Driving Up

For the first weekend of August I’d identified the possibility of going up to North Wales for the UK Mega event. It didn’t take a lot of identification. The event was on and I wanted to go. It was just really a question of who else was going to come with me.

My brother was conveniently away on holiday and brought me the keys so I could use his flat just outside Wrexham, only 15 miles away from the event location in Llangollen.

As it was school holiday season and Kas needed to keep working for as long as possible to enable us to relax a bit whilst away in Chamonix in mid-August, the kids were given the opportunity to either stay at home in Milton Keynes and go to sports club at their school, or come with me to Wales and do some caching. The vote was a 50-50 split, with Ami deciding to come with me and Izzy deciding to stay at home. That worked well for me.

We drove up to Wales on Wednesday evening, with me already having booked a couple of days off. “Days off” was getting to be an interesting concept for me by this time, though, as I recently decided to leave my long term employment with HP Enterprise and join Fujitsu instead. Because of the nature of the work I do it’s unlikely I’ll be given any new projects to work on with HPE so the concept of a “work day” is a bit alien, not that I’m complaining.

Back at the plot, the drive up to Wales was a bit dull. We stopped at Norton Canes for tea and arrived in Wales around 8pm after having to make a series of diversions to accommodate roadworks on the A41 near Newport. Once we’d got into the flat we also then had to venture out to find food for breakfast, eventually (with guidance from locals) finding a Spar in Holt.

For a Few Caches More

For our caching on Thursday we decided to go over to Whitchurch to attempt a monster series there. The series in question gave the possibility of a hundred or more finds in a day, subject to available energy levels. We increased available energy levels first thing by grabbing breakfast at McDonalds and then moved the car around to the village of Marbury. This was conveniently in the middle of the massive caching series and allowed us to duck out of the “whole nine yards” at several points if we were starting to get bored or tired.

We headed west along the Shropshire Union Canal towards Wrenbury first and then returned back to Marbury along a road to the south. The caching was mainly fast and furious. There were a few puzzles that I’d solved beforehand and then (mainly) fairly easy trads spaced at 250m (ish) intervals.

When we got back to Marbury we had to collect some information from a lychgate at the church, which proved tricky because we arrived at exactly the same time as a bridal party. There were a bunch of bridesmaids hanging around at the bottom of the road up to the church as we arrived, and while we were establishing where to gather the information from, a big limo turned up containing a woman in a white dress. We decided it would be best at that point to step back a bit (so we don’t appear in all their wedding photos) and wait for the bride and her many maids to get themselves inside the church. We’d been wondering why the church bells were ringing for about the last mile and a half of walking into the village. That’ll be it then!

Onwards we moved in the general direction of Grindley Brook, the most northerly settlement in Shropshire according to Wikipedia. By the time we got there our legs were starting to ache a bit. We’d done about 75 caches (one short of Ami’s previous best for a day, and it was approaching 5 pm. We both needed a quick rest so we grabbed a seat in a pub and had a think about what we were going to do next. There were only two choices really. We could cache our way back, passing another 30 or so caches and giving ourselves the opportunity of breaking the 100 in a day, or we could get a taxi.

Ami’s initial response was to get a taxi, and I would have been happy with that. She looked really tired and was on the point of tears when I asked her to decide, whilst quietly reassuring her that I was happy with either decision but I didn’t want to set off walking again if she was going to give up on me. After a few minutes of thought, she eventually decided that the lure of 100 finds in a day was greater than the tiredness in her legs, so we decided to get walking.

I’m glad we did, because this stretch proved to be by far and away the fastest caching of the day. The 30 caches on this stretch took us about 90 minutes to walk, and we found pretty much all of them. This just left us with a half-mile walk back to the car from the last cache, but it was along a road and we still had plenty of daylight left.

When we got back to the car in Marbury I was initially distressed to see that we’d boxed into our space outside the village hall (the only sensible-looking off-road parking in the village), but thankfully the car park was full because of an event in the hall, and the owner of the car boxing me in was inside.

I couldn’t be bothered with cooking and it was getting a bit late for going out, given that we’d need to go home and get cleaned/changed first, so we plumped for having tea at the same McDonalds where we’d had breakfast about 12 hours previously. I don’t think they recognised us. Probably.

We tried to find a survey benchmark from the YOSM series on the way back up, but failed. Eventually we got back to the flat in Wrexham about 9pm, and proceeded to get showered and go straight to bed. “Knackered” isn’t even close to how we both felt.

The caches we found on Thursday were:

High-Speed Caching with the Happy Hunter

Friday morning began with an early appointment with some breakfast at a Premier Inn on the north side of Wrexham, where we were meeting up with Graham, also known as Happy Hunter HP20. I think we met up at 7:30 am, allowing plenty of time for a lot of caching during the day. Ami did her usual job on the muffins and pastries. I guess they are always going to lose out with some kids on the “kids eat free” policy.

On plan for the morning was a trip over to the Mega Event’s official camping venue, which was over near Carrog, which was the start of a series of drive-by caches set by the Mega Event crew along the narrow roads running back towards Llangollen. Graham volunteered to take his car rather than mine, which proved to be a good choice because I suspect my car would not have fit in all of the spaces we had to stop to do the caches.

We’d both solved all of the puzzles beforehand so it was a matter of turning up and grabbing the containers. It was quick going. We completed all 45, plus two random traditionals, in about two and a half hours. We didn’t take photos while we were driving – we just raced through the caches and then drove into Llangollen to the mega event site, where we parked up and went for a walk. We were sitting in the cafe at the Llangollen Pavilion having something to eat well before midday. Epic!

We’d come here because the pavilion was hosting a GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit – a very rare form of geocache which involves walking through an exhibit and learning about both GPS technology and geocaching. Given that most of the attendees were seasoned geocachers who already knew most of what was being presented, and were in Llangollen just to do the geocaching event, it seemed a bit pointless as an educational exercise, if I’m honest. Some of the displays were quite well done though, and Ami enjoyed some of the more interactive parts of the exhibits, plus they’d set up 10 lab caches in the exhibit, so it was a winner in terms of racking up interesting geocache types. I’m glad we went and it was at a location we were going to go to for the caching anyway. I think if I’d travelled a long way just to go to the Maze Exhibit I might have been a bit disappointed, but then to be honest I didn’t really have any idea what to expect anyway.

Once we’d done with that, we decided we should go and stretch our legs a bit, so we walked along the Llangollen Canal towards Horseshoe Falls, picking up a few caches as we went. The scenery at the chain bridge is spectacular, and the experience was enhanced by lots of crossing, climbing and rummaging in attempting to find a multi-cache nearby. I’d tried to solve it using Google but had failed as a result of getting the wrong date for one of the elements. Once we had the correct data it still took us a while to find though, as the coordinates were a bit out, and we only found it at all because Graham read through all the logs and found a couple of pointers as to where we should be looking.

At the Horseshoe Falls itself we completed an earthcache and then decided we were done with going upstream, so we sat for 5 minutes while Ami cooled her feet off in the river.

The walk back was getting a bit painful for Ami and me so we walked back along the canal quite slowly before Graham drove us back to Wrexham to get my car.

From here we went back to the flat and got ourselves showered and cleaned up and then headed into central Wrexham to get something to eat. Pizza Express. It hit the spot nicely.

We thought we’d earned a decent meal, because we’d found about 175 caches in two days.

The caches we found on Friday were :

Mega Eventing

Mega Event day began fairly early for us, and because we were leaving Phil’s flat, couldn’t be bothered to cook anything while we were there, and because Llangollen was likely to be busy, we set off early to grab our assigned parking space. It took some time to find, mainly because at the time we arrived they hadn’t yet stationed anyone in a yellow jacket out on the road, so as we drove past what looked like a bit of tarmac on the outside corner of a sharp bend where people just abandoned their cars, when it was, in fact, the entrance to the official car park. I got a funny look when I mentioned this to a marshall as we entered, having already driven two circuits around the town before finally spotting it.

Suitably parked up, we were still half an hour before the official start of the event and not everyone (or everything) was open, so we walked over into the town to grab breakfast at a little cafe next to the bridge over the river. Well, we grabbed a cache on the way over, but that’s kind of a given on days like this. Whenever you see a crowd, you walk over and get the cache of someone.

Breakfast was a “pick from the menu” affair. Ami had some mash-up of pastries and toast while I had a Full Monty with extra toast. It was good.

After breakfast we decided to do a handful of caches in the town before retiring to the event site. One was a WherIGo that involved playing a game of “chicken, fox and corn” on the bridge, although in this case it was “geocacher, tiger and beer”. I was surprised to see how far away the end point was once we’d run back and forth over the bridge the requisite seven times, and it was steeply uphill getting there, but it had to be done after all that bridge crossing malarky. On the way back down we passed and found a couple of Church Micro caches before heading up to the event site.

I have to admit the massive mega events themselves never hold much sway with me – it’s really a question of what activities they have available at the event and what quantity and quality of caches they have available nearby. In this case, they had a few kids bouncy castle things as well as various fairly interesting games that constituted the lab caches. The event itself was a massive tent full of cachers all chatting and buying caching stuff.

We had limited time on the event day because we had an appointment back in Milton Keynes to go watch one of our friends’ kids performing in a production of Fame at the MK Theatre. So by 1 pm or so we’d had enough and we decided to grab some chips and then head home. Ami was visibly wilting in the heat anyway. She doesn’t “do” hot weather very well.

The drive down was rather slow, but not as slow as the drive into Llangollen]] along the A5. It was a Saturday in August, so the road was crammed with people heading off for a week of holiday fun in North Wales, and the road was heaving. Once we got past Shrewsbury it wasn’t too bad, but it seemed to take ages to get there.

The caches we found on Saturday were:

  • The Swooping Dragon (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • The Minstrel’s Trail (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • Under Attack ? (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • The Noisy Corridor (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • The Labyrinth of Passageways (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • The Dungeon (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • Ramparts View (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • Hidden Staircase (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • Flying Colours (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)
  • All is not Well (North Wales Mega 2016) (Lab)

The production of Fame was great.