Halloween Hides time of year again. This was the fifth annual Halloween Hides and Creepy Caches mega event, and it proved to be the last one too, at least for a while. It was the second one I’d attended, having also attended the 2012 one at Stanwick Lakes.
The 2014 event was held at Wakerley Great Wood, up at the very top end of Northamptonshire. All four of us went this time, partly because we’d bought supporters’ packs for me and the girls, partly because there was the prospect of eating unhealthy food all day, and partly because it was going to involve walking around muddy woodlands in the dark.
We did parkrun in the morning and then drove up pretty much straight afterwards, so we arrived late morning to lunchtime (ish), and after a few shenanigans trying to find the right place to park we ended up suitably parked up in a grassy field that was a short walk away from the hub of the action.
In 2014 the organisers did an absolutely spectacular job to put on the event at all, after their original site cancelled on them a few weeks beforehand as a result of some bad press about potential damage that might get caused by loads of people tramping around in the darkness. Fair dos. I’ve been to such things before, and in Autumn and pathways can get trampled up into mush after a very short time. Such was the case at the previous years’ venue of Salcey Forest. The paths there degenerate into a mudbath from about the middle of September even without the added sport of a thousand hungry cachers racing around. So the new venue meant, of course, that they had to redesign their event village to suit a new location, and they also had to replan locations for every single cache. The unique selling point of the Halloween Hides events was always that the organisers put masses of effort into planning and then manufacturing a bunch of Halloween themed caches just for the event, which were then replaced at the same location by somewhat more regular cache boxes overnight after the event. Some of the caches were planned very much to suit a particular location, and of course they had to redo them all. They also had to rework some of their lab caches. All-in-all, they must have spent all hours reworking everything in that few weeks immediately before the event, and because of that it doesn’t surprise me that a couple of the crew got a bit burned out and didn’t want to contribute the following year. They must have been up all hours.
So back to the actual caching day. The form is usually that they’d release one lot of ghoulishly daft caches for the daytime, and then release another set for the evening – the evening ones were all more fun if done in darkness. Because there are two lots of caches, you end up walking round the entire site twice. If you’d gone after the event and just done the “boring” cache boxes you’d have a lot less walking to do, however that’s not really the point. As I didn’t get chance to go to the 2013 event on the day I went back a couple of weeks later, and it took me 3 visits of a long half day each to do them.
So we did all the daytime caches (around 50 in total including 10 lab caches) and then retired to the event village to let the girls have a bit of a rest. We grabbed some late lunch from a lard van and while the kids were relaxing I shot off into the woods to find a couple that we’d walked past on the first circuit.
When darkness fell we were off like a rat up a drainpipe again with a further 15 caches to find in the darkness. They are quite easy on event day though, because you just walk to anywhere you can see torchlight. Wakerley Great Wood is definitely the spookiest of the three places I’d encountered for this event, because the wood itself is much less developed than Salcey Forest or Stanwick Lakes, with fewer wide pathways. In fact, it was quite a challenge following some of the pathways at all and I was really glad that I’d got the GPS loaded up in advance (from the “techie tent”) rather than having to try to load locations up manually. By the end of it all four of us were well past the point of having had enough. We were leaning over into the “too much” arena.
By the time we got back to the car I think it was getting on towards 9 pm and we had an hour drive to get home again. It was just as well it was the opening Saturday night of autumn half-term.
Anyway, back at the car, we encountered what was likely to be a problem for some attendees. The presence of all those cars driving over the wet grassy field had turned it into a bit of a quagmire in places, and I could envisage that anyone who’d parked up in car with low ground clearance and/or two-wheel drive was likely to have some fun getting out. We’d parked at the back of the field, which was also the top, and I’d sensibly parked with my nose pointing downhill, meaning we had a straight drive with no reversing to get out of our space. We’d also taken my car rather than Kas’s, which meant we had all the advantages of higher ground clearance and adaptive four-wheel drive. At a couple of points the car adapted itself by driving all four wheels. Some areas were distinctly boggy and slippery. I’m glad we got out when we did.
The drive home down the A1 and around Bedford was uneventful, as such things should be. By the time we’d got home I’d missed most of Match of the Day, not that I was too bothered. On the following day I began to type up all the logs, and I downloaded the tracks off the GPS to see what distance we’d covered. I’d walked 24 km. Because I shot out while the kids were rested up I’d maybe done 3 km more than them, but nevertheless that means they’d walked the distance of a half marathon during the course of the day, over hilly, muddy and slippery footpaths. And the last third of it was in the dark too.
The caches we found on the day were :
Kas booked herself into the Chester marathon earlier in the year and we decided to all go up, on the basis that we were able to persuade my brother to allow us to use his flat near Wrexham over the weekend – he’s back home in Southwell at the weekends.
So off we headed up the M40 with a carload of stuff on Friday night for what proved to be a busy weekend. We made the mistake of thinking that the more direct looking route around Brackley would be quicker. It wasn’t. We then needed to stop for something to eat, so we ducked into Warwick Services for a healthy repast. That wasn’t either. It was burgers, chips, sandwiches and fizzy drinks.
By this time it was totally dark so the rest of the journey was going to have to be done in “darkness” mode. It was probably time the kids went to sleep anyway. They didn’t.
We drove up around the south side of Birmingham, then onto the M54 and along the A41 towards Whitchurch – this looked the best route for a Friday night. It wasn’t too bad, just a little slow once off the motorway due to there being plenty of lorries and not really enough long straight parts to pass them. We found the flat (near to Holt) fairly quickly and were able to get out and upstairs pretty quickly. Once we’d found where Phil kept all the bedding we were well away.
No running weekend away would be complete without a bit of geocaching. After all, why go for two days when the running only takes one? Anyway, there didn’t seem to be any parkruns around here so there was no opportunity to go do that.
You can read about my day’s geocaching at Bike or Hike.
Sunday morning started fairly early for Kas, and not quite so early for the rest of us. We had to get into Chester before they started closing the roads, which was about 90 minutes before the race started. Thankfully though the traffic wasn’t too bad and they were using big portions of the racecourse’s infield for parking, which meant we were fairly close to everything. It also meant that when we got there we’d still got something like 2 hours to kill before Kas’s race started. It was a cold morning and the various attractions at the race HQ didn’t keep us occupied for long – just a coffee van and the usual running clothes stands. So by the time we’d finished this and made the first of a number of trips to the “facilities” in the field we were starting to get a bit bored and a lot cold. None of us had taken our hats or gloves (after all, it hadn’t been at all cold so far this autumn) so the early morning chill was taking its toll a little bit. We ended up sitting inside for a while in the big marquee just to keep the cold away.
Eventually it was time for Kas to set off, so we walked out onto the racecourse, via the “facilities” again, and Kas started running around the grass field to get warmed up, closely followed by the kids, who obviously needed to warm up too for their 1 mile race that was starting over an hour after Kas left us.
In that time after Kas left we went off the racecourse slightly to grab a geocache up on the perimeter road, just to “fill in” a new county for the kids, and then we came back down and mooched about near the race HQ again until we received the call to go and get lined up.
The kids race was a straightforward 1 mile which involved running a few furlongs out around the racecourse and then a 180 degree turn before running all the way back through the start gate and then a few hundred yards further on to the finish. Ami said she’d run all the way with Izzy to make sure she as OK, but in the event she left Izzy at the turn and just sprinted in. To be fair to Izzy though, she seemed fine with it and was positively tanking it when she came into the finish straight, so I was quite proud of them both. It was also quite funny that despite all the announcements about having to run through the start gate on the way back and keep going for another 300 yards there were still several children (and their accompanying adults) who sprinted through the start gate and then simply stopped. Most then had a moment of dawning as they realised others were still sprinting past them…….
After the kids had finished and got their medals (which are very nice medals) we took a few photos and got their jumpers back on before noticing that we really didn’t have time for much else before Kas was due back. We just about had time to go to the car and make another trip to the “facilities” and then we went down to the marathon start point to wait for Kas.
She made her grand entrance into the racecourse in a very quick time and was spurred on a little by us three cheering her into the final few yards, and she finished in a stonkingly fast new PB time of 3:53.41 – Fan-dabby-tastic ! – Try reading about the Chester Marathon on Kas’s blog.
After all that exertion Kas needed a bit of a rest, so we sat at the outside coffee bar (it was now quite warm outside) and then took the kids into the play-area tent before heading off back to Wrexham.
We didn’t have much of a plan here except to get gone as soon as we could, but after a day and a half there wasn’t a great deal of packing to be done, so I was comfortable to leave the girls in the flat while I shot out to collect 7 of the easiest drive-by caches I’ve ever done in a mere 40 minutes.
The drive back was a predictably slow Sunday afternoon crawl stuck behind slow moving lorries and cars. All the way down I was looking out for a convenient place in Shropshire to stop and do a single geocache (again, to “fill in” a new county). After driving through quite a lot of Shropshire we ended up at Newport, where we thought we’d stop for a random cache and then get something for dinner before finishing the drive. The cache proved easy but then finding somewhere to eat seemed rather harder. We had Googled a couple of pubs but when we got there one of them looked rubbish and the other didn’t seem to exist, so somewhat disappointed we jumped back in the car and decided to go look in the next town, whatever that would be. Thankfully, as we were pulling out of Newport back onto the main road we found the missing pub – it was simply marked into totally the wrong place on Google Maps, as is often the case. It was a chain restaurant attached to a Premier Inn hotel, so nothing special, but it did do a decent Sunday carvery for the kids.
By the time we finished here it was straying into darkness again but thankfully not long after here we were on motorways with street lights, so it wasn’t too painful. The traffic also seemed to have died down a bit, so the drive went quite quickly, especially once the girls made me put Madness on the iPod. After a bit of that it was my turn to choose and I went for a bit of Beatles. It was surprising how many of their hits that the kids had heard of.
And that was it. When we got home everything was pretty much as we left it, except Kas and the girls each had a new medal to hang up somewhere.
I’d managed to persuade Izzy to come out caching with me, so after a quickish breakfast of cereals and toast we all piled into Dr Evil and headed off for my chosen target of Queensferry. I picked there mainly because there was a short circular route that would suit Izzy and myself for the morning, and then a longer walking route alongside the River Dee back into Chester. Kas needed to spend some of her afternoon in Chester at the racecourse sorting out running stuff as her race pack hadn’t arrived, plus she’d entered the girls into the mini-marathon too, so she had a fair amount to do in the afternoon. In the morning, her and Ami were happy to go and drink posh coffee, eat cakes and read books. Fair enough.
Kas dropped us off in the car park of Phil’s garage in Queensferry – Lindop Brothers Toyota, which was very handily placed for starting the walk I’d planned with Izzy. I’d measured the walk at about 5 miles, which is enough for Izzy in one go, but as ever I completely underestimated and we ended up walking nearly 6 miles, as you can see from the Caching Morning Near Chester Garmin Track. Izzy did remarkably well. We reached the high 20s in cache finds on the walk, but I was quite disappointed as many of them were in need of maintenance and there were three we completely missed. The weird highlight was probably the “Sidetracked” cache at Hawarden Bridge Station. When I say “highlight”, in mean it was a strange place. There seemed to be absolutely no reason whatsoever for putting a station at this point. There is no station building and we couldn’t find a car park. There is no ticket office or machines. There are just two concrete platforms either side of two rather overgrown railway tracks, with a view onto a fairly impressive bridge at one end. Hell, it took us nearly 10 minutes just to figure out how to get onto the platform. And there’s a geocache called SideTracked : Hawarden Bridge. It was a 35mm film pot stuck in the top of a concrete post.
We looped back around towards the impressively named Garden City and called Kas about meeting us at a pub we’d found earlier as she dropped us off. I haven’t been into a pub like that for quite some time, and I suspect it will be quite some more time before I go in one again. The staff seemed friendly enough but the facilities were basic, to say the least, plus when we arrived the place was full of a children’s birthday party, several of whose invitees seemed to suffer from an advanced form of ADHD. Maybe it’s just that we are blessed with kids who aren’t particularly boisterous and who generally calm down when you ask them to, but from my perspective these were some kids that needed some serious chill-therapy. I was quite glad to get out.
Whilst still parked up at the pub we all walked over to the Blue Bridge to find another geocache and on the way back we split up – I had about 6 miles ( look at my Caching Afternoon Near Chester Garmin Track ) to walk in a near straight line to get back to Chester and Kas promised to take the girls to a nearby soft play place for a couple of hours before retiring to the racecourse to do the race preparation gubbins.
In the event the girls didn’t get their 2 hours at soft play, even though Kas paid for them. They had about half an hour before they managed to elicit some unwanted attention from a group of local children, whereupon the mother of said children took it upon herself to walk over to our already crying child and hurl a torrent of verbal abuse directly at her. Whilst she was doing this her three daughters were standing in a line behind pulling that face that children pull on children’s TV programmes when they’ve just duped a parent into having a go at someone. Anyway, Kas issued a few choice words in return but by that time the girls were too upset to be bothered with staying, so they decided to leave early for Chester. Kas texted me as I was (very conveniently) at the furthest point I was going to get from any roads all afternoon. A couple of exchanges of text and I was good to continue but it did put me in a bit of a grump all afternoon until I met up with them again.
Aside from that the geocaching walk back into Chester was fairly quick and fairly fruitful. There’s a cycle path that runs alongside the straightened section of the river and most of the caches were either on features of the cycle path or were just down the slope. I think the cycle path is on what Americans would call a levee. No sign of any Chevvys being driven to this one though. And in Wales in October the levees are most definitely not dry.
By the time I reached England I was about on my last legs. Well, by this time I’d walked about 11 miles over 6 hours, so I had a right to ache a bit. From here I could quite clearly hear that there was a match going on at the Deva Stadium – which peculiarly is sited in Wales all except for the back of the main stand and the car park, which are in England. How very strange. From this point I still had about a mile and a half and another 10 caches to go.
When I got back to Chester Racecourse I found Kas sitting outside a fairly swish looking bar with a big playground wooden ship in the garden. The kids had seemingly recovered from their ordeal and were enjoying the afternoon sunshine. Kas was downing some coffees and reading some more of her book. I went for a beer. I felt I’d earned one.
Once I’d finished caching we’d booked a meal at a nearby Zizzi’s but we were itching to get on with it so we turned up a bit early. They managed to sit us down a bit early too and I treated myself to an enormous cornish pasty. I was proper pukka.
After which we drove back home again and there was just time to fasten the numbers to everyone’s running shirts for the following morning before putting the kids to bed. I include Kas in with the kids there as she needed an early night. I stopped up to watch Match of the Day and log a few of the caches. Most were quite quick logs of the “Quick Easy Find” variety. My logs tend not to be particularly exciting, especially those from days like this, as the caches were all much of a muchness and I don’t really go caching so that I can spend ages typing the logs up.
The caches I found on this day, plus the handful found on Sunday, were :