16-12-18 Flags of All Nations.png

What’s that All About?

Early in 2016 I found myself with a sudden surge of enthusiasm for setting caches and a bit of spare time, so I decided it would be a good idea to fill up the “empty” triangle between Milton Keynes and Buckingham. My concept was to go with puzzles caches, but because a lot of people don’t like difficult puzzle caches (and because I haven’t got the energy or intelligence to set difficult ones) I decided to go with a massive themed series.

I began exploring the idea of doing one puzzle for each country, and that maybe I could use the puzzle icons to draw a picture. I initially tried to draw a map of the world, or to mimic the Flag of the United Nations, but both of those were far too complicated for my feeble human brain, so I thought that a bit of spelling would be easier to achieve.

What proved to be massively convenient, was that to spell out “Flags of All Nations” in 5x7 Dot Matrix you need 249 dots, and according to Wikipedia’s list of countries and dependent territories by population there are 250 territories. Or at least, there seemed to be 250 when I started planning. There seem to be fewer now. Have some of the places been absorbed or removed, I wonder ? No matter, I’m sticking with the original 250.

OK, so I ignored one. Nobody lives in it anyway.

Another cunning part of my plan was that each cache container has a size which is roughly in proportion to the number of people living in the country it represents, so you know when you’re searching for India and China that it’s going to be a fairly big container, whereas when you’re looking for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands it’s going to be very small. The wisdom of this plan was called into question on the day I attempted to set the west Asian loop, because it was all very large containers, and I had to carry them around in a separate bag because they wouldn’t fit in my rucksack. So you will notice that the container for South Georgia would fit into the container for China quite a few times over. Probably not the million required by strict proportion, but I would guess at least a thousand of them would go in.

What I actually did was to divide all the countries into about 9 different size categories based on population and then group my available cache containers up into stacks by approximate size, taking care to end up with 9 stacks. There were certain sizes that required a lot of containers, namely for countries with populations between 1 and 10 million, and for countries with populations between 100,000 and 1 million. There were relatively few at the big end and a surprisingly large number at the small end.

All in all it was also quite an interesting exercise to actually read about and think about such things. Did you know that well over a third of all humans live in just two countries, and that a half of all humans live in the six most populous countries ? How about that the entire population of the worlds 19 least populous countries or dependencies could fit into Wembley Stadium ? Or that nearly a quarter of all countries and dependencies (62) have fewer inhabitants than my home town of Milton Keynes ?

The Sketch

The series consists of one simple puzzle for each of 249 countries or dependencies as defined by Wikipedia. When you’ve done them all you’ll get a piece of geo-art for your smiley chart.

I’ve done them from the list on Wikipedia simply because it’s fairly neutral where politics is concerned, and because I had to come to a universal standard. Wikipedia is the arbiter of what constitutes a country or dependency, and Wikipedia acknowledges that the status of some of them depends on who you are speaking to.

In the context of this series of puzzles, they all have a different flag and I hope you have some fun figuring out which flag belongs to which place. I hope it might provoke a few interesting discussions about why, for instance, Jersey is identified separately but Wales is not. It’s worth noting that French overseas departments and territories officially use the French flag. However, most also have a local flag which carries no official status, but does at least differentiate between them for this purpose. Some of them have more than one unofficial flag.

The puzzles are designed to be easy to solve and when you collect them you’ll be taken on a series of walks around some wonderful Buckinghamshire countryside that has, until now, been strangely devoid of caches.

The series is divided into a number of loops, in some cases quite convoluted loops, roughly as follows:

  • #001-#058 – Africa – A 5km inner loop and 10km outer loop
  • #059-#116 – Americas – An 8km northern loop and a 9.5km southern loop
  • #117-#176 – Europe – Three linked loops totalling 16.5km
  • #177-#224 – Asia – A western loop of 10km and an eastern loop of 4.5km
  • #225-#249 – Oceania – A convoluted loop of 7.2km that can easily be broken into two parts

Each continental loop has at least one land bridge where you can easily cross to a different continent, so if you are really keen you can attempt multiple loops in one session.

Africa

Africa.pngThe African loop has yet to be placed or released. The links below will take you just to a “Cache Is Not Published” page.

The plan for Africa is to do one very substantial loop starting and ending at Thornborough. During the planning stages I have had to rework a couple of times as a result of me taking so long that some of my planned spots were occupied by other caches, whose owners were unaware of what I was thinking. I’ve been able to rework but at the cost of producing a very large loop with very few options for escape halfway around.

The Africa loop will allow jumps across to the Americas (near Thornton and to Asia (near Nash and also interlinks with Geoff & Steph’s PAT Series.

The caches on the Africa loop will be:

The Americas

Americas.pngThe Americas consists of a couple of loops centred around the village of Beachampton.

The northern loop is 8km (5 miles) long from the marked parking and has 23 caches (#059-#081). There is a fairly long stretch of road but the majority is agricultural. There were a couple of fields containing sheep when I set the caches (at the high numbered end). Note also that the pathway marked on maps between #075 and #076, through a series of buildings, is no longer accessible, so you have to walk along to the church and then the main road and re-enter the fields on the other side of the stream. This means the northern loop is now actually a figure-of-eight, and you will walk by #081 twice. There is marked parking on #059 Flags of All Nations which is a fair way from the start point, but is the only bit of off-road parking I could find in the village. You can get closer if you park in the pub or on the main road, but then you’re obviously taking your chances.

The southern loop is a somewhat convoluted affair of 9.5km (5.9 miles) when done in the numbered sequence, but you could break it into smaller pieces easily. It has 35 caches (#082-#116). The vast majority is agricultural fields, with just a couple of short sections on road towards the end. When I set the caches several of the fields contained cattle, so you will need to be careful when walking around these. There is marked parking for this loop at #082 Flags of All Nations. The start point is a little way up the road but the finish is very close to this parking.

On the northern section you can bridge to the African loop near #066 or #068.

On the southern section you can bridge to the European loops near #090 or #095 and you can jump across to the western Asia loop anywhere between #098 and #100.

The caches on the Americas loop are:

Europe

Europe.pngThe European section consists of multiple overlapping loops filling in the gaps between the western edge of Milton Keynes near Hazeley School, all the way up to the edge of Stony Stratford, and focusing on the many footpath routes through Calverton.

These ones were a bit of a nightmare to set, given the presence of a number of other caches in the area and the fact that they run alongside the edge of Milton Keynes Western Area Expansion Plan. There was a point where straining my brain over this section nearly caused me to give up.

The phrase “I remember when this was all fields” is very apt for certain parts of this section. I do, indeed, remember when it was all fields. However, that was only the start of 2017, and I was walking around trying to find some locations when I realised that one of the key routes through the area was partially closed while the builders laid new roads into the new housing estate. It’s still a bit frantic with house building between #131 and #136, but at least you can through again now.

Anyway, parking is a little thin on the northern part of the section, but I have marked multiple parking locations in the cache pages. For the southern part there are obvious parking locations available near Hazeley School and in Grange Farm. Roughly in the middle there is now good roadside parking in the new housing estate. Whether this will last or not I don’t know. At the moment there’s a pseudo dual-carriageway that comes to an abrupt end.

There are 60 caches in the European section – the biggest of the lot. You can bridge across to the Americas section along much of the north-western edge, but especially near #145 and #151.

The caches in the European section are:

Asia

Asia.pngThe Asian section consists of two loops centred on the village of Whaddon. There is limited parking within the village and the road is rather busy, so I’d advise parking where I suggest, although the eastern loop touches on the edge of Milton Keynes too, and has a very convenient place to park.

The western loop of Asia takes you across to the village of Nash and back. It is 10km (6.2 miles) long and contains 34 caches. There’s section of road in Nash and another returning into Whaddon and the rest is agricultural fields. When I set the caches there wasn’t any livestock anywhere, but there are a couple of quite long stretches with no caches as a result of some hedges having been removed in between the time when the Google satellite view images were taken and now.

The eastern loop runs back towards Milton Keynes and is just 4.2km (2.6 miles) long. There are 14 caches on this section. There is no livestock and some of it is on the Milton Keynes perimeter path.

You can bridge over to the southern American loop from the western Asian loop at #201, and on the eastern Asian loop most of the pathway between #220 and #222 is shared with the Oceania loop.

Parking for the western loop is given on #177 Flags of All Nations and parking for the eastern loop is on #211 Flags of All Nations.

The caches on the Asian loops are:

Oceania

Oceania.pngThe Oceania loop consists of a walk of 7.2km (4.5 miles) containing 25 caches. It is on the very western edge of Milton Keynes.

It would be easy to break this into a northern loop of 11 (#232-#242) and a southern loop of 14 (#225-#231 and #243-#249).

There weren’t any fields containing livestock, however you may find that the path between #233 and #234 requires you to climb over a fence that blocks the path (and that path is quite hard to find anyway, as it is little used).

This walk takes you through a variety of scenery including some agricultural land, an old main road, the North Bucks Way and one of Milton Keynes’ Linear Parks. The walk is all over pathways except for the walk between #239 and #240, which is along the side of a surprisingly busy road.

There are three marked parking spots attached to #225 Flags of All Nations which will allow you to join the circuit at around #225, #240 or #245.

As with all the loops, you don’t have to walk them in number order.

You can extend this walk to include the East Asian loop too – the two loops intermingle between #236 and #240 (which is also between #220 and #222).

The caches for the Oceania loop are:

The Small Print

You cache at your own risk. Most of the caches are out in the countryside on the public footpath network, where it can be very muddy and difficult to cross, especially in the winter months. Some of the fields have livestock.

It’s not advisable to try to find the caches at night – if nothing else you will raise suspicion by walking around the countryside with a torch.

The loops are generally not suitable for wheelchair users or for pushchairs, although some sections of the Oceania and Asian loops will be OK in dry weather, as they are on paved pathways within Milton Keynes.

There aren’t many shops or resting places, although most of the villages do have at least one pub.

The loops use roads at some points where there is no convenient footpath, so be careful if you have kids or dogs.

Caches placed by the roadside are NOT designed to be drive-bys. Generally there is nowhere to stop and a car would cause an obstruction. The country roads are surprisingly busy so you’d be well advised to avoid blocking them with your car.


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