Minions Part 1 – my first major trip out since the COVID lockdown, with the prospect of a major caching exercise on the radar. The chosen location was over to the east of Biggleswade for the One in a Minion series of puzzles. The form here is that it’s a bit of geoart that draws a minion. All the puzzles had a minion-based theme.
I parked at the given parking location – a small car park near the pub in the middle of Dunton. I’d parked here previously whilst doing parts of the Hatley Heart Attack series in 2015 and I remembered the village as soon as got there.
Off on my Way
As it happens, the walk was all very familiar too. I’d walked round here previously with Izzy. It all looked very familiar. The previous trip was quick going, and so was this. Before long I was over the first tranche of fields and onto a wide and quite busy bridleway. I was still caching quite quickly down here, but it was getting a bit irritating because of the number of disturbances.
When I’m caching I’m generally used to it being quiet, so it was surprising here to be disturbed every couple of minutes by hordes of cyclists out for a morning ride. I mean loads of them. Not just a few. I guess on reflection they didn’t disturb the caching very much, but they certainly did disturb me when I needed to turn my bike round. Seemingly every time I went to stand behind a tree a bunch of cyclists would stop right next to me. Grrr!
Eventually I turned off this bridleway, heading south towards Hinxworth and Ashwell. The walk through Ashwell village was good but I made a mistake. I assumed I could get to the “little loop in the middle” more easily if I moved the car down. Laziness is not always a friend, but more of that later.
The walk back out of Ashwell took me along a pleasant country road for a while. I was accosted by a local at one point, who wondered what I was doing. He was perfectly happy with my explanation. He’d heard of it, but never tried it. He didn’t realise that he lived somewhere where he must pass dozens every day. Just after here my path rejoined the bridleway of doom, but thankfully it was now devoid of cyclists. I wasn’t on it for long anyway. I turned north to cross a couple of fields and was back in Dunton – the end of Minions Part 1.
It was still fairly early when I got back to the car, so I decided to do a few drive-bys on my way back through Ashwell. I tried, but I failed. All the ones I wanted to do as drive-bys didn’t have anywhere to park. I mooched about for half an hour before I eventually found a bit of hard-standing just off the road that was vaguely near where I wanted to be. Vaguely near in the sense of needing a half-mile walk over rough fields to get back again. At least once I’d done those I found five caches in quick order on the way back.
And that was more or less my doo-dah for the day. There was a Sunday roast calling ever louder. Not a bad day out.
Minions Part 1 yielded a total of 91 finds on the day.
We’d got bored of having 10 metres of bare fence along one edge of the garden. We thought it would look better if we broke it up by building a big planting bed there.
A couple of years ago I built a 25m length of new fence. It runs from the back of the garage to the corner of the garden. It took me a fair chunk of the summer to do it. Anyway, of that 25m length, 5m is behind the garage and 8m is behind the edge of the lawn. The rest is a straight run of fence that is all you can see from that part of the patio. We decided that we should break it up a bit by adding another planting bed. Indeed, we decided to make this the biggest of the planting beds, running a length of about 2.5m. It’s a very simple rectangular bed that runs along the fence line.
I was able to use the existing row of big concrete blocks that lie along the perimeter. There was nothing wrong with these and they formed a nice straight and solid edge. So I only had to dig a trench for a three-sided concrete base. I went to a similar depth to the concrete blocks, more or less.
As with the other beds, I didn’t put a concrete pad across the middle of the base. That would mean finding somewhere to send excess water. What I’m actually doing is digging some of the clay out and refilling the bottoms with gravel, so they act as a bit of a sump for rainwater. We’ve never really had an issue with rainwater escaping from the soil, patio or beds before, so I made the decision that I didn’t need to do too much. I built a number of gravel soakaways to take water off the patio. I also didn’t put the slabs right up to the edge of the house. That would be better than it used to be, anyway.
I made the mistake of not planning to do this from the offset. I had to retro-fit some gaps in the mortar joints to allow the water in. The water that runs into in this bed seeps ever so slowly below ground level under next door’s path. If it comes down like stair rods then the water flows around the edge, but it used to do that anyway. The neighbour has a block-paved path along the edge, which has quite a good capacity for absorbing excess water. There’s a big gravel soakaway under there somewhere too. I therefore didn’t worry too much about drainage.
Back at the plot, this larger bed might become either the “desert” bed or the ericaceous one. Whatever goes into it, there will be a lot of it.
Fast forward to March 2021 and time to start planning the planting. Gardens centres were open despite the lockdown, so we were able to hack on with the plan. We decided that this bed was for me, so I planned a bunch of “partial shade” plants. On the first visit to a garden centre I returned with a prunus laurocerasus, a Sarcococca hookeriana and some vinca minor as well as a few unplanned other things. It now looks like a (part-planted) bed.
Planting Bed #1 is the smallest of the planting beds that I’m building. I started work on it first because it’s at the back of the house. Because I started it first, I also finished it first.
It’s a sign that your kids are growing up when one of them asks if I can build her a planting bed. It wasn’t just random. That would be weird. “Dad, can I have a planting bed?” No, I started on the great garden rework in spring and Ami asked if she could have a raised bed. She wanted to design and plant it up herself. So planting bed #1 has always been known as Ami’s Bed.
The plan was, as for all of these beds, to lay a concrete base first. On top of this are bricks to an appropriate height, topped off with coping stones. That is, pretty much, the most frequently used method for building planting beds in the garden.
Planting Bed #1, along with two of the others, is quite close to the house. I needed to build walls with enough gap to stop any chance of water creeping above the house’s damp proof. As a result it’s a full 4-wall construction.
This particular one is limited in height because of an overflow pipe coming out of the side of the house that I didn’t want to move. If any water does happen to flow out from the toilet cistern it will land in the planting bed.
I had no idea what Ami was intending to plant in the bed at the time of initially writing this post, but in the picture gallery you can see where she went. There are three low-growing leafy shrubs at the back, a cluster of little “fluffy” things that I suspect will grow into flowing plants in the spring. Then there’s a sedum and a horizontal juniper in the front corners. Nice job.
The good lady wife wanted a bed in the corner where we could plant some tall grasses and the like. She wanted to hide the fence and some of the garage wall. The cheek of it! I only just put that bit of fence up 🙁
Kas wanted a tallish bed in the corner between the garage and the house. She wanted it right where I’d put a new bit of fence). She wanted a tall bed to help hide my beautiful new bit of fence. Officially, she wanted tall grasses and similarly vertical plants to help create a screen wall. Cheeky wanting to hide my fence, but garage wall is dull. Anyway, I duly painted some lines onto the old patio for the purposes of visualisation. The lines are the plan. And if it’s on the plan, I’ll do it.
I laid the base for this one quite early, as I was doing some other work in that corner. The interesting feature (if you can call it that) for this bed is that the corner is not a right angle. It’s slightly acute. And, indeed, the fence is not strictly in alignment with the wall of the house either, so the back of the bed is somewhat off-square. I wanted the front of it to be square though, to make it look nice when the slabs go down. This was therefore the most difficult bed to lay the bricks for.
I started with a nice deep mortar bed as Kas had asked for the bed to be roughly her waist height. It’s the tallest of the beds I built, so I didn’t want to skimp on the footing.
I built the wall in several stages. Essentially, I added a couple of courses whenever the urge took me. It was nearly November before it was high enough. The bricks are sufficiently rough and irregularly shaped that the non-right angles don’t look bad. It was all right-angles on the front anyway, so that worked out nicely. You might even think I planned it that way. The finished effect is good. I just need to add some plants.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to finishing this one off with some coping stones and planting it up. I sort of fancy the idea of some architectural plants in that corner too. It always was a bit of a big and boring wall.
A Bit of Background
In the early part of August I was sitting at the PC one night and I got round to thinking about geocaching. I hadn’t done any for ages (not since March, just before the COVID lockdowns started). OK, I’d been a bit busy trying to fix up the back garden over the summer, and by mid-August I’d got quite a lot done. But there had been plenty of opportunities to go caching and I hadn’t. I lost my mojo, couldn’t be bothered with it, and generally felt a bit “Meh!” about the whole thing. So I got round to pondering on why that was. Whilst pondering I thought I’d attempt the Oceania and Asia loops of the Flags of All Nations series, to see if it got me back in the zone.
Two things sprang to my mind. One of them was that it was a continuation of the previous year, when despite not doing much over the summer I made a (relatively low) 650 finds in the year. A part of that was the absence of nearby mega-series. A part of it was the lack of GeoNord event in Northern France. I did drive up to Aberdeen for the 2019 UK Mega, and I enjoyed it, but that was definitely the highlight of my caching year.
So what to do?
I guess I’d got a bit weary. That had combined with a general sense of antipathy in the rest of the family. They weren’t quite trying to persuade me not to go, but equally they showed no interest in discussing it with me when I came back.
2019 was probably my first year when no others members of the family came with me apart from our family holiday. Even on the holiday I made most of the finds alone. So 2020 was a continuation of that, combined with the general misery of being in COVID lockdown and theoretically not being able to travel far, nor go caching with anyone outside the family. That wasn’t good.
The second reason was one that is more or less the reason for this post. It occured to me that I had started to think about geocaching almost totally in the context of maintenance trips I would need to do around the Flags of All Nations series. Once we were allowed to restart caching again I would have commit at least six full days to doing maintenance of those. At 2020’s rate of progress, six full days equated to the rest of the year. So, and I know this is not in the general spirit of geocaching, that the reason for my lack of enthusiasm was the perceived burden of having to spend time doing maintenance. There are, sadly, only two ways to address that issue – archive them, or adopt them out.
I’m never one to blow my own trumpet, but since I started work on them the Flags have developed a bit of a cult following, not just around Milton Keynes but across the whole of Southern England and beyond. I guess they are an easy way to score lots of puzzle finds in short order. I sensed therefore that there’d be a bit of a backlash if I just archived them all. They are still highly active. People still like them, so it would be a shame to get rid of them completely. That left me with the option of adopting them out. It’s a big series, so I contemplated approaching a number of local cachers, but then one night I was exchanging messages with Pesh and he pretty much volunteered to take them all off my hands. He apparently needs loads of places to walk his dog.
So in the middle of August a transfer was effected, and the Flags of All Nations were no longer mine.
I did still have a lingering sense of ownership (on the negative side). But then also found myself with a whole stash of new caches on my doorstep that I’m allowed to go and find. No armchair logging, you understand. I’m genuinely planning to walk all the way around every one, and as a gift to Pesh I will take a bag full of spare containers and logs whenever I do.
I’ve got previous
I’m afraid to say it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I’ve shed previous series at Stowe National Trust for much the same reason. The truth is that I quite like owning caches, and I like setting them, but I hate maintaining them. The only solution to that really is for me to stop setting them, and instead focus on finding more, but also on being a good citizen and maintaining those I find where they are in need of it.
All of the above is, then, a very long preamble into the point of this post. I went caching around a part of the Flags of All Nations series. And I enjoyed the experience of doing so.
The Beginning of the End
It was a Sunday and I’d obviously decided I needed a rest from laying paving slabs. It was a warm and humid afternoon, with a little cloud and a bit of breeze. Ideal for caching, you would think. Not too hot, not too cold, not too wet.
I decided to have a go at the “Oceania” loop and also the smaller (eastern) “Asia” loop. These are centred around the village of Whaddon, but as I knew I was doing both loops I parked in my customary spot on the edge of a housing estate on the west side of MK. I was surprised when I parked up that what had been fields when I set the original caches was now a full-on housing estate.
OK, not a total surprise because I’d reset the Oceania loop 18 months previously when it became apparent that the original route was no longer good. I placed the first of the Oceania loop in a hedge in the middle of nowhere. It’s now overlooked by a large house that’s no more than 20m away. Oops! This side of Milton Keynes is one of the two current areas of rapid growth. One week it’s a field, and the next it’s a housing estate.
I started by walking the Oceania loop in number order, but actually starting the walk from #249 because Pesh also placed a multi nearby and I wanted to know where the end of it was. I kind of guessed, to be honest, because there’s not exactly a lot of cache-free real-estate around here, but I started with that and then moved to Flags of All Nations #225. The Oceania loop is mainly urban, skirting down the edge of Tattenhoe Park. A lot of it runs alongside MK’s famous redway system, on sections that are also close to a main road. It’s therefore not the most peaceful part of the series, but it’s one of the fastest to walk round and it is accessible all year regardless of the weather. That was a good thing, because it rained a lot and I was getting wet.
So back to the plot. Once you’ve done the redways there’s a section where you cut through some woods and onto some open fields. About a year earlier I had an issue in this area because an old gate had been replaced with a fence, and a supposed route into the woods had become so overgrown, and blocked with barbed wire, that it wasn’t passable. On the very day I went to rearrange the caches on that part I discovered that the farmer had fitted two spangly new kissing gates and the footpath was now properly accessible all the way across again. Irritating on the day, because the maintenance was unneccesary, but very handy when trying to find them because the integrity of the original route is preserved.
After this section there’s a brief walk out onto a road and then back into another problem cache. A problem because the hedge it’s in borders a field which often has cows. I don’t like cows unless they are accompanied by pepper sauce and chips. Or Yorkshire puddings. I think they understand this, so they don’t like me either. On this day there were no cows in this field, but two fields along there were some. They looked intent on getting in my way, so I had to back-track around a 2km loop to avoid walking through 400m of field. At least there were no caches in that field though.
This bit leads to the outskirts of Whaddon village, from where I joined a bit of the Asia loop to get me back home again. The whole course for the day made sort-of a figure-of-eight shape, if you look at it in a certain way. I was getting a little tired, because it was warm and I was running out of drinks. My speed over the ground reduced, but I was still finding the caches easily enough.
There’s one on this stretch that disappears very regularly, so I replaced it. Where this stretch joins the old North Bucks Way, which forms the boundary of Milton Keynes at this point, there was another cache where essentially I’d moved the final location, changed the puzzle, and then went to the old location and found a cache. What the actual? I had to go check everything when I got home and a couple of days later I went back and removed the old one and signed the new (proper) one.
Along with these Flags caches there was a smattering of others that Pesh had laid nearby. So by the end I’d made a creditable 42 finds. Not a bad afternoon out. I’d walked just over 13 km in 4 hours to find them.