The Welsh Weekend
November 18th to 21st 2016
A weekend away with the lads and their fast cars. A significant quantity of beer was consumed, as an antidote to the excess of fresh air.
For ages and ages I’d been attempting and failing to arrange a “lads weekend” away somewhere with Kipper, Jimmy and Stevie. That makes it sound like me attempting to do the organizing and the other three doing the welching. Not really. We’ve just had several Friday or Saturday night “beers and curry” trips where we’ve mumbled through a drunken stupor about really needing to get something sorted and have then either conveniently forgotten, or decided it was all too complicated or expensive to actually do. So we didn’t do it.
Well not this time.
We started off talking about going to South Wales but then Jimmy interjected with a request to go to North Wales too, which I was initially not in favour of until it became clear that someone else would be driving all weekend. Buggrit then ! Why should I worry about the mileage if I’m not going to have to drive ?
Why wasn’t I going to have to drive ? Because Kip was just going to pick up his new car a few days beforehand, and he and Jimmy fancied a bit of a flash-car group test kind of a thing. Suits me. It’s extremely rare that I get to go away on holiday for 4 days and don’t have to drive at all. It is even rarer that I get driven around in a top-notch sports car. The cars in question were the rather stunningly good looking Porsche 911s shown the the photo. The white one is Jimmy’s. The blue one is Kipper’s.
The weekend began on Friday morning with me having to go up to my dentist to get the rough edges polished off a crown I’d had replaced the previous weekend. OK, that wasn’t part of the weekend away, but it was something I had to do on Friday morning.
The weekend away began with the chaps turning up in the flash motors at my house in the middle of the morning. This part was quickly followed by a fuel and coffee stop and then a fairly slow meander up the M40 in the direction of Birmingham. This turned into a moderately fast chunter up the M54 to the Telford Services, where we stopped for coffee, snacks, and a bit of caching. There is a massive old steam hammer in the car park which is host to an Earthcache called Shropshire Iron. It’s also home to a traditional cache, but the logs seemed to indicate that some climbing was involved in finding it. Personally, I’m not very agile, but also I wouldn’t have placed a cache on such a monument if it was necessary to climb on it. I searched all the areas I could reach without climbing and didn’t find it. If it does involve climbing, they’re welcome to it. Not a game I would play.
On returning to the cars we decided on a swap around, with Stevie riding shotgun in Kip’s car and me with Jimmy.
The drive up from here was slightly more interesting than the motorways earlier in the day, mainly involving the A5 until just before Betws-y-Coed. This involved passing through Llangollen, the scene of an earlier adventure this year at the UK Mega Geocaching Event (see Llangollen Mega).
We arrived there with just enough daylight left to go for a quick gander around Conwy town. There wasn’t a lot to see, to be honest, as more or less everywhere seemed to be closed. I guess it isn’t tourist season and because the light disappears at 4:30pm it’s likely everyone had packed up for the day and had relocated to whatever form of activity goes down on a Friday evening. We did get some fresh air and a bit of a leg stretch though, but not very many decent photos, as the light was disappearing at, well, the speed of light.
Once darkness had properly arrived we decided that it was officially allowed to be beer o’clock, so we headed back to the Groes Inn and settled into the bar for the evening. It was one of those excellent bars where despite the fact that they weren’t, technically speaking, open to the public at the point when we arrived, the barman was perfectly happy to serve us a pint while they were waiting to open, what with us being guests at the hotel. And in the bar was more or less where we all stayed until bed o’clock, with the exception of a couple of dashes out to grab cards and risk.
Breakfast was a fairly lardy effort by all four of us. I was ready a few minutes early so I took the opportunity to dash 200 yards down the road to find This Daughter became a Conwy Valley tour guide and to take a couple of photos. It was quite a nice morning.
After we checked out of the hotel we headed off for Jimmy’s “main event” for the weekend, which was the drive around the Evo Triangle, which starts a little way back along the A5 from where we’d been the previous night. While we were having breakfast there had been a couple of hail showers and the remnants of it were still lying around on the ground. This, combined with Kip’s understandably tentative driving (in a car he’d only had for three days) meant that my ride around was somewhat more leisurely than Jimmy and Steve’s. The first stretch is really quite narrow and twisty. You can see why Evo Magazine tests cars up there, but I could also see why Kip wasn’t really testing his.
From here we hadn’t really got much of a plan other than to start heading south. We started by picking our way south through Blaenau Ffestiniog in the general direction of Portmeirion, where we stopped to refuel the cars. Blaenau Ffestiniog has some tourist trade associated with the slate mining industry, but this is fairly quiet in November. It also has the dubious distinction of being an island of non-park within the middle of the Snowdonia National Park. The village is surrounded (and completely dominated) by spoil heaps from the now defunct slate mines, which gives it a somewhat otherworldly feel. The National Park has a nice mix of colours, especially in Autumn, with grass, trees, coloured buildings, and so on. Blaenau Ffestiniog is predominantly grey in colour.
We’d sort of half planned to drive down the coast road from Portmeirion through Harlech to Barmouth but as we glanced at our watches while filling the cars up we decided instead that we ought to get a few more miles done while the driving conditions were good (i.e. while it was sunny and the roads were dry). So we just headed back up the main road and followed a series of winding A-roads all the way down to Aberystwyth. At one point we passed the now decommissioned Trawsfynydd nuclear power station – the only nuclear station ever built in the UK that’s not by the sea. This being Wales, they concluded that the lake they constructed to hold the cooling water would never empty enough to cause a problem.
I’m not sure what I expected to find in Aberystwyth, because I’ve never been there before. I was somehow expecting it to be a much bigger place than it was. It basically only has a couple of shopping streets in the middle with some housing estates around the outside and the rather large Aberystwyth University. The place is apparently a very long way from anywhere else, by UK standards, with the closest large settlements of note being Swansea (70 miles), Telford (75 miles) and Wrexham (80 miles). We stopped to have some lunch (well, coffee and cake) and a bit of a leg-stretch through the castle and down the sea front a little bit. At the castle I managed to sneak in an Earthache called Aberystwyth stone circle earth cache.
The important distance (from our perspective) in that list of places above was “Swansea (70 miles)”, or in our case, Gower Peninsula (86 miles). By the time we left Aberystwyth it was well after 3pm, so we were in for some driving in the dark. We picked our way down the coast initially through a seemingly endless succession of small villages, all of which were in the bottom of a steep hollow, followed by a steep climb out. I guess there’s a village here at every point where a stream flows out into the sea.
We eventually turned off the coast road and followed a bunch of smaller (but still A graded) roads down to Carmarthen. By the time we got there it was all but dark. At least there we picked up a decent dual carriageway that took us a good chunk of the way. By the time we got back onto the country roads leading into the Gower it was completely dark, and it was also chucking it down with rain. Methinks that both drivers were having a slight sense of humour crisis and just wanted to get parked up and get the beers in. I don’t blame them. They’d both been driving for about 5 hours over the course of the day.
We were staying at the King’s Head Inn at Llangennith, which proved to have some very nice bedrooms but a public area that was somewhat more basic than the Groes Inn, where we’d been the previous night. It wasn’t bad, it was just more of a pub than a restaurant.
We’d reserved a table for dinner for 7:30, but ended up in the bar well before 6 and started merrily helping ourselves to beer and food pretty much as soon as we got there. Stevie kept disappearing up the car park to fetch games out of Jimmy’s car. There was some cards and risk involved. And that was pretty much it for Saturday.
Breakfast at the hotel started unusually late (at 8:30am), and we decided we couldn’t even be bothered with that early, so we went for 9am. The highlight (cough) was undoubtedly Kip’s discovery that Laver Bread doesn’t contain either bread or molten rocks. Basically, it’s boiled, mushed-up seaweed. It didn’t look very appetising. I reckon it’s one of those things that hotels put on the menu in a tourist area safe in the knowledge that some poor unsuspecting soul will try it just because it’s supposedly a local delicacy. I reckon the locals don’t even eat it themselves – they just like to wind up tourists by pretending they do.
Back at the plot, Sunday was supposed to be “my” day, in that it involved some walking and a few geocaches. I have to say that I managed to make a complete pucky-acky of the whole thing, starting with the discovery that my GPS had been switched on in Kipper’s car on Saturday afternoon, followed by the disappointment of finding that I’d failed to put the charger cable into my caching bag, and finishing with the disgrace of discovering that at some point between Thursday night and Sunday morning the geocaches I’d very carefully loaded onto it had somehow got deleted. The GPS was therefore reduced to the level of being a heavy and slightly unreliable (but at least waterproof) map. Any caching would have to be done on my phone. It’s a good job I’d only planned for us to do 8 or so anyway.
Our plan was to walk from Llangennith over to Rhossili and on to Worm’s Head an then back again – a distance that ought to be about 5 miles each way. Time was an issue all day because the causeway to Worm’s Head is only accessible for a 5 hour period around each low tide, and the only available low tide window during daylight was due to start at 2pm. That’s not a great equation if your walk onto the head and back takes at least 90 minutes and then you’ve got over four miles to walk home across country on a day where darkness arrives at about 4:30pm. Still, what could possibly go wrong, huh?
The first stage of our walk took us from Llangennith over Rhossili Down (where we found 2 normal caches, one YOSM and a completely random bit of tupperware that’s logged on a competitor geocaching website.
The highlight of this stretch (at least for the other three) was watching me slide over not once, but twice, on the wet slope coming down into Rhossili village. I got dirty.
We grabbed a church micro geocache in the village and then made our way to the National Trust office to confirm the tide times. It was about time for a break too, so we retired to a nearby cafe for coffee and cake while I washed my hands and gently shed the layers of drying mud off my trouser legs and onto the floor. Hmm!
From here we made the walk down to the Worm’s Head causeway, stopping to do a further 2 traditional caches and another Earthcache and we found ourselves sitting at the bottom of a cliff waiting for the tide to go out. There were quite a few other people doing the same. They seemed all to be in the “silver surfer” category, not that any of us are exactly spring chickens, but I got the distinct impression that we were among the youngest of those waiting. We had to sit there for a good 40 minutes or so while the water dropped away. The official word was that you’d be able to cross at 2 pm. Some of the old geezers started to make their way down and across at about ten to, so we obviously packed up and followed them.
The walk out along Worm’s Head was quite challenging. The initial causeway was only just draining as we walked across, so we had to keep rerouting to find a dry way through, plus the rocks themselves were rather jagged. Beyond a certain point, the rocks got a bit easier and we were mainly skipping through smaller rocks encrusted with barnacles and surrounded by loads of little mussels, which made the underfoot conditions much more grippy. At the first island, it was a straightforward walk around the grass. Kip and Stevie took the hardcore option of walking over the top rather than around the side, obviously.
At the far end of the Inner Head the walk becomes quite tricky as you have to scramble over some very rough rocks that are full of deep crevasses. The rocks themselves are sedimentary and have been folded such that the cleavage lies at a 70% angle to the flat. This makes it extremely uneven to try to walk over, and quite slow going.
From there you go around the middle head and arrive at the Devil’s Bridge – a naturally formed bridge in the limestone that’s the site of an Earthcache called Little Bridges #886 Devils Bridge. When I was planning the walk, this was as far as I thought it was reasonable to try to go, but of course opnce you’re out there it’s very tempting to go further, so we did. We made it all the way out onto the Outer Head. Kip and Stevie attempted to climb up to the highest point (they didn’t quite make it) while me and Jimmy decided that time was marching on and that we had gone far enough already to claim we’d “done it”, so we turned and started going back. It had taken most of an hour to get to the Outer Head from dry land, so we estimated that turning around and returning would put us back on land just before 4 pm. We didn’t want to leave it too late because we didn’t fancy trying to cross the causeway in failing light, even if the tide was well out.
As it happened, Kip and Steve caught up with us again (and overtook me) going back across that rocky ridge again and then surged ahead over the causeway to get back well ahead of me. In any case it took us a good 15 minutes less to get back than it had to get out. The causeway had become a good bit easier.
Back at the cafe, we decided to grab a quick drink and snack to keep us moving. Somehow, whilst standing in the queue in the cafe, I turned around and the end of my walking pole (which poking out of the top of my bag) managed to surgically remove a flatbread from the top of a bowl of kedgeree without causing the waitress to drop the bowl of kedgeree. I bet I couldn’t do that again if I tried. I decided it wouldn’t be a great idea to suggest that the “five second rule” applied, so I apologised as politely as I could manage and went to stand outside in disgrace. The poor waitress seemed at a bit of a loss for what to do before eventually deciding to go back and do another flatbread. Sorry! I didn’t realise you were there.
So after a quick drink we started the remaining couple of miles back home. For this leg, as it was now getting fairly gloomy, we decided we’d walk along the raised beach under Rhossili Down rather than going back over the top. It looked safer and easier to follow in the dark. I learned later that it’s not a raised beach, it’s a solifluction terrace caused by slumping of the cliff above during a previous era when the cliff face was subjected to regular freeze-thaw cycles. This has been made to look like a raised beach as the sea now is gradually undercutting it as it forms the rather lovely Rhossili Beach.
Back at the plot, we set off down a path that looked nice from above but proved to be a quagmire, so we backtracked a little and descended down a road that at least had hardcore on it until we got onto the level just above the beach. From here it was a flat walk (if somewhat long) to the other end of the beach and an entrance into the bottom end of a massive caravan park. We then had a seemingly very long walk through the caravans and then along a surprisingly long access road back up into Llangennith. By the time we got back home we’d walked nearly 12 miles and had been out for nearly 7 hours, although we weren’t exactly walking quickly for much of that. It was completely dark anyway.
We reconvened in the hotel restaurant (or was it the lounge) half an hour later, having done our best to wash away the dodgy smells. I managed to neck a pint of orange and lemonade in double quick time, ‘cos my mouth was drier than a pharaoh’s sock, and then we got into the now traditional evening activities of drinking beer, eating food and playing cards. In my case the beer went quite slowly, and I wasn’t very hungry. I ordered some onion rings and nachos and then picked my way through them with no great enthusiasm (and with much abuse from Kip, as I wasn’t eating the jalapenos, which constitutes a serious failing, apparently). I think I ended up leaving half of them. I just wasn’t hungry.
After a while, and after the boys had pudding, we retired to the bar (definitely a bar in the other side – there’s a jukebox, a pool table, and they let dogs in), for a couple more drinks and a journey through an eclectic mix of music on the jukebox courtesy of DJ Kip, while Stevie, Jimmy and me pretended we could play pool. Some of us were better at pretending than others were. It did feel a bit like being a student again though, especially when the barman told us not to put any more money in the pool table because he wanted to go home. It wasn’t even 11 pm though. They evidently don’t do late opening on a Sunday, even if you are staying there.
I spent the night tossing and turning and listening to the sounds of the world outside. The sound most of the world seemed to be making was that of a running tap.
We had breakfast at 8:30 after having swum down the car park from the hotel rooms. We then swam back up again and packed up the cars ready for the trip home. While we were still on the Gower it was sailing more than driving, to be honest. The M4 had a 50mph speed limit most of the way because of the awful visibility and all the standing water on the carriageway, but apart from that, and the fact that we stopped to refuel in Swindon, the trip home was a bit of a non-event for me. I was a bit knackered and Kip was doing a sterling job of driving through the rain without moaning, so I spent much of my time snoozing or playing with my phone. It didn’t seem like a great idea to try to engage Kip in a discussion anyway. It was the kind of driving weather where you really need to pay attention.
We made it back home at about 2 pm, in plenty of time for me to fart about with some photos on the PC before going to fetch Izzy from school. I’d been assuming all the way home that I’d be driving to fetch her, given the rain, but somehow I managed to catch a dry and sunny spell so was able to walk there.
And that was about it. It was a four day weekend during which I’d eaten far too much, drunk less than I’d expected I might, walked a bit, filled in two new counties on my caching profile and been driven around in two very nice motors. We’d managed to get good weather whenever we needed it (for driving round the Evo Triangle and for walking on the Sunday).
We might have to make a habit of having lads weekends away if they all end up being like that.
Kas somehow got it into her mind that it would be a good-fun idea to run an ultra-marathon in Cumbria to finish off the summer holidays. The Grand Tour of Skiddaw, no less. 46 miles of “lumpy” terrain, with one rather massive “lump” in the middle. She must be mad.
Anyway, enough of that. What actually happened over the weekend then?
Kas and the girls had been away at Kas’s mum’s house in Whitburn all week and I travelled up on a very nice Pendolino from Milton Keynes to Carlisle on Friday afternoon to meet them. Technically, I’d been working all week. However I was in final throws of working out my notice with my employer, so both productivity and enthusiasm had been on the low side all week. Nana and Grandad were also driving over and were going to look after the kids on Saturday while Kas was racing. My plan was to follow Kas around a bit, essentially being alternately worried and bored, depending on how long I’d being sitting at each location.
On Friday night we had to go over to the event village at Lime House School, and this proved to be a highlight of the weekend, in a near-total-disaster sort of way. Google Maps thought it knew the way there, so we followed it. We ended up going down a road that was getting increasingly dodgy, and looked less and less like the correct direction. So at one point we stopped and turned the car around on someone’s drive. We’d been followed down there by a couple of other cars and it was a bit tight getting everyone around, so Kas tried to pull off the edge of the road to allow a descending car to get past us (there was no other way), but at this point we had a horrendous crunching noise as the car went over the top of a rock buried in the grass. Fair enough, further up the slope there was a line of rocks delineating a “don’t drive on my grass” zone, but where we were at the time there were no visible rocks. Should’ve got out to check, I suppose. The car essentially got beached on the top of it, and it took us a good half hour, and the help of a local resident (thankfully not the one who’s grass verge we’d just trashed) with a car jack to get us out. We had to lift the car wheel up off the ground far enough to dislodge the rock from underneath the skid-plate on the bottom of the car. Thankfully though, the rock was under the skid-plate and we hadn’t gone far enough through to get it trapped under any of the more delicate bits like the exhaust system. It wasn’t the best half-hour I’d ever had though.
Once we’d been through that, actually getting Kas’s running number and getting registered for the race was a piece of proverbial. We returned apparently none the worse to our hotel near Carlisle and met up with Nana and Grandad, and then quickly headed off towards central Carlisle to get dinner. Our first proposed port of call wasn’t open (and, in fact, didn’t open all night) so we continued right into the centre to walk around looking for a restaurant serving Italian food that wasn’t already fully booked for the whole night. It took us about 4 attempts, and we ended up in a nice little place called Gianni’s Pizzeria, right next to where we’d parked. It didn’t look inspiring from the outside, which is why we didn’t go in it straight away, but first impressions can be deceptive. It was pretty good.
Saturday morning saw me and Kas out of bed in darkness. It’s the first time I’d done that since last winter. Kas has been doing it every other day for months as part of her training schedule, but it was a bit out of order from my perspective. We were also far too early for breakfast at the hotel. Just as well we hadn’t paid for it. Kas had bought porridge and some cereal bars.
The drive round to Lime House School was uneventful (now we know the way) and we arrived bright and early for the event. Kas had forgotten to pick up her satellite stalk-a-racer gizmo the previous night but the event was small enough that the organisers could guess that she was one of three lady competitors who hadn’t done so, and she was therefore up and running before we really even got bedded into the place.
There were only 96 registered competitors and they were only expecting 88 of them to turn up, apparently, so it wasn’t exactly busy at the start area. We grabbed a coffee from the mobile pizza van and waited around, chatting to fellow competitors. Kas’s running buddy for the day, Paul, had also arrived. He wanted to “not go too fast” so had asked Kas if they could run together. Turned out to be a wise plan.
Anyway, by 8 am they were off. And by 8:15, so was I.
First stop for the runners was at Caldbeck, and I had an hour and a half or so to get there. That gave me plenty of time to grab three or four geocaches on the way. Kas and Paul came in somewhere in the back half of the field, had a quick drink and a photo stop and then disappeared off again.
From Caldbeck, I had decided not to try to meet them again at the car park at Latrigg, because we’d been up there a couple of times in May and I didn’t fancy trying to get Kas’s car up there, nor did I expect to be able to park there anyway. Kas’s car had already had enough adventure and excitement for one weekend. As well as it being a checkpoint for the GTOS there was a station for a different fell racing series in the same place on the same day. It was going to be busy.
So I decided to pick my way rather slowly round to Peter House Farm, which is all the way around at the access road going up to Whitewater Dash. This gave me an estimated 6 hours before Kas would pass me again, because from Caldbeck she’d got to run a further 8 miles into the fells, then up and down Skiddaw and then another 2 miles over the fields. I spent the first of those hours driving from Caldbeck and doing a handful more geocaches. I then got to Peter House Farm and waited 5 minutes in the middle of the road whilst waiting for someone else to vacate a parking space – it was one of the race organisers doing a tour round making sure the marshalls were ready. After I parked up the weather turned pretty foul, but it wasn’t predicted to get any better. It was windy and showery and quite cold. I decided to take the walk up to Whitewater Dash with my raincoat on, because I’d got plenty of time and there were a couple of geocaches up there. It was wet and windy all the way there, as I was walking into the weather. It was a little further than I thought too, but the views were great. The walk back was downhill and the wind was behind me too, so the world was much better. I also found a geocache that the previous three searchers had missed, so I felt a bit smug.
This still left me with a projected 3 hours of waiting before Kas might pass me. I’d rather shabbily not taken anything to eat or drink with me but I also didn’t want to leave just in case I couldn’t get back into the car park when I returned, so I decided to just wait and do some reading, whilst occasionally sponging use of a phone from one of the marshalls. Why? Because I had no signal, so the satellite stalk-a-runner device Kas had with her was no use at all to me. At third use of the marshall’s phone the painful truth had become apparent – I was going to be there for a couple of hours longer than Kas had predicted. She later told me this was because the weather up top was absolutely foul, and they were down to crawling pace, especially on the descent. Fair do’s. She does have a bit of previous where running down mountains is concerned.
Thankfully I had a big, fat book with me, and had also remembered to take my glasses. The book was Surface Detail, by my favourite science fiction author Iain M. Banks. I’d started reading it on the train up to Carlisle on Friday and was less than a quarter of the way through when I sat in the car to read it on Saturday. I was well past halfway when I stopped.
Kas and Paul eventually got to where I was at around 4:30 pm, looking somewhat dishevelled but in good heart. They stayed for a very short while and then scooted off again, leaving me to pick my way back round to Caldbeck for their next stop. This time I decided to go round slowly, and to stop for food. I’d spotted a cafe come art gallery in Uldale on the way in so decided to try it. The place was in an old school and I was a bit suspect as I walked in. It turned out to be really good, despite having no other customers at the time. Maybe it was good because they didn’t have any other customers. Anyway, I got soup, bread, a drink, and then a cream & jam scone and large coffee for not very much. I can live with loneliness for nice food at those prices.
My exit was delayed for a couple of minutes by some local bovine traffic passing by on the road, but I was still in plenty of time to meet Paul and Kas at Caldbeck again, this time looking somewhat more knackered than when they’d been there earlier. They arrived there between 6:30 and 7 pm, which gave them about 8 miles out of 46 left to do, with about 90 minutes of usable light at the most. They were going to finish in the dark. It’s a good job the kit list had head torches on. They didn’t stay long at Caldbeck this time – just long enough for a couple of biscuits and half a hot drink.
So off they plodded again. I watched them off and headed back to Lime House School to wait. During the course of the day the field they were using as a car park had transitioned from grassy to muddy, but there wasn’t really anywhere else to go given that Kas might be struggling to walk, so into the mud I went. I then spent another nervous hour and a half waiting for them, mooching about, trying to estimate where they were based on who else was finishing (not a reliable process over a 46 mile run) and reading a bit more of my book. Eventually it was too dark to read in the car so I went and sat in the sports hall amongst people who’d finished already.
After 8:30 I decided they couldn’t be much longer so I decided to just stand outside and wait, to make sure I was there when Kas actually finished. It didn’t take much longer and I was reassured by meeting a guy who’d been at Peter House Farm earlier, who told me he’d passed Paul and Kas just off the school site and they were probably under 10 minutes away. They were quite easy to spot coming down the hill into the finish, despite the total darkness, mainly because Kas’s headlight is about a foot lower than Paul’s.
They both looked surprisingly well for people who’d just run, walked and staggered 46 miles over rough terrain in less than pleasant weather, over a period of 13 hours. Fantastic effort, well done.
All that exertion required a bit of calming down, re-energising and refuelling though. Kas grabbed a massage, which also included a free lower leg clean, and then grabbed her free beer. We both needed to eat so we went and grabbed pizzas from the van outside. They were surprisingly good. And during the boring bits I did even more reading.
By the time Kas was ready to leave it was well after 11 pm, and we had to get out of the car park by taking a loop across the field to avoid the worst of the mud. We actually drove right around and crossed the start/finish line of the race. It was pretty much midnight when we got back to the hotel.
When we got up in the morning we were both in the mood to get full value out of a Premier Inn breakfast. We woke up a bit earlier than we thought we might and were ready early, so we dived into the restaurant and started on some eating whilst waiting for Grandad, Nana and the kids to come over. Actually, Grandad bought the girls over before him and Nana were really ready. We spent ages there and ate quite a lot.
Before driving home we made one more trip over to Lime House School to attend the awards ceremony. It was one of those “everyone who turns up gets a prize” jobs, but in a good way. Kas got a special award as a glamorous finisher.
The drive home looked initially looked like it was going to be a disaster. Someone at the event site told us that the M6 was closed near Preston. We toyed with the idea of crossing the Pennines and driving down the east coast, but as we travelled south we started noticing the overhead signs didn’t indicate much of a problem. Apparently they’d cleared it, and we were through the crash site after only 5 minutes or so of delay, so we were glad we chose not to divert. As it was a Sunday then we did hit some traffic further down, but it was on the section of the M6 south of Warrington where there’s always a queue. The always-a-queue was enhanced by the presence of some roadworks where they are “upgrading” the road to managed motorway (otherwise known as variable speed limit and speed cameras every 100 yards). It eventually took us the best part of 7 hours to get back, with me driving all the way, so by the time I got home I’d had enough of driving. I wasn’t finished though, because I had to drive the car back round to the Co-Op to buy wine.
Geocaches found over the course of the weekend were:
- Dash Falls
- Warnell Fell (Cumbria)
- View of the Solway Firth
- Calling Bassetts Snow Hill
- Whitewater Dash Falls
- View of Saint Kentigern’s
- Church Micro 7835 … Welton
North Wales Mega Event day began fairly early for us. Because we were leaving Phil’s flat, we couldn’t be bothered to cook anything while we were there. And because Llangollen was likely to be busy, we set off early to grab our assigned parking space. It took some time to find, mainly because at the time we arrived they hadn’t yet stationed anyone in a yellow jacket out on the road. So as we drove past what looked like a bit of tarmac on the outside corner of a sharp bend where people just abandoned their cars, when it was, in fact, the entrance to the official car park. I got a funny look when I mentioned this to a marshall as we entered. We’d already driven two circuits around the town before finally spotting it, but he didn’t seem bothered.
Suitably parked up, we were still half an hour before the official start of the event. Not everyone (or everything) was open, so we walked over into the town to grab breakfast. There was a little cafe next to the bridge over the river that looked good. Well, we grabbed a cache on the way over, but that’s kind of a given on days like this. Whenever you see a crowd, you walk over and get the cache of someone.
Breakfast was a “pick from the menu” affair. Ami had some mash-up of pastries and toast while I had a Full Monty with extra toast. It was good.
After breakfast we decided to do a handful of caches in the town before retiring to the event site. One was a WherIGo that involved playing a game of “chicken, fox and corn” on the bridge, although in this case it was “geocacher, tiger and beer”. I was surprised to see how far away the end point was once we’d run back and forth over the bridge the requisite seven times. It was steeply uphill to get there, but it had to be done after all that bridge crossing malarky. On the way back down we passed and found a couple of Church Micro caches before heading up to the event site.
The North Wales Mega Event
I have to admit the massive mega events themselves never hold much sway with me. It’s really a question of what activities they have available at the event and what quantity and quality of caches they have available nearby. In this case, they had a few kids bouncy castle things as well as various fairly interesting games that constituted the lab caches. The event itself was a massive tent full of cachers all chatting and buying caching stuff.
We had limited time on the event day because we had an appointment back in Milton Keynes to go watch one of our friends’ kids performing in a production of Fame at the MK Theatre. So by 1 pm or so we’d had enough and we decided to grab some chips and then head home. Ami was visibly wilting in the heat anyway. She doesn’t “do” hot weather very well.
The drive down was rather slow, but not as slow as the drive into Llangollen]] along the A5. It was a Saturday in August, so the road was crammed with people heading off for a week of holiday fun in North Wales, and the road was heaving. Once we got past Shrewsbury it wasn’t too bad, but it seemed to take ages to get there.
The production of Fame was great.
The caches we found on Saturday were:
Walking Along the Llangolen Canal
High-Speed Caching with the Happy Hunter
Friday morning began with an early appointment with some breakfast at a Premier Inn on the north side of Wrexham, where we were meeting up with Graham, also known as Happy Hunter HP20. I think we met up at 7:30 am, allowing plenty of time for a lot of caching during the day. Ami did her usual job on the muffins and pastries. I guess they are always going to lose out with some kids on the “kids eat free” policy. The plan was to head over to a puzzles series near Llangolen.
On plan for the morning was a trip over to the Mega Event’s official camping venue, which was over near Carrog, which was the start of a series of drive-by caches set by the Mega Event crew along the narrow roads running back towards Llangollen. Graham volunteered to take his car rather than mine. This proved to be a good choice because I suspect my car would not have fit. Some of the space we had to stop in weren’t very big.
We’d both solved all of the puzzles beforehand so it was a matter of turning up and grabbing the containers. It was quick going. We completed all 45, plus two random traditionals, in about two and a half hours. I didn’t take photos while we were driving. We just raced through the caches and then drove into Llangollen to the mega event site, where we parked up and went for a walk. We were sitting in the cafe at the Llangollen Pavilion having something to eat well before midday. Epic!
The Llangolen Mega Site
We’d come here because the pavilion was hosting a GPS Adventures Maze Exhibit. This is a very rare form of geocache which involves an exhibit about both GPS technology and geocaching. Given that most of the attendees were seasoned geocachers who already knew most of what was being presented, and were in Llangollen just to do the geocaching event, it seemed a bit pointless as an educational exercise, if I’m honest. Some of the displays were quite well done though. Ami enjoyed some of the more interactive parts of the exhibits.
They’d also set up 10 lab caches in the exhibit. That made it a winner in terms of racking up interesting geocache types. I’m glad we went and it was at a location we were going to go to for the caching anyway. I think if I’d travelled a long way just to go to the Maze Exhibit I might have been a bit disappointed, but then to be honest I didn’t really have any idea what to expect anyway.
Along the Canal
Once we’d done with that, we decided we should go and stretch our legs a bit, so we walked along the Llangollen Canal towards Horseshoe Falls, picking up a few caches as we went. The scenery at the chain bridge is spectacular, and the experience was enhanced by lots of crossing, climbing and rummaging in attempting to find a multi-cache nearby. I’d tried to solve it using Google but had failed as a result of getting the wrong date for one of the elements. Once we had the correct data it still took us a while to find though, as the coordinates were a bit out, and we only found it at all because Graham read through all the logs and found a couple of pointers as to where we should be looking.
At the Horseshoe Falls itself we completed an earthcache and then decided we were done with going upstream, so we sat for 5 minutes while Ami cooled her feet off in the river.
The walk back was getting a bit painful for Ami and me. We walked back along the canal quite slowly before Graham drove us back to Wrexham to get my car.
From here we went back to the flat and got ourselves showered and cleaned up. After that we headed into central Wrexham to get something to eat. Pizza Express. It hit the spot nicely.
We thought we’d earned a decent meal, because we’d found about 175 caches in two days.
The caches we found on Friday in Llangolen were :
For the first weekend of August I’d identified the possibility of going up to North Wales for the UK Mega event. It didn’t take a lot of identification. The event was on and I wanted to go. It was just really a question of who else was going to come with me. We set off on Thursday so we had the opportunity for a big day of caching beforehand. We chose to spend it near Whitchurch.
As it was school holiday season and Kas needed to keep working for as long as possible to enable us to relax a bit whilst away in Chamonix in mid-August, the kids were given the opportunity to either stay at home in Milton Keynes and go to sports club at their school, or come with me to Wales and do some caching. The vote was a 50-50 split, with Ami deciding to come with me and Izzy deciding to stay at home. That worked well for me.
We drove up to Wales on Wednesday evening, with me already having booked a couple of days off. “Days off” was getting to be an interesting concept for me by this time, though, as I recently decided to leave my long term employment with HP Enterprise and join Fujitsu instead. Because of the nature of the work I do it’s unlikely I’ll be given any new projects to work on with HPE so the concept of a “work day” is a bit alien, not that I’m complaining.
Back at the plot, the drive up to Wales was a bit dull. We stopped at Norton Canes for tea and arrived in Wales around 8pm after having to make a series of diversions to accommodate roadworks on the A41 near Newport. Once we’d got into the flat we also then had to venture out to find food for breakfast, eventually (with guidance from locals) finding a Spar in Holt.
For a Few Caches More
For our caching on Thursday we decided to go over to Whitchurch to attempt a monster series there. The series in question gave the possibility of a hundred or more finds in a day, subject to available energy levels. We increased available energy levels first thing by grabbing breakfast at McDonald’s and then moved the car around to the village of Marbury, a couple of miles to the north-east of Whitchurch. This was conveniently in the middle of the massive caching series and allowed us to duck out of the “whole nine yards” at several points if we were starting to get bored or tired.
We headed west along the Shropshire Union Canal towards Wrenbury first and then returned back to Marbury along a road to the south. The caching was mainly fast and furious. There were a few puzzles that I’d solved beforehand and then (mainly) fairly easy trads spaced at 250m (ish) intervals.
When we got back to Marbury we had to collect some information from a lychgate at the church, which proved tricky because we arrived at exactly the same time as a bridal party. There were a bunch of bridesmaids hanging around at the bottom of the road up to the church as we arrived, and while we were establishing where to gather the information from, a big limo turned up containing a woman in a white dress. We decided it would be best at that point to step back a bit (so we don’t appear in all their wedding photos) and wait for the bride and her many maids to get themselves inside the church. We’d been wondering why the church bells were ringing for about the last mile of walking into the village. That’ll be it then!
Time for a Think, and a Drink
Onwards we moved in the general direction of Grindley Brook, the most northerly settlement in Shropshire according to Wikipedia. By the time we got there our legs were starting to ache a bit. We’d done about 75 caches (one short of Ami’s previous best for a day), and it was approaching 5 pm. We both needed a quick rest so we grabbed a seat in a pub and had a think about what we were going to do next. There were only two choices really. We could cache our way back, passing another 30 caches. That would give us the opportunity of breaking the 100 in a day. Or we could get a taxi.
Ami’s initial response was to get a taxi, and I would have been happy with that. She looked really tired and was on the point of tears when I asked her to decide. I quietly reassured her that I was happy with either decision. I just needed to make sure that if we set off walking again she could make it. Giving up halfway wasn’t an option. After a few minutes of thought, she eventually decided that the lure of 100 finds in a day was greater than the tiredness in her legs, so we decided to get walking.
I’m glad we did, because this stretch proved to be by far and away the fastest caching of the day. The 30 caches on this stretch took us about 90 minutes to walk. We found pretty much all of them. This just left us with a half-mile walk back to the car from the last cache. It was OK though – it was along a road and we still had plenty of daylight left.
When we got back to the car in Marbury we had a near disaster. We’d been boxed into our space outside the village hall (the only sensible-looking off-road parking in the village). Thankfully though, the car park was full because of an event in the hall. The owner of the car boxing me in was inside. And he wasn’t especially annoyed about having to move.
I couldn’t be bothered with cooking and it was getting a bit late for going out, given that we’d need to go home and get cleaned/changed first, so we plumped for having tea at the same McDonalds where we’d had breakfast about 12 hours previously. I don’t think they recognised us. Probably.
We tried to find a survey benchmark from the YOSM series on the way back up, but failed. Eventually we got back to the flat in Wrexham about 9pm, and proceeded to get showered and go straight to bed. “Knackered” isn’t even close to how we both felt.
The caches we found around Whitchurch on Thursday were:
Time seems to have passed rather quickly since the inaugural Geolympix event in 2012. Apparently, it really has been four years. And because such things happen every four years, it must be time then for Geolympix 2016.
Back at the plot, as if there ever is one in my blog posts, this year’s event was to be held at the Ashridge estate, a place I’ve visited before for caching and not particularly enjoyed, if I’m honest. My memories are of poor weather and poor GPS and phone signal.
For the Geolympix weekend I’d been able to sponge a couple of days time of in lieu after working loads at the start of the year, and decided to take one of those as a full day off on the day before the event. One reason for doing that was that the caches for the event look seriously spread out. I didn’t think there’d be any way I could get them all done in a day unless I was on my own and starting really early, which I wasn’t. Kas had a monster training run to do on event day, so I had to marshall the kids for a part of the day.
So on Friday I packed my bike into the back of the car and headed off to Ashridge to attack the northern end of the new caches – chiefly the Cyclerama series running from Ivinghoe Beacon down into Ashridge.
A Bit of a Walk
I started off walking rather than biking, and went to collect a few caches on the beacon, including (I assumed correctly) the recently arrived “Ye Olde Survey Monuments” cache. There was an opportunity also to capture it at the “Clipper Down” location too. That’s less than a mile away. In fact, it seems strange that there are two pillar trig points in such close proximity.
After this walk, during which I got roundly rained upon, I decided to have a bit of a break. I moved my car round onto the Ashridge Estate and started off my bike ride from there. Whatever I did it was going to be an out-and-back job to do the Cyclerama series. The estate seemed a better starting point as it made for an easier duck-out if I was struggling.
On Yer Bike
So from the estate I cycled my way over relatively easy terrain almost back to where I’d been parked before. At the far end I had to hide my bike in some bushes while I walked down the hill. There were a couple of caches that I couldn’t possibly get the bike to. It was still there when I got back. The caches were quite hard going and quite slow to do though. I was struggling as ever with dubious coordinates under the trees.
I headed back to the estate and decided to have a pop at a few of the series round the other side. As I progressed, my heart was less-and-less in it with every pedal. A part of this was that I continued to find it hard going. Another part was that I kept getting interrupted by my telephone, including at one point a full half-hour long discussion with a recruitment agent. That call was good news. I was going to get a job offer from the company that had interviewed me the previous day. But it did interrupt my caching.
By this time it was also getting quite late in the afternoon, and I’d had enough. I texted Kas to say we’d be needing champagne, and I tried for one more cache (unsuccessfully) before biking back to the car and going home. It had been a fairly frustrating day, to be honest. I’d been out for over 6 hours and found fewer than 30 caches.
The Big Day
Sunday arrived with renewed enthusiasm and somewhat better weather. We set off quite early as Kas wanted to get in a long run. We dropped her off at Ivinghoe Beacon and drove round to try to park up. I was aiming for the main approach to the Bridgewater Monument, on the estate. I planned this because the organisers had said that parking was likely to be tricky. Turning up “well early” looked like a sound strategy. When I arrived there was practically no-one there, and I even arrived before some of the organisers.
We were well before the actual start of the event, so off we wandered into the woods to do some of the other caches in the estate, including Happy Hunter HP20’s “Big G” series of puzzles. For some reason I found these puzzles very easy to find in comparison to all the others on the estate. anyway, the girls and me walked off to the south-eastern side of the estate to do a loop around there plus half of the puzzles. We had a “running” breakfast in the bag to keep the kids going.
By the time we got back it was pretty much lunchtime and we were overdue for meeting up with Norfolk12 (by about half an hour at least. She’d been doing what she does very well at such events. She’d accumulate useful information about nearby caches so we could go collect them in the afternoon. She’d got a few. She continued to do this while me and the girls grabbed some lunch at the cafe.
By this time I’d got a call from Kas to say she was more or less at the estate. And, of course, where were we? We were at the cafe, obviously. So we met up and Kas began the process of replenishing her electrolytes (or something) while the kids mucked about in the play areas and N12 and myself wandered off to find a venerable old multi-cache called TrOLL FREE which I’d tried previously but not found. N12 had done it and remembered where it was, within a few feet anyway.
After this little sortie, we then went and said hello to Kas again before heading off north of the event site to finish off the rest of the “Big G” series.
When we got back from there I’d about had enough and so had the kids and Kas. So we said a few quick goodbyes at the event site and picked up a puzzle that was patently obvious on the day, and then went home. Over the course of the weekend, I logged 64 cache finds including the event, plus another 10 lab caches. It’s not all of those on the site. It’s enough though, that I can’t be bothered with going back in a hurry.
The caches found over the course of the weekend at Geolympix 2016 were:
The boy Jimmy is in the habit of buying four weekend tickets for the British GP every year. This year some of his normal companions (his family) weren’t able to go on the Friday, so he asked me, Kip and Steve if we wanted to go instead. Game on.
I’m not always the greatest fan of Formula One but it’s good to have a day out with your mates every now and then.
I volunteered to drive there, and we decided on an early start, so I picked up the geezers and we were in the circuit before 9am. As we were quite early, we were in varying states of breakfast, so first stop was to level up the playing field a bit by buying food. So we had a round of bacon rolls, breakfast rolls and veggie whatever-Steve-had followed by a round of coffees. We took the coffees up into the stands with us to await the start of the first GP practice session at 10am.
So at halftime we decided to progress our way around the circuit in an anti-clockwise direction. One of the good things about the practice days is that you’re allowed to walk around and sit in any of the grandstands. Seats are only reserved for the Sunday main event. It gives you the chance to try the view from different places.
Significant other changes in F1 since I last visited an event are that the cars are much, much quieter, and the structure of practice sessions has been changed to encourage drivers to spend a lot more time on the track.
During the gap between the first F1 practice and the first GP2 practice we walked around to Stowe Corner and up to Becketts. There are a lot of grandstands at Becketts and therefore also a healthy collection of food stalls. Well, it was after 12. Lunch o’clock. Lunch involved beer too. And by now, the weather had picked up a bit and the sun was coming out.
We stayed at Becketts long enough to see the first half of the second F1 practice session too. In this instance, Hamilton was fastest again but Rosberg had a bit of mare with his car and didn’t make an appearance for the whole session, which no doubt didn’t make him happy.
At halftime we again decided to move on, in this instance walking along lengths of the perimeter fence where the circuit was really close. This provided some very fast views of cars screaming by at “full welly” on the approach to the Becketts S curves. When you’re 10-15 yards away they really do seem to be going quite fast.
We mooched our way from here all the way around to the old start/finish straight (now renamed the “National Pit Straight”). At this point the boys had another beer, with me having a coke. The National Pit Straight is evidently where the GP2 cars were garaged up too, judging by the noise. We didn’t actually go and watch the GP2 second practice though.
As we were leaving here there was some chat about whether it was time for second lunch (or early tea). Steve went for chips. Jimmy nicked some.
We walked around the back of Luffield, where I got slightly distracted by a Trig Pillar which happens to be a YOSM. It’s been on my radar to do for some time, so this was the perfect opportunity to grab it, as I was inside the circuit anyway.
We ended up at a point that used to be inside the circuit but is now outside. Or inside. Or maybe not. Regardless or whether it was in or out, it did have loads of food stalls and Jimmy decided he needed a pig sandwich.
We sat up in the stands at Village, notionally watching the Porsches, but information on what we were watching was a bit lacking, so most of us drifted off into a snooze, or were playing with our phones, whilst occasionally glancing up at the cars.
This was probably a good indicator that we’d had enough, so we jacked it in and were back in the car by about 6pm.
We’d been debating what to do in the evening for a while and once we were in the car we were still debating, but eventually decided to go into Stony Stratford for a Ruby. Over our last couple of evenings out we seem to have changed our curry house of preference. Life moves on.
I had a professional exam to take after a period of, well I’d like to call it “intensive study” but it would probably be better to call it “not being bothered” over the summer. The exam in question was ISACA‘s CISM exam. ISACA does its exams by paper, and therefore has to do them in fixed (and quite infrequent) formal sittings. The closest one for me was being held at London Metropolitan University in Islington, quite close to the Emirates Stadium. It was a Saturday and I had to be there for about 8 am. And I had a cold. In fact, I had a bad cold. I nearly didn’t go.
The exam consisted of a couple of hundred fairly abstract questions, a time limit of 4 hours, and a definite limit to the number of pencils you could have on the desk. I’m not sure whether I irritated everyone else by constantly snuffling during the exam, but nobody said anything, and before you could say “smoke me a kipper” I was all done. Technically, I did my usual of having a first sweep to do all the easy ones, then returning to think about the others, and then finally just guessing anywhere the thinking wasn’t working. This time around I only guessed about 10, so not too bad.
When I’d finished it was solidly “lunchtime”, so I made a quick hop back to Euston to meet up with the ladies of the house, and we sat outside in the sunshine deciding what to do whilst munching on some sandwiches and posh coffee.
I wanted fresh air, having been cooped up like a battery hen all morning, and Kas fancied going over to Greenwich, seeing as she’s previously only been there for the London Marathon, so that was enough opinion to call it “a plan”. We got there by taking the tube to Bank and jumping on the DLR down to Cutty Sark. We mooched about here for a bit before going into the shop and deciding it was an expensive visit for the 30 minutes or so that the girls might be interested in it. They were interested in some ice cream though, so we got some and decided to go for a walk up to the Greenwich Observatory. There’s a very fine viewing platform which gives a great view out over the Canary Wharf developments. There’s also a little memorial to the Prime Meridian – the line of zero longitude. There’s a virtual geocache here that gets you to measure the distance between the Greenwich Meridian and the current line of zero longitude as per the WGS84 datum. The Observatory is no longer on the zero line.
The viewing platform proved to be quite good for taking selfies.
After we’d done up there we walked down through the Royal Naval College and past a massive ship in a bottle.
We’d all had enough by then. I certainly had, because I’d been up since about 5 am, so we gave up and went home.
I found out a few weeks later that not only had I passed the exam, but I’d scored within the top 15% of people taking the exam on that particular day, so I was quite pleased, especially given my lack of preparation.
A return to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half in Liverpool. This time it was Kas’s turn to run it and my turn to look after the kids.
It was being held in the middle of June this year, as for some reason they’d managed to find some other use for Liverpool City Centre on the second May Bank Holiday. So it was in the middle of term time, and therefore it meant that we had somewhat limited time to enjoy the experience.
We drove up on Friday night and were booked into the rather plush Jury’s Inn, right next to the race start/finish, which was good.
On Saturday we did not much in particular, except that I went caching over on The Wirral during the afternoon (see Wirral Wander). Seem to remember getting very muddy and smelly and ending up late for a dinner appointment with the family. Not good form.
On race day I was tasked with looking after our two kids and also Rob & Tina’s son Finlay (as they were both running). How hard can three be compared to two, especially when one’s a boy ? Apparently, it can be just fine and dandy.
So Kas did the running and I did the breakfast, standing by the roadside, and going for a coffee (in sequence, not concurrently). The kids did some climbing on statues.
After the race we decided not to linger around for beer o’clock, so we headed out along the riverside towards Crosby and to the beach that is home to the rather entertaining Another Place. We had ice cream, drinks and lunch up there before heading back down the motorways to get home again.
We do enjoy a day’s sport over at Gardner Towers, so continuing on from a previous year’s trip to Birmingham for a Diamond League event at the Alexander Stadium we decided to go up for another event. This time it was a UK Championship event running over the weekend. We only had tickets for the one day but it was enough for us.
So off we headed up the M6 armed with some cash, a big packed lunch, and a new car. We got lost in Birmingham on the way up. We couldn’t find our way into the car park from the direction we arrived, and we then got stuck in a big traffic jam trying to get around to come back again.
Once in the car park we were still fairly early, so we mooched about the event village trying to get a decent coffee and picking up a few slapper-dappers and other general tat before wandering out of the village and making a seemingly long walk around to the new stand to take our seats. Well, we didn’t really take them, we more sort of just sat on them.
We were quite low down and being on the back straight we couldn’t see a huge amount on the main straight, but thankfully we were right next to the pole vault pit so we got a very good view of that particular event.
It turned out to be a nice day and we were quite warm sitting in the sun, but we were enjoying it, so that was fine.
The event itself only lasted for about 3 hours so it wasn’t a hugely draining day. We toyed with the idea of sitting for an hour in the event village before getting in the car, having remembered it being a nightmare getting out on our previous trip, but somehow I persuaded the girls it would be fine, and then regretted it after about 5 minutes. Next time, make me go and get a coffee and sit down for a while before attempting to get out.
Well we were up at my folks house and it was quite nice weather for April. We’d done parkrun in the morning at Conkers and we’d got an evening out planned to celebrate Conkers parkrun third birthday.
Which left us with a whole sunny afternoon to fill up. So we headed over to the Foremark Reservoir for a bit of ambling through nature, hunting for tupperware, and eating ice creams.
For the first hour or so after we set off the kids were great – rushing ahead to look for caches, taking photos, arguing with each other about who was holding Kas’s hand or who should be carrying her handbag, general kid stuff like that. And we made quite good progress on our walk out from the car park.
Things slowed down a little on the way back, but to be honest, the kids were still being quite keen.
There was an entertaining moment when we walked down onto a beach and our caching was thwarted (or so I thought) by a bunch of people doing a magazine photo shoot right underneath where I thought we needed to be, which was a bit annoying, but eventually we walked back up off the beach and around the small rocky cliff that the GPS was pointing to, and it turned out the cache was amongst some trees above the photo models and they could neither see nor hear me from where I needed to be, so that was OK.
About three quarters of the way around the circuit we passed the car park and cafe again, so we decided to take our ice cream break before finishing. This proved to be a good move as it perked the kids up a bit ready for the last half mile of walking and 3 caches. Towards the end I left the girls in the play park for a few minutes while I tried (and failed) to find the last couple of caches. And then we went home again.
All in all a pleasant afternoon of general tupperware-based time-wasting with the family.
On the way home we stopped for a couple of Church Micro geocaches, as one does. One of them was in the village of Ticknall, home of the famous Ticknall Treacle Mines, and the other was in Hartshorne – the church famously used as a model when designing the double-four in dominoes – or so my paternal grandfather used to try to convince us. Personally, I couldn’t see the resemblance.
A while ago the good lady wife won a place in the Virgin London Marathon for 2014. She failed in the annual ballot but then entered a competition on a bottle of Lucozade Sport and won it. This meant deferring her place in the Manchester Marathon until 2015.
Running London requires at least two trips down the smoke – one to visit the Expo to pick up your number and one to actually run the race. We didn’t fancy consecutive days so seeing as the race was during the kids’ Easter break we decided to go down on Friday and Sunday. The kids didn’t come to the race but did come to the Expo with us.
So on the Friday morning we all got up nice and early and headed over to MK Station for the short hop down to Euston. From there we took the tube round to Bank and then the DLR over to the Expo, which was being held at the ExCeL. I’d never actually been out this way before and it’s not quite what I expected, especially the part where you approach and pass Canary Wharf and the train runs on some elevated sections. It’s all very big and modern. And, if you look the right way, you can see the ArcelorMittal_Orbit over at the Olympic Park. All very impressive and architectural.
At the ExCeL itself we joined what felt like a bit of a crush coming off the train but once we got inside the building our lack of concern for all things commercial and the relatively early time of the morning meant that we managed to get in fairly quickly and Kas had her entry pack before you could say “discombobulation”
OK, maybe not that quickly, but quicker than I was expecting.
Just inside the entrance was a great big carved out “London” that participants were invited to sign. It was also a challenge trying to find where anyone else from our club had signed it.
We did a bit of shopping, partly to acquire some t-shirts for the kids bearing a bold statement about “Mummy’s running the London Marathon” – it had to be done.
While we were in there we also found Julie, who was at the Expo on the marketing stand for the MK Marathon.
We also found the guy who makes the nice medal hangers we have at home, found the NSPCC stand as Kas was running for them, and spent some time looking at nutrition products.
We also made the necessary trip to the Lucozade Sport suite as Kas had a short appointment with them for marketing purposes, seeing as they’d paid for her entry and clothing and supplied a not insubstantial quantity of refreshing beverages over the past few months.
We also went to find the bit where you could have you portrait taken and printed immediately, which we did as a group, like you do.
All in all we probably only spent and hour and a half in there.
Having done that we needed to find a few things to fill some time before going “up west”, so we walked around a bit of Victoria Dock and tried to find a cache, but it was inaccessible due to building work.
At this point we saw a little plane fly right over us on its way into City Airport and at this point we seemed communally to try to use as many different types of transport as possible while we were here. Well, so far we’d done cars, mainline trains, tube trains and the DLR. Next up we spied the impressive looking Emirates Air Line from ExCeL over to the O2 and decided we had to give it a go. It was as close as we were going to get to flying.
I have to say it’s not the cheapest way of getting from A to B but it is one of the more spectacular ways. It travels about 90m above the river level and gives great views all around on a clear day.
Once we got into Greenwich we took a quick look at the time and decided we needed to get a move on up to the West End, and pondered on the best way. One option that seemed to be available was to catch a river bus up to County Hall and leg it from there. Well it was a nice day and it added another means of transport, so why not ?
The river bus was fully enclosed and a bit bigger than maybe I was expecting, and a pleasant experience, especially when the kids raided the snack bar.
The river bus parked up by the London Eye and by now we were a bit tight for time for our appointment with Happy Hunter HP20 for a bit of urban geocaching. We’d agreed to meet him somewhere near Westminster Abbey, where there is a rather special church micro (CM4000) to have a go at. The girls were feeling a bit the worse for wear just here so we left them chilling on some grass outside the Abbey while myself and HHHP20 went off to find the church micro cache and a handful of others in the area.
After coffee we mooched in the Square for a bit before agreeing (again) that myself and HHHP20 could go for a quick walk to do a handful of caches while Kas and the girls were chilling, drawing, sketching and generally not doing anything involving physical exertion. One of the caches we did (Nightmare (not) on Downing Street) was a comfortable walk from here, but I can’t say where because this would be giving the game away. It wasn’t far though. We also returned to a couple of virtuals just south of Trafalgar Square that I’d failed to log the previous year when I’d forgotten to take the required photos.
By the time we got back to the Square it was time for HHHP20 to scoot off elsewhere and for us to head home. We’d been up a long time and the girls were getting tired.
We walked up towards Leicester Square, as we had a requirement to buy some touristy stuff for the girls, and we took the opportunity to grab some food in one of the many chain restaurants up there, Garfunkel’s, I think.
And from there it was a matter of grabbing the Northern Line back up to Euston and getting the train home. What a busy day.
On the Saturday we were joined by Dennis and Linda, who’d agreed to come down and look after the girls on both Saturday and Sunday nights. This made our lives very easy, especially when it came to Sunday morning.
Oh dear. Sunday morning ! We had an appointment with a coach leaving Stantonbury before 6am which was going to drop us off in Greenwich Park in time for the race start. We stopped at South Mimms Services on the way down for a coffee and the bus took us into London down the M11, past the Olympic Park and through the Rotherhithe Tunnel. We arrived in good time although the bus had to drop us off a short hike from anywhere useful. We had a large group from our running club on the bus so we had a photoshoot before I said goodbye to Kas and set off on my caching day, while Kas prepped herself and started her little run. In truth I have no idea what goes through her mind on such a long run and will probably never understand, much in the same way as she probably wouldn’t understand why I spend so long looking for bits of tupperware in the countryside, but you can get a glimpse of her mindset in her London Marathon: Dreaming Big post. The rest of this post is unashamedly about my day of caching.
This began with a church micro in Greenwich Park ( CM3711 ) and proceeded with a bunch of traditional caches and virtuals in and around Greenwich. At one point I managed to get myself a little bit lost and more than a little frustrated with the number of people around, as I had to queue to get into the Cutty Sark DLR Station so that I could ride one stop to Greenwich Station just so that I could get underneath the marathon course.
The fourth of these involved a walk under the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the north side of the river and the Isle of Dogs. Whilst I was up here I checked my watch and guessed it was about time to go wife spotting. I tried a roadside spot on the Isle of Dogs just west of Millwall Park. I 100% failed to spot Kas. I saw a bunch of other Redway Runners but not Kas. It turned out that she was having a bit of a nightmare and was by this point a long way behind her original target, but I wasn’t to know this. What I also didn’t know was exactly whereabouts on the course I was, so picking where I should have been and when was tricky.
There reached a point where it occurred to me that it would be a tight run thing in a race between Kas finishing the course on London roads and me trying to get to Westminster on public transport on marathon day.
Kas had got there before me but then had spent ages getting through the finish funnel and it took us a while to meet up, before going into the NSPCC hospitality suite for a drink and a sit down. Kas had finished in 4 hours and 12 minutes, give or take, and looked both tired and elated at the same time. A fantastic effort despite being a bit behind plan.
It took a bit of effort to get 400 metres up the road to meet our bus on Haymarket but from there it was relatively painless getting home again, and the car was where we’d left it, as was everything else.
When we got home we had a bit of a clean up and then went up the town centre to meet some other Redway Runners for tea at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, who were foolishly offering a free burger and small bottle of Prosecco for anyone carrying a London Marathon finisher’s medal, which meant about 8 of our party of 12. Bargain ! Although apart from us it was surprisingly quiet in there.
As part of her entry into the Virgin London Marathon that Kas won with Lucozade Sport they gave her entry into a couple of other half marathons (as training runs, I suppose). One was in Brighton. The second was going to be at Silverstone, but that was already full and they got her a place at Reading instead. As it happens, I think Reading was the better deal.
Reading isn’t exactly close to our house, though, and Kas needed to be there at some uncomfortably early time of the morning, so we decided we’d try to grab a Premier Inn nearby. The closest sensible one was in Bracknell, which was only a few miles away from the race. We rolled up there on the Saturday night and discovered that (this time) we’d have plenty of time to get breakfast in the hotel before leaving. There was also the small matter of finding a Zizzi’s for dinner. The closest was a few miles away in Wokingham, but it was close enough. This is becoming a bit of a habit.
Back at the plot, we parked in our designated parking location, which was some distance away on the office site of a large commercial organisation. So we had a 10 minute bus ride back again before then having to mooch about through lots of traffic to find where Kas was supposed to be checking in. The race centre was up at the Madejski Stadium. One of the attractions of this particular race is the big stadium finish. They have several thousand entrants, and I guess the stadium is the best place to host all the friends and families that want to come and support the runners.
The start of the race seemed an unreasonably large distance away from the stadium, so the girls and I left Kas to it and went off to grab a few nearby geocaches, like you do. We found three in total.
We also spent ages waiting by the side of a road that I thought was the outbound route for the runners. Some time later when I saw thousands of people streaming across a roundabout 500 yards away I realised that we were standing at the inbound route, so no-one was coming here for ages. D’oh ! Must read the map next time. At least where we were standing there was a steel band playing away to keep us entertained through the relative cold.
So from there we plodged back towards the stadium, having suitably missed Kas’s start. We made a dodgy dash between the waves of runners and proceeded to the car park of a nearby DIY store (who’s name rhymes with Wee and Poo) for another cache before retiring to the stadium for mid-morning snacks and to wait for Kas.
In the event, waiting in the stadium was OK and the kids seemed quite happy. And Kas finished in a new PB of around 1.48, despite the course being “somewhat more hilly” than advertised.
Grabbing the bags was easy, getting the bus back to the car was easy, and getting out of Reading was also easy.
From there we drove up to Henley round to see Kas’s old work friend Sarah, who lives there now with her husband and two boys. She’d done us some very nice lunch, which hit the spot nicely.
Big Brother is 50. That means I will be next year. Oh dear ! Should I be concerned about that ?
Nah ! Am I bovvered ? Probably not. At the end of the day, it’s only a number isn’t it.
Back at the plot, we stopped at the folks house over Friday night and did the parkrun at Conkers, as one does, before feeding the piggies up and getting away mid-morning for the drive over to Phil’s in Southwell. We arrived conveniently at lunchtime and went for a walk up into the centre of town for something to eat. We found a small cafe at what used to be a local hardware shop when I was a kid. It’s weird for me going back to Southwell after leaving school there in the early 80’s. It’s a lot more suburban commuter belt with a touch of touristy than it used to be. Still quite nice, but definitely a bit different.
After lunch we legged it around the top of the town to check the planned pub was happy with the kids going in, and then looped around the top of Burgage Green and down one of the little alleyways down to Phil’s flat. Strange, 15 years living there and I ever walked down that path.
The girls fancied a crash and some vegetating in front of the telly for the afternoon so I got Kas to drive me a couple of miles out of town towards Kirklington so I could geocache my way back again. The planned series is along what’s now called the Southwell Heritage Trail. It’s a pretty grand name for an old railway line. I thought this area would be very familiar to me because it leads into Southwell at the end where we used to live, and I have strong memories of walking the dog down there when I was a kid. My memory was not entirely accurate though. When I was little the railway line had only been closed a few years and the trees planted along the sides were mere bushes, with the branches not in any way stretching over the top. Now, after 30 years, the whole thing was totally enclosed by the trees. No sky visible (except in winter) and plenty of leaf mould. It was so enclosed that I nearly missed completely the turning point I used to have on the usual dog walk.
Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is that everything seems smaller. I don’t know whether that’s because now I’m a geocacher I’m used to walking a long distance, or whether now I’m older my perception is different. Anyway, I used to think that the “long walk” from our old house along the railway to the Maythorne road and back was a very long way. I measured it out roughly on maps and it’s actually not much more than a mile. I now see that as around 8 minutes running or 20-25 minutes caching. It isn’t far. Nearing age 50 I guess I should see it as a good thing that I see running a mile as a sprint and that I am perfectly happy and capable of going out for a 15 mile walk whilst hunting for tupperware. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but in my book it isn’t that strenuous, so I should be thankful for retaining that aspect of my health.
The caches were OK. I missed one which was supposedly a magnetic nano stuck somewhere near a gate to stop motorcyclists and car drivers from straying up the railway line, but one of those that horses can jump over and pedestrians and cyclists can walk around. I couldn’t find it, despite giving the metalwork a good fondling.
I got back to Phil’s flat late in the afternoon to find several new arrivals – my mum and dad, mum’s sister, brother and their respective spouses. It’s a bit full in here.
The plan was to go for beers at the Wheatsheaf pub for an hour or so and then over the road to Phil’s favourite curry house. It was an excellent night. The kids behaved themselves very well in the pub and did a fine job of providing entertainment for the assembled company. I renewed fleeting acquaintance with a few of Phil’s friends, none of whom I really know very well, but all of whom are good company, especially when there’s beer involved.
And then we meandered over to the curry house and were treated to a spectacularly nice meal. Phil had gone for a set menu to avoid too much complexity in the kitchen, so in groups of four, we got a big plate of starters then four main dishes, sides, naans and rice, and a fair amount of beer. In our vicinity we were a bit over on food too as the two nearest “fours” to us included Kas, our kids, my mum and an empty chair, none of whom are known for having a big appetite, and the kids had their own meals anyway (tandoori chicken followed by chicken tikka and chips). Both ate a bit of their own and none of their share of the four.
Suffice to say there was plenty of food to go round. There must have been a lot because even Phil’s mate Flash didn’t feel the urge to go nicking stuff of other tables. All of it was nice too. All familiar dishes but prepared a little differently than all our locals in MK do, and all the better for it. Phil made an excellent speech to thank everyone and to reminisce over a few of the more alcohol-soaked parts of his life. And aside from the last 15 minutes, the kids were little angels. In the last 15 minutes they were bored and tired angels, having finished eating and having stayed up nearly 3 hours longer than normal.
Bedtime proved a bit problematic though. My folks were in the spare room so me, Kas and the kids shared the lounge – two settees and a pumpy camper bed we borrowed off the Burlaces. The problem was that the pumper bed wasn’t inflated enough to keep me off the floor, and the kids just wouldn’t settle on the sofas, so I don’t think any of us really got any sleep. And we all alternated between too hot and too cold.
But it was only one night and we were stopping at my folks for a few days afterwards, so it didn’t cause a big problem.
All-in-all a very good afternoon and evening. My big brother is 50, so I have (as ever) 14 months to hurl insults about his age before I reach the same milestone myself.
On Sunday we went for a quick walk around the Minster, including a quick dash inside in between the mornings services. It’s a big church. That’s one thing that doesn’t look any smaller to me.
Saturday afternoon, following a fine performance at Parkrun by both Kas and Ami – two PBs. So we’ve done “fit”, we’ve had lunch, we’ve had a snooze (well, some of us had a snooze) on the sofa and we wanted a bit of fresh air to avoid the kids spending all afternoon playing Pet Shop on the iPads.
So we decided a quick trip to the park in Ashby would be good.
I remember the park in question quite well, because it’s out the back of where my grandparents lived (just off North Street, near the Leisure Centre), although as I remember it there wasn’t much there when I was a kid apart from a couple of swings and an old tractor. There was a gate from the back garden straight into the park, but that’s gone now. It seems to have improved a bit since then. And one of my uncles still lives in that house. Couldn’t tell if they were in though.
One highlight was that Izzy got pretty much all the way to the top of the rope pyramid all on her own. And, on two out of 3 occasions, she got back down on her own too.
The verdict from the kids was that the facilities were up to standard. And for the first time in a couple of weeks it was quite warm sitting outside in the sunshine, so we could get away without wearing full Antarctic survival gear.
And after this we decided to retire to Costa for a coffee/caramel frescato/iced mocha/orange juice (* delete as appropriate) and on the way there Kev took a couple of photos of the War Memorial with the intention of seeing if this could be added as a Waymark.
We managed to get back home again just late enough to miss the Grand National.
So all in all, a good couple of hours out.