Saturday, 30 December 2017

Geocaching ticks many common New Year's Resolutions!

[This blog entry is based loosely on an article I read in FTF Geocacher magazine submitted by Podcacher. It is entirely my wording, however, and I have put my own twist on it.]

After recovering from copious amounts of alcohol consumption, and having put away the Christmas decorations for another year, people all over the world start to view a new year as a fresh start. A time to set personal goals and improve their lives somehow. "Let's make this year better than the last!" 1st January is the optimum time for these so-called "New Year's Resolutions", and whilst some scorn the idea of making them, they tend to be beneficial if they are adhered to and last beyond January!

So here are some of the most common things people want to do to self-improve:

Take up a new hobby
Become healthy
Be more organised
Live life to the full
Spend less money
Travel more

Now these are the things that I have heard and read people saying that they would like to do more of in the new year. If you are interested in just one of these, geocaching can help. If you want to develop all six, geocaching is definitely right for you! Read on...

Take up a new hobby:
Geocaching is a hobby that quite a lot of people still have never even heard of, let alone tried. It really is a hobby that anyone can have a go at - children, retirees, families, couples, friends, anyone! Male or female, fit or fat. With just a smart phone app or a GPS device you could be out there hunting geocaches in minutes. The geocaching community is extremely varied and very friendly. And everyone's idea of a good cache is different. The urban commuter can find nanos on railings, the outdoor adventurer can trek off into the forest and the scuba diver can plumb the oceans. There are puzzles for those who like problem solving, lessons to be learned for those who appreciate history or geography, and challenges to complete for the competitive. Give caching a go and see what kind of geocaches tick your boxes. Caution: can become highly addictive!

Become healthy:
A very common New Year's Resolution, especially if the current TV and Internet adverts for fitness regimes, clubs and equipment are anything to go by! Whilst a lot of the geocaching fun is done in the comfort of your own home (planning trips, logging finds, admiring geocoins etc.) the main bulk of the appeal is outdoors. By its nature you have to get off your arse and outside. So long as you don't limit all your caches to drive-bys (cache 'n' dashes / park 'n' grabs), then you will almost certainly find yourself walking or cycling more. Walking is great in and of itself, but walking with a purpose like geocaching is a distraction too! I find myself walking in completely new places and so lost in the enjoyment of the activity that I find I've been out walking for hours! Even simple exercise like this helps you lose weight, lower blood pressure and improve general fitness. As Tesco might say, "Every little helps". Get out and see where geocaching takes you!

Be more organised:
Perhaps not an obvious one, but successful geocaching requires precision planning! You can take on challenges which ensure you work strategically (e.g. cache each day of the year, find one of every difficulty/terrain rating), and there is an entire world out there for the lover of statistics (GSAK / Project GC). Hiding caches of your own encourages you to think ahead and plan all the details from the location, to the container, to the listing, and it's satisfying when you get "Found it" logs too.

Live life to the full:
Geocaching in and of itself cannot satisfy the hunger of the soul, and I make no claim to it doing so, but it can and does enrich lives. Whilst it can be enjoyed as a solo pursuit, there is a wonderful community of other nutters, I mean, geocachers out there with whom you can cache, meet up at events, or just have banter on the online forums. It can bring families closer together who go out as a team. It has physical benefits in that it gets you up and about, but also mental benefits with its challenges, puzzles and planning. It's also educational. You don't need to be doing a history-of-the-area multi or geological feature Earthcache to be learning something; you can find new places you've never been within your own home town! Just the fresh air alone can work wonders.

Spend less money:
Geocaching does not have to be an expensive hobby. Suuuure, you can spend mountains of money on ANYTHING if you are that way inclined. Buy a geocoin a day and you'll be taking out another mortgage soon, but actually for the bare bones of geocaching, you don't need to spend much money at all. Download the app (free or inexpensive) and get out there and find the caches. Simples. Basic accounts on are also free. Yes, you may in time find that you want to upgrade your membership, buy a GPS unit or get some better hiking boots but geocaching neither has to do this, nor will it be a perpetual drain on your income like some hobbies. Certainly some sports I've looked into have very expensive starting costs for all the equipment or memberships you need.

Travel more:
Ignoring the previous resolution, unless of course money is no obstacle to you, geocaching has the ability to take you to some pretty amazing places. If you can't or don't want to travel, you'll still find that geocaches are often in lots of places quite close to home that you've never ventured to before. But if going further afield is your thing, take heart - geocaches are hidden all over the world! I've found caches in places like Cuba, The Gambia and Azerbaijan. What's particularly good about caching abroad is it often takes you to amazing places that the locals know about but somehow the guide books miss out. Muggles on a trip to Paris may enjoy the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame, for example, but Parisian cachers have put out some nifty caches in beautiful places you might otherwise miss. Find the real country when you cache, and get to see the area from a local's perspective. 

Not convinced geocaching is right for you? Why not try it... at least just for January!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Three for the price of one!

So I was out doing maintenance on one of my caches today. I'd been informed that it had got itself stuck at the bottom of a small sign post and was impossible to reach. I went with my trusty extendable magnet on a stick to retrieve it (as I had done only a few weeks previously!) and felt some resistance as I pulled it up. What should come up but three versions of the same cache which I have replaced over the years! Some very old log books there too! Replaced one with a clean log book and gave the other two to my friend to put to new uses. Well, that was a pleasant surprise!

Explaining Mega Events to Muggles...

Just got back from another great Mega Event in Bicton, Devon.

I've been asked a few times by my muggle friends what a Mega Event actually is, and, apart from saying "It's sort of like a festival for geocachers", I don't really know how else to describe it. Even then, I'm asked what we actually do when we get together!

So my friends and I came up with this list which I'm sure could be expanded upon (especially if you're a camping cacher!) but it should hopefully help clear up what it is we do at Megas!

  1. We write a random word or words in a giant book, flag, wall, noticeboard, wooden cut-out etc.
  2. Everyone you meet refers to you by this self-imposed random word(s).
  3. You refer to your friends by this word(s) throughout the event and introduce people in this way.
  4. If you're really lucky, you may actually get to know some real names, but you probably won't remember them, and they won't get stored in your phone by their real name!
  5. We take close-up photos of people's chests, boobs, legs, arms, hats, backpacks, walking sticks, dogs and children. Seeking permission to do so is very much optional.
  6. It's perfectly normal to chase after a stranger shouting "WAIT, ARE YOU TRACKABLE?!"
  7. We buy coded scraps of metal then show them to one another.
  8. We purchase used empty metal boxes and (unused) sample tubes.
  9. We meet a six foot frog and have our photo taken with it.
  10. Claiming a milestone at the Mega is desirable and holding a massive sign is the preferred way of celebrating because then everyone else can see our achievement.
  11. We watch an ammo can be handed from one stranger to another. This is the climax of the event.
  12. We'll put our hands in gross water so we can claim a cache that doesn't even have a log book.
  13. We can be found wandering around a camp site for two hours or so, peering into caravans and windscreens, jotting down numbers and photographing dashboards and bumpers.
  14. We also do this a lot outside pubs and on the road sides. It's easy for muggles to think we are overly-enthusiastic off-duty traffic wardens.
  15. We try to do our bit for the environment by doing litter picks but when you have hundreds of people tackling the same spot, you tend to find little more than a cigarette butt.
  16. We spend a lot of time looking at all the flags on the camp site and trying to read the codes on them.
  17. It's a status symbol to wear a promotional T-shirt from a previous mega event, the older the better. Bonus kudos for a Giga, Maze, Block Party, Geocoinfest or Geowoodstock.
  18. We buy coins that can't be spent and look at other people's. Some people collect these and are more than happy to show you their extensive collections from the boot of their car.
  19. We feel cheated by the T-shirts that claim to be trackable but aren't.
  20. Once we've torn ourselves away from the event venue with our new fake rock and T-shirt that has a witty but incomprehensible-to-muggles slogan, we will choose to drive down a variety of narrow B roads in convoy.
  21. Driving down no-through roads is common practice, and vying for the same small layby with ten other cars is normal.
  22. We'll wait in line to handle an old film pot and sign a tatty piece of paper by the roadside then wonder where it came from because the original finder is long gone.
  23. Photographing said tatty paper is commonplace because the logs get full very quickly!
  24. We'll drive miles to get a selfie with a rock because it's "virtual".
  25. We stand in front of a random building hoping there's a webcam somewhere and wave at it whilst simultaneously trying to capture the moment on our smart phones. As a result, we are not looking at the camera when the photo is taken.
  26. Once home we slightly resent the enthusiasm we had at the event because now we have to collate all our photos, scribblings and notes on our phones of trackable codes and enter them manually into Project-GC or GSAK to log them all.
  27. No one remembers individual trackables they discovered, and quite often we never even saw the trackable in question - just the code printed on a piece of paper and handed to us by a stranger.
  28. Logging caches and trackables is hard because they all merge into one big messy Mega memory and we end up writing "Found whilst at the Mega!" for all caches and trackables we found.
  29. Logging the Mega itself is slightly easier than the side caches, but even then we struggle to find a new way of saying "Met up with lots of old faces and met a lot of new ones too. Thanks for the great event!"
  30. We look fondly through our photos from the Mega but have no idea where any of them were taken.
  31. When commenting about the event on social media, we have no idea who anyone is because they are using their real names.
  32. We celebrate the fact we will get a small pixelated picture to show on our online profiles at the end of it. These are highly sought after and cachers will change their plans and routines to acquire them.
  33. We become slightly more obsessed with our caching stats since returning home and once all caches and trackables have been logged, we update our caching profile and find out what new badges we've earned.
  34. We need to find somewhere to keep the dirty day-pass wrist band, new cache containers we have no plans for and the souvenir brochure, which, although we will never read again (or indeed for the first time), it is still a piece of geocaching history and we will expect it to become a family heirloom.
  35. A week later we begin to feel a bit deflated by post-Mega blues and cheer ourselves up by starting to plan our next Mega.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Smallest church in England

Today I visited Church Micro 6009 (GC4TD8N) near Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Now "micro" normally refers to the size of the cache container but today it was a whopper. The church itself however really was micro! It was the size of one small room but still had most of the trimmings.

It has one pew of four seats and standing room for six at the back! Amazingly it has one service every year for Rogationtide in spring. 

A church has been here for centuries and whilst the current owners keep it as a church, the previous ones kept turkeys in it! 

It has a very small graveyard and the last burial was in 1904. In 1986 this building became a Grade II listed structure.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Meon Shore CITO 2017

The usual affair with an annual CITO (Cache In Trash Out) event on the Meon Shore of Hampshire. Good weather this time... but my best piece of rubbish was this pipe. I think this should become a geocache but got about four or five potential uses for it. Suggestions welcome!

Lockerley ROC bunker

I love a good ROC bunker and went down my third not that long ago.

The ROC bunker in Lockerley Hampshire is where I chose to put my "War Post" letterbox hybrid cache (an ammo can with stamp) which I placed in the summer above ground not far away from the bunker. At the time the bunker was so overgrown that you'd need a machete to get to it! The cache, given its remote location and sturdy nature has meant that maintenance visits are not required!

I returned to the cache a good couple of years later with a friend, however, when we found that a recent visitor had reported that they had been able to get to the bunker and open it!

Right, time for that maintenance visit!! As it was, no maintenance was required but my friend, The Happy Panda, had not done the cache before so for him it was a chance to log and for both of us it was a chance to explore. Even in the early spring the area was still very overgrown but at least you could access the hatch from behind. It was indeed not locked but the lid was very heavy and I wasn't sure if it was going to hold. Importantly we decided to take it in turns to go down in case anything bad should happen. It would be almost impossible to open the lid from the inside and there is no phone signal underground. If you visit a bunker like this with the intention of going down, bring a trusted friend, torches, batteries, phone and whistle and ensure someone stays above the ground at all times. We even had a spare ladder in the car just in case the one in the bunker chose today to rust off and crumble away. They are very old and worn!

Down below it was quite well equipped with its bunk beds and matresses, a frayed rug under a couple of inches of water, tins of pain, cans of food that were rusting away but still unopened (!), cleaning chemicals for the toilet and other odds and ends. Whilst all these ROC bunkers are the same shape and size, each one presents a new adventure in what you'll find down there!

Here's the link to the ROC site and a photos from a visit many years ago.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Giving something back

I've enjoyed geocaching for almost eight years now and I am looking for new ways to give back to the game. So I know some people want to hide caches of their own or host events so that people can enjoy something in return but I have three ideas that should hopefully help enhance geocaching in my local area. Are you able to do any of the following for your local cachers?

Update your trinkets

It's a really simple thing to do, but stock up on small toys and other little trinkets which can really help put some joy back into geocaching. I tend to cache alone or with other adults but I know children tend to enjoy the prospect of finding "treasure". For me the treasure is the Tupperware, but for a lot of children (and some adults!), treasure is what's inside the cache. Surely you've found some pretty sorry excuses for swag before - used train tickets, sticky boiled sweets, leaking batteries. They may all be well-intentioned but they're not fun to find or clear up. Go to your local supermarket or pound shop and just buy a few really nice new items people may actually want to swap. Also, after Christmas be sure to hoover up all the toys that most people quickly lose interest in. I've acquired a nice big supply of cracker toys which will make someone's day more than my own! Even my toy potato was treasured by a young child, and I couldn't understand why anyone would want that at all!

Keep a supply of maintenance materials

It feels good to perform a bit of cache maintenance when you stumble across a neglected or vandalised container. Sometimes it's just that the rain has got in and made the log impossible to sign or the pencil is blunt. Having a supply of spares is very helpful to both the CO and future finders so I seriously recommend purchasing a Geocaching Essentials Kit - I got mine on Amazon here. This has all the basics including spare small pens, pencils and a sharpener. There are also log sheets of various widths for nanos and micros and sealable plastic bags of various sizes too. Finally there's a pair of tweezers to help extract trapped log rolls. This all comes in a nice compact zip-up case about the size of a pencil case and therefore easily taken with you on caching adventures. Perhaps this is a gift worth giving?

Spare cache containers
This one's a bit harder to achieve for a lot of cachers but I am fortunate in that I keep acquiring ideal cache containers which are otherwise destined for a bin. I initially kept the containers for my own hides but when I realised I had dozens and dozens of nifty containers of various sizes I wondered how I could put these to use. Now I haven't the time or inclination to hide them all, but someone in my area will be thinking about setting a new cache and I want to help them if possible. I've therefore designed a new cache called Cache Stash which is a large tub full of various watertight containers which hopefully other cachers can put to good use! I look forward to seeing some of these again. If you have a regular income of suitable cache containers, perhaps you could explore something similar. 

Help yourself, guys! New cache(s) coming soon!

Conquering my phobia of blue question marks!

I have gotten into the habit of ignoring caches that pop up in my inbox if they come with a blue question mark icon. Now that challenge caches are on hold, I can't even get excited about them. I do not have the right type of mind for puzzle-solving so unless it's really simple or spelled out, I am likely to fall at the first hurdle. I like to think that all of the mystery caches I've published have been relatively easy to work out. I haven't had to give out many hints anyway!

So, I've been getting a bit depressed by my caching map.

I can't keep ignoring this problem, hoping it will go away. There are certain cachers in my area (you know who you are!) who keep hiding puzzle caches and I just look at the map with my head in my hands. Fortunately I think things are going to improve, for I have recently purchased this:

This is a large and easy to navigate book and I am hoping it is going to develop my brain so that puzzle-solving becomes second nature to me. I shall have a read then give the nearby puzzles another stab and hopefully get somewhere this time. I know the icon moves location once you've solved it but does anyone else wish that it would change colour or something so that we can see at a glance which ones have been solved?

Once I've read the book and solved all of Hampshire's mystery caches, I'll come back to this blog and show off some smileys where previously there'd only been blue question marks!!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Make It Snappy Camera Content

The content of my first camera load of snaps from "Make It Snappy" at Thruxton Library (GC5NYXC).

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sponsored walk from Salisbury to Winchester

So last May I walked around the Isle of Wight for my chosen charity Crohn's and Colitis UK. At the time I both enjoyed it and struggled to find the enthusiasm to keep my feet moving. But as the time has worn on, I've felt enthused to have another stab at a long walk.

This time I decided to walk from Salisbury Cathedral to Winchester Cathedral for the same cause, most of this was along the Clarendon Way which was about 26 miles. This is quite a common walk to do for fundraising but I was keen not to join a herd but to do it with just a couple of close friends. It's also usual to walk from Winchester but again, I preferred to go the other way for logistical purposes.

At Salisbury Cathedral at 9:15am

Leaving Salisbury

On a rest break with my friends

We met at Winchester Cathedral where we left one car then drove to Salisbury and it was a mile's walk or so just to get to the Cathedral. From there we followed the Clarendon Way markers and enjoyed the sunshine which stayed out the whole way but became a little hot at times.

Roughly at the halfway point

Found a few caches along the way!

Time for another quick rest of the legs!

Funnily enough whilst I can eat and eat when sat down doing relatively little, whilst out walking I very rarely want to eat at all; drink maybe, but not eat! We stopped a couple of times to get a sandwich or small snack from a corner shop but never had a sit down meal.

One of the most picturesque parts of the walk

A rare sight: mud! Shame this was on the bit we didn't need to do!

9:35pm - Winchester Cathedral!

The journey got harder and harder as we became more weary, and especially when we followed the wrong marker and ended up going round in an unnecessary loop. Arriving at a junction and being able to say "I've been here before" bring about that sinking feeling. Still, we persevered and towards the end we were grateful that it was all downhill from Crabwood into Winchester city centre. It took us 12 hours and 20 minutes to complete the walk. We started at 9:15am at Salisbury Cathedral and we got to Winchester Cathedral at 9:35pm. I had a painful left leg for a few days and blisters on both feet but it was worth it for being able to raise over £500 (+ gift aid!) for Crohn's and Colitis UK! Not too late to sponsor me through JustGiving!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Accessorising my bike

I've had my share of bikes during my life so far, but I've either outgrown or neglected them for too long. I have a poor excuse for a bike in Wales that probably needs recycling (no pun intended) because of years of neglect. Whilst I can't see myself riding that one any more, I did get a new bike a few months back, a lovely Muddyfox Country 26" dual suspension mountain bike in what I thought was this shade of bright green:

It's not; it's a sort of shiny olive green but it's still pretty nice. My first green bike. The first time I've ever had to assemble a bike too. Hmm, might want to take advantage of one of those bike services Halfords do to make sure your bike is actually safe...

So the purpose of this blog entry is to begin a journey of renewed determination to keep a bike loved and used for more than just a few months. I am pretty crap on a bike, to be honest. I am slow, uncoordinated and clumsy. And I have no stamina. The first sign of a hill and I'm off pushing it whilst sweating profusely and gasping for air. I am not a very good cyclist... yet.

Really, what I'm aspiring towards is a tenth of the skill of Danny MacAskill. His mountain biking videos are awe-inspiring and I love watching them. My favourite is The Ridge, a challenge he completed in his home country of Scotland in the bleak Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye. Talk about Skye Ride!

So yes, if I can be a confident, safe, and ever so slightly adventurous mountain biker, I will be happy in my progress. I think I will leave road biking well alone; it's controversial but I'd rather see cyclists on the pavement than the road, and I'm speaking from the perspective of a cyclist, a motorist and a pedestrian.

South Downs Way

So, here at the start of my journey I'm going to review and comment upon a few of the extra accessories I've already bought for my bike:

Lights: I'm not entirely sure why I have bought such crap lights to be honest. I think it was the appealing nature of not needing batteries but the faff I had trying to get the magnets to line up properly on my spokes. I don't cycle at night, and something's probably wrong if I'm still out when the sun is setting but I figured that you never know when you will need them. These were from Decathlon.

Pump: Again, a safety thing. I felt a pump would be a useful addition to the bike and decided to mount it to the down tube instead of a bottle holder or bike lock. Ideally, I won't need to use this too often!

Action camera: I had a cheap old one that I used to mount to my helmet with limited success. Thought I'd try it on the handlebars but it's just not a very good camera. I'm going to wait until I can get my hands on a Garmin VIRB or, better still, VIRB X! (Three totally shameless Garmin plugs coming right up!):

eTrex 20 holder: Essential equipment for me, and only cost a couple of pounds. Most of the time, when I'm out on my bike, I'm looking for geocaches. What else? So, having my Garmin eTrex there in front of me on the handlebars is soooo handy and much better than wearing it around my neck whilst cycling. Recommended for any bikacher, even if it is a bit fiddly!

Mud guards: Came back from a muddy ride wishing I'd had these installed so bought some Muddyfox ones from - knew they had to fit a Muddyfox bike! Undecided about how best to fit the front one for a while but chose this way in the end to best protect from mud, as intended!

Saris Bones Solo Bike Rack: I was really struggling to track down a good bike rack for one bike. I don't have a big car, the money to throw at a roof rack or a rear tow bar so my options were limited. I spoke with the helpful people who work at Cycle Experience and was recommended the Saris Bones Solo. It was cheap yet looked easy to install and effective. I'm always frightened I haven't fitted my bike properly and it will come off and kill someone so I take ages tightening the straps and making sure the bike itself is secure. It's a bit of a pain because the rear suspension and wide top tube make it slightly the wrong shape to fit as securely as I would like and then I become paranoid. Advice for bike racks gratefully received!!

Clothing: I get it - as a wannabe mountain biker I should be wearing mountain biker clothing. I must have some cyclocross blood in me though because I'd rather be out in road gear and I don't care how uncouth this makes me.

So that's my starter kit fixed. I'm planning to get some action filming done once I've got a VIRB. Maybe I'll get an action shot of me flying over the handlebars - I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet! Until then, my bike will solely continue to be my alternative mode of transport for caching, and that's the outdoor pursuit I will probably always pursue most!

(I'm not a true mountain biker, and I doubt I ever will be. I can't tick most of the boxes in the video below!) Nope, I am a proud "bikacher" and I welcome advice and anecdotes from other geocachers who cache by bike. :)