An early morning in South Shields and an afternoon in Newcastle
It was the weekend before Christmas. We’d arranged a trip to South Shields and Newcastle too see family members. Due to various house-based shenanigans, the girls were stopping with grandparents but Kas and me were in a hotel.
On the previous day we’d arrived just after lunchtime and then went down to South Shields beach for an ice cream. Really! We do it every time, even though the weather is often unsavoury. Well, why not? Toney Minchella has an indoor place that does great ice cream. It also does nice cakes and scones and coffee.
In the evening the girls stayed with Nana and Grandad while Kas and me went back to the hotel. We weren’t especially hungry so we just had snacks and beer in the hotel bar. It was functional.
Monday morning was foggy, much as it had been for the whole of Sunday. Kas wanted to go for a run and I fancied some early morning caching. So we agreed we could do both from the Littlehaven Beach in South Shields. Kas spent an hour running south along the coast and I walked north. I walked right along to the mouth of the Tyne completing a series of adventure labs. After that, I climbed uphill a bit and did another series of labs based on the Roman Fort.
Both sets of labs had a bonus physical cache, plus there was another puzzle on the walk, so I found 13 caches in an hour. That was enough to celebrate with a traditional Premier Inn breakfast.
Off up the Toon
The ladies were all going shopping with Kas’s mum. Originally we were all going together to central Newcastle, but there was a last minute change of plan. I had always planned to go caching anyway, so Kas took my car and drove to the Metrocentre. I jumped on the Metro and went to central Newcastle. There was a station half a mile from the hotel, so she dropped me off first before going for the kids.
The Tyne and Wear Metro offers a very convenient service if you’re close to a station. The trains are quiet and fast, and fairly clean. It’s under public ownership, so the ticket prices are very reasonable. The most you can pay in a day is £4.80 for a ticket that takes you anywhere as many times as you want in 24 hours. I climbed aboard at the Tyne Dock station, bound for Haymarket.
Off we Go
The centre of Newcastle is very compact. It’s full of wonderful Georgian architecture and has a decent shopping area. It also has a cathedral, auniversity and a very large and imposing football ground. I was scheduled to visit all of them at some point during my day.
I started at Haymarket and initially walked south towards Newcastle Cathedral. I was alternating between a couple of sets of Adventure Labs and a load of “proper” caches. One of the proper caches was in celebration of the “Vampire Rabbit” round the back of the cathedral.
At Grainger Market there was a multi-cache that took me ages to work out. But once I had some coordinates it was an easy find.
Up the Football
St James’ Park can basically be seen from the moon. It’s by far and away the most identifiable building in the centre of town and you can see it from miles away. You can also see it when you’re standing right underneath it. Except, of course, if you’re really close you can’t see all of it without moving your head.
Back at the plot, there were a few in very close proximity to the stadium, including two actually stuck to it. One was awkward to find.
From here, I walked along some of Newcastle Town Wall on the west edge of the city centre. There was a set of Ad Labs there and it took me into the wonderful Blackfriars Square. It just goes to prove you can visit a place several times and still not really know it.
Down the River
From the centre I visited Newcastle Central Station for a quick service break and then headed off down to the riverside. There was another set of Ad Labs covering five of the bridges over the Tyne. It started at the upstream end and ran all the way down the the Millenium footbridge.
While I was in between the first and second points I got a call from Kas. Shopping was done and they were off home. I’d arranged to meet them at ~East Bolton metro station, the closest to Kas’s mum’s house, so Ihad to speed up my walking a little bit to avoid making them wait for ages. I caught a train from the Central Station.
Over the course of the day I’d made 39 finds, most of which were Adventure Labs. Urban caching can be quite slow going, but Ad Labs have provided a new dimension when in town, and I like them for that.
Finishing the Pokémon cache series in Warwickshire
I hadn’t been out caching for a while, or at least, I hadn’t been out all day for a while. It felt like time for another go, and I still had a load of the Pokémon series to do. I’d made two previous visits and completed three of the four loops (see Burton Dassett and Bishop’s Itchington) back in September. So it was about time I finished it off.
In my mind I was going to do the remaining loop of these and also a loop at Ladbroke to make about 70 total, but a few factors acted to prevent that. That total plan was 13km for the main series and another 8km for the “extra” series.
I got up sensibly early. After all, it was clock-change day so I got an extra hour in bed. When I got up though, it was raining rather hard. The weather forecast was for this to last until lunchtime, so I decided not to hurry. I had a good breakfast and got out of the house at around 8:30.
I normally stop for fuel (both for the car and myself) on the way out. Today, it took ages. I paid for my fuel but then the attendant got in a right mess with the till. There was a long discussion about whether I paid for my fuel, or paid for the woman who was in front of me. I’d paid for my own. But he’d not added the drinks and snacks. And then it took ages to make my coffee too. All-in-all it took 20 minutes to fill the car and buy a coffee.
As I was driving out it was still raining, and along the M40 there was so much spray you could barely see. I’d decided to go and park in Bishop’s Itchington to start today’s Pokémon loop. However, when I got to the start point I couldn’t park there, plus it was still raining really heavily. I didn’t fancy starting my walk in a downpour.
So what to do? Well, there was a puzzle and a wherigo over in Gaydon so I thought I’d go there to kill half an hour. If the rain kept going I could just go home again. If it stopped, I could shorten my walk, but still finish the non-existent animals.
The puzzle was easy (a Church Micro) and it sent me on a 250m walk to get the final. There was a traditional on the way past. While I was signing the Church Micro puzzle the rain stopped. As I walked back to my car I could see some clear weather coming. By the time I got to the final of the wherigo the sun was shining brightly. So I thought it would be OK to go and have a pop at the Pokémon. Why not?
I decided to return to Bishop’s Itchington but park on a quiet dead-end street I’d noticed last time. It was a long walk to the caches, but it looked safe and out-of-the-way, and hence better than the recommended parking.
The first cache I tried was actually a traditional, and not part of the series. I didn’t spot it, and gave up after a few minutes.
The series itself was quite hard going, like much of the rest of it. The caches are quite spread out. And they’re mainly quite small. Smaller than they need to be, anyway. They’re in the middle of nowhere. Large boxes should be easy to fit in.
But away from my moaning, it was quite hard going. Everywhere seemed to be both uphill and upwind. And the wind was really strong. And, to be honest, the hills were really up. In my first hour after leaving the car I only managed to get through 8 caches. That rate wasn’t going to get me round the add-on loop.
Everywhere was wet. Did I mention it was wet? I know I mentioned the wind. Anyway, there’d been so much rain it was still running away. There were puddles everywhere despite the sunny skies. Except it also wasn’t sunny all the time. I got drenched at least twice on the walk and was making me a bit disheartened. Why do I do this? Oh yes, I do it for the great scenery and the fresh air. And the exercise. Today’s exercise felt more like swimming than walking.
After 25 or so finds I made it into Ladbroke. There was a church micro there that was a simple offset, but I took the opportunity to have a short break. Again when I got here the church was bathed in bright sunshine.
From here I was heading back towards the car. It was still tough going though, despite the promise of finishing. The caches still seemed to be spread out way more than they needed to be.
On the way back into the village I was faced by a bit of a puddle beneath a railway bridge. A couple of cars just “went for it”, which I think was a bit risky. You couldn’t tell how deep it was. I decided the best plan was to walk on the centreline of the road, because roads have a convex shape and are higher in the middle, so the water would be lowest there. It was still over the soles of my boots though. I turned round and took a photo looking back when I got through. I like the way the light is illuminating the whole tunnel.
And that was the end of the Pokémon. Today I found 40 of them. Numbers 1 to 40, as it happens. I thought the walk would be about 13km but when I got to the car I’d actually done 15km. This was partly because I’d parked a bit far away from the start. The rest was, I guess, the usual geocachers-shuffle.
I thought I’d try some drive-bys in Ladbroke on the way home. I’d ducked them on the walk because I wasn’t sure about the time. I should have done them then. There was basically nowhere to leave my car in the village.
So I thought I’d try Claydon, where I’d solved a couple of puzzles. One was easy. The other was one where I thought there’d be a road, but driving down it I got to a point where I decided it was actually not a road. So I reversed up and left it. After failing with two planned stops for drive-bys I concluded it wasn’t going to be my day, so I just gave up and came home. Claydon Church was nice though.
Continuing the Pokémon cache series in Warwickshire
A couple of weeks ago I’d been up in Burton Dassett to start some work on the Pokémon series of puzzle caches. Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I fancied another hack at them. This time I was looking to begin in Bishop’s Itchington, a fairly large village on the northern edge of the series.
I ended up parking a little way south of there in a fairly large pull-off alongside a country road. Unlike last time.
I didn’t stop for any drive-bys on the way up. Today was just about me and some caches. Well, initially it was about me and some shouting. In the previous week some morons in the media had turned a minor shortage of fuel at a couple of stations into a major disaster, and hey presto people started panic buying.
I wasn’t completely empty of fuel but I could use some. I normally stop at a local station to fill up and buy snacks and drinks. Today I was disgusted to find a queue of 30-35 cars outside that station at 7:30am on a Sunday. I didn’t bother stopping at that one. There was another station in Buckingham that didn’t have any queues, but only because it didn’t have any fuel. So I diverted around to some motorway services on the M40 where they had some fuel, but had limited it to £30 per vehicle. That was more than enough for today’s purpose so I just took that much and bought some snacks to go with it. I didn’t mind the diversion because today I was planning to start very close to a junction on the M40 anyway.
Off we go
I pulled off the M40 and headed into Bishop’s Itchington and then headed south to find my chosen parking spot. When I arrived there was another car there, but it moved quickly after I parked, while I was still putting my boots on.
I started caching with a fairly easy section along the road down to Knightcote. From here the work got a bit harder as the route started taking me across ploughed fields. September is a bad time of year for that, I guess.
From Knightcote I headed south towards Northend across some fields. The caches here were quite close together but the underfoot conditions weren’t great. Northend is just north of where we’d finished two weeks previously on the Burton Dassett day. My walk skirted the base of the big hills there and the caches became increasingly spread out. There was one point either side of Fenny Compton where I had to walk more than a kilometre between successive caches, most of which was across ploughed fields. The enthusiasm was waning a bit on that stretch.
From Fenny Compton the walk took me north in a big anti-clockwise loop back to Knightcote. All the way around here I could here shooting. I eventually found a load of cars parked in a field – I guess there was some form of game shooting event going on. I was concerned for a while that my route would go right through the middle of them, but thankfully it didn’t. My walk went right around the outside of them. Good. I don’t fancy being shot.
I was managing to find most of the caches fairly easily today, including all the “hanging in hedge” ones.
When I got back to Knightcote I sat on a bench by a cache for a few minutes to have a drink and a snack. It was proving to be slower going than I’d hoped.
The Northern Loop
From here there was a second loop which lead up to the M40 junction, across the top of a big area of wood, and then back through Bishop’s Itchington. The first stretch of this was along a paved road, so it was quick to walk. The caches were easy to find too, so I managed to improve my average rate a bit. Along this stretch I bumped into a father and son who were picking litter. They were intrigued by what I was doing. I don’t mind talking to people about it these days. I think they’d heard of it before but hadn’t ever tried it.
When I got to the “top corner” and started walking alongside the large wood, I started to get a bit irritated about the spacing. Some of the caches were spread out at 400m or 500m separation, despite it being easily being possible to place them at minimum separation of 161m. I guess the cache owner had decided he was doing 4 loops and hence spread the caches out accordingly. My experience on this day was that he could easily have fit another 20-30 caches around the walk I did. This would mean the fourth loop (the one I hadn’t done at the time) wouldn’t be needed at all. I’m not complaining too much, but I guess I’m used to working with caches that are much closer together.
I was starting to ache when I got to Bishop’s Itchington but thankfully I was nearly home by then. The last section was straight down the road and I was still finding the caches quite easily, but by the time I reached the car I’d walked 27km.
When I got back to the car it was late enough that I couldn’t be bothered with any more. I had found 80 caches though, so not a bad day really.