July 13th to 15th 2018
Izzy and I attended the GeoNord Mega geocaching event for the third year in a row.
This year’s was held in Dunkirk.
It was another busy weekend of caching in some good locations.
For the third year in a row Izzy and me decided we were going to the GeoNord Mega event. This year’s was to be held in Dunkirk, which is kind of only just in France really. The previous two years’ events had been held in Valenciennes (see Going Mega in France) and Saint Omer (see Saint Omer). On the first day we spent most of our caching time in old forts, and sand dunes.
Off We Go!
As with last year, we were joined on the trip by the Happy Hunter, which meant our caching team name for the weekend would once again be “Team Happy Vampire Pig”, shortened (sort of) to “THUP” on most logs. Unlike last year, though, we decided to set off first thing in the morning and get an extra day of caching under our belts. In my case, it’s quite a big belt, so I can get a lot of caching under it.
In a remarkable break from tradition, I’ve also decided not to post a photo of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at the start of this post. There’s a picture of it on pretty much every other post that included a crossing of it. It’s a tradition made to be broken.
Our first geocaching target was the set of puzzle caches that the GeoNord team released over the month of December last year. These were located around the “Bois des Forts” just outside Coudekerque. It was an area very familiar to Izzy and myself. We’d done a previous series of caches here on our way back home from GeoNord 2016 (in Valenciennes). On that occasion it was a fiercely hot day and we had Alibags and Norfolk12 with us. This time around is was fiercely hot again. It had been fiercely hot in both the UK and northern France for the previous 9 weeks or so.
We walked around the caches in reverse number order, for some reason. This put us in conflict with practically everyone else who was doing them on the same day. I never was one for doing things by the book.
The walk around was rather pleasant but a little slow. It took us a good three hours to finish the 24 puzzles and one Wherigo there. It should also be noted at this point that the Happy Hunter was the only one among us who’d leaned towards the full trouser when getting dressed in the morning. He was therefore the only one who get caches from the undergrowth without getting stung or bitten into extinction.
A part of the slowness was that about 4 caches from the end I managed to find the magic “completely trash the setup and delete all the caches” button on my GPS whilst it was in my pocket. This left me with the slight problem of having a GPS device with no caches on it.
That wouldn’t normally be too much of a problem. However, in this case, HHHP20 didn’t have the solutions to the other series we were planning to do. And the battery on my phone lasts about as long as a goldfish’s daydream. The problem was further compounded by the realisation that whilst I’d packed my little travelling laptop, I hadn’t packed a cable with which to connect it to the GPS. The day was getting more complicated than I’d planned.
Anyway, we finished off the series at the Forts using HHHP20’s phone. On returning to the car, I googled office stationery and/or electronics shops that were nearby. There was one kind of half a mile away on the way back towards Dunkirk, which was kind of convenient.
Because I needed to set up the GPS, we basically had to go find somewhere with power and free wi-fi. We decided the best bet was probably our hotel – the Ibis Budget Dunkerque Grand Synthe. According to many of the reviews, describing it as a hotel is a little grandiose. It’s basically a budget motel.
It’s the same chain as the place we stayed in Saint-Omer last year. However, the one in Dunkirk is a bit more dated and a bit smaller. The room was clean and the bed was comfortable even though it’s definitely at the “functional” end of the market.
When we arrived we had to figure out how to get in. There was no receptionist present – only an automated check-in machine. It wouldn’t allow us to pay for both nights up front. The machine only charged for the first night. We had to pay for the second night and the breakfast separately at the reception desk. Just as soon as the reception desk had a human being at it.that is. Anyway, we got into our rooms and it took me half an hour or so to redo the GPS so we could go out again.
By this time it was a bit late to attempt our second target for the day, so we swapped that out until Sunday and instead headed up to France’s most northerly point, in Bray-Dunes. Why? Because a couple of nights earlier, and literally at the moment where I asked the GeoNord crew on Facebook if they were releasing any new caches, a whole host of new caches had appeared around Dunkirk.
Sand in Our Shoes
One of the new series was a trail of Wherigos around the dunes. I managed to use my cunning and guile (cough, cough) to extract all the sets of coordinates from the cartridge file while I was at home, thereby guaranteeing finds on the caches even if we couldn’t get the Wherigo app to work.
Bray-Dunes is a busy little town and it was getting towards the end of the afternoon when we arrived, at about 5pm. We thought the 18 caches here (plus an earthcache) should maybe take us an hour and a half. OK, maybe two hours at most. What we hadn’t bargained on was that the paths through the dunes were mainly composed of loose sand. As a result our speed over the ground was quite slow. The caches were all easy, and we found them all quite quickly, but it seemed very hard work covering the ground between them. The net result was that it was most definitely dinner o’clock by the time we’d done the caches.
We’d arrived back in the town somewhere other than we’d left it, but the walk back to the car gave us a good overview of the various restaurants on offer. Izzy had a particular one in her mind, so we walked back there. The food was really quite good. I treated myself (again) to the local Flemish delicacy of beef stew with gravy so thick that it can be scraped up directly with the chips. In this case, the chips had been cut in such a way that each one formed a tiny shovel that was ideal for gravy excavation. Lush. By the time we’d finished main courses it was distinctly dark and we were getting cold, so we confused the staff by moving indoors while they weren’t looking. Izzy ordered a massive pudding which ended up being good enough for the both of us. Also lush !
It was completely dark when we left. This meant that, once back at the car, I had to dig the little headlight beam converters out of the glovebox and stick them on. I’m getting reasonably adept at that now, having done it to the current car on six occasions at least. So now I was suitably legal again. We returned to our sleeping place to try to grab a few hours of zzzzzzzz’s. Saturday promised to be a busy day of caching.
Over the course of the day we’d found 43 caches in total. That’s despite the big gap in the middle of the afternoon.
The day began with a relatively spartan breakfast at the hotel. I didn’t expect it to be massively lavish, and it wasn’t massively lavish. It probably was worth the €4 a pop, though. On the radar for today we had the Geonord event itself, and a drive to Lille.
On the cards for the day was, I suppose, the main feature presentation for this journey – the fourth and final GeoNord Mega event. The theme this year was “fire”, the previous two having been “air” and “water” (in reverse order). Sadly we missed “earth” as a result of it being the first one and us not having noticed. Back at the plot, the event this year was being held in a hall on the outskirts of Dunkirk which seemed to form a part of a greater school campus. It took a couple of hits to find the way into the proper car park. When we did find it, it had a distinct “school playground” feel to it. In fact, I parked right next to some goalposts.
The event was quite eventy. We completely forgot to sign onto the log-board, and when we entered the main hall there was a queue the size of a small planet trying to get hold of the supporter packs. We weren’t too bothered about those just yet. So we took the opportunity to do a bit of geocoin shopping and then broke up to go off in search of the various lab caches, or at least in search of people who already had the answer codes for them. I think Izzy and me actually did about 6 of the ones outside before descending into the game of playing swapsy with others and/or peering over shoulders at someone else’s booklet.
As is now always the case, I log the lab caches directly on my phone whilst at the event to make sure that the answers I’ve solved (cough) are correctly written down. One of the ones we tried didn’t actually work early in the morning. One of the crew corrected the online answer so it matched the “in the field” answer at about 11am.
Having suitably acquired and tested all 20 answers we went back into the event hall to pick up our event packs, which in our case contained a couple of nice geocoins, a few random bits and bobs, and another couple of massive knock-off French Army ammo cans. These were sufficiently large that they had to go straight into the back of the car, which was thankfully only about 100 yards away.
Les Grandes Frites
It was more or less lunchtime by this point. We queued up at the chip van, hoping to get some impressive chips freshly cooked. I ordered three large ones, thinking that the price would mean enough to be reasonably filling. As he was serving them out the guy stopped after doing four bags and said (in French, but I got the gist) that this was my first two “large” chips and I’d have to wait a bit for the third while they cooked up some more potatoes. “What ?”, said I, “Un grand frites est deux bags, is it?” “Oui monsieur, le pape est-il catholique?” (or words to that effect). Hmmm ! “OK, deux grand sacs de frites suffiront, je pense”
My pense-ing was correct. A large portion of chips consisted of what I would describe as two quite large bags. Four large bags of chips proved to be about one-and-a-half more than the three of us wanted. They were nice chips, but after a while, more chips is just more chips.
A Cunning Plan
While we were sitting on the grass and disposing of the European potato mountain we firmed up our plans for the afternoon. The Happy Hunter wanted to have a bash at doing 8 different cache types in a day in a foreign country as part of a challenge cache he’d read about. The description allowed the use of lab caches, so we thought it looked relatively easy and, indeed, that we might make it to 9 types in a day rather than 8. To achieve it, though, we were going to have to escape from the event and go to Lille for the rest of the day. Lille is the closest place that has any of the “weird” types. Well, it’s only about 100km away, so not a particularly burdensome trip for a bunch of keen cachers.
The nine types of caches available on the day were therefore Mega Event, Lab Cache, Traditional, Multi, Mystery, Earthcache, Virtual, Wherigo, Letterbox. Obviously while we were sitting eating our chips we’d already done the Mega Event and the Lab Caches. Two down, seven to go.
Before leaving the event site we grabbed a tactical Trad cache right on the perimeter of the event site. It was placed as part of one of the event’s new releases. Tactical, because we weren’t sure what was going to happen later, and it was really right in front of us. Three down.
Off to Lille
From here we drove down towards Lille to complete the party. Next stop was on the outer outskirts of town, at the “Parc Urbain de Lomme” – we parked in what seemed an excessively large area of parking. One can only assume that very occasionally there is a mass of cars descending on this location that weren’t present on a Saturday afternoon in mid-July. There were very few people in the park so it was easy to get to the location of the next challenge.
We came here simply because it was the best choice for a Letterbox cache that we could see. The nearest others were the series we did in Saint Omer at the previous year’s event, and we gave up on doing those because we ran out of ones that could be done from the car. This one also couldn’t be done with a car, but at least it was vaguely in the direction of Lille. The letterbox was an easyish find but in a rather insect-ridden location. Four down.
Whilst in this same park we noticed there was supposedly a couple of multis, one of which was meant to be a simple offset from the start point. We therefore felt obliged to go for a look. The information for the final was easy to find. However, once at the final coords we spent probably 15 minutes before giving up. It was essentially a fairly small cache hidden under a tree canopy and the hint was a very helpful “tree” or something similar. Not a Scooby. Could have been anywhere, so we decided to call it a bad job and move on. We might be able to find another multi later.
So we moved from here to the centre of Lille, still having four (or five) more types to do to meet HHHP20’s target. The centre of Lille looked like easy pickings but, rather sadly, finding a car park was more difficult. The massive place by the castle that I’d targeted was not accessible, and a load of the roads around it were closed. We couldn’t really understand why until the Happy Hunter made the fairly obvious suggestion that it was something to do with it’s being Bastille Day. Well I guess that sort of made sense. The car park was shut because of all the guys littering it with masses of explosives and artistic lighting.
We headed on in the general direction of “Centre Ville”, like you do. I parked in a car park beneath what seemed to be a theatre. It also had a cafe, so we availed ourselves of a quick drink and pit stop before heading off for more caches.
The Place du Théâtre is home to an interesting collection of architecture. Interesting enough to be the subject of both a Virtual cache and an Earthcache. The virtual was all about a building that has a number of cannonballs embedded in its walls. The Earthcache I’m not too sure about, because HHHP20 was officially in charge of Earthcache answers on this trip. So five and six down. Just a wherigo, mystery and multi to go for a full house.
There was a multi on the way out of the town centre in the general direction of a wherigo that I already had the answer to, so we stopped for a quick look. It involved counting various bits of “fruits de mer” off the front of a mosaic-covered building. We had a couple of stabs and got some dodgy-looking coordinates. A quick conference and we gave up, on the basis no one had found it for ages. Fair enough.
At this point Izzy was really keen on getting ice cream. Sadly we’d hit a point where, despite having seen hundreds of ice cream shops in the town centre, we didn’t pass a single one in the direction we were going. We kept on going (rather reluctantly, in Izzy’s case) and found the wherigo that I’d, err, “solved”. From here we continued on two a pair of trads which contained the coordinates for the only mystery anywhere near the town centre. Both were present, although the second took an eternity to find and we nearly gave up. We got a reasonable if rather distant-looking set of coordinates for the mystery. Following the arrow, we discovered a perfect hint item but no actual cache. We checked logs and established it had disappeared a little while ago.
At this point we weren’t quite sure what to do. We eventually plumped for leaving a film pot at the hint item and claiming a find. We definitely had the right coordinates and there obviously wasn’t a cache of the described size there. Ho hum ! Let’s see if the CO objects. Allowing for this one then, that make all 8 types required to make the challenge that HHHP20 was looking at. So could we get a 9th by doing a multi too?
Ice Cream, Now Please
First of all Izzy was absolutely insistent that it was time we addressed the ice cream issue. We wandered back into the centre of town and, more or less, played join the dots with people carrying ice-creams in various states of consumption, aiming at each step to move towards someone with an ice-cream that was slightly less eaten than the previous one. Follow them uphill and eventually you’ll reach the top.
The top ended up being a little ice cream bar opposite the cathedral. There was a bit of a queue but it was worth it. We got suitably tooled up with ice cream and wandered over to sit on the grass and pass a few minutes. While we were there the Happy Hunter wandered off to find an earthcache. Izzy wandered off to take a few photos of the cathedral. I wandered off to find a traditional cache that was 30 yards from where we’d sat down. And then we tried to decide what to do for the rest of the night. We’d initially thought we could stay in Lille for dinner, but we were all a bit pooped. So we felt we’d be better served by driving back to Dunkirk for a shower and a change of clothes.
We did that drive via a very simple-looking one-stage multi on the outskirts of Lille, just to complete the set, as it were. It was indeed one of the easiest finds of the day. Tickety-tick – nine cache types found in one day in a country other than your own. Notice I’m not saying “foreign” here. I’ve found significantly more geocaches in France this year than I have in Britain.
The caches we found during the day (not including the 20 lab caches) were :
After we got back to the hotel we had a quick shower and then scooted round to the coast to the east side of Dunkirk, where I remembered from four years previously that there was a beach with a bunch of restaurants on the seafront.
Deux Sans Frontieres? What? Shouldn’t that be Jeux Sans Frontieres? Probably, but then I’ve been here before. Or at least I’ve been to one of today’s locations before, so it’s “Deux” not “Jeux”. Can you see what I did there?
So for the sake of completeness and accurate references, the previous visit is the one described in Jeux Sans Frontieres.
Back at the plot, as if there’s ever anything resembling a plot anywhere near any of my blog posts, this was the third and final day of our 2018 trip to the GeoNord Mega geocaching event in Dunkirk. It began once again with a modest breakfast at the hotel. There quickly followed some rapid packing of bags and checking out. Boo, hiss ! It’s “going home” day. At least we had booked a very late train. We had a pretty long day available for a bit more caching before having to give in to the inevitable.
Our first stop was the beach at Leffrinckouke, a place too small to have its own entry on Wikipedia. It does have a very big beach composed of miles and miles of flat sands, though. This beach is remarkable because of the rather fantastic restyling on one of the old WWII concrete bunkers.
We were here because it was hosting the “Cache In, Trash Out” event that traditionally follows each Mega Event. Because of this it was a bit of a nightmare to get parked. Flaming geocachers, turning up with their bin bags and shifting all the rubbish. Not that there was a great deal of rubbish on the beach there anyway, as often seems the case. I’m pretty sure that when land owners allow a CITO event to take place they clean the place up beforehand. Much like your mother would always make a point of hoovering before anyone came round to visit, even when that visitor was the cleaner.
Anyway, there were so many cleaner-uppers already at work that it looked like it was going to be slim pickings. We took a token bin bag and wandered off in search of some other caches in the area. This was one of the locations where the GeoNord crew had planted a few new ones. We didn’t want to do many here as we’d got other plans. But we thought we’d do a token few while we were on the beach.
When we’d done all this we decided that was enough of the CITO, though, as we’d got an appointment elsewhere.
Getting the Sand Between Our Toes
The villages of Ghyvelde and Adinkerke sit either side of the French – Belgian border about 3-4 miles in from the sea. There’s an area of fossilized sand dunes between the two villages, which sit about 2 miles apart. The GeoNord crew saw fit to replace the previous series of caches around here with a completely new set. Obviously as it was a different set of caches I had no objection to walking around again. My two companions on this trip hadn’t been there before anyway.
We walked the same way round as I’d done last time – anticlockwise. This time, though, I parked on the Ghyvelde side rather than on the border. This meant we did the caches in number order, initially heading east from France towards Belgium. There weren’t as many other people around as I thought there might be. Maybe most of the other cachers were exploring other nearby series or had gone home already.
It was a pleasant enough walk on a very warm day. We found pretty much all of the caches apart from the one that was obviously miles up a tree. None of us fancied the climb. It was slightly higher up than is advisable for someone of my stature (or girth).
Having done that series, and racked up a pretty handy total of finds for the start to the day, we’d still really got time for a few more. I’d solved a series of puzzles on another cross-border loop down at Houtkerque / Watou which looked like they could be done in the car. That seemed ideal given that it was quite warm, and that we wanted to make sure we were able to just stop caching and drive to Calais whenever we needed to.
More Border Confusion
So we pootled off towards Houtkerque down a fairly slow country road. As we made the final turn we saw a group of pedestrians loitering around a group of roadsigns. There was a convenient place to pull off the road right next to them. That’ll be the start of it then.
While we were there, another car pulled up behind me. It was evidently going to be a bit busier here than it had been during the morning.
We started the loop at some random number, and found our way around the rest of them in approximately ascending order. Each was very conveniently positioned at the roadside right next to a place where you could pull off. That made the whole trip very easy, especially for me. Because I was driving, I didn’t even get out of the car for several of them. We kept seeing two or three other vehicles that were doing the same thing. We all kept seeing the same family of pedestrians we’d seen at the start. At the time we saw them for the second time, they’d done about 2/3 of the caches on foot in about 4 hours and we’d done about 2/3 of them in the car in about 90 minutes.
I was kind of glad we’d decided to do these in the car. It would have been a long walk round. By the time we’d finished we’d done all 40 or so on the series in under 2.5 hours and had therefore got ourselves up to about 80 finds for the day.
It was still only mid afternoon, so we could have continued on and tried to make 100 finds if we’d wanted, but I think we were all cached-out, so instead we decided to go off in search of refreshments.
We decided that cafes and bars in France would be no good at this point, because it was the day of the 2018 World Cup Final and the French were playing. The Belgians weren’t, having been edged out by France in the semi-final. So the French were all out down the pub watching the football, while the Belgians were all watching it at home, or, like us, not bothering.
We found a couple of ladies who were filling their “not bothering” time by staffing a bar / cafe in Roesbrugge and making us some very nice desserts. So we had our just desserts, in the sense of “only sweet things” rather than in the sense of “what we deserved”, although it did feel like we’d had a busy day, so I’m happy to go with either definition, to be honest. Once we’d finished we thought we should pay a token gesture to geocaching while we were there, and completed one solitary cache round the side of the nearby church. There were others in the village but I think we were cached out for the weekend. When I got home I discovered we hadn’t coloured in a new Belgian district/commune because both Roesbrugge and Watou are in the district of Poperinge.
The Quietest Drive in France Ever
At this point it seemed like a good time to head home. The football had kicked off, and as a result the roads just over the border in France were quieter than a minute’s silence at a Trappist’s funeral. We got back to Calais in short order and began the extra special form of chaos that is reserved for the Calais Eurotunnel Terminal on a Sunday night in summer.
We’d got absolutely ages in the terminal building to get something to eat, but somehow we still managed to only just make it in time, as a result of the pizza restaurant not actually having any pizzas to sell, which then caused a moderately long and ultimately abandoned period of queuing at Burger King and then a further period of queuing at the pizza place once they’d decided they could do individual slices but not whole pizzas. I’m not quite sure how that works. I think they were just regulating the sales of pizzas to something near what they could produce. Did I mention it was busy? While we were eating the pizzas the French won the World Cup.
Please Let Us Go Home!
We tried to blag our way onto our train immediately it was called. But by the time we’d left the parking space and got 20 yards up the road apparently our train had mysteriously been delayed. We got sent for another lap around the car park, which basically just involved us joining the back of the same queue we’d previously been at the front of. Not quite sure what was going on there, but we eventually got ourselves into a boarding lane. We didn’t get onto to our assigned train though. Ours was full, even though there were supposedly two leaving within a couple of minutes. We got pushed back to the second of those two and were among the first 3-4 cars to get on it.
Back in the UK, all was much as we’d left it and I lost another layer of rods and cones from my retinas driving back up the M20 just as he sun was going down and, essentially, shining directly into my eyeballs. This happens every time we come home on a Sunday night through the Channel Tunnel. It took a little while to get home. We had to drop off the Happy Hunter at his abode before heading back to MK. He’d be upset if we made him walk home. It had been a busy old weekend.
The geocaches we found on this day were :