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The Sketch

The day began with a relatively spartan breakfast at the hotel.  I didn’t expect it to be massively lavish, and it wasn’t massively lavish. It probably was worth the €4 a pop, though. On the radar for today we had the Geonord event itself, and a drive to Lille.

On the cards for the day was, I suppose, the main feature presentation for this journey – the fourth and final GeoNord Mega event. The theme this year was “fire”, the previous two having been “air” and “water” (in reverse order). Sadly we missed “earth” as a result of it being the first one and us not having noticed. Back at the plot, the event this year was being held in a hall on the outskirts of Dunkirk which seemed to form a part of a greater school campus. It took a couple of hits to find the way into the proper car park. When we did find it, it had a distinct “school playground” feel to it. In fact, I parked right next to some goalposts.

The Event

The event was quite eventy. We completely forgot to sign onto the log-board, and when we entered the main hall there was a queue the size of a small planet trying to get hold of the supporter packs. We weren’t too bothered about those just yet. So we took the opportunity to do a bit of geocoin shopping and then broke up to go off in search of the various lab caches, or at least in search of people who already had the answer codes for them. I think Izzy and me actually did about 6 of the ones outside before descending into the game of playing swapsy with others and/or peering over shoulders at someone else’s booklet.

As is now always the case, I log the lab caches directly on my phone whilst at the event to make sure that the answers I’ve solved (cough) are correctly written down. One of the ones we tried didn’t actually work early in the morning. One of the crew corrected the online answer so it matched the “in the field” answer at about 11am.

Having suitably acquired and tested all 20 answers we went back into the event hall to pick up our event packs, which in our case contained a couple of nice geocoins, a few random bits and bobs, and another couple of massive knock-off French Army ammo cans. These were sufficiently large that they had to go straight into the back of the car, which was thankfully only about 100 yards away.

Les Grandes Frites

It was more or less lunchtime by this point. We queued up at the chip van, hoping to get some impressive chips freshly cooked. I ordered three large ones, thinking that the price would mean enough to be reasonably filling. As he was serving them out the guy stopped after doing four bags and said (in French, but I got the gist) that this was my first two “large” chips and I’d have to wait a bit for the third while they cooked up some more potatoes. “What ?”, said I, “Un grand frites est deux bags, is it?” “Oui monsieur, le pape est-il catholique?” (or words to that effect). Hmmm ! “OK, deux grand sacs de frites suffiront, je pense”

My pense-ing was correct. A large portion of chips consisted of what I would describe as two quite large bags. Four large bags of chips proved to be about one-and-a-half more than the three of us wanted. They were nice chips, but after a while, more chips is just more chips.

A Cunning Plan

While we were sitting on the grass and disposing of the European potato mountain we firmed up our plans for the afternoon. The Happy Hunter wanted to have a bash at doing 8 different cache types in a day in a foreign country as part of a challenge cache he’d read about. The description allowed the use of lab caches, so we thought it looked relatively easy and, indeed, that we might make it to 9 types in a day rather than 8. To achieve it, though, we were going to have to escape from the event and go to Lille for the rest of the day. Lille is the closest place that has any of the “weird” types. Well, it’s only about 100km away, so not a particularly burdensome trip for a bunch of keen cachers.

The nine types of caches available on the day were therefore Mega Event, Lab Cache, Traditional, Multi, Mystery, Earthcache, Virtual, Wherigo, Letterbox. Obviously while we were sitting eating our chips we’d already done the Mega Event and the Lab Caches. Two down, seven to go.

Before leaving the event site we grabbed a tactical Trad cache right on the perimeter of the event site. It was placed as part of one of the event’s new releases. Tactical, because we weren’t sure what was going to happen later, and it was really right in front of us. Three down.

Off to Lille

From here we drove down towards Lille to complete the party. Next stop was on the outer outskirts of town, at the “Parc Urbain de Lomme” – we parked in what seemed an excessively large area of parking. One can only assume that very occasionally there is a mass of cars descending on this location that weren’t present on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July. There were very few people in the park so it was easy to get to the location of the next challenge.

We came here simply because it was the best choice for a Letterbox cache that we could see. The nearest others were the series we did in Saint Omer at the previous year’s event, and we gave up on doing those because we ran out of ones that could be done from the car. This one also couldn’t be done with a car, but at least it was vaguely in the direction of Lille. The letterbox was an easyish find but in a rather insect-ridden location. Four down.

Whilst in this same park we noticed there was supposedly a couple of multis, one of which was meant to be a simple offset from the start point. We therefore felt obliged to go for a look. The information for the final was easy to find. However, once at the final coords we spent probably 15 minutes before giving up. It was essentially a fairly small cache hidden under a tree canopy and the hint was a very helpful “tree” or something similar. Not a Scooby. Could have been anywhere, so we decided to call it a bad job and move on. We might be able to find another multi later.

Bastille Day

So we moved from here to the centre of Lille, still having four (or five) more types to do to meet HHHP20’s target. The centre of Lille looked like easy pickings but, rather sadly, finding a car park was more difficult. The massive place by the castle that I’d targeted was not accessible, and a load of the roads around it were closed. We couldn’t really understand why until the Happy Hunter made the fairly obvious suggestion that it was something to do with it’s being Bastille Day. Well I guess that sort of made sense. The car park was shut because of all the guys littering it with masses of explosives and artistic lighting.

We headed on in the general direction of “Centre Ville”, like you do. I parked in a car park beneath what seemed to be a theatre. It also had a cafe, so we availed ourselves of a quick drink and pit stop before heading off for more caches.

The Place du Théâtre is home to an interesting collection of architecture. Interesting enough to be the subject of both a Virtual cache and an Earthcache. The virtual was all about a building that has a number of cannonballs embedded in its walls. The Earthcache I’m not too sure about, because HHHP20 was officially in charge of Earthcache answers on this trip. So five and six down. Just a wherigo, mystery and multi to go for a full house.

Idle Wandering

There was a multi on the way out of the town centre in the general direction of a wherigo that I already had the answer to, so we stopped for a quick look. It involved counting various bits of “fruits de mer” off the front of a mosaic-covered building. We had a couple of stabs and got some dodgy-looking coordinates. A quick conference and we gave up, on the basis no one had found it for ages. Fair enough.

At this point Izzy was really keen on getting ice cream. Sadly we’d hit a point where, despite having seen hundreds of ice cream shops in the town centre, we didn’t pass a single one in the direction we were going. We kept on going (rather reluctantly, in Izzy’s case) and found the wherigo that I’d, err, “solved”. From here we continued on two a pair of trads which contained the coordinates for the only mystery anywhere near the town centre. Both were present, although the second took an eternity to find and we nearly gave up. We got a reasonable if rather distant-looking set of coordinates for the mystery. Following the arrow, we discovered a perfect hint item but no actual cache. We checked logs and established it had disappeared a little while ago.

At this point we weren’t quite sure what to do. We eventually plumped for leaving a film pot at the hint item and claiming a find. We definitely had the right coordinates and there obviously wasn’t a cache of the described size there. Ho hum ! Let’s see if the CO objects. Allowing for this one then, that make all 8 types required to make the challenge that HHHP20 was looking at. So could we get a 9th by doing a multi too?

Ice Cream, Now Please

First of all Izzy was absolutely insistent that it was time we addressed the ice cream issue. We wandered back into the centre of town and, more or less, played join the dots with people carrying ice-creams in various states of consumption, aiming at each step to move towards someone with an ice-cream that was slightly less eaten than the previous one. Follow them uphill and eventually you’ll reach the top.

The top ended up being a little ice cream bar opposite the cathedral. There was a bit of a queue but it was worth it. We got suitably tooled up with ice cream and wandered over to sit on the grass and pass a few minutes. While we were there the Happy Hunter wandered off to find an earthcache. Izzy wandered off to take a few photos of the cathedral. I wandered off to find a traditional cache that was 30 yards from where we’d sat down. And then we tried to decide what to do for the rest of the night. We’d initially thought we could stay in Lille for dinner, but we were all a bit pooped. So we felt we’d be better served by driving back to Dunkirk for a shower and a change of clothes.

That’ll do

We did that drive via a very simple-looking one-stage multi on the outskirts of Lille, just to complete the set, as it were. It was indeed one of the easiest finds of the day. Tickety-tick – nine cache types found in one day in a country other than your own. Notice I’m not saying “foreign” here. I’ve found significantly more geocaches in France this year than I have in Britain.

The caches we found during the day (not including the 20 lab caches) were :

After we got back to the hotel we had a quick shower and then scooted round to the coast to the east side of Dunkirk, where I remembered from four years previously that there was a beach with a bunch of restaurants on the seafront.