2016 didn’t really have any plan. It turned out that I had a bit of a problem with my caching mojo, as well as being quite busy with work, and therefore more interested in spending the weekends with Kas and the girls. What I did do though, I greatly enjoyed, and in some ways having a year where I went out less often, but enjoyed it more, was probably a good thing to do, consciously or otherwise.
2016 had the lowest number of finds in the year that I’d had since 2012, but it had a number of fantastic individual days and involved some fairly epic locations for finds.
As ever with these posts there’s a list of individual caching days towards the bottom, but we start off with a bit of stat-action.
There seems little point in showing the whole “Days Found” matrix, because it was already filled up at the start of the year, but for the sake of interest here’s the picture of days I found caches during 2016 itself. You can see that I really didn’t go out caching very often.
So, it’s worth showing the year’s “Days Placed” matrix too. Apparently it’s much easier to get a good spread of these.
And what about the “Months Placed” ?
Oh ! Go on then ! While we’re at it I might as well track my Difficulty/Terrain Matrix here too.
My list of counties cached in did move forwards a bit as a result of an autumn trip to South Wales, but the UK map does sort of highlight how little I actually went out caching.
And finally, before we get into the gory detail, here’s a bit of Michael Fish, pointing at where I’ve actually been caching during the year.
January (131 finds)
- January got off to a decent start on the first day with a walk along the MKBW Yellow series ( see Say Yellow, Wave Goodbye ) – 28 finds
- On January 10th I followed this up by walking along the Blue and Magenta sections ( see Bye Bye Magenta and Blue )- 42 finds
- January 17th saw me walking round another part of the Hatley Heart Attack ( see Another Heart Attack ) – 38 finds
- On January 19th I popped out to a local event down in Wiltshire while I was in the area for work – 3 finds
- I finished the month on January 31st by walking around the woods to complete Charlie’s Sixth Loop ( ( see Charlie’s Sixth Loop ) – 20 finds
February (172 finds)
- On February 6th I walked my way around another chunk of the Hatley Heart Attack series ( see Hacking Around Hatley ) – 68 finds
- February 16th saw me in Melksham again for another local caching event – 6 finds
- On February 20th I still hand’t finished the Hatley Heart Attack, so I went to do a few more ( see Will This Heart Attack Ever End ) – 79 finds
- On February 28th I had a bit of a depressing day near Castle Donington ( see Around Castle Donington ) – 17 finds
- On February 29th I found myself with a bit more time on my hands, as the monster project I’d been working on in the south-west got canned. I was therefore able to attend a couple of local Leap Day events – 2 finds
March (114 finds)
April (128 finds)
May (122 finds)
- On May 5th I grabbed a couple of quickies whilst on a business trip to the south-west – 2 finds
- On May 11th I attended a BBH event down near Hemel Hempstead – 2 finds
- On May 14 I went for a bit of a spree over towards the south side of Cambridge ( see Meldreth Madness ) – 96 finds
- On May 21st I grabbed a handful of caches on Hampstead Heath while we were in London for a running event – 6 finds
- On May 28th I went for a Saturday afternoon walk on the riverfront in Liverpool during our annual pilgrimmage for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon – 13 finds
- On May 30th we’d moved up to the Lake District for a week’s holiday and grabbed a couple on the way up to Keswick ( see The Drive Up ) – 2 finds
- On May 31st we walked up Skiddaw and there was a cache on the top ( see Climbing Skiddaw ) – 1 find
June (53 finds)
- On June 1st we were still in the Lake District and had a day out at Ullswater, but not before I’d popped up to Castlerigg Stone Circle for a couple of caches in the morning ( see Ullswater ) – 4 finds
- On June 2nd I grabbed a single cache while we were walking along the side of Derwent Water ( see Happy Birthday ) – 1 find
- On June 3rd we did a handful of caches while we were climbing up Cat Bells ( see Cat Bells ) – 8 finds
- On June 19th I had an ultimately quite disappointing trip up to Thrapston ( see Thrapston Crapston ) – 40 finds
July (144 finds)
- On July 8th I went to Silverstone for a bit of Formula 1 and grabbed a YOSM while I was there ( see Silverstone ) – 1 find
- On July 12th there was a “Roundabout MK” event – 1 find
- On July 16th I was at the GeoNord event in Valenciennes with Izzy, Carolynn and Alibags ( see Going Mega in France ) – 27 finds plus 10 lab caches
- On July 17th we were still in France and attended the closing event before driving up to Coudekerque for a walking series there ( see Going Mega in France ) – 31 finds
- On July 29th it was Geolympix weekend and I took the Friday off to do a few of the caches near the site ( see Geolympix 2016 ) – 24 finds
- On July 31st it was Geolympix day, so the girls and me went down to Ashridge for a bit of cache-based wandering ( see Geolympix 2016 ) – 40 finds plus 10 lab caches
August (255 finds)
- On August 4th Ami and me started an epic weekend of caching for the UK Mega in Llangollen. On this Thursday we spent the day in Cheshire walking a very long way ( see Llangollen Mega ) – 101 finds
- On August 5th Ami and me spent the day hacking around North Wales with the Happy Hunter as we completed a series of puzzles that had been set for the UK Mega. After this we attended a GPS Maze event (oooh!), did 10 lab caches, and went for a walk along the Llangollen Canal for a few more ( see Llangollen Mega ) – 61 finds plus 10 lab caches
- August 6th was UK Mega Event day. We had a relatively lightweight day in the village and did the lab caches at the event ( see Llangollen Mega ) – 6 finds plus 10 lab caches
- On August 12th we began our holiday to Chamonix by driving down to Reims ( see From Home to Reims ) – 4 finds
- On August 13th we did a lot of driving before finally reaching Chamonix ( see Run to the Hills ) – 2 finds
- On August 14th we went up a very big hill ( see Aiguille du Midi )- 2 finds
- On August 15th we spent the day studying geography – mainly the bits about glaciers and mountains ( see Ups and Downs ) – 6 finds
- On August 16th it all went a bit free-form but ended up being quite good ( see Not Quite to Plan ) – 3 finds
- On August 17th we made ourselves eligible for any challenge cache that requires three countries in a day ( see Three Countries ) – 9 finds
- On August 18th the weather was a bit depressing so we stayed in Chamonix town ( see Chamonix Town ) – 2 finds
- On August 19th we had a fairly quiet day exploring a high alpine valley in the sunshine ( see Reserved Nature ) – 1 finds
- On August 20th we began our trip home, and punctuated it with a stopover in Dijon ( see Cutting the Mustard ) – 6 finds
- On August 21st we drove from Dijon back home, stopping in a couple of service stations to eat and grab a cache on the way ( see Cutting the Mustard ) – 2 finds
September (71 finds)
- On September 3rd we were in Cumbria for Kas to do a ridiculously long run. I grabbed a few caches while following her around the mountains ( see Grand Tour of Skiddaw ) – 7 finds
- On September 18th I went over to Poundon for a bit of a dash around ( see Poundon Around ) – 64 finds
October (114 finds)
- On October 16th I went over to Wrestlingworth to do a couple of fairly short series ( see Finbarr Saunders ) – 54 finds
- On October 23rd I was checking through my list of challenge caches signed but not eligible, and I discovered one I was now eligible for ( High – On Tour Challenge 7 ) – 1 find
- On October 30th I took Izzy over to the west of Milton Keynes, where we completed a couple of local series, including one that involved a very dodgy filed full of cows ( see Finbarr Saunders ) – 59 finds
November (17 finds)
- On November 3rd I grabbed a few random caches whilst on a business trip to Solihull – 3 finds
- On November 12th and 13th I made a few local finds in Milton Keynes – 3 finds
- Over the weekend of November 18th – 21st I went on a lads weekend away in Wales and found a few caches while we were there ( see Welsh Weekend ) – 11 finds
December (66 finds)
- On December 4th I made my final “epic” trip out for the year over near Keyston. Ami came with me ( see Keyston Kaper ) – 56 finds
- My final caching trip of the year was a fairly disappointing jaunt around Milton Keynes which reminded me of why I don’t really like urban caching – 10 finds
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What’s that All About?
Everybody needs a goal in life – an objective to create one great thing of note, a masterpiece, a Magnum Hopeless as it were. In caching terms, this series is most likely to be mine.
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 5×7 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, but then geography has always been one of my “things”. Did you know that well over a third of all humans live in just two countries, and that 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 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 – An 11.5km outer loop with 44 caches and a 4km inner loop with 14 caches, based around the village of Thornborough
- #059-#116 – Americas – A 7.5km northern loop with 24 caches and a 9.5km southern loop with 34 caches, based around the village of Beachampton
- #117-#176 – Europe – A 6.5km southern loop with 24 caches and an 11km northern loop with 36 caches, running along the western edge of Milton Keynes
- #177-#224 – Asia – A western loop of 10km with 34 caches and an eastern loop of 4.5km with 14 caches, based around the village of Whaddon
- #225-#249 – Oceania – A loop of 6.5km with 25 caches on the south-west edge of Milton Keynes
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.
There’s a bookmark list of the entire series at : https://www.geocaching.com/bookmarks/view.aspx?guid=3ad1b0bf-5d13-4e74-a12c-30fe27091d92 and the individual links lower down this page will take you to each individual cache.
Despite being the lowest numbered group and the first continent alphabetically, I placed “Africa” last.
The plan was to do one very substantial loop starting and ending at Thornborough. During the planning stages I 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 was able to rework the plans to accommodate, and in December 2017 I actually went out to place a few boxes (21 of them, to be precise). I then was struck by an attack of apathy and never got around to releasing them. In hindsight that was a good thing. In early October 2018, local cachers geoff&steph announced they needed to adopt out all of their caches. I agreed to take several of their series on the condition that they didn’t mind me removing the top half of one series (the “PAT” series) so I could reuse the spots to help me finish off the Flags.
Whilst this enabled me to make a much better layout for the Flags, it also meant that 14 of the 21 placed in December 2017 were now in locations I didn’t want them to be, so repositioning was going to take some time.
It took me one full day to position an outer loop of 44 caches and to retrieve 5 of the 14. It took a further long half day to collect up the now redundant bits of the PAT series as well as the remaining 9 of the 14, and then to place the remaining 14 caches to make the required 58 for Africa. They were all released by the middle of October 2018, thus completing the series. Of the badly placed 14 caches, all but one of them was still there, so the locations were obviously fine – they just didn’t make for a very nice walk, as they involved a long stretch of a surprisingly busy road.
The Africa loop allows jumps across to the Americas (near Thornton and to Asia (near Nash.
The caches on the Africa loop are:
The Americas consists of a couple of loops centred around the village of Beachampton.
The northern loop is 6.5km (4 miles) long from the marked parking and has 22 caches (#059-#080). 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). 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 36 caches (#081-#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. None of the caches is actually in a cattle field, I think, but you have to cross a few to make the loops. There is marked parking for this loop at #081 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, where share the same route between #067 and #071.
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:
The European section consists of a couple of extended 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 this section. I do, indeed, remember when it was all fields. However, that was only the start of 2017, while I was walking around trying to find some locations. When doing so, 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 get through again now. Taking a closer look at the expansion plan map, it appears that the whole section from #131 to #137 is going to get compromised by a new road at some point, so I may have to reset them, but in the meantime they are good to go.
Parking is a little thin on the northern part, 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:
The 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 a section of road in Nash and another returning into Whaddon and the rest is agricultural fields. When I set the caches there was one field (near Nash) that has livestock in it periodically, and 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 #219 and #220 is actually a part of the Oceania loop, so it might be better to do eastern Asia and Oceania together.
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:
The Oceania loop consists of a walk of 6.5km (just over 4 miles) containing 25 caches. You pretty much have to do this as a single loop, however there are multiple cache-free ways of crossing through the middle of the loop if you don’t have the time to finish.
There aren’t any fields containing livestock. This walk takes you mainly through parks and redways on the rapidly developing south-western corner of Milton Keynes, with the section between #244 and #246 being over agricultural land and the section from #247 to #249 being alongside a surprisingly busy road. The phrase “I remember when this was all fields” doesn’t require amazing amounts of brainpower just here, much like parts of the European loops. In fact I’ve been setting and finding caches around this area of Milton Keynes since 2010 when I first started, and it really was all fields then apart from the Priory Rise primary school, which was practically the first building to be put onto Tattenhoe Park.
There are two marked parking spots attached to #225 Flags of All Nations and #249 Flags of All Nations. One of these is at the start/finish near #225 and #249 and the other is in the middle on the road near #234. 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, with #225, #249, #248 and #247 being on the most direct walk between #219 and #220.
The caches for the Oceania loop are:
The Cheaty Bit
If you’re a bit lazy, or if you don’t trust your own skills at counting letters, Krop has produced a small PHP program that will work out the coordinates for you, if you feed it the equation from the cache page and the country name.
You can find it here: http://geokrop.altervista.org/FOAN/foan.php
I take no responsibility for this providing answers that are correct, and it doesn’t link in any way to the geochecker or the cache page. You’ll still have to use the geochecker to confirm it’s the right result, however it may take a bit of pain out of process.
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 without causing an obstruction and all of the road sections are surprisingly busy. Please do not attempt the caches as drive-bys.
Ami is going through a phase of being a little more accommodating and a little more willing to accompany me when it comes to caching days. In fact, she said on more than one occasion on this day that she should come with me more often.
The day concerned started early. It was still dark when we left home because I wanted to get a nice early start to ensure we had a good run at today’s target. The target in question was a series of fifty-something caches near the village of Keyston on the western edge of Cambridgeshire. It’s one of those places where you’re never quite sure what county you’re in, as it’s close to the boundary with Northamptonshire but also only a couple of miles from a tri-point with Bedfordshire.
We set off early without having had any breakfast. I’d promised Ami we’d stop for McDonalds nearby, and so we did. The pancakes were nice. The sausage I had with mine was a bit limp and didn’t really add to the experience though.
Back at the plot, we parked up in our target village after a bit of a diversion on the driving, and we were outside looking for caches by just after 9 am. That’s probably as early as we can manage really. We’d driven up from Milton Keynes through Olney, which is quite a slow route, and it had taken nearly an hour to get there, despite it only being 35 miles as the crow flies.
The caching series is shaped somewhat like a massive triangle with a small rectangle sticking out at the western tip. There’s not a lot to say about the actual caching, as all the finds were pretty straightforward.
The weather was bright and sunny, which was good, and we both took the decision to wear a shirt and coat but no jumper, despite the early frost, because it was SO sunny. It was looking like the middle of the day would be warm, and so it proved.
My GPS measured our walking track at 18km (or 11 and a bit miles, if you’re that way inclined), which seems like quite a long walk for the number of caches involved – only about 3 per kilometre, when some tight packing should be able to achieve 5 per kilometre (or at least 4).
The highlight of the afternoon was most definitely the fact that we found ourselves at one point walking up a very wide strip of grass running down the edge of a field whilst listening to a tractor doing something or other just out of sight. I commented to Ami that the grass strip would be wide enough to land light aircraft, and as we were walking up the grass strip watching a couple of girls mucking about doing floor gymnastics in the grass we were suddenly aware that the tractor we thought we were hearing was, in fact, a small aeroplane. It was moving towards us at an alarming rate. Thankfully we were able to reach safety by reversing ourselves right up against the hedge, and the plane was already in the air when it passed us, but I have definitely never been that close to an aeroplane taking off without actually being inside it.
By the time we got back to the car, we were getting tired but I persuaded Ami to walk to do the church micro and one other cache in the village before we set off home. Speaking of setting off, we squeezed in a couple of drive-bys on our way out of the village and then headed back the same way we’d come, including the confusing roads in Raunds.
The caches we found were: