Monday, 29 July 2013

First adventures in geocaching

As an aside to my country walking, I have recently been trying my hand at a spot of geocaching.  For those unfamiliar with this hobby, basically it entails using GPS to track down a cache which someone has hidden.  The caches, which can vary in size from film canisters to large containers, contain a log sheet and sometimes other items which can be traded.

Many serious geocache enthusiasts use a dedicated GPS device but for a beginner, like myself, an app can be downloaded which works perfectly well enough to get you started.  Once you have the app and have created your own geocaching profile you're ready to go. 

Geocaching is a worldwide pastime, with over 2 million caches hidden around the world, approximately 70,000 of which can be found in the UK.  And this number is increasing as the number of enthusiasts grows.  No one is ever likely to be very far from a cache! 

Starting off with a smart phone is simple.  From your main profile screen you just click on the "Find Nearby Geocache" tab and then follow the directions from either a map screen or with the aid of a built in compass.


The distance gauge shows you how far away you are from the cache, whilst the compass keeps you heading in the right direction.

Smartphones are usually accurate to within around 5 metres, so when you are very close to the cache it's better to put it to one side and trust your own eyesight.  Can you see a likely hiding place?  Often this can be a large rock, the hole in the foot of a tree or similar.  The larger the cache the easier it is to find.

Once you have the cache in hand the first thing you should do is sign the log with your unique geocaching user ID (people usually use a nickname) and the date. After you've signed, either immediately via your phone or later by computer, you should also add a note to the cache's unique online log.  Also inside the cache you may find a small collection of little items and you are perfectly welcome to take one, provided you leave something in return.  In truth the items people leave are seldom worth taking.  I've seen used hair bobbles, personal business cards, Christmas cracker novelties but, occasionally, something I've wanted, like a small pen.

The larger geocaches can also contain what are known as trackables or travel bugs.  These are items with a metal dog tag attached which carries a unique ID.  If you find one of these items and take it, you must visit the item's page on the geocaching website (www.geocaching.com) and record that you have taken it.  Then, at a later date but as soon as possible, you should deposit the trackable item in another cache for others to take and move on.

It was on a recent visit to Hadrian's Wall that I found a geocache containing a garden gnome complete with a travel bug dog tag. 


The little chap was called Gofar and on returning home after my short holiday I was able to follow his journey from its start in London, up to the northernmost coast of Scotland, then back down to Hadrian's Wall.  I kept Gofar for a few weeks then took him on holiday with me to Wales, where I left him in another cache in a wood by the beautiful Pembrokeshire coastal path.

To date I have only notched up 15 geocaches to my name, which in comparison to the thousands located by dedicated enthusiasts is a drop in the ocean.  To be honest, I don't see this as a serious interest and I won't be rushing out to buy a dedicated GPS device.  But it can add a bit of added interest to a country walk now and again.

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