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 <a href=”http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/EnglandNorthamptonshireRockinghamForestWakerleyGreatWood” target=”_blank”>Wakerley Great Wood</a>, 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 9pm 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 out 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 much 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 24km. Because I shot out while the kids were rested up I’d maybe done 3km 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 :
I was minding my own business on Facebook one night (errr, is it possible to mind your own business on Facebook ?) when a certain local geocaching blogger, or blogging geocacher, asked me if I’d like to contribute to his experiment and answer a short quiz about my life in geocaching.
The geocacher in question is Washknight, and you can see the results of the experiment so far at http://washknight.wordpress.com/tag/washknight-interrogates/
So here goes. Hold onto your hat…………………
1. When and how did you first get into geocaching?
I’d like to start by saying that it’s all the fault of my wonderful wife. No. really. I’d never heard of it. She’d been signed up for a few months and had never actually been out to find a cache.
She made me do it !
As luck (or hard work) would have it, we were spending a long weekend in May 2010 in Marrakech on a corporate jolly that I earned myself after having a particularly good year. I was one of our top achievers in the EMEA region and as a result I got to join most of the other top 5% on a weekend away in North Africa. The invite was for two, so Kas came with me too, naturally. The juniors stayed at home with my parents.
The weekend consisted of a packed programme of corporate schmoozing with a very short window of just 3 hours on the Saturday afternoon for doing things not in the official programme. It seemed a bit of a waste to go all the way to Marrakech and then come home again without seeing anything, so we booked an extra couple of nights in a hotel closer to the city centre (and somewhat cheaper) than the event location so we could have a look around before heading home.
On our final day Kas told me we were off into some random park near the city centre to try a new game. “Oooh er !” thinks I. The game in question was not quite what I was expecting, but it must have been OK because I’ve now done it nearly 5000 times in 4 years. I’ve done it in 15 different countries, in all bar 8 counties in England, and in several counties in Wales. Sometimes I do it with the kids, sometimes with friends, and quite often on my own. I’ve done it on every different day in the year.
2. Do you remember your first find?
Isn’t that a Pulp song ?
I remember it mainly because we were, to say the least, comedy cachers. We were trying to use the official caching app on an iPhone 3. The GPS in those was suspect at the best of times, and there was no 3G signal either, so we were wandering around using only a compass and distance. It was hot, and we were being watched. And as I still had no idea what we were doing the conversation with Kas went along the lines of…
“What are we looking for?”
“OK, so where is it ?”
…and so on. But we did find it eventually – well, I found it because it was above Kas’s eyeline – and the rest, as they say in France, c’est l’histoire.
3. What device(s) do you use for locating caches?
That depends on what kind of a caching day it is. If I’m in town, or I don’t want to attract too much attention, or if I’m just doing a casual bit of caching I use my iPhone with the Geosphere app. If I’m officially “going out caching” (which is coded for “I’ll be away some time, and when I come back, I’ll be mucky”) I use my Garmin Montana 650 – the batteries last longer than the phone, it’s fully waterproof, and the GPS locator is (I have to admit after doubting it for a few years) much better than the phone.
I did once find two without any kind of GPS device. I stared at Google satellite view for a while, memorized the position and the hint, and then went for a walk. One of those two was quite a remarkable find. In a tree, in a hedge, and I found it by pacing out about 150 of my steps from a junction between 2 paths. Amazingly I found it in the third tree I tried. The other one that day was under a bridge, but I was still amazed to find it because it had been disabled after a load of DNFs.
4. Where do you live and what is your local area like for geocaching? (density / quality / setting etc)
I live in Milton Keynes. It’s very green for an urban area and we have standing permission from the MK Parks Trust to place caches so long as they’re not in dumb places where people will trample all the plants down. There are a lot of caches here, but mainly isolated rather than in walkable series.
5. What has been your most memorable geocache to date, and why?
The most memorable piece of tupperware was probably Sangam – It’s at one of the 4 centres belonging to the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and it’s in Pune, India. It’s a simple little puzzle and I went there on an otherwise dead Saturday morning before catching a flight from Pune to Chennai (via Hyderabad – don’t ask!) in the afternoon. Given the location, I thought I’d better warn them. They were most welcoming and gave me a full tour of their site before abandoning me to look for the cache. And they gave me tea. And a biscuit. And before you get any dodgy thoughts about me, there were no girl guides there at the time apart from the staff, and part of the reason I went was so that I could raid their shop and bring home lots of bags, badges, and other stuff for my two daughters.
Without a doubt the best experience (and best find) was attending the first ever Giga Event in Munich this August. Myself and Travelling Pumpkin (daughter the elder) went down on the bus that Simply Paul organised. It was an excellent trip and a brilliantly done event.
6. List 3 essential things you take on a geocaching adventure excluding GPS, pen and swaps.
If one of the kids is with me that would be Pringles, Maltesers and more Pringles. Otherwise we don’t get very far.
If I’m on my own it would be a small screwdriver, a notebook and my camera.
7. Other than geocaches and their contents, What is the weirdest thing you have discovered whilst out caching?
Simply Paul. Nothing else compares.
8. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is I am obsessed by numbers and 10 is I am all about the experience and the quality of each individual cache. Where do you put yourself?
When I started I was probably a 9. Now I’m into it a bit more I’m probably about a 4. Most of my caches are done on quite long walks out in the country, where most of the caches are quite simple but the overall effect is a large total and a healthy suntan, most days.
9. Describe one incident that best demonstrates the level of your geocaching obsession.
Two whole days on a bus to attend and event. OK, it was a good event, and we visited 8 different countries on the trip, but that’s something that would be hard to convince a non-cacher about – especially the part about watching the Sound of Music on the bus’s TVs whilst driving back through Austria and Switzerland.
10. Have you picked up any caching injuries along the way?
Yes. I left a big chunk of my scalp hanging from a sharp stick in Blackpool one night. It was a hedge that had recently been cut by one of those massive council fastened-to-a-tractor things, and it was dark, and I didn’t see the pointy end. It might have been worse. I guess it was about 4 inches away from taking my eye out.
11. What annoys you most about other geocachers?
What annoys me most about other cachers are the ones who get annoyed about other cachers. It’s only a game. Chill.
Seriously, I can’t be doing with all the stressing about logging protocol, and whether you’re allowed to find puzzles you haven’t solved and whether you can claim a find on a cache up a tree when you sent the kids up, and the like. It’s a bit of fun, innit !
12. What is the dumbest thing you have done whilst out caching?
There was an FTF hunt in Oakhill Wood one night. I have no idea why I went. The place gives me the willies in daylight never mind at night. And I went on my own.
I found it though.
13. What do your non caching family and friends think of your hobby?
The kids come caching with me sometimes. Kas comes out occasionally. She thinks I’m obsessed. But then she runs marathons for fun, so calling me obsessed is leaning towards the pot-kettle-black scenario.
14. What is your default excuse you give to muggles who ask what you are up to or if you need help?
Most of the muggles I meet when out caching tend to fall into the “livestock” category. I’ve had very few human muggle incidents and to be quite honest I don’t spend a lot of time trying to disguise things – you see a lot of people out on the streets doing much more weird things than furtling around in the bushes. I have never been challenged in a threatening way. I generally go with the “I’m playing a treasure hunting game” line and see where the discussion takes me. A couple of times when people have been in my way and don’t look like moving I go with the old “you’re not really seeing me do this, and there is nothing here of interest” one, which is a surprisingly good way to knock someone off guard and make them relax.
15. What is your current geocaching goal, if you have one?
Probably colouring in all the English counties on my MyGeocachingProfile.com profile. As I write this post I have 6 to do – Essex, Suffolk, East Yorkshire, Isle of Wight, Devon & Cornwall.
16. Do you have a nemesis cache that despite multiple attempts you have been unable to find?
I used to have, until I found them all. As things stand now it would have to be the promise of something pretty spectacular to make me go back for a second attempt at anything. I have learned to embrace the inner quitter.
17. What 3 words or phrases best sum up what geocaching means to you?
Good question, if only because it requires at least three answers.
- Getting out in the fresh air. Some areas have fresher air than others.
- Meeting other people and pretending not to be doing anything suspicous, unless they are also not doing it.
- Always having an excuse for going somewhere I’ve never been before. I’m a restless soul.
18. What prompted you to start blogging about geocaching?
I find it relaxing and it helps me sort of organize my memories. I’m a bit retentive at the best of times and I like to feel I’ve captured something about my trips other than the photos.
19. Which of your own blog entries are you most proud of.
I’m not one for championing my own work, generally, but I quite like Imbibing Imber.
20. Which other geocaching blogs do you enjoy reading?
Well, Washknight’s one, obviously. There are no others. (Can I have my fiver now please ?)
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 car load 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.
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.
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.
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 in 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 did’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.