Rushmere

Rushmere

The Sketch

A chance random event saw a friend discussing with his sister the fact that there are lots of geocaches near Milton Keynes. She kind of knew this anyway, but that lead to an excuse for visiting. However, said friend (and brother) isn’t a geocacher, so he referred the discussion to me. So, do I want to go caching somewhere local with a good friend’s sister? Er, yes, of course. And where could we go? Well, there’s a series of moderate length at Rushmere Country Park, down near Leighton Buzzard, that I haven’t done. “That’ll do”, as they apparently say in Yorkshire.

The friend’s sister, and newfound caching companion, was HellieMW. She doesn’t geocache alone though. She always brings along Desmond the Dog. He’s apparently a very excitable soul, prone to going a bit wild whenever he meets someone new.

Setting Off

HellieMW and Desmond arrived at my house quite early in the morning ready for us to set off for our walk. We agreed to go in my car (as I knew the way), which meant we expected Des would be a bit manic in the back, but it can’t have been that bad because he was basically silent the whole time.

We parked alongside the Grand Union Canal at the Three Locks pub and dismounted whilst finding the first step of the first cache of the series.

Up to Rushmere

Our first stretch of walking took us along a road and then into fields running south-east towards Rushmere Country Park. It was fairly easy going until we found a field full of cows. This isn’t always an issue, but in this instance there were a few problems:

  • There were calves in the field – cows are more protective when they have calves.
  • There seemed to be a bull in the field too – sod that for a game of soldiers.
  • Whilst it wasn’t a big field, we couldn’t see the stile on the other side.
  • Des was with us. Dogs make cattle twitchy.

So we decided we ought to bypass that stretch and loop around a nearby road, and then back in from the other direction. As we were walking up a random farm track to the road we were challenged by someone, but once we explained he was fine with it. I think he was camping rather than the farmer, so not really his business anyway.

Once we officially crossed the road we had one more field to cross before reaching the country park. It didn’t have cows in it, just a load of tall plants.

Rushmere is somewhere I really only know because we’ve been there a few times for Rushmere parkrun. What I remember from parkrun is a course that’s mainly uphill. It’s in woods and is a part of the Greensand Ridge, so underfoot is mainly sandy apart from the bottoms of valleys.

Our walking path bought us into the park about halfway along the parkrun back straight. There’s a bunch of other caches in the park that were off the main series. We had loads of time so we tracked around the north part of the park, more or less backwards around parkrun, grabbing those.

Down the Hill we go

After passing the cafe in the Country Park we followed the path down the hill towards the Leighton Buzzard road. This is a bit of the park I’d never been to before. You don’t normally go there during parkrun. It was easy to navigate downhill from cache to cache and we soon found ourselves walking along the road, having picked up another clue for the letterbox cache that began at the very start.

The walk along the road here is actually a footpath that skirts the fields. At one point HellieMW snapped the landscape shown here.

As we rejoined the road we picked up another clue for the letterbox cache. Or so we thought.

Back along the canal

When we reached the canal we collected the final clue for the letterbox cache and sat down to work out the final location. We took the opportunity to snaffle some lunch too. Whilst we were calculating, we realised we were supposed to have gathered much more information from the previous location. We were missing two numbers. I sort of knew (or guessed) where the final cache would be. This was based purely on the hint, which implied it was the same physical container on the canalside that I’d done before. However, I couldn’t remember exactly where that was and our candidate numbers were giving a range of about 200m of canal that the cache could be at. That’s too much for guessing.

So once we finished lunch, I legged it back to the previous point while HellieMW and Des the Dog went slightly south to find a Church Micro cache that was just off the loop. 10 minutes lost, but it probably saved considerably more than that in the long run.

The final was exactly where I thought, except I’d forgotten the precise situation. It was definitely the same box, secured in the same manner, as the previous complex multi I’d done down here.

Once we got back to the car, there was a traditional cache out of the back end of the car park that I’d done but HellieMW hadn’t. So off we went. It was a right old bushwhack to get in. And it probably drew a few looks when we came out again.

Leighton Buzzard

There was an Adventure Lab series in Leighton Buzzard that neither of us had done, so we drove in and parked in the car park of a well-known supermarket. While we were walking up to that, we grabbed a challenge cache that Hellie hadn’t done. The previous two searchers hadn’t found it, but I kind of knew where it was.

The Adventure Lab required us to visit five spots of (minor) historical interest in the town, including an old well and the library. It had a bonus cache to follow which proved to be in a convenient location for us.

While we were out and about I showed Hellie where the final of the central Church Micro is, and we ventured to a puzzle which was easy to solve but quite hard to find. I’d have given up but Hellie persisted a while longer and was rewarded with the find.

The bonus for the Ad Labs was in a location that helped Hellie find another (that I’d already done).

On the way home we stopped roadside for Hellie to do another puzzle that I’d found a few years back. The drive home was peaceful. I think Des the Dog must have had enough.

Well, that was a decent day out!

Thirty-something caches found and a new buddy (or two) to go caching with. We should do that again.


Geocache Finds 2021-06-19

Geocache Finds 2021-06-19

Geocache Finds 2021-06-19

Geohound

The Sketch

Every post has to have a sketch. In this case, because it’s a post about a piece of geoart, the sketch is of a dog. A dog made-up of smiley faces on my geocaching map. That’s more or less all the sketch you need to know about the Geohound series at Grafham Water.

It was a Saturday afternoon and there weren’t any games in the Euro 2020 that I particularly wanted to watch. And anyway, I hadn’t been caching for more than a month. And Kas was taking the kids up the shops for some retail therapy after the latest period of lockdown.

Driving there was fairly uneventful, which is good. I went to the massive car park on the south-east corner of the lake. It’s actually a reservoir not a lake. It’s supposedly 16km round, and is the third largest in the UK by surface area. Not by volume though, because there’s not many hills near here, so it’s really shallow.

Around the Car Park

I chose this car park because on the caching map there seemed to be a big confusion – no obvious route through. This turned out to be because the area is a huge open field with a few trees. Multiple routes are available between locations and there’s no obvious flow to the footpaths. Anyway, it meant I’d found 10 caches before venturing more than half a mile from my car. I also found this coo.

Where do we go from here?

Is it down to the lake, I fear? Here we go…..

I was walking in an anti-clockwise direction around the geohound loop, which meant I was going in the opposite direction to the geocache numbers. And I’d started in the middle. I don’t like being conventional.

Anyway, it was a flat path and pretty easy to follow. The biggest two problems were that the weather was all sticky and clammy, and that the recent rain meant the undergrowth was neck-high in some places. This can make for some challenging cache finds. I was going quite slowly, but at least the path was a nice, wide, clear pathway suitable for cycling.

Round the Back

At the back of the lake (the west end, the other end from the dam) the path starts to run through farmland and leaves the lakeside a little. I speeded up a bit around here even though the underfoot conditions were worse. Speeded up, that is, until I hit four or five in a row that were “small tube hanging in hedge”. In the middle of summer you basically don’t have a prayer with these unless you get lucky or you’re very persistent. I was neither, so I have left four solved puzzles in the middle of nowhere. I know I’ll never go back just to do those four.

The Village

Around here, the circular bikeable path runs into Perry, and there were a few “off series” caches in this bit. It felt a bit slow and fiddly, with some backwards-and-forwards. I found everything in the village though, so I was reasonably happy with that.

After the village the path went back into the trees and away from the roadside to complete the loop.

Dam You, Geohound!

Most of the eastern end of Grafham Water is the large earth-and-concrete dam that holds the water in. At this point on the walk you have to trust in engineering. The route goes onto a footpath below the top of the dam rather than over the top of the dam. So you have a big earth wall on one side of you. And, bizarrely, you have a big solar farm on the other side.

By this stage my feet were starting to hurt a bit, and I also noticed I’d switched off my GPS’s tracking at some point and hadn’t switched it back on. That means no complete track to upload to Strava. If it’s not on Strava, did it even really happen?

One of the last two caches looked like it was on the path but it turned out to involve a hike along the top of the dam to get onto the watery side, and then a walk back. That took a while and my feet weren’t happy.

When I got back to the car park my car was where I’d left it, which is good. I hadn’t got the energy to attempt any more caches so I just set off home from here. It was about 3:30 by this time.

I’d found 72 caches over the course of the day, which I thought was enough anyway.

At home there was the rest of the family, food, beer and football, in roughly that order.


Geocache Finds 2021-05-09

Geocache Finds 2021-05-09

Geocache Finds 2021-05-09

D’oh

The Sketch

The boy ryo62 likes to set caches. He doesn’t like it as much as he used to, but he still likes it enough to keep setting big pieces of geoart near his home. The “D’oh!” series is one of those. A set of puzzles themed on everyone’s favourite dysfunctional American cartoon characters. The series has 92 puzzles. When you add the surrounding new adventure labs, village hall caches, church micros, village sign caches, war memorial caches, and so on that makes enough for a good old day out. Or maybe two.

I spoke to Pesh about doing these and we agreed that two was the magic number. Very early starts and very long days don’t always suit, especially when you’ve got to drive an hour each way and you’re still not allowed to share a car. There’s also the small matter of Jack. He’s not that small, but Pesh has to consider how far it’s reasonable to expect him to walk in a single day. So two days it is. We planned the first May Bank Holiday and the following Sunday.

Day #1 – Monday, May 3rd

We drove in convoy to our chosen parking location. It was somewhere I’m very familiar with, having parked there twice before for big caching days. Orwell Clunch Pit has its own small car park which is both free and off-street, which is ideal. The Clunch Pit now has a set of adventure labs as well as being a decent starting point for the D’oh! series.

We’d planned to do the “lower” loop from Orwell to Little Eversden and round to Barrington. I was familiar with the route and knew it was quite quick going, so I wasn’t expecting any issues. It turned out much as expected. The weather was breezy and a bit warm, borderline between a jumper and no jumper for me. All of the caches en-route were easy to find. We didn’t do much in the way of breaks so we got round the 20km fairly quickly. Nothing much of note happened apart from deciding not to do every cache in Barrington (it was getting late). With occasional bits and bobs nearby I recorded 78 finds.

Day #2 – Sunday, May 9th

Day #2 looked a bit more random than Day #1. We started off in Barrington to finish off a few walking ones and do the adventure labs that we’d left the previous time. After that we moved and parked the cars at the church in Great Eversden for a walk around the remaining bits of the D’oh! series. The walk was a bit shorter than last time. The weather was nice again. Very similar, in fact. Breezy but sunny. It was warm enough to require a sit down on the grass so Jack could have a drink. This is even though the walk was a fairly paltry 12km long.

Because it was a shorter walk we had time for a few more afterwards, so we drove over to Cockayne Hatley, where there were a few to be cleared up.

Over the course of this day I logged another 64 finds, making 142 over the two days. That made it my busiest week in quite some time.

The Scores on the Doors

78 finds on Day #1 and a more modest 64 finds on Day #2.


Bathroom Rework

Bathroom Rework

The Sketch

Hmmm! Our original bathroom rework was in 2004, just before Ami was born. We had the builder’s one removed. To have that done we paid some unearthly amount of money to a local company in Newport Pagnell. Whilst they did a decent job, and it looked good for its time, there were some features that I never liked. And much of the stuff was now looking shabby, or didn’t work. Bits of trim were coming off. Taps were gummed up with limescale. That kind of thing. The final straw was when the shower attachment on the bath tap broke off completely. It hadn’t worked for ages anyway, but one day it just snapped off. It wasn’t possible to change the tap without pulling the bath out from the wall. Which meant taking the radiator off and lifting the flooring as well as moving the bath and its panels.

Planning

There wasn’t a huge amount of planning involved, to be honest. We kind of got someone else to do it, much as we did with the kitchen refit. Our choice was to get Wickes to do it. We may have had a little look at some other places, but fundamentally Wickes offer a free, no commitment, design service.

As there was still a lockdown in place, we did initial meetings over a Teams meeting after I’d supplied rough measurements and photos of the offending room.

Within a short time (overnight) our designer came back with some photo mock-ups of his suggestion. We’d given a brief of something quite simple but more modern. Not especially fancy or fussy, but then Wickes don’t do much of that anyway. So something modern, functional, and more appealing to spend time in.

The designer did a good job. He mocked it up in a sort-of beige colour, but said obviously we could use any colours we liked. The best thing to do would be to go to the shop and have a look, then give him more ideas. We were happy with all-white sanitary ware, but we wanted to lose the green paint and “woody” feel. So we picked some mid-grey tiles to go all over. Later whilst shopping online I ordered samples of mosaic tiles for a “feature wall” – everywhere has to have one of those. We picked some that are a mix of silver, pale blue glass and turquoise glass.

So we did a deal with Wickes. They suggested some components for us, fitted to our space. We didn’t argue because a) they met the brief and b) I don’t know one bath from another. They also arranged the fitters (and would pay them). We just had to choose tiles.

Doing the Doings

Prior to beginning work, the fitter came round to check my measurements and discuss any extras. We knew there’d be a few because Wickes don’t quote for certain preparatory work with the walls or floors. And we had to wait several weeks for the various materials to be ordered and delivered.

The fitter expected it would take 8 days of work to do everything. The first couple were spent taking the old bathroom out. The next couple were spent rebuilding bits of wall and fitting new bits of wood and plasterboard.

After all that, they were ready to start doing things that look like a bathroom. Wet stuff first, then tiles, then cabinets, and finally the khasi.

There were a few mishaps on the way, but the fitter kept talking to us and we got there eventually. For instance, there was a nationwide shortage of toilet bowls. Secondly, our interior walls have an interesting construction that made stripping all the tiles of rather difficult. And I couldn’t find enough silver edging strips for the tiles, even after we’d actually chosen some. And the taps didn’t turn up so I had to buy some more and get Wickes to refund theirs. All irritating things, but not severe in the grand scheme.

The fitters did a good job, as you can see from the photos.


Interactive Cache Maps

Interactive Cache Maps

The Sketch

Since Christmas I have been trying to gradually improve this website. One solution I was searching for was a way of displaying an interactive cache maps of my finds on a particular day. I found a solution, and I think it’s good enough to write about. Why not?

One of the improvements I’ve worked on is to try to improve the search engine ranking for some of my posts. Not because I’m big-headed or because I’m trying to make money – I’m not. But I feel that if I’ve written a post about a cache series that I enjoyed, the effort is wasted if searchers on Google can’t find it. This was a problem I had with many of my “adventures” posts.

I enlisted the help of the Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress so I had some guidance on how to improve rankings a bit. Yoast has an issue that the “suggested improvements” don’t work if you have a WordPress template that includes its own page builder. I do, but the problem is resolved adequately by changing the template each time I’m using that function. That is, however, by the by. This post relates to another issue, and the way in which I solved it.

The Nature of the Problem

The problem I found was one of keyword stuffing. This is filling your text up with the same phrase to encourage Goggle’s crawlers to think your article is the proverbial bee’s knees. “The machine” got wise, so keyword stuffing is now penalised. It wasn’t something I did deliberately, but something based on the way I was presenting content about geocaching.

If I find a series called “Heal the World” for instance, then I would name the post after the series. This naturally leads to setting the keyword to be the name of the post. If someone is interested in a caching series they are most likely just to Google its name.

So far, so good. So why does this cause a problem with keyword stuffing? I also like to list all the caches I found on that particular day. I link them to the actual cache page so people can go look for themselves. The problem is that for most series, each cache name is just the series name, and a number. The “Heal the World” post therefore had the keyword embedded 78 times in a single-page article. Google doesn’t like that.

So how do I display all the caches I’ve found without actually typing the names onto a page? Easy.

Interactive Cache Maps

The solution is evidently to remove the text, and to display a map instead. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Because I hadn’t seen the problem before, that’s why.

Firstly I needed was a mapping plugin for WordPress. My wordpress template includes a module for this but it’s basic. It’s not designed for large numbers, and each marker has to be added manually. What I needed was a plugin which allows bulk upload of marker points. I also wanted to be able to use custom icons for the markers. And finally it must be capable of “bulk” use. I’ve written a lot of posts about geocaching.

After surfing around a little I settled on WP Google Maps – It does what it says on the tin. I tried the free version as an experiment. The free version only allows one map. Multiple maps requires the Pro upgrade, but if the thing worked how I wanted then the upgrade would be worth it. It worked. It took me a couple of goes, but I managed to add several markers onto a map and configure them so that the marker title is a link to the cache page. I then exported this sample map to a CSV file so I could see how the import/export works.

The Pro upgrade allowed me to add a custom icon. I butchered a geocaching smiley face. The upgrade also allows me to create as many maps as I want, each having as many markers as I want. That’s kind of cool.

One quirk is that Google now charges for bulk use of its maps. It’s possible to use mapping sites that cover that cost for you, so your Google costs can be controlled, or you can use some different (i.e. free) maps. I chose the latter. I have selected the Open Street Maps tiling engine. Many cachers are familiar with these anyway, and I already use OSM derivatives on my GPS and in Garmin Basecamp.

Show me a map then!

Alright. If you insist.

This one shows a part of the “Flags of All Nations” series on the west side of Milton Keynes. If you play with different devices you should see the map is fully responsive. You can make it go full screen, and each marker has a link to the cache concerned. As this is all set up in a spreadsheet, it’s remarkably easy to do.


I ain’t no Oil Painting

I ain’t no Oil Painting

It’s often been said (quite often by myself, in fact), that I am no oil painting. I’m never quite sure how much of an insult that is. For instance, you don’t become more beautiful just because someone made a nice painting of you. And equally, just because you’ve been painted in oil on a sheet of canvas it doesn’t mean you’re beautiful, right? The artist might have done the equivalent of today’s Instagram filters by smoothing your skin. Although, relatively few oil paintings have bunny ears.

Anyway, that’s not really the point of this post.

Late last year I upgraded my iPad because I was starting to use Zwift for a bit of indoor cycling. Zwift works best if you have an iPad so you can see the virtual course you’re riding on. But somehow it felt like buying an iPad just to use Zwift wasn’t justified, so I’ve been looking for other things to do with the iPad.

I’m rarely in a lazy enough mood to vegetate in front of the TV, but I’m not always energetic enough to solve puzzle geocaches or write blog posts. So I started looking for something to fill the “twilight zone” just before bedtime. An extra hobby seemed a good idea, but something which doesn’t take ages to set up or pack away.

One obvious thing that jumps out is to try various drawing, colouring, or otherwise pseudo-creative activities with the iPad. By pseudo-creative I mean something relaxing and not requiring a great deal of existing skill, because I have never been an artist or musician, and I’m probably getting a bit late in life to start. So my first port of call was to look for a basic colouring app for the iPad.

The one I chose initially is just called Oil Painting. The app contains a series of “painting by numbers” pictures where you have to select a colour from a pre-defined palette and fill in all the instances of that colour. To be honest it’s not creative at all – it’s more of a puzzle because you (sometimes) have to search around for each block that the colour has to be used in. At least when you’ve finished with a colour it disappears from the palette though, so you can measure progress. So whilst it’s not creative, it is quite relaxing in a certain way. And there are literally hundreds of pictures available in the free version.

Each picture takes me about 30-60 minutes, and they can be shared elsewhere (like on here, for instance). A reasonable extra use-case to add to the iPad’s portfolio. The effect is quite relaxing on the eye.

You can see that I’ve mainly been doing landscapes and cityscapes, which suits my personal interests. I’m not a fan of fluffy kittens or bowls of fruit. As each picture is a place, I’m lead to the challenge of figuring out where itis. Naturally this leads into ticking off which ones I’ve been to. For that, Google image search and tineye.com are remarkably good. Most of the images are taken from stock photo sites, so tineye.com finds nearly all of them. Many I’ve done are major European cities like Amsterdam, Lisbon and Venice, and in a lot of cases, I’d not just been to the city concerned, I’d been to the actual subject of the picture.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Transylvania, Romania
Transylvania, Romania
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic
Vipiteno, Italy
Vipiteno, Italy
Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece
Alhambra Palace, Spain
Alhambra Palace, Spain
Procida, Italy
Procida, Italy
Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Riga, Latvia
Riga, Latvia
Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece
Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon, Portugal
Mykonos, Greece
Mykonos, Greece
Athens, Greece
Athens, Greece
Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy
Cairo, Egypt
Cairo, Egypt
Oschatz, Germany
Oschatz, Germany
Lofoten, Norway
Lofoten, Norway
Maine, USA
Maine, USA
Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Porto, Portugal
Porto, Portugal
Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest, Romania
Paris, France
Paris, France
Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, Turkey
Taj Mahal, India
Taj Mahal, India
Osaka, Japan
Osaka, Japan
Roskilde, Denmark
Roskilde, Denmark
Cairo, Egypt
Cairo, Egypt
Aswan, Egypt
Aswan, Egypt
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Stockholm, Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden
Sinaia, Romania
Sinaia, Romania
London, UK
London, UK
Lofoten, Norway
Lofoten, Norway
Portugal
Portugal
Liguria, Italy
Liguria, Italy
Krakow, Poland
Krakow, Poland
Rome, Italy
Rome, Italy
Klidonia, Greece
Klidonia, Greece
Alberta, Canada
Alberta, Canada
Italian Alps
Italian Alps
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Salta, Argentina
Salta, Argentina
K2 Mountain
K2 Mountain
Asturias, Spain
Asturias, Spain
Ischia, Italy
Ischia, Italy
Iceland
Iceland
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Romania
Romania
India
India
Sydney, Australia
Sydney, Australia
Lombardy, Italy
Lombardy, Italy
Beijing, China
Beijing, China
San Francisco, USA
San Francisco, USA
Seoul, South Korea
Seoul, South Korea
Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece
Washington State, USA
Washington State, USA
Banff, Canada
Banff, Canada
Sell am See, Austria
Sell am See, Austria
Hluboka nad Vlatvou, Czech Republic
Hluboka nad Vlatvou, Czech Republic
Tromso, Norway
Tromso, Norway
Thailand
Thailand
Forest
Forest
Japan
Japan
Ukraine
Ukraine
Forest
Forest
Thailand
Thailand
Danube, Hungary & Slovakia
Danube, Hungary & Slovakia
Thaung Tho, Myanmar
Thaung Tho, Myanmar
Paris, France
Paris, France
Singapore
Singapore
Tenerife, Spain
Tenerife, Spain
Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy
Charleston, USA
Charleston, USA
Beijing, China
Beijing, China
Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Jacksonville, Florida, USA
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Muskau Palace, Germany
Muskau Palace, Germany
French Polynesia
French Polynesia
Generic East European Town
Generic East European Town
Trastevere, Italy
Trastevere, Italy
Santorini, Greece
Santorini, Greece
St Tropez, France
St Tropez, France
French Polynesia
French Polynesia
Michigan, USA
Michigan, USA
Mauritius
Mauritius
Giethoorn, Netherlands
Giethoorn, Netherlands
Malta
Malta
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Amalfi Coast, Italy
Bucharest, Romania
Bucharest, Romania

Montana 700 Series

Montana 700 Series

I’ve had a couple of years of being a bit dispirited about geocaching. For most of 2020 I couldn’t go anyway, what with the global pandemic. However, I started 2021 with a renewed sense of optimism and enthusiasm. It’s a hobby I enjoy, so I’m going to try to get on with doing some of it. I’m now resigned to doing it on my own because the ladies of the house aren’t really interested. But it’s my hobby, so I’m going to maintain enthusiasm and look forward to better times. To support the enthusiasm, I treated myself to a new handheld GPS – a Garmin Montana 700.

The Backstory

Garmin Montana 700I’ve been thinking for some time that it’s about time I did something with my GPS. I’ve been using a handheld GPS instead of my phone since the end of 2013. I made 3,600 finds until one day I was out in Cambridgeshire and had an issue with the battery in my phone (see Ellington Expedition). At that point I splashed out on a dedicated handheld GPS unit. It was just before Christmas, and I’m lucky enough that my birthday is around this time too. A nice combined Christmas and birthday present.

I used the first Montana 650t for about 18 months until an unfortunate incident where I dropped it down a drain (see Letchworth Disaster). That meant the first Montana 650t lasted me for about 2,500 caches. They’re not cheap things, but thankfully my home insurance covered the cost of a new one. By the second week of June 2015 I had another and I’ve been using that one ever since. So far, I’ve made about 6,600 finds with it. I use the GPS all the time unless I’m doing an opportunistic few caches on a day when I wouldn’t normally be caching. When I’m out all day I like the resilience of a handheld and I like that it works without a phone signal.

About 2 years after I got the second Montana 650t I concluded that the battery was fried. I decided to replace it with a stack of rechargeable AA ones. These work OK apart from an irritating message about the voltage about an hour before they drain completely. They last about 6 hours, so I have to carry a couple of spare sets if I’m out all day. One advantage of the 650t though is that you actually can just put AA batteries in when you need.

Gripes

On a couple of occasions, I’ve noticed that I seem to have lost all my maps, and on detailed inspection it turns out that this happens when I disturb the cradle that holds the micro-SD card in the back. It’s inside the battery compartment, so every time I change the batteries there’s a risk that I’m going to dislodge the card. As soon as you bed it back in properly it works fine.

There were a few things on the 650t that I wasn’t over keen about, so I’ve spent some time hacking around to try to improve the way it looks (see Garmin Custom Icons and More Garmin Icons). Not blowing my own trumpet, because that’s not why I did it, but I seem to have become a bit of an expert in creating custom icons for the Montana (as well as for MemoryMap and Garmin BaseCamp). It’s not too difficult once you get the hang of it.

So fast-forward to New Year’s Day 2021. I set myself a challenge to try to get each one of the 366 totals days in a year up to at least 50 geocache finds. When I started that exercise I needed to find more caches on 264 different days, and find a minimum of 9,464 more caches. That’s a lot, and hence a challenge that isn’t going to be done in a single year.

Back at the plot, New Year’s Day was one day that needed a little attention. I needed 12 finds to bolster the day up to 50, and I headed over to the east side of Milton Keynes to attack a series running along the artifical ridge built between the new housing and the M1. Well, why not?

I realised halfway round that I’d knocked the micro-SD card loose and I had a bit of trouble getting it back in again, so when I got home I thought it might be time to get myself a new onboard battery, so I don’t have to keep opening the back. In the process of looking for that, my eyes were drawn to a whole new series of Garmin Montana devices that bring the technology into the modern era. I’m afraid to say it was too much for me to resist, so a new battery became a somewhat more costly new GPS device.

Deliverance (well, Delivery, to be accurate)

So I’m now the proud owner of a Montana 700. The 700 series comes in 3 variants – I bought the cheapest of the three. If you spend more money you get a) Garmin’s inReach emergency contact service, and b) a camera. I decided neither of those was really of any use.

The inReach service requires a subscription of at least £14 a month. And you have to dismiss a dialog about activating a subscription every time you switch it on. Bum to that. I always have my phone and I rarely go anywhere that I don’t have a signal. If I was going somewhere with no signal, I probably wouldn’t go alone anyway. Secondly, the camera on the Montana 750i might be a decent 8 megapixel, but it’s inadequate compared to the 16 megapixel camera on my phone, so it really wasn’t worth spending an extra £200 to get it.

The Garmin Montana 700 is the “basic” one of the series. By basic, I mean “pretty spectacular for geocaching” and “much more capable than the 650t”, but I don’t mean “makes the tea and splits the atom” – I deemed those to be unnecessary features.

So what does a Montana 700 do that a Montana 650 doesn’t?

Firstly, it’s part of the modern generation of Garmin doo-dahs that works with the Connect app on your phone. It can therefore exchange track information (and possibly upload caching logs) over bluetooth through my phone.

Secondly, it can connect to wi-fi and can be registered on your Geocaching.com account, allowing it to download caches directly using the Geocaching Live API whenever you are somewhere with a wi-fi signal. That presumably includes using your phone as a hotspot. Those are genuinely useful new additions.

Thirdly, it has a much bigger screen than the 650. The working area is notionally 5 inches across the diagonal and the screen resolution is 480×800 pixels. In practice that means that the maps look much better and the bigger screen makes it easier for me to see without glasses, which is important for me when I’m caching, as I only need glasses for reading, so don’t always carry them with me when caching as I can’t wear them whilst walking.

Fourthly, the screen interface is more like a small computer or phone than the old Montana, so it seems more intuitive to use.

Finally, the device supports use of Garmin Connect IQ apps. I wasn’t really sure what those were, so I had a look at the store and (at time of writing) there seem to be only two apps compatible with the Montana 700. One of those is an online tool for accessing the Hungarian local variant of geocaching and the other is something that mucks about with the camera (that I don’t have), so I guess at the moment that Connect IQ is a zero-value item for me.

Getting it going

It pretty much worked straight out of the box.

I managed to connect it to my home wi-fi, and to the Geocaching.com website, and to Garmin Connect on my phone, without having to reference the Owner’s Manual.

I bought a second battery pack – the onboard variety, but the 700 is also the only one of the three that supports use of battery pack that takes AA batteries too. That might be useful some time in the future. For now, I have two of the onboard batteries – these come in fully sealed packs and they clip in and out of the device without disturbing the micro-SD card bay. The battery fitted in the device came 20% charged and it filled up in an hour. The spare was completely flat and it also charged fully in an hour. That’s quicker than the old ones.

The next job was to see how my local customisations were going to fare. I decided to brave sticking the old micro-SD card straight into the new device. Aside from warning me that the BirdsEye map segments weren’t valid for this device (yeah, I know about that), everything else installed on the card worked fine – so I can verify that TalkyToaster UK maps and Freizeitkarte maps work fine on a Montana 700 series. They seem to load faster too.

Finally, I tried to load some caches and play around with my custom icons. Can I still only used the 12 icons, named by cache type? That seems to be the case. It’s not a major issue, but it might have been nice if they’d addressed that. At least I’ve already got some custom icons that work. They looked a little small on the bigger screen, so I’ve upscaled them to be 27px rather 21px. They are now nice and clear, and they’re roughly the same “actual” size displayed on the screen. The bigger screen means you can see more at a time.

Live Use

I tried downloading some caches using the Live API on the device. It works fairly quickly and it uses my custom icons, which is good. However, I suspect it won’t adapt to the peculiarities of how I set up custom icons in GSAK. So, for now I’m tied to the way I manipulate things in GSAK, which means always uploading from the PC. It’s not a major issue, but maybe an area of technology to look at in a few weeks.

What happens, for instance, if you use the live API to download caches in Seattle? How does the “HQ” cache display? It’s not one of the standard types that Garmin supports, so does it render as the catch-all “Geocache” icon? Does it just not show at all? Is there actually a broader collection of icons that can be used (if I can discover what their names are)? I ran a test. It renders the HQ cache as the generic “Geocache” icon.

On first impressions it looks like a stonker, and I can’t wait to get out and try to find some caches with it.


Geocache Finds 2021-01-03

Geocache Finds 2021-01-03