The Sketch

At some point in the last couple of years, ryo62 cleared out a previous series of caches near Barkway (see Barkway and Reed) and replaced them with a set of puzzles based loosely on the theme of a certain plasticine animated dog and his rather peculiar master. I was looking for a good day out, and having started poshrule’s peloton (see Yaxley Peloton) a couple of weeks back, it seemed time to start this one too. So here we are with my first trip to attempt the 113 cache puzzle series. I expected it would take at least two trips, maybe three, depending on how many “extras” I add to the walks. But this is the first assault.

So why here? Why not return to the peloton? Two weeks ago I walked a triangle in Yaxley but left myself an “empty” stretch of 3km or so because of the shape of the series. I didn’t fancy walking that part. And the other bits of the peloton looked better suited to the summer (or spring at least) by virtue of being right out in the countryside.

I know the peloton is able to be done by bike, but I have an issue with bikes. I have a road bike, but that’s not suitable for caching. A while back I also got a folding mountain bike. But like an eejit I bought it online without checking enough details. It’s supposed to be OK for someone up to 6 feet tall (which I’m not) but I find that the handlebars are way too low and the seat doesn’t quite go high enough. Sometimes I’m rather impulsive. So anyway, I’m going to sell that bike and maybe buy a more suitable one that fits me properly. But for now, no bike that’s suitable for caching on. I need to get one though, because as well as the peloton, there’s a series of 500 or so on the Essex-Herts border.

The Essex-Herts border is quite close to the villages of Barkway and Barley. Which brings me rather untidily back to “No Cheese, Gromit!”, ‘cos it’s there, innit! So that’ll do then.

And I failed to mention the second reason for going there. It’s a series by ryo62. Not especially challenging hides, because Ross sets them more for the numbers hounds, but that kind of caching hits the spot when you want to find at least 49 on a day in mid-January. Ross’s series generally have relatively easy caches, packed in quite close. All have good coordinates and are hidden to be found. So my experiences of ryo62 caches are generally good ones. In this case, it’s a relatively new series too, so low likelihood of poor condition or missing caches.

Getting There

I set off in darkness because it’s about an hour from home and I wanted to allow as much daylight as possible. And I made my now customary stop at the BP garage to top up with diesel and acquire coffee, breakfast, and some sustenance for the day. So far, so good.

Last time I was here I parked on the high street in Barkway, which I wasn’t especially happy with ‘cos it’s not very wide. Other people park there, but they are probably residents. I’m not. Anyway, this time I noticed there’s a Village Hall and recreation ground to the north end. And it has a car park with hard standing and no gates. Ideal then. I am happy to park somewhere like that, because I’m in nobody’s way and it’s the kind of place where nobody bats an eyelid if there’s a car parked there all day. The best place for a non-local to go.

The parking was conveniently close to the first cache too – a Village Hall puzzle, funnily enough. It was about 20 yards from where I parked.

Legging It

The first stretch of walking took me north out of Barkway for a mile or so before joining a byway/bridleway. You know – one of those tracks covered in gravel that is frequented by horse riders and people on trials bikes. And geocachers. There was a quick turn west here to grab some of ryo62’s “Congratulations” caches. And then back east along to the village of Barley. So far, the going had been good. When I reached Barley I’d found 18 caches in about 75 minutes.

Barley is a pretty village which has an old Tudor Town House, which was the subject of another Village Hall cache. I couldn’t pre-solve this one using Google Street View because the information wasn’t clear enough, so I had to visit. The end point of the calculation was not far off my walking route, which is good.

The No Cheese, Gromit! circuit goes a bit free-form here and there are a number of other caches, so I ended up walking the width of the village three times on different pathways to snaffle them all.

Around this time I hit my “problem” for the day. I bought new boots a while back and was trying some gel insoles to try to reduce aches on long walks. Problem is that these insoles lifted my heel up just enough that they moved inside the boot. So blisters on the way. Those insoles need to be removed, or I need a better arrangement of socks. Anyway, the temporary fix for the day involved toilet roll. I carry some in my bag, and it was ideal for sticking around my heel to stop the rubbing getting any worse. It worked well enough, although I had to keep changing the toilet roll every few miles because it’s not very resilient stuff when it’s sweaty and encountering a lot of friction.

There was a point at which I considered giving up and just taking the shortest route back to the car. That was the point I was stuffing bog-roll down my socks. It was also the place I took this panorama photo though. Anyway, I unwisely opted to “man up a bit” and keep going. I’d regret that later.

Heading South

From Barley I picked a loop heading south which was on the east side of Barkway village. The southbound leg was down a road and the northbound across fields. All nice and fast. It would have been faster if my feet weren’t hurting. But I found every single cache I looked for apart from one. That plainly was missing so I replaced it with one from my bag, as I tend to with Ross’s caches. They’re meant to be quick finds, so if I don’t find something matching the hint then I assume it isn’t there.

Coming back north to Barley proved to be rather painful, and when I got back to the road I’d had enough. However there were still 11 caches and 3km of walking to be done to get back to the car. Some of those really hurt, but I got there eventually. I don’t think I can completely blame the boots though. They do their best, but I’m carrying far too much weight, and by this time I’d walked a nearly half-marathon distance anyway.

Is That Enough?

When I got back to the car I’d walked 20.2km and found 76 caches. That more than met the 49 minimum. In fact it also made me my best ever January and took me past 14,200 finds total. It still wasn’t enough though. There’s a bunch more “Congratulations” caches on the road home, so I stopped for those and pushed the total for the day up to 82 finds. Here they are in glorious map-o-vision.