The Sketch

I recently emerged from a mandatory 10-day period of isolation, after being hit by the COVID thing. I was definitely ill for a while, but not badly so. The main problem was that it forced me to miss a weekend of attempting to push forward with the Shifty-Fifty Challenge. That’s a couple of days that’ll have to wait a few years now until they fall on a weekend again. Never mind. Every problem brings an opportunity. In this case, it was an unexpected opportunity to go caching in Brandon on a weekend I hadn’t previously planned to.

February 6th was a day I already had more than 50 finds, but February 5th required 41 to make the magic 50 total. During the course of the week I’d been discussing a possible day out with Candleford and she suggested I could join her with Palmer28 and DanSpurs14 for a hack around Brandon on a trip she already had planned. That sounded like a top idea that ticked all the proverbial boxes, so the deal was struck, the contract made.

Always Read the Fine Print

The fine print of that contract was based around the maxim of “if you’re gonna go, go hard.” Or possibly “if you’re gonna have one, have a big ‘un.” Anyway, Candleford had agreed to meet the others for a walk around Brandon at 9am. That meant there was nearly two hours of perfectly good daylight available before that.

We decided to go to Thetford so I could do several sets of Adventure Labs there whilst Candleford could pick up a handful of Trads, Multis and a Virtual that she didn’t have time for on her previous visit. We thought we’d need maybe 70-80 minutes there, so we’d need to be away by 8:45 at worst.

So working backwards through time, I agreed to pick Candleford up at 6am, with a 45-50 minute drive to get to Thetford from the pickup point. Working backwards even further that meant I needed to be away from home at 5:10 at latest. I set my alarm for 4:35.

As chance would have it, because I’d gone to bed at 9pm, I was awake before the alarm went off. So I was able to get into my car before 5am and therefore had time for my usual coffee stop at the garage on the way.

I made it to the pickup point early. Funnily enough, there wasn’t a lot of traffic around. Candleford was already waiting when I arrived, so a quick turnaround and we were outta there.

Who do you think you are kidding?

The drive to Thetford also didn’t take quite as long as we thought, and we were in the town centre looking for a car park at 6:30. We found one that was great at getting me to type my car registration and taking my coins but seemingly not so good at issuing a ticket. Sod that. Don’t want to risk it. So we moved around the block and parked in an unrestricted, sign-free and ungated car park behind a pub.

And so the caching. It was still seriously dark, but the good thing about Adventure Labs in a town is that they can usually be done in the dark. And there were so few people around that there was nobody around to notice us acting suspiciously.

So why call this bit “who do you think you are kidding?” Mainly because Thetford was the original shooting location for key buildings used in Dad’s Army, that’s why. One of the Ad Labs sets was about just that. And there’s a statue of Captain Mainwaring there too. Back to that in a bit.

The first Ad Lab celebrates Thomas Paine, a famous son of Thetford. There’s a very brightly gold-painted statue of him right behind where we parked. From here we headed west across to Thetford Priory and back again to the statue of Captain Mainwaring. From here we continued east(ish) to the Old Coffee Mill. By this time it was just about getting light, as you can see from the picture.

Motte and Bailey

From here we ventured up to Thetford Castle. There’s not a lot of castle left but there is a big mound that used to be the Motte. There’s a virtual cache that requires you to count the steps and photograph yourself at the top. I can confirm that the number of steps is “lots” and it’s hard to get a good photo of yourself if you’ve attempted to run up them. Especially if you’re unfit from having spend two-weeks sitting at home with a respiratory illness.

Back at the plot though, from here we wandered back into the town centre to finish more Ad Labs and a handful of multi-caches we’d been able to solve from google. You know you’re early when even the market stall holders have only just arrived.

When we got back to the car I’d found 20 caches already and it was still before 8am. There’s one Adventure Lab we couldn’t sort out on site, but thankfully a bit of text-a-friend activity from Candleford later in the day uncovered what we were supposed to have typed in. That’s a decent start to my attempt at a minimum of 41 finds.

On Brand

So as we left Thetford I was thinking that the 41 target was going to get properly smacked out of the proverbial ballpark. We arrived in Brandon around 8am and started on a few of the labs in the village. Again, Candleford had done these before but she was happy to humour me. We found another 4 Ad Labs and 3 Traditionals before deciding it was late enough to go for the meetup.

A couple of those finds were up at Brandon Station, which turned out to be the least station-like station ever. Well, it was the least welcoming anyway. All the doors are boarded up. I guess it’s on a line now where they take online payments or use conductors, and hence there’s no actual staff at the smaller stations. There’s just a couple of platforms and an inaccessible building. It seems the owners want to demolish it but are being prevented from doing so by a number of objections based on the historical significance of 1840’s railway architecture. So the building is in limbo.

We’d agreed to meet up with Palmer28 and DanSpurs14 at 9am on the west end of Brandon. There was marked parking for the beginning of the “Gate Lodge Loop” series. It was more than big enough for two cars, even if one of those was mine. We arrived a couple of minutes before the other two, so we were halfway through getting booted up and deciding what snacks to put in our bags.

Making Like a Bear

So off into the woods we went. The Gate Lodge Loop is a clockwise loop of 26 traditionals through the woods to the east of Brandon. At the far end there was the opportunity to add a couple of more loops. The 26 would have been enough to make my target, but why stop at “acceptable” when there’s time for “exceptional”

Anyway, the first stretch out was spent getting some familiarity with the style of caches, and also some familiarity with each other. Candleford, Palmer28 and DanSpurs14 knew each other, but I only knew Candleford. We evidently deemed each other as acceptable companions, because we kept going.

Back at the caching, most were fairly straightforward finds. We weren’t suffering too badly with helicopter GPS syndrome, although four devices and four pairs of eyes always helps. We made pretty good progress through to Gate Lodge Loop, from where we had a decision to make.

The Train Track Trail

The decision we made was obviously the one that involved doing more caches. We headed north slightly to go to the Train Track Trail. This is a short series of caches running (in part) alongside the Breckland Line, which runs from Cambridge to Norwich. It seemed to be quite a busy little train line anyway. The caches were good, and quick to find. We were still making good progress.

The Train Track Trail took us on a triangular route from a level crossing back to the same point.

Strolling and Slogging

From here we elected to follow various parts of the Santon Stroll and Santon Slogg series. These kind of ran into each other and took us in the opposite direction (Norwich-bound) along the same railway line. There was a car park with picnic tables that was an ideal spot for a quick break for snacks (and lunches, for those who were organised enough to bring lunch).

We were still heading away from where we parked at this point, and had a quick discussion about how far we could actually go. We decided to skip the “Tree Trail” in the woods here. We’d just loop out along the Stroll and Slogg series. That would bring us back after a long out-and-back linear walk along the railway line.

The caches on this section were quite spread out, and we missed a couple of them too. It was quite time consuming and when we got back to #16 on the Gate Lodge Loop we still had 2km to walk, 11 caches to find and about 90 minutes of usable daylight.

Back to the Gate Lodge Loop

When we got into this final stretch of 11 caches the light under the trees was failing quite quickly. A couple of the caches were also field puzzles or were otherwise quite slow going. It was evident we needed to think about the time. We started to alternate, with one pair of us doing one cache while the other pair continued to the next. I’m happy doing this, to be honest, because we all passed the site of every cache, and each one was properly found.

We got back to the cars after 4:30, having walked 18km and found 55 caches. That’s quite spread out, and it took us longer than I might normally expect (at least 7.5 hours), but it had been a great walk and the cache series we did were all well thought out. I favourited pretty much every one of them. They were all either good, challenging hides or entertaining containers.

Finishing Off

We split up at this point. DanSpurs14 and Palmer28 went for a pootle around the nearby housing estate to grab a few more. Candleford obviously had to go where I went, so we drove around Brandon village to finish the two sets of Ad Labs I’d started earlier plus a War Memorial one I’d managed to solve using google.

It was proper dark by the time we’d finished those and I was out of energy, especially with knowing I’d got at least 90 minutes of driving to get home. We stopped on what I thought was 89 finds for me. A pro might have done a few more, but because there’s a few more in the woods here and another set of Ad Labs, I might well come back at some point. And anyway, I’ve got the better of my “thoroughness” traits where caching is concerned. Enough is enough, however many that happens to be and regardless of where it leaves me in the stats charts.

Take Me Back ‘ome

So we set off back home. Candleford’s car was thankfully still where she’d left it, and whilst the traffic was busy that was good because it helped keep me awake. To be honest, I could quite happily have snoozed for 30 minutes before driving home. However, the Good Lady Wife had texted about making dinner and I knew if I got home straight away I’d be in time for a good meal with the family rather than getting takeaway and eating on my own. So that was all winner-winner-chicken-dinner (except we had chilli).

I spent the rest of the evening moaning about being stiff, drinking cider, typing up logs, and watching sport. Some Winter Olympics, and some FA Cup football. While I was typing the logs up I noticed I’d miscounted and actually found 90 rather than 89. That would normally be good, except it meant I finished the day on 14,299 total finds, which just looks a bit like a schoolboy error.

All in all an excellent day, spent in the company of fine people who I hope I can persuade to let me accompany them again. The caches I found over the course of the day around Thetford and Brandon are shown below.