Sunday, 13 May 2018

Is this Yeovil's greatest strength?!

New kids on the block: 
Yeovil's Anytime Fitness opened 23rd April 2018

Me with some of the team!

As you can see from the previous post, I seem to have developed a chronic addiction to using my Anytime Fitness fob to get in to any and every club in the country I happen to be near. It's getting a bit out of hand, though, as I am now deliberately going out of my way to visit them!

When my friend and colleague - who is from Yeovil and has been enjoying coming to classes at my home club in Eastleigh - told me that Yeovil town centre is getting a brand-spanking-new Anytime Fitness, I set myself a date to go visit... the day after it opened! The official reason of course was to do a reconnaissance so that I could feed back to her whether it was worth going to, but let's face it, I just wanted an excuse for another field trip! It took a good hour and a half to drive there from Eastleigh, and I did break up the journey by stopping off at another favourite, Dorchester's Anytime Fitness, en route. (Well, they have non-powered treadmills! Nuff said!)

Below is my review for those who are considering joining or at least trying out this gym. Bear in mind that as it was freshly opened, the equipment was hardly used, there was stuff missing that hadn't arrived yet, the timetable was still a work in progress and the team were still fresh-faced and excitable, but all of this gave me confidence in what this place would inevitably become!

Anytime Fitness Yeovil could not be more convenient within the town. It's in the heart of the shopping area and with quick and easy access to the Quedam car park for which you can get your ticket authorised so that you don't have to pay when you leave. BOOM!

The gym is deceptively large, spread over two floors and goes back a long way. Access is by electronic fob, which all members have, and this fob will get you into any of the 4000+ gyms worldwide at any time of day with no supplement to pay unlike some other gyms.

I was fortunate to visit during staffed hours. I had forewarned them of my coming and they knew I was likely to blog about it so maybe they were just being nice to me, but following their Facebook page, I think they are all genuinely lovely, helpful, excited people anyway! Colin, the manager, showed me around and let me join a class and the ever-so-amazing but super-crazy Shannon was a real delight to get to know after my workout.

I love you, Shannon!

Classes are really my thing these days, and I was chuffed to be able to join AF Yeovil's very first HIIT Pilates lesson which I have never done before ever. Kate the personal trainer who took the class was great and very patient with me! The gym has a comprehensive timetable offering lots of instructor-led and video-led (virtual) classes. They range from Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, Body Combat, Pump, Bootcamp, Vibe Cycle, Body Balance and so many more.

The gym is fortunate to have a wonderfully spacious studio area with lots of mats, spin bikes and equipment for the various classes. When there's nothing booked, members can go in and use the space as they wish.


Well this is an important one, of course. Most people come to the gym to use weights, resistance kit, cardio equipment and various other functional bits of apparatus. Yeovil has it all. Although at time of visit it looked overly large and spacious, that was because not everything had quite arrived yet, but the club has been so proactive at taking suggestions on board that when members say "Can you get us a..." the club deliver!!

Being a boxing fanatic, I was drawn to the freestanding punchbag (complete with gloves and pads for those not equipped) but I tried to make sure I gave most of the bits of kit a good go. All obviously working fine, some even being installed during my visit (!), but I can tell the team here will care for their equipment even when it's been well-used and loved.

Here are some shots of the gym. Downstairs is the cardio equipment (treadmills, rowers, cross-trainers, stair climber) and the free weights. Upstairs is the studio, resistance equipment and functional training area.

Let's talk about the other stuff the gym offers. It's not just equipment and classes. They have lots of individual changing rooms, toilets and showers (including disabled access) and on both floors. There are also hairdryers and since my visit they've installed storage areas and lockers. There's a pretty nifty water machine with bottle sensor, and a spout for a quick drink. Both floors also have sofas for chillout areas and they were due to get a vending machine when I came.

I hope you can see from these pictures and my experience that I think very highly of this place and look forward to coming back. I've said I will make a return trip in six months when I expect it will have gone from strength to strength.

The team here are amazing. You have to chat to them! The classes look fabulous and the equipment and facilities are brilliant. Anything missing or not to your satisfaction - tell them! They are there to support you. All Anytime staff are there to take a personal interest in your fitness journey as an individual.

And on top of all this the club is affiliated with lots of local companies where you can get an Anytime Fitness discount. And merchanise - yup, they have a lot of that too! Socials, yes, they do those. Offers, competitions and a fun and friendly atmosphere. This is not just a gym, this is your fitness family. Yeovil, you are very privileged to have Anytime Fitness move in here!

Finished my visit with a good old Running Man pose!

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Anytime Fitness franchise review

My journey to that healthier place!

I have always been an active person, as is hopefully evident from this blog! I love geocaching, cycling, horse riding, long-distance walking, orienteering, etc. but a sedentary job with long hours has seen me gain weight in a way I'm not happy with and last year I decided I was going to do something about this alarming trend.

Now I don't know about you, but the word "gym" in my mind was on par with "dentist": an unpleasant experience, often painful, usually expensive and yet you know deep down that "it's good for you" so you make the effort to go. I had had two prior experiences of gyms, one at university which was pretty good when I could be motivated to go (which was hard as a student!), and one at work which was very limited in equipment and was barely ever open. Anytime Fitness was my first experience of a public gym, and I am not gonna lie, I was intimidated by the prospect of trying a gym again. This is a real thing, it's informally known as "gymtimidation". I think I was just trying to talk myself out of it. What if I didn't fit in? What if people watched me? What if I didn't like it but felt obliged to stick it out? I was determined but also anxious. Good old Anytime Fitness Eastleigh, my local, have the foresight to put their information leaflets OUTSIDE the gym so someone as apprehensive as I was (and I can hardly believe I was that person now!) can easily nab a leaflet in passing and mull over it later. Definitely a smart move. It's likely I would never have ventured through the doors without this. Now I may have opted for Anytime Fitness over any other fitness club because of their advertising and convenient location, but as I have researched it, I have come to appreciate more and more the whole franchise model and what it represents.

The fifteen clubs I've visited (for "research purposes"!)

Some background on the Anytime Fitness brand:
Anytime Fitness is a rapidly-growing fitness club originating in Minnesota, USA but now has thousands clubs across the world. [For more information about its rapid growth in the UK, click for this article.] One of its obvious selling points (as strongly hinted at in its name) is that it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All 4000+ clubs are open right now and members can work out at any of these anywhere, anytime. Knowing I could go at any time at all, coupled with my local gym's very convenient location, is what drew me to the club initially. Besides this convenience, other attractive features are its individual showers/toilets/changing facilities. I have no desire to get changed in a group locker room, thank you! I'm not in school! The equipment in the clubs is of very high quality and the overall appearance is professional, clean and welcoming. And let's not forget cost - Anytime Fitness is very reasonable in price. I wouldn't be a member if not!

I think this short video nicely sums up the selling points of the Anytime Fitness franchise. I am not going to name names but let's just say I can think of examples of the high end and low end gyms that are cited in this video. Anytime Fitness really is a perfect fit bang in the middle, and it meets every requirement of mine.

"Your local gym might be great but they can't all be like that"
Hmmm, you'd be surprised! I travel a fair bit for both my hobbies (geocaching can do that for you) and work, and my curiosity has taken me to all the Anytime Fitness clubs in the map below, and each and every one of them has the same great feel about it. Yes, they all have their respective strengths and selling points, but the brand is just so attractive. What I have really felt with Anytime Fitness is how your own personal goals are completely respected and encouraged. You are not just a number; you an individual, whether you aspire to lose weight, want to tone up, get some serious muscles, stay generally fit, take part in classes, train with friends, work with a personal trainer etc., anyone can work out here. Anyone. (Even if you have no arms or legs - yes, seriously: click to watch). It just feels like one big loving family community too, and more on that later.

These are the Anytime Fitness clubs I've visited ... so far!

Acclaim for Anytime Fitness Eastleigh
I may have visited fifteen gyms at the time of writing (probably more by now) but I can't begin to comment on how they function on a day to day basis, their staff, the community of local members, the problems that are encountered or the new equipment that is brought in. Just like you can't really write a comprehensive review of a restaurant based on one meal there or discuss the finer points of a hotel based on one stay. But Anytime Fitness Eastleigh has seen me come through their doors regularly for several months now and I feel better placed to give it a comprehensive review. Given how similar the various Anytime Fitness clubs function, I would imagine a lot of what I put in my review could be translated into your local gym. The only real way to find out of course is to visit yourself!

Inspirational quotes are commonplace!
1. Motivation
As I mentioned briefly earlier, you probably need some motivation to go to a gym; mine was that I was finding that I was putting on more weight since taking on a more sedentary job and clothes weren't fitting so well any more. I was struggling to shift the weight but I desperately wanted to and determination is required if you want to make a success of a gym membership. There aren't really any shortcuts with this! Being a member of any gym at all, or even venturing inside one every so often will not be enough to help you with your fitness goals; you have to really want to improve and be prepared to put in the time and commitment.

2. Important factors:
a. Personalised 
Gyms can vary significantly and my previous experiences hadn't ended particularly well, but I could see that people who went to the gym were able to show distinct improvement in their physical wellbeing and appearance and I was now in the right place to give it a go again. Anytime Fitness is focused on helping the individual with their own personal fitness goals and getting to that healthier place.

b. Fun
I truly believe working out should be fun. Yes, you heard me: FUN. My perceptions that going to the gym would be like the dentist and feel more like a painful but necessary chore have been totally transformed by attending Anytime Fitness. This place isn't scary, dull, intimidating or anything of the sort. It's like a second home! There are so many classes, bits of equipment and workouts through the app on offer that you could easily come here every day for the rest of your life and still be able to find a new way of working out. Variety is definitely needed to keep the interest up or you will start off being really determined (normally around 1st January!) and then by the end of the month, you'll be demotivated and bored... and then you'll quit. Anytime Fitness makes it easy to keep your workout interesting and productive.

c. Flexible and convenient
I like to know that I can work out whenever I want to. Anytime Fitness could not be more flexible. You really can check in and stay as long as you like any time at all. Yes, at 2am on Boxing Day if you so desire. Yes, if you can't sleep, go to the gym. Go after work. Go before work. Perhaps don't go during work! No excuses, it WILL fit around your life. And being a member of your local gym gives you a fob that means you can swipe in to any of the other 4000+ gyms on the planet. 

d. Clean and functional equipment and facilities
This is really important. What's the point going to a gym if you're only going to be frustrated by the kit when you get there? Fortunately the equipment at my local gym is lovingly looked after, fixed promptly when over-worked and updated regularly. In the few months I've been going, I have seen loads of new equipment come in and get put to the test. It's one thing to have fully-functioning treadmills, but believe me, you will want fully-functioning toilets and air conditioning too!

e. Friendly and helpful staff
Now the gym may be open 24/7 but you can't expect it to be staffed the whole time as well! All the staff I have met at Anytime Fitness clubs have clearly been passionate about their job and the people who come through the doors. This is a real incentive when it comes to sticking at a gym membership.

f. Good atmosphere and community
One of the things I was scared of before joining Anytime Fitness was being watched and judged. I was so wrong. No one really pays anyone else any attention there; everyone's just doing their own thing! And if someone does look at you, so what?! If I glance at someone doing exercises on the mats or in the studio, it's normally out of admiration and wondering what parts of their routine I can steal for myself! It's definitely not about judging people!

3. Advertising
Anytime Fitness Eastleigh advertises really well. As mentioned above, it has information you can take away outside the doors so you don't have to even speak to anyone if you don't want to. The website is up-to-date and helpful and all the gyms I've been to have very active Facebook pages as well so you can get a feel for it before you go in. Our local gym does a fair amount of public advertising in the shopping mall or town centre. One Saturday as I was passing their stand, I decided to pause and chat with someone manning it. I don't remember who I spoke to now, but I remember being encouraged to take it further and pop in sometime.

4. Welcome and trial period
This is key. It is on par with the "you only get one chance to make a first impression" maxim that is spouted to you before an interview. If you go into a gym for the first time and the staff present don't acknowledge you, you almost feel like you don't belong. I'm not saying they should fawn over you, but a bit of recognition and interest is really important. This is where I cannot fault Anytime Fitness Eastleigh AT ALL. Since picking up a leaflet and chatting at the stand, I finally plucked up the courage to venture in during staffed hours. I met with a member of the team and we discussed what I wanted to get out of it. I made it clear that I wasn't ready to commit yet; I just wanted to have a look round and see if it was for me. I was offered a free three-day trial that I believe all clubs offer. I really made the most of my trial period and each time I came back I was asked how things were going and whether the club was to my satisfaction. After my trial period I was followed up a week or two later by phone call which I found a really nice touch. There was no pressure whatsoever to join or make any sort of commitment; they just wanted to check that I had enjoyed my trial period and answer any questions I might have. As it happened, I was very impressed but I was due to go away and I said I couldn't commit to a gym membership for a few months. This was completely respected and I was not followed up again, but it was made clear that I could get in touch whenever I wanted.

5. Prices
Here's the bit people get stuck on: paying for membership. I had had ample time to think about whether I wanted to make this a regular commitment or not and after a few months, I was true to my word and I came back to commit to membership. Viki explained the options available to me, offered me a discount based on where I worked (!) and let me choose the option that worked best for me. Prices vary loads depending on a lot of factors but I am finding it is not that much more expensive than the dirt-cheap gym in a nearby town that I don't live anywhere near. Would I go there instead if it were nearer? Probably not, actually; I have no qualms paying a few quid more a month for all that I get back. Certainly my membership has now pretty much paid for itself!


6. Equipment
Let's face it, a gym without equipment wouldn't be worth any amount of money, so I was keen to see what Anytime Fitness Eastleigh had on offer. A good range of clean and fully-functional cardio (treadmills, bikes, rowers, cross trainers etc.), resistance, free weights, matted area and functional training materials, and a studio where most classes happen and you can use the "virtual trainer" with pre-programmed workouts to follow. Personally I was intrigued by the punchbag, which was definitely prompted by Ed Sheeran's recent video for Shape of You:

7. Classes
Which leads me on to classes. I knew that Anytime Fitness offered classes but I still had some of that gymtimidation going on, messing with my head. I wanted to take it slowly and keep my distance from activities that could show me up to be rubbish at exercising in front of other people so I made the most of Anytime Fitness' 24/7 opening and came when it was quieter. But I couldn't help but notice people going into the studio each evening and getting a really good workout from whatever class they were doing. I didn't seriously consider joining any classes to start with but one day when I was trying my first fight with the punchbag, manager Viki came over and asked if I box. Er, no... No I do not. She got some hook and jab pads and taught me some skills there and then and I found I was actually enjoying it and craving more! She recommended I come to her boxercise classes, and well, I have never looked back! As a keen cyclist I also decided to commit myself to the spin classes.

Spin classes at Eastleigh are second to none

I have since tried a number of classes including boxercise, indoor cycling (spin), ladies' lifting, circuits, core & abs blast, body conditioning, and legs, bum and tums. The club also currently offers post-natal exercises, pump, HIIT, tabata and yoga amongst others. A variety of staff and personal trainers take the classes and they are all very different but it means there is probably something for everyone. My favourites by far are boxercise and spin, and I feel they complement each other well as I work different parts of my body in each class. Most classes here are free to members or £5 for non members, but they're very popular and it's recommended you book up a week in advance if you can. I'm very glad I started coming to classes. We all have such a great time together and it's a good chance to get to know people a bit better.

Many clubs have punchbags. This one's at Dorchester.
Boxing feels brilliant!

8. Cleanliness
Gyms have the potential to be quite gross places. I mean think about it: recycled air, hot (in temperature) bodies, sweat drips coating equipment and the stench of body odour in the storage and changing areas. Anytime Fitness Eastleigh takes hygiene and cleanliness extremely seriously. The equipment, work out areas and toilets are being cleaned near constantly! And what impressed me most was that it was not just left to contracted cleaners (although cleaners do come in); the staff and personal trainers all take turns to roll up their sleeves and muck in too. Very impressive!

9. Facilities
Cosham's vanity station with things you may need
Individual well-maintained bathrooms (Wimbledon)
The equipment is obviously key, but gyms are more than just that. They have changing facilities, water fountains, drinks machines, toilets etc. Anytime Fitness Eastleigh has a good range of facilities. ALL Anytime Fitness clubs have individual changing areas, and I've been in a few clubs that have separate toilets, showers and changing rooms, but one thing you won't find is a large room with benches and hooks on it and stinky people getting changed next to you. It just does not happen that way at Anytime Fitness and that, to me, is really important. The club also has all the stuff you could want for your workout. Mine has a cold drinks machine (some clubs also sell snacks like protein Mars Bars, or have muscle-building shakes on sale. I've even seen a few hot drinks machines). A water fountain is crucial and I've never seen a club without one. Wet wipes and paper towels are always readily available for cleaning equipment. There's always space for your personal belongings and a couple of the clubs I've been to have full-sized lockers too, but there's normally space for locking up valuables. A few of the clubs I've visited have small vanity stations too with toiletries and hairdryers or straighteners. My local has a convenient charging point for phones.

10. Parking
Farnham (above) and Worthing have private car parks
Most Anytime Fitnesses seem to have somewhere very local to park. A couple have even had their own private car park. The Anytime Fitness website should give you an indication of whether there is parking nearby, and my technique has always been to find the club on Google maps then head to street view to see what the best way to approach it is. Eastleigh's gym is right in the centre of town and is attached to a 24 hour multi-storey car park.

11. Security and safety
Being open all the time but unstaffed for some of that time means that security is of great importance. All clubs worldwide are protected by electronic fob entry which members get when they join. Visitors to the club need to come in staffed hours and use the doorbell. Security cameras are in place all across the gyms and are monitored. Safety extends to the use of equipment too. Clubs should be equipped with emergency phones and first aid kits. Staff, when available, can advise on the correct way to use the equipment so don't guess and do yourself an injury!

Dorchester's feedback station
12. Responsiveness and feedback
Anytime Fitness Eastleigh is phenomenal when it comes to feedback. I have tried out a number of methods of contacting the club and suggestions and comments are taken seriously and implemented where possible. When staffed, you can pop in and speak to a member of the team and feel valued. You can email, call, fill in a feedback form (I snuck one in once to see how long it would take to get a response. About 30 minutes was the answer!), message them through their app, through Facebook, through the website, through the surveys they email out every once in a while, etc. I have also contacted head office and had a very warm and friendly response back from them. Seriously, I cannot fault any of the Anytime Fitness clubs or offices that I have contacted with regards to feedback or their responsiveness!

13. Resources
Anytime Fitness is so much more than a building with equipment in it. The website is a wonderful source of information and is very user-friendly, but you can also download two apps to your phone. One has well over 1000 workouts on it that you can refer to offline at any time (and record your outcomes). The other is a more generic Anytime Fitness app that enables you to book classes, find clubs, submit feedback, see previous attendances and keep track of your fitness progress and goals. I highly recommend downloading these apps to enhance your gym experience. A lot of the cardio equipment also has the capability to save stats from your workout so you can view them on your own personal profile on the Life Fitness website (or equivalent, depending on the particular club). Communication from the club is excellent. I get regular emails about the club itself and current offers, or with advice about maximising your workout and generally being healthy.

14. Personal training and support
I have only had one taster twenty minute personal training session so I can't comment on them too much, but Anytime Fitness strongly advocates personal trainers and a number of them work in the club, getting their clients motivated and seeing results. Often there are offers and competitions to win free sessions. 

In terms of more generic support, both the staff and the members I've spoken to seem only to happy to help out if they can, whether it be putting up the punchbag for me, attending to something or just engaging in conversation. I have never experienced anything but friendliness and helpfulness from my "fitness family".

Solitaire in Swansea!
15. Entertainment
Every club I have visited has music on constantly, one was tuned into a local radio station but otherwise they are just churning out the songs with no talking or adverts. The songs tend to be a combination of recent pop music (in say the last ten years) and faster club music that is easy to work out to. The music may be slightly on the loud side at some clubs so if you intend to bring your own to listen to, I'd recommend headphones rather than earphones, or choosing equipment that is not directly under a speaker! Eastleigh has also recently installed sound-sensitive disco lights for its studio which is fantastic and adds that something fun to your workout. I've been to gyms where the equipment just has a calculator-style display on it, but the Life Fitness cardio equipment at my local club is full of entertainment options that make a workout go quicker - a range of TV channels, Internet access (including YouTube shortcut), bluetooth capabilities, pre-recorded routes so you can imagine you're running in the beautiful scenery of New Zealand (for example) or cycling the Tour de France. There are also various screens showing you details about your workout, including how far along a race track you would be. In Fareham I played a game of chess for so long that I overshot the number of calories I'd intended to burn! Some of the equipment in some clubs is also equipped with Netflix. Come to the gym and do a half hour work out to your favourite programme and then feel less guilty about the time you spend in front of the TV!

16. Promotion
The Anytime Fitness brand seems to be very good at getting itself out there. My local gym takes up a lot of initiatives to get people into the club to try it out and give it a go. They physically go out and meet the people of the town, but they also engage a lot online and update their Facebook profile. The website, as mentioned earlier, is also a good place to go to find out more about what a particular club offers.

17. Community
The feel of an Anytime Fitness club is that of one big friendly family. I have never seen or heard anything that makes me feel any different. When people are taking part in personal challenges or beating records, they are rewarded and celebrated. Classes are a wonderful place to get to know other people better and the online community is a fantastic asset too.

18. Engagement
Setting some goals for the year!
The staff at Anytime Fitness are wonderful at engaging with their members, keeping them motivated and incentivised. I was very impressed that despite the sheer number of people who come through the doors, the staff remembered my name and details about me. I didn't just feel like another member; I felt like an individual with personal goals and ambitions. The team around me at Anytime Fitness have supported and encouraged me every step of the way. I love seeing how the various clubs I've attended engage with their members. They were all taking part in the New Year's resolution board "This year I will..." which encouraged members to make some goals and then spend the next twelve months working towards them. I have seen several great competitions, special offers, food and supplement tasters, sports bra fitting, social outings, charity initiatives, friendly competitions (e.g. Crawley's "how long can you plank for?"!), member of the month, collaborations with local companies (including money off various restaurants and entertainment facilities)... the list goes on and on and is limited only by the imagination of the staff at each particular gym.

19. Offers
Besides all their fun and community-focused incentives, all the Anytime Fitness clubs I've been to seem to have various offers on all the time. This may be for membership rates (e.g. cheaper if you refer a friend, work for a partner organisation, win a month's membership in a competition etc.) Free trial periods for those considering the gym seem to be as standard. Offers also come in the form of bringing a friend along for free if you complete a survey, a free personal training session or discounted merchandise. Competitions and offers like these keep the place exciting and the members engaged.

20. Merchandise
I love the various hoodies!
Finally, I have to mention the merchandise. You can browse a huge array of great merchandise online and your club should be able to order it in for you. I love my new blue and yellow hoodie. It is so warm and cosy so is not something I will wear during an intense workout, but is good for getting to and from the gym!

So in conclusion...
Hopefully you've figured by now that I strongly recommend Anytime Fitness as a place to work out! I am pleased that I have been able to visit so many clubs as it has given me a confidence in the brand as a whole, and it means I haven't just "struck lucky" at my local. Take it from someone who really did suffer with gymtimidation only a few short months ago: this place can completely and utterly transform your attitude towards working out. It doesn't have to be horrendously painful and expensive; it can actually be fun and something you actively look forward to! Check out the website below, enter your home town and see if there's a club near you. And if there is... then don't be afraid: take up their free trial offer and experience for yourself just what a great place Anytime Fitness can be.

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.