The words “Gordon” and “Bennett” spring to mind. In that order. Why? Mud. That’s why. Lots of mud. Shin-deep, squidgy, boot-sucking mud.
On a one to ten scale of tiring days, there’ve been days when I’ve walked further, found more caches, and got home in better shape. This day was hard going from start to finish. Really hard going.
The plan was to scoot around the European part of my old Flags of All Nations series. I adopted these out last year when I was struggling with mojo. I’d finally concluded that the mental burden of having to maintain them rather than finding new ones was too much. If I’m only going out 12 times a year I don’t want 4 of those to be maintenance runs. So I adopted them out, and they are now sitting on my map as solved but unfound caches. And they are (comparatively) close to home, and within the boundary of the “local area” that we’re supposed to stay in during Lockdown Tier 4. So solved, close by, and allowed to go there. Plus it was my last day before returning to work and a required grid filler for my Shifty-Fifty Challenge.
So all well-and-good with the concept, now on to the implementation.
Around Hazeley Wood
The European route is basically a couple of overlapping loops from Hazeley in the south up to Stony Stratford. They run along the western edge of Milton Keynes, but are still mainly in the countryside rather than urban.
There’s a car park near Hazeley School in Milton Keynes which works as a start point for this section, but it’s not a place I’m especially happy to leave my car all day. It’s become a bit of a rubbish dump and it’s not overlooked by any houses, so it’s not a great place. Kas kindly agreed to drop me off there early in the morning and fetch me back later, so I didn’t have to leave my own car. So at just before 8:30 am we were in that car park, and I was doing my usual pfaff-about trying to get everything into the right pocket (either in my coat or in the bag).
The first section takes you past Hazeley Wood and down onto the road running between Whaddon and Calverton. It then goes along that road up a fairly steep hill. This section was all quite fast going. I’d promised Pesh (the new owner) that I’d take a load of spares and do maintenance where needed. The first of these was before I reached the road. It was so wet that I didn’t even try to get the log out of the bag. I just signed a fresh one and put it in the box (having first drained the puddle out of it).
Across the Fields
Quite close to the road junction in Upper Weald, I headed back south again to follow the MK Boundary Walk. When I planned this section I set it up as several overlapping loops, but the downside of that is that there’s a bit of doubling back involved if you’re trying to do all of them in one go. The method of looping back is to take a path that I didn’t set caches along. On the day I was setting in this area the fields were all full of cows, and it wasn’t appealing to try to find good locations there. On reflection, if Pesh needs to move any this would be a decent place to look, as there’s easily room for three.
Once I got onto the MK Boundary Walk things started to become hard work. Until then it’d mainly been road or paved paths, but here it’s just the edges of agricultural fields. Whilst they still have grass on that is deceptive, because the rain we’d had in the previous three weeks meant it was like walking on a sponge all the way along. It was just exhausting. Wherever the grass was missing it was shin-deep in sludge.
Thankfully all of the caches were still there. I changed a couple of logs on this stretch but nothing serious.
As I was walking along the road in the section at Lower Weald I was passed by the good lady wife on her bike. She’d been out to turn her legs over while I was out walking. She’d talked about taking that route, but I never assumed she’d pass just at the point I was walking along there. A nice surprise. She was about 30 minutes from home. I wasn’t.
From here I was more or less heading back towards home, but the underfoot conditions were slowing me down. When I climbed back to the road at Middle Weald I had to cross a field which had maize in it last summer. It now has lots of mud in it. And the stumps of the crop. That was hard work. I was getting taller and heavier as I walked, if you know what I mean. This stretch took me back to the junction at Upper Weald.
From here it’s necessary to double back to complete the route. There are four caches that cut right across the middle of the loop. When I was setting them here I was running out of usable places. It is 700m across to find four caches, and hence 700m back uphill to get out again. And then a further 700m across road and field to get to the next cache. By this stage I’d found 50 of the 60 on the walk and though I was in good shape to get back in an hour, having so far spent about 5 hours.
The final stretch runs along what used to be the North Bucks Way footpath/bridleway. It probably still is, to be honest. Anyway, I had completely forgotten that this stretch can have lots of mud even in the summer. At this point in the winter I was seriously in danger of losing a boot. I got wet socks several times. There wasn’t any long grass to wipe it all off and I was just getting dirtier and dirtier. I was still finding the caches (or in a couple of cases, replacing caches in the locations I originally set them), but it was slow going and my feet were hurting.
When I eventually made it to the last cache (and changed the log) I then gleefully phoned Kas and asked her to come and fetch me, but please, please, bring a change of shoes and a towel to put over the seats. She was there in under 10 minutes. That last stretch of 10 caches is under two miles long, but it took me a good hour and a half to walk it, and by the time I finished I was cold, wet and exhausted.
Still, I’ve now finished another day finished on the Shifty-Fifty Challenge. I found 60 more caches, and earned myself beer or two for walking 19 km in 7 hours. I enjoy it really, even though I moan a lot. If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d stop doing it.