I saw this article and thought I’d give geocaching a go. You go to this website and you get GPS co-ordinates of “geocaches” – containers scattered around in locations all over the world. So it’s like a treasure hunt except there’s no real treasure. I looked at the website and there seem to be some subtleties that I was not sure I really understood, but I thought the best way to find out would be to give it a go.
So I registered on the website, which is free, and checked out how many caches were within a 1 mile radius of my home – there were 19! Although some were crossed out so I assume that means they’re no longer there. Since the caches are left lying around, they are often stolen or taken by people who don’t know what they are. Also, they are meant to be hard to find, so even with co-ordinates they might be so well hidden that you don’t spot them. So you may not be able to find the one you set out for, but I reckoned with 19 to choose from I had a good chance of some success.
The geocaches are all marked on a map, so you could just make a note of the locations if you didn’t have a GPS device. But Mr Beet will grab any excuse to use his iphone, so he downloaded an app (is that correct parlance?) which pointed us in the right direction and told us how far away we were. Obviously there is a level inaccuracy here – once you get within about 30 metres, you just have to start looking for likely hiding places rather than relying on the GPS. You get a clue to help you.
We decided to look for a series of caches that were hidden round the gates of Greenwich Park. Some were crossed through, so obviously not there any more, and some were still marked as live but reading the logbooks on the geocaching website, nobody had been able to find them for a while so probably they were gone too. We only found this out once we got home though, so much time was spent fruitlessly rummaging through undergrowth. So a good tip is to check the forums before you set off.
We found the first one we were looking for after about 3 mins wandering around the vicinity. It was a coffee jar or something, filled with a log book, which we signed, and some little bits and pieces of “treasure” – just small silly things like you might get in a christmas cracker. We’d brought some bits of our own treasure with us (if you take anything out you are meant to replace it with something else) but this one was already quite full and we didn’t want to take anything out so we just left it as it was.
Here’s a picture of me, all chuffed at finding my first cache. You would have thought that Mr Beet, knowing this photo was for my blog, would have told me that my hat was all wonky. In my defence it was very cold. I’m not sure whether I’m breaking some geocaching etiquette by publishing this photo.
Then we had a couple of failures – I’m sure we were in the right spot for some but either the cache wasn’t there or it was so well hidden that we couldn’t see it. Some were described as “nanocaches” which are teeny, and we couldn’t find any of them. But we did find a “microcache” which is an old film cannister. Obviously too small for any treasure, this one just had a log book, which was too soggy to sign anyway.
So overall, we looked for about 8 caches and we found 2. But as I say, we could have improved our strike rate if we’d done our research beforehand and found out which ones were no longer there.
I also noticed that there were a couple near my work, so I thought I’d quickly see if I could locate them in my lunch hour. Looking for geocaches in the middle of the city raises the problem of “muggles” i.e. non-geocachers, who you are not meant to let notice you find the geocache, lest they steal it (or, more likely, think you’re a drug dealer or terrorist or something). So I practised my most nonchalant expression and set off, this time without the benefit of the iphone GPS and just having looked at the map on the website.I found the first microcache straight away. Trying to be secretive around muggles definitely made it more fun – I felt like a spy going to a dead drop or whatever they call it. This cache seemed to contain codes for something. There’s obviously a lot of different aspects to geocaching that I don’t get at the moment.
I didn’t immediately spot the second one and I didn’t spend too much time looking – it was a nano and I’m not even sure what they look like. The clue didn’t help much and there were lots of different potential hiding places and lots of muggles so I just gave up.
Looking at the website, I get the impression that this could be quite a geeky hobby. There’s all sorts of jargon and different ways of “playing”. I think it could potentially be quite addictive to the right sort of person. But I like walking anyway, so this would add an extra fun element to a walk. By looking for the caches, it took us round a route of our local park that we hadn’t done before. And if you are a big kid like me, then it really is fun to follow clues and find treasure! I’m not sure whether geocaching is meant to be aimed at kids – it seems like it would really appeal to them (apart from the disappointment when the caches aren’t there – but still, an important life lesson I suppose!) but the website doesn’t really seem to make much of what a child-friendly activity it is. It’s definitely fun for big kids though.