache box and then returned to the event hall before parting ways. By this time I was sufficiently close to 100 finds that I couldn’t contemplate giving up. In fact, I was toying with the idea of heading for a new PB at 112 finds.

I left the event site and managed to find 5 more in pretty quick order, as they were in effect just off the event site and were accessible by car. After this I picked my way along towards Laddingford and a couple of puzzles that I’d managed to acquire the solutions for, but by this time I was rapidly losing my enthusiasm, even though it wasn’t even 6pm. I reckon a keen person could have kept caching around here through all the hours of daylight and got very close to 200 finds.

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By the time I got home and added up all the doings, I’d found 100 “normal” caches plus the 10 lab caches, for a very handy total of 110 in the day. I started driving home at 6pm because I’d really had enough for one day, so I got home at about 8pm, including a stop for Chinese takeaway on the way in, and I then proceeded to drink far too much wine far too quickly whilst typing up logs and waiting for Match of the Day to come on. The football was rubbish, but it had been a good day of caching.

The caches I found on he day were :

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Lutton Lambada

Lutton Lambada

17-04-23 Lutton.pngAnother trip up to the Peterborough area to continue my good month. In fact, it was already my best caching month ever, but on April 22nd there’s still at least two weekends of the month left, so why not go for a really big month.

On this trip, I was accompanied by Daughterus Minimus while the other one stayed with the good lady wife at home.

We made the obligatory stop on the way out to get breakfast and provisions before hading up the A421 and A1 to get to our destination, which in this case was the small village of Lutton. It’s one of those villages that isn’t really sure which county it’s in (and I suspect it hjas been in different ones through the ages), but currently it finds itself in Northamptonshire.

Our target was a poshrule special series known as the Lutton Lambada. It consists of 30 caches plus 4-5 extras over a fairly short course across countryside. Quite a bit of it was on roads, making the walking fairly fast. It was sufficiently fast that we were back at the car after just under 3 hours, having already found 35 caches. That’s quite a rate.

I had in my mind tat we’d go and do another walking series, but in the eventuality Izzy’s legs weren’t up to it, so we decided just to hack around in the car and clear up a load of the non-series “stragglers” that this area has dotted around its roads. We did a bunch of these before deciding fairly early in the evening to come back home again. A part of this was that Izzy had done enough, but the major part of it was that we needed dinner and I had an appointment with an aeroplane at Heathrow at some ridiculous time the following morning.

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The caches we found over the course of the day were :

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Big White Nose

Big White Nose

17-04-10 Bruges.pngSo this day was, fundamentally, our last one. We had to go home. “Boooooo!” and “Hisssssss!” and all that.

It started with some breakfast at the hotel again, and then ventured into fetching some more money from the bank again, as the previous night’s restaurant also didn’t take credit cards.

Which left the small question of what to do about caching for our final day.

One of the newly released series for the Mega Event was the “Cartoonwonders” series over on the east side of town. It seemed to have 20 caches, designed to be easy for kids, with a few add-on extras for good measure. We didn’t really have time for a long series and to be honest after Sunday’s exploits we didn’t really have the legs either.

We parked up as per the guidance and began our quest for the day. The brief said it was pretty much hard paved all the way round, so we took the decision to not bother with walking boots. That proved to be a good decision. Relaxed feet and free ankles. Mmmm! I really must try getting some boots that actually fit my feet.

Back at the plot, we couldn’t find the first one. And we couldn’t find the second one either. But then we caught up with a local couple who literally lived right next to where we parked. They gave us some pointers on the first two, and we then spent the rest of the series either walking with them, or catching up / leaving them in a sort of “with you, but not really with you” way. We exchanged some pointers on the cartoon characters that were required for the bonus, and they helped us quite a lot (maybe we helped each other) with finding info for the accompanying multi. I would not normally have done a multi with 9 waypoints, but we were sort of waling around them anyway, so I thought we might as well.

The series proved to be much as described – flat, fast walking, and mainly paved. We thought we’d boo-booed with the bonus codes because we hadn’t been writing down the numbers associated with each character in each cache, but shhh, don’t tell the locals, you didn’t actually need any of them apart from the last, which was good. Anyway, it was located much where I expected, right in the middle of a suspiciously large looking gap between the first two caches.

So with the add-ons that put us back at the car having done 21 caches in three hours. Slow going caused by the multi, but a decent series nonetheless.

After this we decided to revert to “drive-by” mode so that we could stop whenever we felt like it and scoot over to Calais for the train home. So we made our way around central Bruges for the last time and followed a quiet country road westwards, stopping every few hundred metres for another cache. We did about 16-17 this way before deciding that a) we better get a shift on and b) it was time for lunch.

Lunch was had a the Mannekensvere services, and this time we included some fuel. I guessed I’d need €40 to fill up. I guessed a bit under, but at least that meant I didn’t have to go back into the shop to get a refund of the surplus. It was close enough anyway.

From here we bashed our way across the motorways until we were at Calais and found ourselves with two and a half hours before our scheduled train departure. We had catered for this possibility by allowing for a bit of time up at Cap Blanc Nez, a cliff just to the west of Calais from which you can see Dover, and see the continuous trail of ferries crossing the Channel. It was a clear day, so the White Cliffs of Dover were clearly visible on the other side.

There’s a big monument on the top of the hill dedicated to the Dover Patrol, and this was the setting for a virtual cache. We did a few traditionals around here too before deciding we’d had enough and heading back to the Tunnel Terminal for the trip home. We arrived an hour before our scheduled departure but we couldn’t get on an earlier train. That proved to be a good thing, because if we had got an earlier one, we’d have missed it as a result of having to queue for so long to buy something to eat in the terminal. Eventually though we did get some food, and we did the necessary toilet trip, and dashed off to join the train loading lanes. As it happens we did get put onto one train earlier than we’d booked, saving us a whole 12 minutes (according to the schedule).

Once we got to the UK again the drive home was boringly easy, just as I like it to be, and we got back home at around 9:45pm, with Ami having slept much of the way back through England.

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When I did all the final counting over the following days, having typed up all the field notes, we’d logged 208 regular caches and 19 lab caches, which I think is a decent return for four days. After all, Ami was along mainly for the ride, so I didn’t do as much caching as I might have done if she’d not been there, and to be honest, on the longer days of Friday and Sunday we’d done over 60 caches, and I regard that as plenty if you’re out for a 4-day burst. Eventually even I get bored and want to stop.

I managed to eek it up by one more cache because the two virtuals we did at Cap Blanc Nez allowed us to claim a challenge we’d done in Kent the previous weekend (see Kent Dash). I was happy with that total.

The caches we found on this final day were :

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Knick Knacky Knokke Heist, Knicky Knacky Noo!

Knick Knacky Knokke Heist, Knicky Knacky Noo!

Sorry about the title of the post, but I just had to do it ! It might equally well have been called “Knicketty Knacketty Knokke Heist”, but anyway, that’s by-the-by. We had some serious cachin’ to get done.

Zeebrugge Webcam.png Our third day in Belgiumshire began with another hotel breakfast followed by a trip to a local bank (because the restaurant on the previous night didn’t take plastic and so cleared me out of Euros cash) and then to a Carrefour Local supermarket to grab some essentials for a day of caching, namely drinks, pastries and Pringles.

Our first target for the day was to head for an event on the beach near Zeebrugge that had been organised by a friend from the Beds, Bucks & Herts geocaching group. He’d been to the Mega too, and needed to attend an event beginning with a “Z” to help complete a challenge cache he’s working on. Obviously there was some scuttling around the dunes to collect caches before the event, and an obligatory photo at the webcam cache on the beach. While we were at the event we also managed to (cough) acquire the codes for the 6 Mega Event lab caches that we hadn’t managed to get the previous day, from a bunch of Polish blokes. Result. Full house. Except now I’ve found 99 lab caches (because Brugse Beer broke with convention by not doing lots of ten). I will now have 99 lab cache finds for the foreseeable future, and my number of finds will continue to end in a 9 unless I attend an event and deliberately throw the result by only logging one of them.

From there we made our way around to Knokke-Heist, or more particularly to Heist-aan-Zee, to begin our main walk of the day. This was the “Kalf” series, running around a big wide loop to the south of the town and quite close to the Dutch border. It was quite a long walk and the weather was warm, so by the end of the 4 hours we spent doing it we’d had enough. We had done fifty-something caches by that time though, and we’d walked along a variety of terrains, most of which were pretty quick to walk over.

So by the end of the walk it was most definitely ice-cream o’clock. I stuck another couple of Euros into a parking meter and we retired to a nearby bar, where I had a giant coke and Ami had a vanilla milkshake, and we shared a rather fantastic strawberry coupe, containing strawberry and vanilla ice creams, squirty cream, strawberry sauce and a handful of fresh strawberries. You get the picture. Strawberry flavour. Lots of it.

17-04-09 Knokke-Heist.pngWe sort of toyed with the idea of doing a few drive-bys in Knokke-Heist but eventually we decided that we’d found a decent enough quantity already, so we were off home for an early finish. Before going back though, we popped over the border into the Netherlands at Sint Anna Ter Muiden to do a single cache that celebrates the most westerly point of the European part of the Netherlands. Obviously there are some other bits of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the Caribbean, but Sint Anna Ter Muiden is the most westerly bit in Europe. The geocache we did there was based specifically around the mistaken view of many Dutch that the most westerley point is up on the coast near Heist-aan-Zee, but it isn’t. It’s here.

There are a couple of boundary marker posts at the roadside here. One yielded the necessary information geocache, and another (the most westerley itself) nestles conveniently in the formal garden at the front of a restaurant/bar, which is entirely in Belgium apart from its conservatory and its car park. As with all border points on this trip, it’s a non-entity. There’s signs by the roadside advising you that the speed limits are different, but that’s about it.

The way back proved more challenging. I tried to get Ami to navigate on Google Maps, except they’re building a new motorway around the south of Zeebrugge, and Google Maps got its knickers in a twist.

When we got back to Bruges we were quite early, so we chilled in the hotel room for an hour (tending to our suntans) before heading out in the car to try out the pizza place we’d failed to get into on Friday night. We succeeded this time, but only because we agreed to sit outside.

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The caches we completed on the day were :

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Brugse Beer VII

Brugse Beer VII

Event day started with breakfast at our hotel. Technically, I suppose it started with getting out of bed and getting dressed, but you know what I mean. The hotel breakfast was a fairly modest affair of the continental variety, including cheeses, cooked meats, bread and a few cereals, but it was also of the “unlimited” kind, so Ami did her best to eat them out of mini pains-au-chocolate while I had a crack at some bread rolls with pâté and then croissants with chocolate flavoured honey. Nice ! It felt a bit expensive at €12 a pop, but then I realised I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, and I wasn’t going to get a filling breakfast for both of us anywhere else for less than €24, so fair enough. It had the advantage of not needing to go out, anyway.

Bruges Event Site.png

From here we headed off to the event. I took the car up and we arrived plenty early at about 9am, although the car park was already three-quarters full. I think they were doing a welcome breakfast, so obviously a few people turned up early enough for that. They were only just getting the event stalls set up when we arrived.

We picked up our goody bags and realised that we’d actually just got a bunch of tickets for going elsewhere. One stop was to get a GPX file downloaded onto my GPS that contained all the new caches they were releasing for the event. These were also printed in the event book, of which we obtained two copies in “Engels, dank u wel.”

From here we wandered through the event site finding the locations of a few of the lab caches and the cafe, and having a quick nosey round the various geocoin shops. The event was being held at the very nice looking VIVES Hogeschool Campus in Bruges, which was about a kilometre from our hotel. The weather was rather warmer than the previous day, and I was glad I’d picked up my hat.

17-04-08 Bruges.pngThe lab caches were quite good fun, partly because of the variety and partly because the physical ones were quite creative. One involved completing a circuit on one of several variations of mad cycles, with either eccentric wheels or dodgy pedal configurations. Another involved the proverbial curly-wire-with-electrical-contacts game and one involved finding the one and only stuffed bear in a heap of 500 or so stuffed toys. A couple of others involved solving or doing things printed in the event book, so we completed those whilst sitting down mid-morning with a refreshing drink. On the day we managed to obtain the answers to 13 of the 19 they’d set. I won’t say we “solved” 13, let’s just say that we acquired 13 answers by various means. Norfolk12 would have been proud. Ami enjoyed the daft bikes though.

After we’d had our drink we schmoozed a bit further and met up with a family from our Beds, Bucks and Herts area who were attending the same event. We also bumped into a bunch of cachers from Essex that we’d met the previous day in Adinkerke, and a Flemish couple we’d also met in Adinkerke, and the German guy who’d been biking round the same series we drove around the previous afternoon. Small world, innit ?

At some point I noticed also that the GPX file hadn’t downloaded correctly onto my Garmin, so we went back for another go, and this second time they managed to get it sorted.

We’d also spent quite a while walking up and down the car park collecting trackable numbers. Might as well. There are some challenge caches that require you to have logged a certain number. Otherwise I’m not really bothered, especially when the CO has just put a list of codes in the back window of their car. It’s just as well there’s LogThemAll to help out with bulk logging too, otherwise I just wouldn’t have the patience.

Back at the plot, it had worked its way around to being lunchtime, so we grabbed the traditional Belgian snack of frietjes met mayonnaise from the lard wagon and sat on the grass. The lard wagon in question was staffed by members of a local motorcycle gang, apparently. They did good chips.

After lunch we decided it was time to break free from the event and do a bit of caching. We went for a walk around to the north of the event site, collecting about 7-8 caches on the way, and then noticed that a lot of the new caches for the event were in the Sint Michiels district, just north of our hotel. We’d both had enough of walking the previous day so we decided to drive around Sint Michiels collecting some of the caches. It was quite easy going. Basically, every time we saw a bunch of people standing in the street, we stopped and signed the log. I think we did about 13 that way.

By the time we’d done a few of those it was getting quite late and we had an appointment up in the old town to find the information for another of the Lab Caches, so we got ourselves cleaned up and poshed up (a bit) and caught a bus “up the toon”. We completely failed to register the necessary information about buses back again, but more of that later.

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We couldn’t really decide what we wanted to do for dinner and we’d agreed we weren’t doing any more caching, as we’d been at it hammer and tongs for most of two full days, so we wandered around a bit and I took a few photos in the still-lovely evening sunshine. We ended up in another restaurant on Waalplein, just over from where we’d eaten the previous night, which was a fairly basic affair. Basic meant a little cheaper though, so I wasn’t bothered apart from the fact that they didn’t take credit cards, so they cleaned me out of cash. We both had lasagne, I think, then Ami had a pudding while I sampled another beer.

It wasn’t quite dark when we’d finished, so we legged it off to the station in search of a bus, only to find (as ever) that all the day buses had finished and the first of the hourly night buses had just left (it was literally waiting at the traffic lights in a place we couldn’t get to safely). So this time rather than going for a motorised taxi again we saw some bike taxis – basically, posh looking rickshaws – and the driver (rider/pilot/whatever) offered us a relatively reasonable price for the journey back home. In fact, he managed to get us back before the night bus would have because the night bus goes quite literally around the houses.

It was still, still light when we got back, but we were planning a busy day on Sunday, so we went straight off to bed to grab some ZZZZZZs.

The caches we found over the course of the day were :

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Jeux Sans Frontieres

Jeux Sans Frontieres

I’d been looking forwards to this trip ever since I booked it. OK, that was only February, once negotiations with Senior Management had concluded successfully, but still, 6-7 weeks of really looking forward to it. Ami decided she’d like to come too, for a bit of an adventure, and apart from extra food it doesn’t really cost any more, as I was planning to go in the car and the hotel rooms always sleep at least two.

The plan was to attend the seventh annual Brugse Beer Mega Event. On the face of it that sounds like a bit of a drinking trip that’s not really suitable for child, but one has to remember that the alcoholic beverage that Belgium is famous for is “bier” or “biere”, depending on your choice of language. “Beer” in Flemish is an animal. It’s the animal that is best known for defecating in the forests, and it also happens to be a symbol of the City of Bruges, despite the fact that the city crest has a lion on it.

QE2_Bridge.jpgAnyway, that’s all tomorrow’s activities. Why ? Because there’s no point in going on a caching trip to Bruges for one day when you can go for four days. This was the first.

The day began almost as soon as the previous one had finished, with us getting out of bed at 2:15am to set off at 3am trying to make a trip through the Channel Tunnel at 7am. So because of the chosen route, here’s the customary photo of the QEII Bridge. I always add this one to my blog posts for European driving holidays. This day when we crossed it was rather dark.

We arrived at the terminal early, having completely failed to find any form of traffic jam, and the very nice machine offered us the opportunity of an earlier train – two trains earlier in fact. The car park was very quiet and there were no queues inside as we dived in for a quick breakfast and some coffee. We were killing time in the terminal until we were supposedly 5 minutes from being called, at which point we called ourselves and drove through to passport control. It was quiet. The French border control guys don’t bother much with who goes into their country on the train at this time of morning. We went through so early, in fact, that we managed to bump ourselves forwards another train. We eventually caught a train at 6.20am UK time, about an hour before the one I booked, and we’d already had breakfast too.

At the other end we got out of the terminal quickly despite having a quick stop to turn our bikes round and we were soon on our way east towards the Belgian border. We didn’t quite get all the way there though, because we planned to start the caching by doing the “Franco-Belge” series which, as the name suggests, is in both France and Belgium. The French part is in the commune of Ghyvelde, so that’s where we parked. We went to the marked parking for the series but I didn’t fancy it, as it was just a grassy patch by the roadside. Instead I trolled along a bit further to the ninth cache in the series, which is right by the border and has some proper parking spaces next to it.

So the first cache we found was in France. The second was in Belgium. The third was in France again and then the fourth was into Belgium. We then stayed in Belgium for about 25 caches as we approached the village of Adinkerke, which is apparently famous as a hotbed of cheap tobacco selling, and then walked away from it again back to the French border.

The place where we crossed the border here has a bit of a memorial celebrating the sacrifices of various world wars and the bond of friendship between the neighbouring districts of Ghyvelde and De Panne.

As we crossed back into France here the footing changed for the first time from paved surface to loose cobbles and sandy soil. At least it was dry though and it was still quick walking. It was sufficiently quick, in fact, that we were at the far end in no time and looking for the series bonus cache. It proved to be easy. We didn’t have all the right numbers, as we were yet to do numbers 1-8 of the series, however the missing number only had two possible values, and one of those was suspiciously close to the listed parking spot. That was the one.

After this it was then a matter of slogging our way back through #1-#8 before raiding the back of the car for some of the pastries and cold drinks we’d carried over with us. At the end of this walk we’d found about 50 caches and it had taken just over 4 hours, so that was a pretty good conversion rate and a good start to the weekend. The weather was cool but sunny, and by the time we got back to the car we needed those drinks.

Once we were in the car I realised my error on the earthcache we’d been trying to get to all morning, and realised we just needed to go back to the place with the little monument and the two flags, and walk about 500m into France, to get the needed information. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, aside from the fact that I managed to drop my foot into a massive dog turd on the way back, which resulted in me having to spend a good 15 minutes trying to winkle the stuff out of the sole of my boot using a sharp knife and some toilet roll. That’s 15 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

So why did I call this post “Jeux Sans Frontieres” ? Well, we cached in two different countries in an area where the presence of an international border is rather academic, to say the least, and also because Peter Gabriel’s excellent song of the name contains the line “whistling tunes, we hide in the dunes by the seaside”, which is kind of what we spent the morning doing. It’s all joined up thinking round here you know. None of your random rubbish!

Meanwhile, back at the plot, all of that turd winkling meant that I sort of wanted to go wash my hands, and it was about time for a short break anyway, so we jumped on the motorway and stopped at the services at Mannekensvere. We stopped here on our way out to our family holiday to Holland in 2014 too (see On Our Way). On that day we got irritated with the procedure of having to pay for fuel first, then filling up, then getting a refund of anything you didn’t spend afterwards. This time no such problems, because I didn’t need a fill up, so we just spent a few cents on using the toilets and had our first ice cream of the trip (holiday rules apply).

17-04-07 Franco-Belge.pngWhile we were eating our ice creams outside on their patio we decided we’d done with walking for the day, so we went to grab a few drive-by caches from a series at Waardamme. We ended up chasing round a German bloke, who was doing them on his bike. The series was designed for bikers, so he had the upper hand on us as we had to keep finding places to put a car. We got through about a dozen of those before deciding we’d had enough, at which point we headed of in the general direction of Bruges to check into our hotel.

The hotel was kind of basic, but it was much as I expected and we were only going to use it for sleeping anyway. They do breakfast too, so I paid up front for six of those.

It was still fairly early in the evening and we still had some “stuff” to do. Specifically there was a caching event at a hotel 500m away from ours, which proved to be a very popular event, and we did a handful of caches there before going to the evening “official” event, which was down in Loppem. Neither of us was in the mood for a lot of socialising at a big event, because we were tired and hungry, so we signed the log and mooched about for all of 10 minutes before giving up and going back to the hotel.

From this point onwards the evening went a bit Pete Tong, as we found that we were in a massive gap between any buses passing our hotel. We started walking and I searched for restaurants on my phone, but the first one we found was fully booked. So we kept walking in the general direction of Bruges old town. It was further than we could have done with, but when we eventually had done with walking and looking for restaurants we ended up in the Brouwerij De Halve Maan – the home of the rather nice tasting Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik beers. I should know. I tried three of the four they brew. The weakest was 7% alcohol. The strongest was a rather chewy 11%. I had that one instead of a pudding. When we arrived we were Hank Marvin so with the first drinks I ordered some bread and cheese, traditional beer snacks around here, and got a fairly substantial hunk of old (and hence very tasty) cheese. While we were working our way through that Ami ordered a spaghetti bolognaise and I ordered a “Vlaamse stoofkarbonaden bereid met Brugse Zot dubbel en verse frietjes”, which roughly translated is a dark beef stew made with strong brown beer and served with chips. It was very, very nice. The gravy was thick enough to be eaten by scraping it up with the chips. And the chips were big enough to allow the scraping up of the gravy.

By this time I was somewhat the worse for drink. Well, not worse, just more relaxed really, but enough that Ami and I had a good old chat about nothing in particular whilst attempting to find our way out of Bruges old town in the dark. We arrived at the station just in time to realise we were at least 90 minutes late for the last of the daytime buses, and forty minutes before the next scheduled night bus that was going our way. For some reason Ami seemed reluctant to opt for a taxi, but eventually she gave in and we grabbed a quick ride home.

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All in all it had been a very long day, even though it was only about 10pm. We’d been up for about 21 hours and we’d driven 220 miles, walked about 8 miles, and found 70 caches. That’s what I call a decent start to a weekend of caching.

The caches we found on the day were:

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Brugse Beer 2017

Brugse Beer 2017

Brugse Beer VII

I’d only ever been to Bruges overnight, on our way out to a family holiday in Holland.
And it’s not as far as driving to the north of England.
And there was a geocaching mega event.
Do I need to provide any more reasons for going ?

Jeux Sans Frontieres

Jeux Sans Frontieres

Whistling tunes, we hide in the dunes by the seaside.....
Brugse Beer VII

Brugse Beer VII

Mega Event day - sunshine, silliness and some caching.
Knick Knacky Knokke Heist, Knicky Knacky Noo!

Knick Knacky Knokke Heist, Knicky Knacky Noo!

I am probably making more of a joke out of the name of this town than is strictly necessary.
Big White Nose

Big White Nose

Cap Blanc Nez - It's big, it's white, it looks like a nose, and you can see England from the top.

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