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Preparing for a Big One

Saturday morning in Valenciennes began with meeting the ladies in the breakfast room at 9 am. Me and Izzy were both wide awake at 8, so we got dressed and headed downstairs to get started. We hadn’t pre-booked breakfast, so I paid at the desk on the way in. I got the impression we could easily have got away without paying. Nobody was checking, especially not when it was so busy. It was heaving. I made Izzy go and occupy a table as soon as I saw one, while I went for drinks.

Luckily, while I was farting about with the coffee machine a four-berth table came free in a prime spot. Izzy went to baggsie it. Sorted. Breakfast was a fairly decent affair, with lots of different types of bread, fruit, cereals, meat, cheeses, and a rather natty egg boiler. It took me two attempts to cook one properly, but it had to be tried. It took me a while to figure out what to do with the coffee machine too. My first one came out so strong you could have stood the spoon up in it. Ahhhh!

The Geonord “Retour aux Sources” Event

The geocaching event site was about 20 minutes away on the other side of the town. We had a leisurely drive up there and got on-site for about 10:30. We were directed into the car park by a very nice chap, which was just as well because it involved a tight piece of cornering between two lines of massive boulders with red-and-white stripey posts between them.

The event site was busy, so we mooched about for a while until we got our bearings. We signed the log, which was a wooden board shaped (and painted) like a tree, and also signed a couple of wooden discs that were for dropping into a contraption rather like a big Connect Four board. We found the check-in desk and picked up our geocoins and our entry packs.

The pack included a lanyard with a big letter on it. There was a game whereby you had to find enough people with different letters to spell out the word “Geonord”, but this proved tricky because no one seemed to have a “G”. We also went up to the “techie tent” and got them to download a GPX file of all the event caches onto mine and Alibags’ GPSes. And we retired for a drink, because it was quite warm.

The Lab Caches

After this we decided we need a bit of a walk and a few caches. We started with the traditional Mega Event game of doing lab caches. At this event they were actually rather good – a series of little field puzzles on a watery theme, which had to be completed to get hold of the keywords needed for logging. They were spread around the event site and the nearby lake. Excellent. There was the “dangly boats” one, the “squirty water pistols” one, the “complex pipework” one, and seven others. Shame you can’t give favourite points to them.

While we were walking around we found out that they’d also put two traditional caches out in the lake and had given them a terrain 5 rating, because of the need to boat (or wade) to get them. Cool. So when we got to the relevant bit we decided we’d grab a pedalo and go fetch them. What we’d overlooked was that we couldn’t hire a pedalo that day, because we needed to have bought the “upgrade” €8 supporters pack, which came with tickets for the pedalos. D’oh!

So we walked around back to the event site and bought a couple of upgrade packs and went back. The pedalo action was a bit of a laugh, especially trying to figure out how to move the seats. Also, when Alibags and me were both sitting in the back, it wouldn’t go anywhere. That kept us occupied for a while. Alibags cunningly steered us underneath the squirty fountain on the way home, thereby helping to cool us down a bit. Did I mention it was hot?

Lunch O’Clock

Meanwhile, back at the plot, we sat down for a bit of lunch (and more drinks). Alibags entertained us for a while with some ukelele action while we decided what to do. I’m not sure there was much deciding involved. We were obviously going to go and do the series of caches placed to the east of the event site.

Being British, and superstitious, we walked around them in a clockwise direction, which was going the opposite direction to everyone else. I suppose that meant we didn’t get caught in a mass hike, and a lot of the time we were actually finding the caches on our own. Rare for a mega-event day. All were easy to find, but all were field puzzles, and I think I gave a favourite point to every single one. They were excellent.

Whilst on the walk we did an Earthcache up the top of a slag heap. It doesn’t sound that impressive, but the view at the top was good. Anyway, the trip here means I can tick another off the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, because the Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin is one.

Climbing with Ropes

Slightly further round from the Earthcache there was another terrain 5 cache. In this case, it involved climbing up an old headframe with some ropes. Now, climbing up ropes is something I’d always meant to try but never quite got around to. But it was on the walk, and we were there. Some blokes had got all the equipment set up already, so I couldn’t really say no.

Izzy had a little pop at it first but couldn’t get her head around how to lift the hand grip upwards. She gave up after about 4 attempts. Ho hum! It wasn’t easy to figure out. It took me several attempts too, but I did get there eventually, and then I proceeded to get myself absolutely knackered trying to scale all of 5 metres or so off the floor. Blimey, it’s tiring. I got there though, and somehow I managed to grab and sign a logbook while I was up there, without once swearing or dropping my pen.

Three terrain 5’s in one day. Excellent.

Also somewhere on this walk (near the end) there was a rather dubious series of events where we couldn’t figure out a puzzle, so we sneakily unscrewed the hinge instead of opening the lock, much to the dismay of a Dutch chap we met there. But as we say in England, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. The whole thing reassembled just fine, so no damage was done, and it’s the first time I’ve actually used the little multi-tool I got myself last year. I knew it would be useful at some point.

Whilst on that walk, we’d also been exposed to a particularly nasty species of French mosquito. All of us except for Izzy had got bitten pretty badly. Ouchy, and itchy!

The End of the Event

By the time we got back to the event site, it was getting quite late and we were very thirsty. The walk of 18 caches had taken over 3 hours to complete and we hadn’t taken drinks other than a half-empty bottle of water Izzy had grabbed earlier in the day. There was a bar that looked like they could use a bit more trade. Two problems resolved in one action. Ice creams, drinks, and solving the sudoku puzzle needed to find the bonus from that walk.

After drinking we ran up to the event site and just caught the end of the final geo-stuff stall before they packed up. Izzy bought a lizard cache. I bought some coins. Both of us are magpies really.The coins are cute though.

There were two more caches nearby on the event site, so Carolynn and me scooted off to grab them while Alibags and Izzy sat in the shade under a tree and had a rest. One was in the hands of another cacher when we arrived. The other was a monstrously huge ammo can.

When we got back to the event site we made one final dash into the woods to grab the bonus for the walking series. This was possibly the best of the bunch. You had to place pins onto a pinboard in the layout of one of the pictures on the sudoku puzzle, and when you did, and then closed the doors, it made a draw drop out containing the logbook. Someone spent ages figuring out and making these field puzzles.

Back Home

By now though it was getting on towards 8 pm and we needed food (and I needed beer). So we drove back into Valenciennes. While I was farting about trying to figure out where the hotel car park was, and doing a dodgy u-turn in the street that nearly created a job vacancy with a motorcycle pizza delivery company, we spotted a little restaurant on the corner just up from our hotel. We parked up, had a quick wash, Izzy put on a dress, because she does stuff like that, and we practically ran up the road.


It looked a bit expensive, but I wasn’t too bothered, because I was only paying for two, not the usual four. The food was fantastic. They did a €31 3 course menu, which all of us had apart from Izzy. We all had different (fish-based) starters, then steaks and then pudding. I had quite a few glasses of Leffe. Izzy ate most of a big steak and then went into the kitchen with the staff to do a pudding-based impression of build-a-bear workshop. She was there for at least 10 minutes. She came back carrying a big glass bowl filled with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and squirty cream. There was quite a lot of smiling involved. I think she’d tried several options before making her decision. Hmmm!

Anyway, once we’d all finished eating pudding too, we were chatting with the proprietor and getting him very confused by telling him that whilst Izzy is my daughter, neither Alibags nor Carolynn is either my wife or my mother. I’m not sure what he thought was going on, but he wasn’t particularly bothered.

Anyway, he was trying to get us drunk, I think, because he then whipped out a bottle of Calvados with a whole apple imprisoned inside. Apparently, once the apple tree is in flower they fasten a bottle to the branch and a whole apply grows inside the bottle. Cunning, these French blokes. It was rather nice in my opinion, but not in Carolynn’s, so I had hers too. Mmmm! I was expecting to suffer some financial shock when I got the bill, but it seemed the proprietor liked us so much he didn’t bother charging us for the Calvados.


And then we walked (or staggered, in my case) back to the hotel. Izzy was asleep before I’d finished sending text messages and entering my lab caches codes. I think I broke her.

I couldn’t sleep much, so I sat out of bed for an hour at 3 am and typed up Izzy’s lab caches too.

So here are the day’s finds in glorious map-o-vision: