Colouring In

Colouring In

So having run out of MTVO series to work on, we were left with almost an entire day to fill, as the hotel breakfast finished at 9 am and we hadn’t got to be in Calais until 8:30 pm. It’s a long way, but it’s not a 12 hour way.

One of the things I’d been toying with before we arrived, and began to toy with again once we had a sniff of finishing the big series early, was the idea of colouring in as many of the French Departments as possible. We’d already completed Somme, Oise, Val d’Oise and Paris on this trip, adding four more to my existing 16 from previous trips to France.

Before the trip I’d toyed with doing some of the Paris sub-urban ones on Saturday (parkrun day) as we’d have to drive through them anyway, but the (self-imposed) pressure of trying to finish the MTVO series drew us away from that plan. As of now though, we had essentially a full day. If we counted a trip towards central Paris as not being particularly far out of the way, and if we took a slightly broader route back to Calais, I determined we had an good chance of completing a further 5 Departments.

The first was the sub-urban (well, city really) Department of Seine-Saint-Denis, which as its name suggests is sort of on the Seine, and incorporates the city of Saint-Denis. It’s about as different from Paris as Gateshead is from Newcastle. A bit more modern maybe, but basically all tower blocks, tight streets and small urban parks. It’s also a pain in the butt to get to between 9 am and 10 am on a workday when the SNCF has a strike on.

The small Parc de Saint Ouen was the home of the two caches we attempted, after luckily finding a streetside car parking spot and paying a Euro to park there for an hour. One done. Tick.

Next up was another sub-urban one – Hauts-de-Seine – which forms a sort of horseshoe shape around the centre of Paris proper. This one covers a few of the meanders in the Seine downstream from the Bois de Boulogne, and is basically all urban. It’s home to the city of Nanterre and Paris’s main financial district ( La Défense ). It’s also home to the Parc Pierre Lagravère, with it’s extremely long car park full of caches. Two done. Tick. Back onto one of Paris’s urban motorways for the final time to make a break from the city.

Third up was the Department of Yvelines. The Prefecture of this one is in Versailles, but we opted for the somewhat less glamorous location of a shopping centre car park at Flins-sur-Seine. Well, we didn’t want to spend too much time, and the cache was very easy to find. Three done. Tick.

Our fourth Department was Eure – a mainly rural area to the south of Rouen on the south side of the Seine. Our chosen cache was at the motorway service station at Vironvay. Well, why not ? It’s on a main road, at a location where we could easily stop and have some lunch, because Vironvay is one of the “proper” service stations that has restaurants and fuel and stuff. Lunch was quite nice by the way. The cache involved a bit of a scramble over some concrete barriers where lorries normally drive, but most ones in French service stations involve a bit of that. At least it was there. Four done. Tick.

Our final stop was the Department of Seine-Maritime – another mainly rural one but also home to the city of Rouen. We’d been there before a few times on the way to holidays elsewhere in France, but never as cachers. We’d never really been there during the day either. We parked up close to Rouen’s fairly impressive cathedral and headed towards the Seine for our first cache. It took a little while, and while we were there it started to rain.

Rouen Cathedral[/caption]The rain got worse and we were losing the will, but we managed to drag ourselves up for a quick look around the inside of the cathedral and a fairly half-hearted attempt at gathering information for an earthcache there, before deciding that enough was enough, and we just wanted to go home.

Ami therefore negotiated our way through the maze of roads in Rouen to get us on the right one for Calais. By this time the rain was pretty heavy and driving conditions were poor.

We made one final stop for a cache that was a travelbug hotel, and which was located in one of the “no services” service stations. They are just picnic areas with dodgy public toilets to be honest.

The rain continued raining all the way up to Calais and we arrived ages before our scheduled train, however the automatic check-in offered us the option of an hour earlier for no cost. This still left more than an hour in the terminal building, during which we stuffed our faces. Once all that was done we thought we might as well try to blag our way forward by one more train, so we drove off to the loading lanes before we’d actually been called. On the French side they segregate cars according to which train they have a ticket for, so we got directed away from the train that was in the process of being loaded, and we pulled up in a queue behind 3 cars that were even more keen than us. We switched off the engine and prepared ourselves for the potential 45 minute wait, especially as our train had somehow managed to acquire a 15 minute delay already. Within less than 5 minutes though, they evidently decided that the train in front of us wasn’t going to get full with people who’d paid for it, so they opened up our lane and let us get on. Excellent. And it must have been a very empty train, because we were nowhere near the back of it.

All of this put us back into the UK nearly 90 minutes earlier than planned, which meant it as still light and we had a possibility of getting home by 9 pm. We actually made it too, mainly because traffic was light and for once there was no queue at the Dartford Tunnel. Can’t be bad. In fact, we were home before Kas got home with Izzy.

So over the seven days we’d been away we’d found 639 caches in total, and had added 9 new French Departments to the “completed” list. We’d walked 110 km as measured by the GPS on the major walks, and therefore not including either the parkrun, or the little bits of walking done in and out of the car. Total distance covered on foot was therefore more likely to be 130 km. Everything ached, and we were both tired as.

On this particular day, the caches we found were :


Valmondois

Valmondois

Our final full day found us needing a mere 134 finds to complete the series, a number which prior to this trip I would have regarded as a very significant challenge, however in the context of this trip 134 finds would be a short day compared to the previous one. 17 fewer caches than yesterday, that’s nearly an hour, that is.

I didn’t think we had time to be complacent about it though, because we were going to the location furthest away from the hotel, and were attempting a group of caches whose layout looked, well, unappetising compared to earlier days. Lots of heavy walking across fields and up and down hills. If we were going to finish we were going to have to walk our way around roughly 95 caches and then finish the remaining 40 in the car. 95 is as many as we’d walked on any day on this trip, and this day’s 95 were over worse terrain than the previous 95. At least the weather had stayed good though.

We started down in Valmondois, parking at a “backup” location after discovering that my chosen car park was full. This area started off through urban landscapes on an old railway line before heading off up some hills and out onto the agricultural plateau where most of the series was to be found. We had a bit of a problem at the start because the GPS was playing up, but I eventually realised that this was because the memory card had come slightly loose during the process of changing the batteries at some point since the previous evening. Once that was fixed, we were rockin’ and rollin’ again.

On this first walk of the day we covered 10.75 km in 3 hours 20 minutes, finding 42 caches while we were at it. Quite slow going by the standards of this trip, but some of the terrain was harsh.

From here there was a group of about 9 caches that could be done in the car, so we went and did those next, if only to give our feet a rest for half an hour.

When back from there we parked up at the side of the road in Nesles-la-Vallée to have a crack at what was hopefully the final significant walk of the holiday. This walk was 9.6 km long, took 3 hours and yielded 41 finds. When we got back to the car we were sick of walking though. Both of us had quite a lot of pain in our feet and really just wanted to get the walking boots off in favour of something more welcoming. Still, we’d finished 92 of the 95 caches in the area and established that the remaining 3 down here could be done in the car, which is what we then did. Excellent. 95 of 134 made and it was only 4:30 pm. The game was still very probably on.

Next we had a short series of walking-only caches (7 only) to complete in Vallangoujard and a further 32, all of which appeared to be by the roadside and hence possible to complete in the car.

The first 6 drive-bys were down a fairly unsafe bit of two-lane road where I really didn’t enjoy stopping. We then did the 7 that required a walk, leaving us with 28 more to do in the car. These started in Vallangoujard and headed westwards along a pretty quiet road, and the first 15 of them proved to be very easy to do again. Excellent – only 13 left.

The final 13 were more troublesome again because they were along a two-lane road that had a few blind corners and not many places to pull a car off the road. Some of them were not as close to the road as we would have liked too. And it started raining. But finish them we did. 602 caches on the series plus assorted others that we were passing anyway, completed in 3 full days and 2 long halves. We thought that was impressive. We didn’t celebrate much whilst in the car though, because we’d got a bit wet and really just wanted to get back to the hotel for a final night of logging caches, eating unlimited puddings and packing dirty clothes into suitcases. I think we got back to the hotel just before 7:30 pm and set ourselves an aggressive target of showering, packing the cases and getting into the restaurant inside an hour. It took 20 minutes longer but the restaurant staff were happy and completely unsurprised to see us again.

The caches we found on this day were :


Jouy-le-Comte

Jouy-le-Comte

Day 5 began with the usual hotel breakfast and with us contemplating the fact that we’d completed 318 of 602 caches on the series in what was technically less than half of the available time – we’d had two “short” days and one full day. We still had two full days and as much of Tuesday as we needed to see how many more we could do. I started to think about the serious possibility that we could complete them all by Monday night and leave Tuesday for a relatively lightweight day of driving (and of not wearing walking boots any more).

To achieve that we were going to have to do at least 282 caches in 2 full days. Whilst that may seem a lot, it’s worth remembering that so far we’d had one day where we’d made 120 finds despite not starting until 11:20 am and another where we’d made 129 finds whilst taking an hour off in the afternoon and giving up early (ish). This lead us into some feelings of confidence that a day in which we found 150 or more was more than possible. We still had big areas of the circuit to do where the caches were all grouped in tightly packed circular walks.

So we set out with the specific intention of caching until we fell over. The more we could get done on this day, the fewer we’d have to do on Day 6 and hopefully we could make an empty day for Day 7 (aka “going home” day). We also set out a bit earlier than we had done on previous mornings, as we’d got a little bit further to drive and didn’t quite know how long it would take to get there.

We started in the village of Jouy-le-Comte, which is apparently so insignificant that it doesn’t have a wikipedia page of its own. It does have quite a pretty church though, as do most of the settlements in the area.

Our first cache was signed at 9.25 am. There was a run of about 15 caches up a drivable road with a car park at the top. Much of the road was through the village, but it was the morning of Easter Sunday, and there were so few people around that I didn’t think we’d be causing many problems.

The first 15 took us about 45 minutes, and then it was on with the walking boots for our first little stroll of the day. This first walk was 7.5 km in length, took a shade over 2 hours, and resulted in 30 more finds. Not bad so far then. 45 finds and only just midday.

Next we parked up at the church in Jouy-le-Comte to complete the “bottom half” of the caches on the eastern edge. On this walk we spent a further 100 minutes, walked 6 km and found a further 21 caches. Happy days – not yet 2 pm and we’d already found 66 caches. The day was going pretty well by most measures. We decided to celebrate our success for 10 minutes by resting our feet, having a drink, and attacking our last remaining pack of chocolate mini-eggs we’d bought from the UK.

From here it was a question of deciding which areas to focus on. We’d got a whole raft of caches on long walks in the areas of Valmondois and Nesles-la-Vallée, and a bunch of potential drive-bys and short walks to the north of Nesles-la-Vallée, leading back to Frouville and Hédouville. And then there were still a bunch of drive-bys to the west of Valangoujard. Decisions, decisions !

Our choice was to spend the rest of the afternoon “mopping up” some of the scrappy looking areas, and to leave the two substantial-looking walks for Monday. This meant we headed into Nesles-la-Vallée and got ourselves into drive-by mode. In the next 3 hours or so we completed a further 40 caches alternating between drive-bys and short walks, before driving into Frouville to attempt a more reasonable lengthed walk from there. We’d neglected the fact that it was evening on a religious holiday, and had therefore failed to account for the fact that the car park at the church would be full. Ho hum ! There was another one a bit further along the way. This was the starting point for our third (and final) significant walk of the day. This one was 4.7 km long, took 90 minutes, and yielded 16 finds. Quite slow by the standards of the week, but we were getting a bit tired.

When we got back to the car it was around 7 pm, and we knew we had at least another hour of reasonable daylight left, and we felt that at usual rates for drive-bys we could get another 20 finds in. We eventually completed 22 more and still had some light left, but decided we’d done enough for one day, so we gave up and drove back to the hotel.

When I got the day’s activity loaded up onto the PC I was surprised to discover we’d managed a frankly ridiculous 151 finds in the day, 150 of which were from the MTVO series. By my reckoning that meant a fairly easy sounding 134 to find on Monday.

The caches we found on this day were :

Isn’t it pretty when you show them all on a map like this ?