In the early part of August I was sitting at the PC one night and I got round to thinking about geocaching. I hadn’t done any for ages (not since March, just before the COVID lockdowns started). OK, I’d been a bit busy trying to fix up the back garden over the summer, and by mid-August I’d got quite a lot done, but there had been plenty of opportunities to go caching and I hadn’t. I’d lost my mojo, couldn’t be bothered with it, and generally felt a bit “Meh!” about the whole thing. So I got round to pondering on why that was.

Two things sprang to my mind. One of them was that it was a continuation of the previous year, when despite not doing much over the summer I made a (relatively low) 650 finds in the year. A part of that was the absence of nearby mega-series. A part of it was the lack of GeoNord event in Northern France. I did drive up to Aberdeen for the 2019 UK Mega, and I enjoyed it, but that was definitely the highlight of my caching year. I guess I’d got a bit weary and that had combined with a general sense of antipathy in the rest of the family. They weren’t quite trying to persuade me not to go, but equally they showed no interest in discussing it with me when I came back. 2019 was probably the first year I’d had when every cache I did was done without any other members of the family being present, with the exception of those done while we were on holiday in France, and I did most of those on my own too. So 2020 was a continuation of that, combined with the general misery of being in COVID lockdown and theoretically not being able to travel far, nor go caching with anyone outside the family. That wasn’t good.

The second reason was one that is more or less the reason for this post. It occured to me that I had started to think about geocaching almost totally in the context of maintenance trips I would need to do around the Flags of All Nations series. Once caching got going in earnest again I was faced with having to commit at least six full days to doing maintenance of those. At 2020’s rate of progress, six full days equated to the rest of the year. So, and I know this is not in the general spirit of geocaching, that the reason for my lack of enthusiasm was the perceived burden of having to spend time doing maintenance. There are, sadly, only two ways to address that issue – archive them, or adopt them out. I’m never one to blow my own trumpet, but since I started work on them the Flags have developed a bit of a cult following, not just around Milton Keynes but across the whole of Southern England and beyond. I guess they are an easy way to score lots of puzzle finds in short order. I sensed therefore that there’d be a bit of a backlash if I just archived them all. They are still highly active and generally well received, so it would be a shame to rid fellow cachers of them completely. That left me with the option of adopting them out. It’s a big series, so I was contemplating approaching a number of local cachers, but happened to be exchanging messages with Pesh one night and he pretty much volunteered to take them all off my hands. He apparently needs loads of places to walk his dog.

So in the middle of August a transfer was effected, and the Flags of All Nations were no longer mine.

I did still have a lingering sense of ownership (on the negative side), but then also found myself with a whole stash of new caches on my doorstep that I’m allowed to go and find. No armchair logging, you understand. I’m genuinely planning to walk all the way around every one, and as a gift to Pesh I will take a bag full of spare containers and logs whenever I do.

I’m afraid to say it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I’ve shed previous series at Stowe National Trust for much the same reason. The truth is that I quite like owning caches, and I like setting them, but I hate maintaining them. The only solution to that really is for me to stop setting them, and instead focus on finding more, but also on being a good citizen and maintaining those I find where they are in need of it.

All of the above is, then, a very long preamble into the point of this post. I went caching around a part of the Flags of All Nations series. And I enjoyed the experience of doing so.

It was a Sunday and I’d obviously decided I needed a rest from laying paving slabs. It was a warm and humid afternoon, with a little cloud and a bit of breeze. Ideal for caching, you would think. Not too hot, not too cold, not too wet.

I decided to have a go at the “Oceania” loop and also the smaller (eastern) “Asia” loop. These are centred around the village of Whaddon, but as I knew I was doing both loops I parked in my customary spot on the edge of a housing estate on the west side of MK. I was surprised when I parked up that what had been fields when I set the original caches was now a full-on housing estate. OK, not a total surprise because I’d reset the Oceania loop 18 months previously when it became apparent that the original route was no longer good. But the first of the Oceania loop was originally placed in a hedge in the middle of nowhere. It’s now overlooked by a large house that’s no more than 20m away. Oops! This side of Milton Keynes is one of the two current areas of rapid growth. One week it’s a field, and the next it’s a housing estate.

I started by walking the Oceania loop in number order, but actually starting the walk from #249 because Pesh also placed a multi nearby and I wanted to know where the end of it was. I kind of guessed, to be honest, because there’s not exactly a lot of cache-free real-estate around here, but I started with that and then moved to Flags of All Nations #225. The Oceania loop is mainly urban, skirting down the edge of Tattenhoe Park. A lot of it runs alongside MK’s famous redway system, on sections that are also close to a main road. It’s therefore not the most peaceful part of the series, but it’s one of the fastest to walk round and it is accessible all year regardless of the weather. That was a good thing, because I kept getting rained on too.

So back at the plot, once you’ve done the redways there’s a section where you cut through some woods and onto some open fields. About a year earlier I’d had an issue down in this area because an old gate had been replaced with a fence, and a supposed route into the woods had become so overgrown, and blocked with barbed wire, that it wasn’t passable. On the very day I went to rearrange the caches on that part I discovered that the farmer had fitted two spangly new kissing gates and the footpath was now properly accessible all the way across again. Irritating on the day, because the maintenance didn’t need to be done, but very handy when trying to find them because the integrity of the original route is preserved.

After this section there’s a brief walk out onto a road and then back into another problem cache. A problem because the hedge it’s in borders a field which often has cows. I don’t like cows unless they are accompanied by pepper sauce and chips. Or Yorkshire puddings. I think they understand this, so they don’t like me either. On this day there were no cows in this field, but two fields along there were some, and they looked intent on getting in my way, so I had to back-track around a 2km loop to avoid walking through 400m of field. At least there were no caches in that field though.

This bit leads you to the outskirts of Whaddon village, from where I joined a bit of the Asia loop to get me back home again. The whole course for the day made sort-of a figure-of-eight shape, if you look at it in a certain way. I was getting a little tired, because it was warm and I was running out of drinks, so my speed over the ground reduced, but I was still finding the caches easily enough. There’s one on this stretch that disappears very regularly, so I replaced it. Where this stretch joins the old North Bucks Way, which forms the boundary of Milton Keynes at this point, there was another cache where essentially I’d moved the final location, changed the puzzle, and then went to the old location and found a cache. What the actual? I had to go check everything when I got home and a couple of days later I went back and removed the old one and signed the new (proper) one.

Along with these Flags caches there was a smattering of others that Pesh had laid nearby, so I ended up with a creditable 42 finds. Not a bad afternoon out. I’d walked just over 13 km in 4 hours to find them. The caches I found were: