Zippy

Zippy

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To be honest, it feels a bit early in the holiday to be writing the traditional “not a lot happened” post, but it was that kind of a day. Most of us didn’t do much, and what we did do wasn’t done with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The day began for Kas with a long run while the girls and me had a lie in. When Kas got back, she took the girls out for a swim in the hotel pool while I sat in the apartment playing with blog posts and feeling, to be honest, a bit miserable. I’m not quite sure why, but possibly because the weather had turned cloudy, I was covered in insect bites, and we all seemed too tired to be bothered spending time with each other.

By late afternoon we raised the energy to go out for a walk around the village and up to the nearby castle, the Château Sainte-Marie. From the valley the castle is deceiving. It’s covered in large, colourful banners which appear, from below, to be very inappropriate graffiti. You have to get a certain distance up the hill before realising what is actually going on.

It was quite an easy walk up along the road and then a footpath, and from the top the view back down onto the town was pretty good. The weather was kind of in-and-out of cloud and quite warm. There was supposed to be a geocache up there, but after multiple people’s failure to find it, the consensus seems to be that the site is compromised and the geocache should be archived.

Back at the plot, we walked back down again and visited the same ice-cream shop / bar that we’d visited the previous evening, and we treated ourselves to some more ice cream again.

Being a Sunday, the “big” supermarket in the village was shut, so we once again went into the smaller one and collected enough things to get some dinner – sausage and salad night. Kas and Ami walked straight back down to the apartment with the shopping while Izzy and me walked back up the hill a little to go and find the only geocache in the village,

And to be honest, that’s about all that we managed for the day. The rest of the evening was spent playing around with electronics and generally avoiding each other.


Let Luz

Let Luz

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To be honest, it feels a bit early in the holiday to be writing the traditional “not a lot happened” post, but it was that kind of a day. Most of us didn’t do much, and what we did do wasn’t done with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The day began for Kas with a long run while the girls and me had a lie in. When Kas got back, she took the girls out for a swim in the hotel pool while I sat in the apartment playing with blog posts and feeling, to be honest, a bit miserable. I’m not quite sure why, but possibly because the weather had turned cloudy, I was covered in insect bites, and we all seemed too tired to be bothered spending time with each other.

By late afternoon we raised the energy to go out for a walk around the village and up to the nearby castle, the Château Sainte-Marie. From the valley the castle is deceiving. It’s covered in large, colourful banners which appear, from below, to be very inappropriate graffiti. You have to get a certain distance up the hill before realising what is actually going on.

It was quite an easy walk up along the road and then a footpath, and from the top the view back down onto the town was pretty good. The weather was kind of in-and-out of cloud and quite warm. There was supposed to be a geocache up there, but after multiple people’s failure to find it, the consensus seems to be that the site is compromised and the geocache should be archived.

Back at the plot, we walked back down again and visited the same ice-cream shop / bar that we’d visited the previous evening, and we treated ourselves to some more ice cream again.

Being a Sunday, the “big” supermarket in the village was shut, so we once again went into the smaller one and collected enough things to get some dinner – sausage and salad night. Kas and Ami walked straight back down to the apartment with the shopping while Izzy and me walked back up the hill a little to go and find the only geocache in the village,

And to be honest, that’s about all that we managed for the day. The rest of the evening was spent playing around with electronics and generally avoiding each other.


Head for the Hills

Head for the Hills

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A fairly normal way for us to spend a Saturday morning is by doing a parkrun. In general terms, France is a bit desolate on that front, however Bordeaux is one of the few places that has one nearby. The one in question is Les Dougnes – it’s a sparsely attended event of three laps around some open grassland beneath a bunch of powerlines. On this day they had 49 finishers, which I think they said was a new record for them. With the exception of Kas, we all found it quite hard going. Izzy hasn’t done parkrun in ages and me and Ami really aren’t fit enough to run quickly in heat like that.

The parkrun site didn’t have a cafe so we headed straight off in the direction of the nearest motorway, with the promise of some motorway cafe style pastries and coffee. We found a place just north of Bordeaux which I hadn’t planned to stop at (because there was no geocache), however we needed a stop, and it proved to be the best decision of the day. We got coffee, pastries and cold drinks and sat inside in the services in our smelly running kit. Well, Ami got changed, the rest of us didn’t.

So back in the car, we immediately discovered why the sat nav had estimated an hour for the 60 km from parkrun to my first planned caching stop. The motorways around the outskirts of Bordeaux were absolutely solid with traffic in both directions. It took flippin’ ages. So much so, that we decided to skip the planned caching stop in Gironde and head straight off for the next one.

The next stop was in the department of Landes. We reached it by driving down the most empty motorway ever. The A65 runs 150km from Langon in Gironde down to Pau. Our chosen stopping point was the services at Aire-sur-l’Adour. This was nice enough and an easy place to find a cache, however we must make a point of realising that the French always stop for lunch between 12:30 and 2pm, so if you go to a service station that has a restaurant during those times on a summer Saturday you are going to find a lot of people. On the third lap of the car park we got lucky and found a space. We didn’t want a lot of lunch, as we’d had breakfast a couple of hours previously, but it was nice to get cold drinks and some crisps and sit out on the grass.

Aire-sur-l’Adour is on the eastern edge of Landes, close to the border with Gers, so it seemed a waste not to drive 5km over the border and grab a single cache there. I chose one in Barcelonne-du-Gers that is sited at an old prison. It was a lovely spot, and we got to look a little more closely at it than we might have liked, given that I couldn’t find the cache. Kas found it eventually, in a place I’d apparently discounted 10 minutes earlier.

Moving swiftly onwards, we finished off the A65 and switched to the A64, heading east in the direction of Tarbes. We made a quick stop for a cache at a no-aservice rest area in Pyrénées-Atlantiques and then when we got off the motorway at Tarbes we were in Hautes-Pyrénées I’d planned another stop. That was a quick dash from a rather dodgy pull-off at the roadside.

That was enough caching for the day, having coloured in another 4 departments.

The route from Tarbes took us down through the town of Lourdes and from there we headed up into the mountains towards our final destination for the day, Luz-Saint-Sauveur. We stopped in Lourdes to fill the car up with holy water, which proved slow and painful but it was, at least, fairly cheap. That tank full should hopefully last until we come down out of the mountains again.

We’d booked an oversized appartment containing three bedrooms, which during skiing season is supposed to sleep eight people. Technically there is sleeping for eight, and there’s both a bath and a shower, however two of the sleeping berths are in the lounge, and there’s only one toilet between eight. Four feels like a better occupancy rate, even though it costs a lot more.

We wandered up into the town and grabbed a load of drinks and stuff for breakfast (and an ice cream) and then we all got cleaned up and went out for dinner. We wanted pasta, but could only find space at a pizza place. Fair enough.

That had been another fairly long day.


Bored ? Oh!

Bored ? Oh!

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So, technically speaking, this post covers two days rather than one, but seeing as the majority of both days was spent sitting in the car on various motorways, it seems a bit pointless doing two separate posts. So this was what we did on Thursday and Friday. In that order.

Thursday began with Kas going out for a run (that’s kind of like saying the day began with it getting light, or with the clock passing midnight, but whatever – it began with Kas going for a run). She was back in time for us to pack up the car and get moving not long after 10am. We were heading for the Channel Tunnel, as we have done on many previous holidays, and in ritual fashion, here’s the photo of the QE2 Bridge that is traditional in my first-day-of-the-holiday posts. Also part of the ritual now is stopping at the garage at the south east corner of Milton Keynes on the way down to the motorway to buy coffee.

We had a 2pm appointment at the tunnel (2pm for checking in) but being as the drive involves bits of the M25 I don’t like to push it with the time, just in case there’s an issue with traffic.

There wasn’t.

So we arrived at the tunnel terminal at the early end of the 2 hour to 45 minutes period that they ask, hoping that we’d manage to get bumped forward onto an earlier train. We were. Our 2:50 train became a 1:50 train, which gave us enough time to grab a quick lunch in the terminal and turn our bikes around before heading through passport control and onto our train. It was the first time taking the new motor onto the continent, and one of the things I was a bit apprehensive about was getting up a ramp and round a tight corner onto a train. As it happens, we got a bottom-deck berth and the corner was fine. I did manage to park right next to the toilets though, which meant it wasn’t possible to get the door open properly on the passenger side. The girls had to scrabble across the middle to get out.

France was as French as it normally is, and what with the time change and the duration of the tunnel trip our 1:50 train from Folkstone landed us in Calais around 3:30pm local time. After a brief stop at the garage on the way out of the tunnel for a bit more bicycle rotation we were off down the auroroute in the general direction of Rouen. We hadn’t planned to stop at all during this part of the trip, and we managed a nice straight run with no breaks, and found ourselves at our chosen accomodation, the Novotel Rouen Sud, before you could say Jack Robinson. OK, maybe not that quickly, but not far off. It was about 6pm when we arrived, which included a fairly circuitous route that Elizabeth the Sat Nav took us around the outskirts of Rouen.

The hotel room was fairly spacious aprt from the girls having to share a sofabed. We’d had a long enough day that we couldn’t be bothered with going out anywhere, so we just ate in the restaurant at the hotel. It was remarkably nice, which is something I’ve found normal in even fairly moderate hotels in France. We ended up with the 2-course meal deal, which meant the price added up to somewhat less than I was expecting.

Friday morning started at about 7:30 with the promise of a hotel breakfast. This was the only hotel on the trip where I’d picked a rate that included breakfast, and we all, in true style, decided to get our money’s worth while we could.

We were in the car by 9am, having rather a lot of French motorways to work our way through over the course of the day. This was the day where I also started the “how many new French departments can we find a geocache in” part of the holiday. We were scheduled to pass through seven new ones on the trip, and I’d layed out a printed sheet listing places to stop for a cache in each one. They were all in service stations or rest areas, and I’d laid it out according to the location on the motorway (which road and which junction) and also according to the sequence we’d pass them. I’d put about 4-6 different stops in each department but had no intention of stopping at all of them unless we were travelling much faster than expected. We were travelling faster than expected, so I was happy just to stop once in each. A few of them were also timed to be at places where we needed a natural food, drink or toilet break.

There’s not much you can say about a shed load of French motorways other than that you have to pay for most of them, but that results in them mainly having a nice road surface and relatively little traffic. Certainly up until the mid-afternoon we weren’t in traffic at all. To compensate for the general lack of interest, above are snapshots of the French departments we’d geocached in before and after this day. You can pretty much see the route the motorways take. The new departments in which we stopped for a geocache were, in order of appearance, Orne, Sarthe, Indre-et-Loire, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime and Gironde. The last wasn’t strictly necessary, as we could have done it the following day instead, but we kind of drove right past one and it would have been a waste not to stop. We’d made good time anyway and I felt we had enough time free to do one more before proceeding to the night’s accomodation, and the inevitable requests to have a bit of time in the swimming pool.

The hotel in question was the really rather wonderful Château de la Grave, which nestles in the middle of a load of vineyards not far from the Gironde Estuary. They only have four or five suites, but the one we had contained a massive four-poster bed and a couple of camp beds for the girls, but it wasn’t cramped, and it had a bathroom that occupied one floor of an attached turret. Wicked with a capital wick.

After all the driving, neither of us was in the mood to try to find a restaurant, so when we enquired (in somewhat broken French) our host offered to provide us with some tapas, and we agreed a time of 8:30pm. This gave the kids more than enough time to go and get wet in the swimming pool, before getting wet again in the shower.

Our tapas turned out to be an excellent selection of charcuterie with cheeses and pickles, and they were served out on the terrace in the comfy chairs with a generous accompaniment of wine made at the vineyard whose buildings occupied all parts of the site that the hotel didn’t. Our tapas were also accompanied by Damian and Ben from Leipzig, who were in the middle of a hippy-style, drive-round-Europe-until-the-money-runs-out trip in their campervan, which they were allowed to park down in some trees near the vineyards. They’d come up to the “big house” for some snacks and wine. Initially, Damian was looking for some travel tips for Bordeaux, but we weren’t really able to offer any because we hadn’t been there (and still haven’t). So the conversation meandered in all sorts of strange directions, and I think that process was facilitated by the second bottle of wine. It wasn’t strictly necessary, and if Ben and Damian are listening, I can only apologise if we got a bit forthright in our views or if we kept interrupting.

Anyway, it was an absolutely perfect spot to watch the sun go down. It is probably the most French place I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a few.

The four-poster bed was good too.


The French Connection

The French Connection

Calais

Rouen

Bordeaux

Luz Saint Sauveur

The Italian Job

After last year’s grand tour of Northern Italy – see The Italian Job – we thought it would be good to spend this year’s “big” holiday somewhere out in the countryside, getting a close-up view of mountains, river gorges, and other notable features that I learned about in school geography lessons.

Bored? Oh!

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So, technically speaking, this post covers two days rather than one, but seeing as the majority of both days was spent sitting in the car on various motorways, it seems a bit pointless doing two separate posts. So this was what we did on Thursday and Friday. In that order.

Thursday began with Kas going out for a run (that’s kind of like saying the day began with it getting light, or with the clock passing midnight, but whatever – it began with Kas going for a run). She was back in time for us to pack up the car and get moving not long after 10am. We were heading for the Channel Tunnel, as we have done on many previous holidays, and in ritual fashion, here’s the photo of the QE2 Bridge that is traditional in my first-day-of-the-holiday posts. Also part of the ritual now is stopping at the garage at the south east corner of Milton Keynes on the way down to the motorway to buy coffee.

We had a 2pm appointment at the tunnel (2pm for checking in) but being as the drive involves bits of the M25 I don’t like to push it with the time, just in case there’s an issue with traffic.

There wasn’t.

So we arrived at the tunnel terminal at the early end of the 2 hour to 45 minutes period that they ask, hoping that we’d manage to get bumped forward onto an earlier train. We were. Our 2:50 train became a 1:50 train, which gave us enough time to grab a quick lunch in the terminal and turn our bikes around before heading through passport control and onto our train. It was the first time taking the new motor onto the continent, and one of the things I was a bit apprehensive about was getting up a ramp and round a tight corner onto a train. As it happens, we got a bottom-deck berth and the corner was fine. I did manage to park right next to the toilets though, which meant it wasn’t possible to get the door open properly on the passenger side. The girls had to scrabble across the middle to get out.

France was as French as it normally is, and what with the time change and the duration of the tunnel trip our 1:50 train from Folkstone landed us in Calais around 3:30pm local time. After a brief stop at the garage on the way out of the tunnel for a bit more bicycle rotation we were off down the auroroute in the general direction of Rouen. We hadn’t planned to stop at all during this part of the trip, and we managed a nice straight run with no breaks, and found ourselves at our chosen accomodation, the Novotel Rouen Sud, before you could say Jack Robinson. OK, maybe not that quickly, but not far off. It was about 6pm when we arrived, which included a fairly circuitous route that Elizabeth the Sat Nav took us around the outskirts of Rouen.

The hotel room was fairly spacious aprt from the girls having to share a sofabed. We’d had a long enough day that we couldn’t be bothered with going out anywhere, so we just ate in the restaurant at the hotel. It was remarkably nice, which is something I’ve found normal in even fairly moderate hotels in France. We ended up with the 2-course meal deal, which meant the price added up to somewhat less than I was expecting.

Friday morning started at about 7:30 with the promise of a hotel breakfast. This was the only hotel on the trip where I’d picked a rate that included breakfast, and we all, in true style, decided to get our money’s worth while we could.

We were in the car by 9am, having rather a lot of French motorways to work our way through over the course of the day. This was the day where I also started the “how many new French departments can we find a geocache in” part of the holiday. We were scheduled to pass through seven new ones on the trip, and I’d layed out a printed sheet listing places to stop for a cache in each one. They were all in service stations or rest areas, and I’d laid it out according to the location on the motorway (which road and which junction) and also according to the sequence we’d pass them. I’d put about 4-6 different stops in each department but had no intention of stopping at all of them unless we were travelling much faster than expected. We were travelling faster than expected, so I was happy just to stop once in each. A few of them were also timed to be at places where we needed a natural food, drink or toilet break.

There’s not much you can say about a shed load of French motorways other than that you have to pay for most of them, but that results in them mainly having a nice road surface and relatively little traffic. Certainly up until the mid-afternoon we weren’t in traffic at all. To compensate for the general lack of interest, above are snapshots of the French departments we’d geocached in before and after this day. You can pretty much see the route the motorways take. The new departments in which we stopped for a geocache were, in order of appearance, Orne, Sarthe, Indre-et-Loire, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente-Maritime and Gironde. The last wasn’t strictly necessary, as we could have done it the following day instead, but we kind of drove right past one and it would have been a waste not to stop. We’d made good time anyway and I felt we had enough time free to do one more before proceeding to the night’s accomodation, and the inevitable requests to have a bit of time in the swimming pool.

The hotel in question was the really rather wonderful Château de la Grave, which nestles in the middle of a load of vineyards not far from the Gironde Estuary. They only have four or five suites, but the one we had contained a massive four-poster bed and a couple of camp beds for the girls, but it wasn’t cramped, and it had a bathroom that occupied one floor of an attached turret. Wicked with a capital wick.

After all the driving, neither of us was in the mood to try to find a restaurant, so when we enquired (in somewhat broken French) our host offered to provide us with some tapas, and we agreed a time of 8:30pm. This gave the kids more than enough time to go and get wet in the swimming pool, before getting wet again in the shower.

Our tapas turned out to be an excellent selection of charcuterie with cheeses and pickles, and they were served out on the terrace in the comfy chairs with a generous accompaniment of wine made at the vineyard whose buildings occupied all parts of the site that the hotel didn’t. Our tapas were also accompanied by Damian and Ben from Leipzig, who were in the middle of a hippy-style, drive-round-Europe-until-the-money-runs-out trip in their campervan, which they were allowed to park down in some trees near the vineyards. They’d come up to the “big house” for some snacks and wine. Initially, Damian was looking for some travel tips for Bordeaux, but we weren’t really able to offer any because we hadn’t been there (and still haven’t). So the conversation meandered in all sorts of strange directions, and I think that process was facilitated by the second bottle of wine. It wasn’t strictly necessary, and if Ben and Damian are listening, I can only apologise if we got a bit forthright in our views or if we kept interrupting.

Anyway, it was an absolutely perfect spot to watch the sun go down. It is probably the most French place I’ve ever been to, and I’ve been to a few.

The four-poster bed was good too.


Head for the Hills

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A fairly normal way for us to spend a Saturday morning is by doing a parkrun. In general terms, France is a bit desolate on that front, however Bordeaux is one of the few places that has one nearby. The one in question is Les Dougnes – it’s a sparsely attended event of three laps around some open grassland beneath a bunch of powerlines. On this day they had 49 finishers, which I think they said was a new record for them. With the exception of Kas, we all found it quite hard going. Izzy hasn’t done parkrun in ages and me and Ami really aren’t fit enough to run quickly in heat like that.

The parkrun site didn’t have a cafe so we headed straight off in the direction of the nearest motorway, with the promise of some motorway cafe style pastries and coffee. We found a place just north of Bordeaux which I hadn’t planned to stop at (because there was no geocache), however we needed a stop, and it proved to be the best decision of the day. We got coffee, pastries and cold drinks and sat inside in the services in our smelly running kit. Well, Ami got changed, the rest of us didn’t.

So back in the car, we immediately discovered why the sat nav had estimated an hour for the 60 km from parkrun to my first planned caching stop. The motorways around the outskirts of Bordeaux were absolutely solid with traffic in both directions. It took flippin’ ages. So much so, that we decided to skip the planned caching stop in Gironde and head straight off for the next one.

The next stop was in the department of Landes. We reached it by driving down the most empty motorway ever. The A65 runs 150km from Langon in Gironde down to Pau. Our chosen stopping point was the services at Aire-sur-l’Adour. This was nice enough and an easy place to find a cache, however we must make a point of realising that the French always stop for lunch between 12:30 and 2pm, so if you go to a service station that has a restaurant during those times on a summer Saturday you are going to find a lot of people. On the third lap of the car park we got lucky and found a space. We didn’t want a lot of lunch, as we’d had breakfast a couple of hours previously, but it was nice to get cold drinks and some crisps and sit out on the grass.

Aire-sur-l’Adour is on the eastern edge of Landes, close to the border with Gers, so it seemed a waste not to drive 5km over the border and grab a single cache there. I chose one in Barcelonne-du-Gers that is sited at an old prison. It was a lovely spot, and we got to look a little more closely at it than we might have liked, given that I couldn’t find the cache. Kas found it eventually, in a place I’d apparently discounted 10 minutes earlier.

Moving swiftly onwards, we finished off the A65 and switched to the A64, heading east in the direction of Tarbes. We made a quick stop for a cache at a no-aservice rest area in Pyrénées-Atlantiques and then when we got off the motorway at Tarbes we were in Hautes-Pyrénées I’d planned another stop. That was a quick dash from a rather dodgy pull-off at the roadside.

That was enough caching for the day, having coloured in another 4 departments.

The route from Tarbes took us down through the town of Lourdes and from there we headed up into the mountains towards our final destination for the day, Luz-Saint-Sauveur. We stopped in Lourdes to fill the car up with holy water, which proved slow and painful but it was, at least, fairly cheap. That tank full should hopefully last until we come down out of the mountains again.

We’d booked an oversized appartment containing three bedrooms, which during skiing season is supposed to sleep eight people. Technically there is sleeping for eight, and there’s both a bath and a shower, however two of the sleeping berths are in the lounge, and there’s only one toilet between eight. Four feels like a better occupancy rate, even though it costs a lot more.

We wandered up into the town and grabbed a load of drinks and stuff for breakfast (and an ice cream) and then we all got cleaned up and went out for dinner. We wanted pasta, but could only find space at a pizza place. Fair enough.

That had been another fairly long day.


Let Luz

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To be honest, it feels a bit early in the holiday to be writing the traditional “not a lot happened” post, but it was that kind of a day. Most of us didn’t do much, and what we did do wasn’t done with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The day began for Kas with a long run while the girls and me had a lie in. When Kas got back, she took the girls out for a swim in the hotel pool while I sat in the apartment playing with blog posts and feeling, to be honest, a bit miserable. I’m not quite sure why, but possibly because the weather had turned cloudy, I was covered in insect bites, and we all seemed too tired to be bothered spending time with each other.

By late afternoon we raised the energy to go out for a walk around the village and up to the nearby castle, the Château Sainte-Marie. From the valley the castle is deceiving. It’s covered in large, colourful banners which appear, from below, to be very inappropriate graffiti. You have to get a certain distance up the hill before realising what is actually going on.

It was quite an easy walk up along the road and then a footpath, and from the top the view back down onto the town was pretty good. The weather was kind of in-and-out of cloud and quite warm. There was supposed to be a geocache up there, but after multiple people’s failure to find it, the consensus seems to be that the site is compromised and the geocache should be archived.

Back at the plot, we walked back down again and visited the same ice-cream shop / bar that we’d visited the previous evening, and we treated ourselves to some more ice cream again.

Being a Sunday, the “big” supermarket in the village was shut, so we once again went into the smaller one and collected enough things to get some dinner – sausage and salad night. Kas and Ami walked straight back down to the apartment with the shopping while Izzy and me walked back up the hill a little to go and find the only geocache in the village,

And to be honest, that’s about all that we managed for the day. The rest of the evening was spent playing around with electronics and generally avoiding each other.


Zippy

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To be honest, it feels a bit early in the holiday to be writing the traditional “not a lot happened” post, but it was that kind of a day. Most of us didn’t do much, and what we did do wasn’t done with a great deal of enthusiasm.

The day began for Kas with a long run while the girls and me had a lie in. When Kas got back, she took the girls out for a swim in the hotel pool while I sat in the apartment playing with blog posts and feeling, to be honest, a bit miserable. I’m not quite sure why, but possibly because the weather had turned cloudy, I was covered in insect bites, and we all seemed too tired to be bothered spending time with each other.

By late afternoon we raised the energy to go out for a walk around the village and up to the nearby castle, the Château Sainte-Marie. From the valley the castle is deceiving. It’s covered in large, colourful banners which appear, from below, to be very inappropriate graffiti. You have to get a certain distance up the hill before realising what is actually going on.

It was quite an easy walk up along the road and then a footpath, and from the top the view back down onto the town was pretty good. The weather was kind of in-and-out of cloud and quite warm. There was supposed to be a geocache up there, but after multiple people’s failure to find it, the consensus seems to be that the site is compromised and the geocache should be archived.

Back at the plot, we walked back down again and visited the same ice-cream shop / bar that we’d visited the previous evening, and we treated ourselves to some more ice cream again.

Being a Sunday, the “big” supermarket in the village was shut, so we once again went into the smaller one and collected enough things to get some dinner – sausage and salad night. Kas and Ami walked straight back down to the apartment with the shopping while Izzy and me walked back up the hill a little to go and find the only geocache in the village,

And to be honest, that’s about all that we managed for the day. The rest of the evening was spent playing around with electronics and generally avoiding each other.


Aberdeenshire Mega

Aberdeenshire Mega

Some time ago, somewhat earlier in the year, I had an exchange of messages on Facebook with my old workmate Scott. He’s an occasional geocacher (as are the rest of his family) and I raised the subject of this year’s UK Mega event being about 20 miles from his house in Aberdeen. He very kindly offered me a bed for the duration.

Fast forward a few months and finally decided, around the end of June, that I actually fancied going up to Aberdeen, despite the weekend being only one weekend before this year’s annual summer “biggie”. None of the family wanted to come up with me, which made it easier to plan on the basis that Scott’s family were planning to be away, so we’d got a weekend of quite laddish geocaching and beer drinking on the cards. Funny how things turn out.

Anyway, early in the week before the event I concluded that if I set off from home early in the morning to drive to Scotland, as I’d originally planned, then the required day of “colouring in the counties” through Scotland wouldn’t be so much fun, as I’d essentially be tired the whole time. I therefore decided it would be good to shift the first few hundred miles on Wednesday night rather than Thursday morning, and hence looked for a hotel that was sort of on the way. I planned to go up the west side and down the east side, on the basis that Kas was taking the girls up to her mum’s, and hence there was an opportunity to break up my journey home by meeting the girls and sharing a car home with at least one of them. It also meant I got the added bonus of being able to colour counties on both sides of the country, and also it would give me the opportunity to take the car over the new Queensferry Crossing.

You can tell from the map here that my caching trips to Scotland have been somewhat limited. I made a business trip to Edinburgh in February. I went on the train and had no car at the other end. So I managed to grab two trads and attend an event on the night I arrived. This meant that the world was, essentially, my salt-water bivalve mollusc of the Ostreoidea superfamily.

So, back at the plot, I couldn’t find any hotels I liked the look of in the northern part of the M6, so I decided I might as well bite the bullet and head all the way to Gretna. There’s a Days Inn at the motorway services there. The dirve up was fairly uneventful once I got out of the traffic in Northamptonshire, and I arrived at the hotel at about 11pm on Wednesday night, having stopped for dinner on the way. The hotel was basic but perfectly functional and very well positioned.

How many different districts can I find a geocache in on one day?

For Thursday I’d mapped out a whole series of caches close to motorways so I could make quick and easy stops for quick finds. I’d done it so that I could maximise the total number of counties (or, in the case of Scotland, administrative units) that I could find one cache in. The map shows there’s a lot of areas of white that could be turned to green.

The districts I passed through and cached in were, in sequence, as follows :

I hadn’t really planned in great detail, but was hoping to get roughly to the middle of the patch by lunchtime, and so it turned out to be. Getting as far as Falkirk took me until 12:30, so I decided I could afford to spend a bit of time. I didn’t want to get there too early, as Scott was working all day. So I decided to do a few touristy things in the middle section – places I’d never been to when I lived in Scotland in the early nineties. To be honest, a couple of the places I planned to stop hadn’t been built back then anyway.

The first of these was the Falkirk Wheel – a rotating boat lift that raises (or lowers) boats by 24m between two canals. Parking was easy, as was the cache I tried in the car park, but I have to say the wheel itself was a little disappointing. Maybe with a bit more time I would have got more into it. They’ve made a spectacle of the whole thing, but on a sunny afternoon in the school holidays that just meant it was crawling with punters and their kids. And anyway, the way into the woods, and loads more caches, was blocked off by some inconviently placed fencing.

So I moved on to what proved to be somewhere much more entertaining – The Kelpies. These are basically a pair of 30m high horses heads sculted out of stainless steel. They sit astride another bit of canal. When I got there it was a very summy afternoon and there were loads of people (again), however in this park there’s enough room for them all to spread out a bit. There was an interesting selection of caches there and a good park to walk around, so I decided to stretch my legs and ultimately stayed there a good hour and a half.

Next up was a completely unplanned stop at the Wallace Monument outside Stirling. Well, I’d planned to do a cache at the bottom, but hadn’t planned to stay any longer. Time was still in my favour though, as it was only about 3pm when I arrived, so I decided to break for a while and walk up the hill to the monument. I tried not to let on that I’m English, just in case anyone noticed. I think I got away with it. The walk up the hill was a welcome leg-stretcher after spending all morning in the car.

From here it was all driving. From Stirling I passed through the best-named district ever – Clackmannanshire. How could you not enjoy a name like that ? The road took me along the foot of the Ochil Hills in an easterly direction. Once I entered Perth & Kinross I had a near disaster. I’d planned three potential cache stops, but the first two didn’t really have anywhere to stop (despite looking like they had) and I was frustrated enough with trying to find somewhere to stop and replan that I drove straight past the third potential. This placed me on the motorway north to Perth still needing to find one. Whilst stuck in a traffic jam on the motorway I noticed I could sneak in a cache if I got off at the next junction, so I went for it and after a bit of dodgy car parking I made a relatively eeasy find. The situation was therefore recovered – drawn back from the brink, as it were.

By this time it was getting on a bit and, as I discovered just as I passed Perth, the City of Aberdeen is still quite a long way. It’s a long way from anywhere, to be honest. By the time I’d stopped in Dundee and Angus, and made an unplanned stop in Aberdeenshire, it was more or less 7:30pm by the time I arrived at Scott’s house. His family had not gone away for the weekend, as planned, so I nicked his son’s bedroom for the duration, forcing him to go share with his older sister. They also fed me, which was unexpected and very welcome. When I’d finished we were talking about this and that, and Scott revealed there were caches a few hundred metres from the house. It was too much to resist, so off we went. It took us three attempts, but I eventually got my 12th district of the day, at which point we retired to a nearby pub for a well earned beer.

Soggy Friday – Weather that Scotland is famous for

The weather forecast for Friday was typically Scottish, by which I mean cool and grey, with the likelihood of heavy rain, and so it turned out to be. It was wetter than something that’s very wet.

Scott volunteered to drive and we decided to go and have a pop at a bunch of the Munro Mega Mystery puzzles to the north-west of Banchory. Staying in the trees seemed like a good idea if it was going to rain. Optimistically there were two or three separate-looking loops of caches we could go for, depending on how fast we were covering the ground. It was a day of learning from each other. Scott and his family had never really tried to do any puzzle caches before, so Scott was learning a bit about that. And I’d never been walking in the woods in Scotland before. Scott’s main guidance tips were a) the caches are pretty much bound to be next to a path, as going anywhere else would risk dangerously boggy ground and b) it’s a good idea to assume that the path you’re on is likely to loop around rather than looking for another, or trying to walk cross-country when you don’t know the terrain. Wise advice indeed. In some areas the ground was what horse-racing commentators would describe as “heavy”, or possible worse, if there is a term that’s worse than that. The footpaths also alternated between quite wide paths with bracken and pine detritus underfoot to very narrow paths with neck-high undergrowth. Those with the high undergrowth were obviously fun in the rain, because they meant that your upper clothing got wet as well as your feet.

After completing the first loop (of about 24 caches) we retired to a nearby garden centre for a bit of lunch. The one in question had some nice warming soup. Not an obvious choice for most places in August, but very welcome on this particular day.

In the afternoon the rain seemed to have slowed up a bit, so we went for another one of the two circuits hoping to be able to finish that quickly and see how we stood. That one had 16 caches on an elongated loop starting from Banchory’s Cricket Club and Curling Club. Neither sporting venue was in use. They have an open air curling rink which was, for all inpents, a very square-looking pond. The cricket pitch looked much the same.

Anyway, the dry weather stayed with us for about three-quarters of that loop, and then the heavens opened again and we got completely drenched just as we were starting to feel like we’d dried out. “Booooooo!” And “Hissssss!” I say. The drenching dampened the enthusiasm as well as the clothing. I looked at the proposed northern loop (the planned final one of the day) and suggested that 6-7 of them looked as if they could be done as a drive-by, so we went off with that in mind. Scott stayed in the car, while I jumped out, got more wet, and dashed as quickly as I could to and from a few more caches. Once we’d done all the drive-bys the time was looking pretty much against us, and I think we were both completely drained by the wet, so we gave up and went home.

Once at home we got cleaned up and went out for some Italian food with the rest of Scott’s family, followed by a couple of quite half-hearted beers in what I’d think on any other night would be an excellent bar – six°north. By the time we went out the rain had stopped but it was foggy. When we left the pub the fog had gone and it was a lovely night.

Back at Scott’s gaff, we amused ourselves for a while by looking at photos of the state of the entrance to the camping filed at the Mega Event site. The rain and traffic had turned it into a quagmire, and eventually they had to stop people from going in and out, as most were failing with help from a tractor, and they were just making the problem worse. It’s days like that when I’m glad I don’t like camping. I guess the problem was that the camping field isn’t normally a campsite, so it was just grass. No hard standing through the entrance or around the field at all, so once it’s wet, you kind of have to stay there until it’s dry again. Oops ! You have to feel sorry for the event organisers though. Weather as bad as that is something it’s difficult to anticipate, even in Scotland.

I didn’t take any photos during the day. Neither my phone nor my camera are sufficiently waterproof.

Mega Event Day

Mega-day looked a bit more promising on the weather front, but we sdtarted off with the distinctly non-geocache-related event of running a parkrun. Scott’s closest is, funnily enough, Aberdeen parkrun. Because it’s quite dark in the mornings in the Scottish winter, it starts at 9:30 rather than the more traditional 9am. This gave us the opportunity to grab a couple of geocaches before it started. One was a puzzle I’d worked out on the assumption we might come to this parkrun. The other was a trad which was located, as it happens, about 2 metres from the parkrun director’s table. That was a good thing, because I’d left my pen in the car for the run, so needed to borrow one. The table had a notebook and pen, and at the time was devoid of human presence. Ideal then.

The parkrun itself is a flat out-and-back along Aberdeen’s sea front promenade – out goes along the upper layer and back comes along the lower layer. The whole thing is paved, fairly wide, and lacking in hills. That lot, combined with cool and slightly foggy weather, made for a fast run, and I set a new PB for this year.

So back to Scott’s for a quick change of clothes and then into the new cachemobile for a drive over to Banchory.

I was very much hoping that the car park for the event wouldn’t involve grassy fields. The new car is a little closer to the ground than the old one, and I’m not keen on going off-piste in it, especially if the grass has suffered 24 hours of continuous rain. When we got on site it was apparent that most cachers were being directed towards a grassy field. The man in the hi-vis jacket did say we were welcome to drive up to the top and see if we could get into the “proper” car park, though. We did consider trying to pretend not to be geocachers, but just as we were doing so, my car was spotted by HHHP20, who happened to be walking past us, and that put a stop to any pretence. Still, the guy let us go up to the top, and when we got there, we found a parking space that was pretty much as close to the castle as we could ever have got. Gardner parking-karma strikes again.

The event was being held at Crathes Castle, which I’m sure is a place I’ve been to before (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away). When we parked up, the whole place was blessed with bright sunshine, so we decided to go have a good mooch around the event site to see what, and who, we could find. We found a bunch of people from the Beds, Bucks, Herts area and also found the new “Adventure Labs” caches in full swing. They are much like the old lab caches, except ypou have to log them through the phone app and, more importantly, you actually have to be in the right place when you attempt to log them. If you’re too far away, you can’t submit an answer.

We went into the event tent for a while too, where it was hot. Really hot.

To finish off the adventure labs it was necessary to walk down towards the grassy car park, and by the time we got there we found ourselves amongst some new “real” caches that had been set for the event and were only released after I’d left home on Wednesday. We had to do them on the phone as a result. After dooing the labs, mine was getting a bit shy on ziggies, but we had enough to get round the ones we did.

Once we’d finished those we decided to go head for a few more of the Mega Mystery ones, including the few on Friday’s third walk (which we never did) and #34 – the one which required you and nine other people to be physically present at the event site at the same time. Or, in our case, required you to know someone who’d got the coordinates already. This one proved to be about 100 metres away from the first placed we’d parked on Friday, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Saturday night was a bit of a “M’eh!” night, partly because I was planning to leave early and partly because Scott was on duty to go fetch Fraser back from work at 10pm, so going out for beers wasn’t really an option.

A Long Way Home

I’d briefly entertained the idea of driving north through the districts of Moray and Highland but had been advised not to unless I fancied getting up before I went to bed, so I left Scott’s house at about 8am and headed straight back down the most direct route back to Dundee and Perth before stopping in Fife for a coffee and a couple of caches. Well, one cache, mas it turned out. I wasted 20 minutes at the first planned one because I couldn’t find it. The second I tried was closer to the car and I found it straight away. Not to worry.

My target for the day was to get close to Sunderland between 2 and 3 pm so I could meet the ladies of the house and we could drive the rest of the way home in tandem. I didn’t really know how far that was.

The advantage of driving down the east coast was, of course, that I had a bunch more districts to stop in and do a single cache. I limoited it to one in each (apart from Borders) because time was disappearing rather quickly. That proved to be a sound idea because just at the point where I left good roads to work my way down the single carriageway section of the A1 it started raining, which meant the traffic slowed down to about 35mph and hence added a good 40-50 minutes to the trip.

The caches I managed to complete on this leg were :

I eventually made it to Grandad Dennis’ house at about ten past three, where I had a quick cup of coffee and a biscuit before jumping back in the car at four o’clock for the drive home. At least I had Ami riding shotgun for that section, so I had someone to talk to. We eventually got home between 9 and 10 pm, arriving just early enough to go into the Co-Op to buy breakfast and beer. I made a fairly half-hearted attempt at beer, because I was a bit tired.

By the end of it, my caching map looked a bit more full, especially in the vicinity of Scotland. I guess that was kind of the point.