Wednesday, 29 August 2012

A Short Break in France

Eiffel Tower

We'd been trying to arrange a trip to France for many months as Beth was keen to go to France again in order to try out her French (A* at GCSE! ).  We were quite late booking anything and whenever we found somewhere that had plenty of vacancies we asked ourselves ‘why?’
Le Shuttle

In the end we found a great looking little Gite in a hamlet called Wicquinghem but they were almost fully booked and only had three nights free so we booked them.

Our Gite


We left home at some unearthly hour in the morning (middle of the night!), drove straight down to Folkestone, crossed on the Channel Tunnel and took a leisurely drive along the coast finding a couple of caches (and boulangeries) on the way.

Time for Pain au Chocolats


On Sunday we decided to visit the V3 base at Mimoyecques – The V3 was a German WWII supergun, the weapon was planned to be used to bombard London from two large bunkers in the Pas de Calais region of Northern France but they were rendered unusable by allied bombing raids before completion - an amazing place and very interesting history.

Underground at the V3 base

Then we drove down to Boulogne sur Mer for a walk around the city walls.  I went on a day trip to Boulogne when I was at high school but none of it looked familiar as I don't think we ventured far from the port.

Boulogne City walls

Monday - Paris

We’d pre-booked tickets on the SNCF, Beth and I were keen to go on a TGV but unfortunately TGVs don’t go from where we were! Oh well, another day.

Catching the train from Etaples

The tickets were for 05:25 leaving from Etaples – about 19 miles away so this was another ridiculously early start.  Erm... aren't holidays supposed to be relaxing??  A couple of hours or so later we had arrived in Paris, jumped on bus 42 and went straight to the Eiffel Tower.

Gare du Nord

We had attempted to pre-book tickets for the Eiffel Tower a few weeks ago but they only release a certain amount in advance and we weren't able to book them so after talking to a couple of friends that have visited we decided to make it our first stop and get there for when it opened and hopefully avoid the queues.  Luckily we arrived very soon after opening and the queues were short and we were soon through the security checks and climbing the stairs.  We climbed the steps to the 2nd level, I think there are over 600 steps but we lost count quite soon after starting counting so can't be certain on this, then got the lift to the top.  Amazing views from the top.... Two hours later we were back down again and ready for something to eat!  Everything near the Eiffel Tower was well overpriced but luckily we managed to find a patisserie a short way from the Eiffel Tower where the prices were much more reasonable. Once again Beth did all the talking. With renewed vigour, we made our way on foot towards the Arc de Triomphe finding  La passerelle avec une vue superbe  and Liberty's Flame on the way. Liberty’s flame is a monument above the very underpass where Princess Diana died.

Terrific views from the top of the Eiffel Tower

There is an underpass to get to the Arc de Triomphe and just as we were about to enter it I said 'I wonder if we'll see anyone famous today.'  Well we did!  Not only was it someone famous, it was Billie Joe Armstrong – frontman from Green Day;  Beth’s favourite rock band.  We were all sitting down having a rest under the Arc de Triomphe in the shade as it was sweltering hot and Beth leapt up and said 'Mum, I've just seen Billie Joe!', I thought yeah right, the heat's got to her, I said 'Are you sure' and she said that she'd recognise his tattoos anywhere.  So I followed her round the corner and there he was, we had a very brief chat and he obligingly had his photo taken with Beth and Steven in turn - really made our day as we are all Green Day fans.
Bumped into Billie Joe Armstrong!!!

We were all beginning to flag by now and made a bee-line for McDonalds. They had no tea or coffee so we didn’t hang around too long and caught the Metro down to the Louvre.  We’re not really into art galleries and didn't really have time to go in but there is a virtual cache there Who is she?

Mark was very keen to do the Bonjour Paris webcam so for that we needed a wi-fi hotspot, time to find  a Maccys.  After stopping for fougasse on the way which tested Beth’s vocabulary, did they contain goat or just goat’s cheese? we continued in the sweltering heat (32 degrees) and reached another McDonalds and finally got a cuppa!  It was horrendously busy in there and the wi-fi didn’t work too well so Mark phoned our caching friends AJIGeo and asked them to grab a picture from the webcam. The webcam is located in a lovely little courtyard cafe where two gorgeous Labradors wandered freely. The dogs were very interested in us as we waved for the webcam but the staff who were busy stacking up the chairs took no notice of us whatsoever.
Eiffel Tower

With only a little over an hour to go before our train we decided to head back to the Gare du Nord on the Metro. There is no direct route so Beth asked the assistant in the information kiosk which trains we had to take to reach Gare du Nord.  Asking is one thing, understanding the reply is quite another and Beth did brilliantly once again!

At the Gare du Nord Metro station

The trains are really cool and are the corridor type with compartments, luckily we had a compartment on our own and could spread out for the long journey back to Etaples.  Finally arrived back at the Gite at about 10pm after an 18 hour day, we were all exhausted but had a brilliant day out, a memorable day we'll remember forever.

Corridor trains are cool!


Woke up to heavy rain. We had planned to spend the day in the region before catching a crossing at about 8pm. We couldn’t face doing much in the rain so phoned Eurotunnel and asked if we could change to an earlier crossing. No problem!

Le Blockhaus

Almost as soon as we'd left the Gite it stopped raining and the sun came out. We made our way towards  St Omar and an Auchen hypermarket. After finally getting out of Auchen - you could easily spend all day in there ;-) we decided it would be nice to  make the most of the day after all and contacted Eurotunnel to arrange a later crossing  - but not quite as late. We then went to the Blockhaus near Eperlecques.

A Half Track
This massive concrete construction was built to prepare and launch V2 missiles destined for London!
A VERY interesting but disturbing place, well worth a visit.

Eurotunnel Terminal Calais
Then it was off to Calais for the 18:50 crossing and back home again. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Caching in Worcestershire

Young Acorns

This weekend Mark had work commitments so we couldn't go too far from home.  As luck would have it a new series popped up not too far away in Grafton Flyford last night so after dropping our son off at work we decided to make an early start and see if we could get some caching done before Mark's phone rang.

GF Series 

A series of 15 caches set on a 4 mile walk around the footpaths/bridleways and quiet lanes of Grafton Flyford.

The walk was about 4 miles along a mostly familiar route, as this was the starting point for the now archived ABFTN Christmas series.  The caches were a variety of hides and sizes, some quite tricky to find.  We even managed 2 FTFs and it was nice to see a few different people getting FTFs on this series - it's good to share .

On our way back to the car we took a detour back to GF3, we'd searched for it at the beginning of the walk but decided to leave it until the end so we could get on with the walk.  On arrival at GZ Dadu13 and Team Airtomoreira were searching so we joined forces but after another 10 minutes or so we couldn't find it so we went our separate ways.

An enjoyable walk in the countryside, then we continued on to the second series of the morning.


ECC Series

A series of 21 caches with Doctor Who themed titles set on a circular walk of just over 6 miles on the footpaths around the village of Earls Common.

We parked near to ECC 14 to start the series.  Our original plan was to just do part of the series as we thought we'd be pushing our luck doing the whole lot but when we reached the half way point we decided that as it was such a nice day to risk it and just hoped that Mark's phone wouldn't ring when we were quite a way from the car.

Favourite cache container

Quite a lot of the walk was set along little used paths and were quite overgrown in places and some of the paths were poorly marked which would've been hard going without GPS mapping.  A few of the fields had cows or horses in them but they were no trouble at all.

Much to my delight there was a trigpoint on the series, in fact Mark says my actual words when I spotted it were 'YAY!!  There's a trigpoint!!'  I'm very easily pleased.

Mere Court Trigpoint
On the whole we really enjoyed the walk, it was lovely to be out enjoying the countryside on a warm sunny day after months of rain.  Not being Doctor Who fans some of the titles were lost on us but our teenagers would've known straight away.  Luckily no knowledge of Doctor Who is required to complete the series

Whisper dog tired

On Sunday morning we were free until midday so decided to head over to Abbots Morton and try and complete the Letterbox series that we started a few weeks ago.  We parked at the village hall again and walked down to AM 13 to continue the series.  We took Whisper our yellow lab with us as she'd enjoyed the first part of the series with us, Poppy unfortunately wouldn't be up to such a long walk now.  Quite a long stretch between AM 14 and AM 15 was very boggy as it was along a narrow bridleway and with all the rain we've had it was completely churned up.  The rest of the walk was fine apart from a bull in the field on the way to AM 16 - when we entered the field the bull stood up so as we'd already starting walk around the edge we decided to just continue sticking to the edge and walking as quickly as we could without breaking into a run as tempting as it was.  The bull watched us but luckily it must've been too hot and lay back down again - PHEW!

Really enjoyed the walk but we rang out of time to find the bonus caches so we'll hopefully be back for an evening dog walk to find those.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Ireland 2012: More Counties and Old Caches

Ireland 2012

Having completed all the counties for the UK mainland last year, the obvious next target was to ‘colour in’ the six Northern Ireland counties.  No visit to Ireland would be complete without including Europe’s First GC43 placed in June 2000.  Our previous oldest cache was GC40 in Belgium placed in July 2000. Wait a minute! Why is the number higher for the older cache?  This is because these old caches pre-date which started in September 2000.  Before this the caches were listed on an assortment of bulletin boards and they were added onto over a period of time.  Anyway, that’s history!

Not far from GC43 is Ireland’s second oldest cache Kyle Cache 1 GC322 dating from February 2001. Considering its proximity to Europe’s First (only about 4 miles away), this cache has had a surprisingly low number of finds.

Right! So we knew we wanted to go, but when?  Although Beth and Steven would have been keen to visit Ireland with us, they probably would not have been too keen on all the driving we had planned.  Beth was due to go to Scotland with Explorers so we decided to arrange a trip to coincide with that. Then Steven told us he was going on holiday with his girlfriend and wouldn’t be back until the Monday so we decided that we could go to Ireland Monday to Friday and Steven would then be home to look after the dogs for us.

Monday 30th July

Cachemobile for the week

Had to set our alarms for 3am to give us enough time to get ready and get to the airport parking and to the airport for our flight at 07:55.  I really wasn't looking forward to the flight, I always suffer with my 'aeroplane ear' for a few days after a flight and after a flight to Turkey one year when I had a bad cold the pain and deafness was was quite bad so whenever we fly I always dread it, this on top of a general fear of flying, I just really hate the sensation of flying and have constant images of plane crash  movies running through my head during the flight like 'Alive', 'Cast Away', Con Air and worst of all Final Destination!!...... Anyway we arrived in Dublin safely after a very short flight at 09:00 then it was on the shuttle bus to Hertz to up a VW Golf hire car and headed straight to the two old caches.  Done!


Then we started looking around for a McD's for coffee and to use their 'facilities', my app on the iPhone said there was one nearby in Bray but we drove around and couldn't see it, eventually we parked up and asked a passer by and he pointed to the building next to us, apparently they're not allowed to display the usual 'M' sign as it's a converted town hall building.

Posh McD's but where's the 'M'
Then it was on through Dublin and spent the rest of the day picking up a few other caches such as The Black Rose GCGTD7.  We had no idea what to expect as the cache page is deliberately vague and as we approached GZ we both guessed what it would be about.  A definite favourite point for this one!

Beautiful day and lovely hot sunshine, let's hope it lasts.

One thing we noticed, wherever we went people were so friendly, couldn't do enough for you.

Then it was off to find the Travelodge Dublin Airport South in Ballymun.  Looked a bit rough on the outside and the parking was through security gates underneath and you entered reception via a lift from the car park but once inside it was very nice, check-in was very quick and friendly and the room was very nice indeed, probably the nicest  Travelodge room we've stayed in and we've stayed in a few.

Travelodge Dublin Airport South

Tuesday 31st July

The plan for today was to go to Belfast.  We figured that we would just clip the corner of Armagh on the way and took a detour off the A1 to find Bernish View Point GC15NW9 - County Armagh – done!

After visiting Sainsburys in Newry (some nice ‘Brits Out’ graffiti on the walls in Newry) we rejoined the main road and continued towards Belfast bagging GC2Q6QE Pitt Stop on the way. County Down – done!

Cow Parade
On our travels around Northern Ireland we kept spotting cows - in shopping centres, city halls, anywhere really- apparently they are part of a world wide travelling art exhibition called Cow Parade which according to their website is the largest and most successful public art event in the world having raised over $30 million since 1999 for worldwide charitable organisations.  Why Cows?  Well, they claim that 'the cow is a universally liked and recognized animal.  It does good things for us, makes us smile, is friendly and has a fun personality'. I'm not sure I can agree with that statement 100%

Arrived in Belfast and parked under the Victoria Shopping Centre in the QPark, quite pricey at £13.40 for the 5 hours but we were told that it was pretty much the same everywhere in the city.  We were keen to see as much as possible in the short time we had there so according to Trip Advisor the top attraction in the area was the Belfast City Bus Tour so we haggled for tickets off a street vendor and got student rate tickets for £10 each then onto the bus we went.  This was a very interesting and informative couple of hours and well worth the money.  According to the track log it took us on a 24 mile journey around the Shankill Road area, Titanic quarter, Stormont, wall murals and the areas whose names we were familiar with from various news reports over the years.  See Flickr slideshow at the side for more photos.

Bobby Sands mural - said to be most photographed mural

Belfast City Bus Tour

Then it was off the bus and by this time it was chucking it down with rain so we headed to McD's with my iPad to take a picture of Mark at the webcam cache around the corner - GCGND4 Picture This  - one of only two webcam caches in the whole of Ireland.  Then we enjoyed a nice cuppa in the dry........ and that was County Antrim – done!

At 7pm we checked in to the Premier Inn in the Titanic Quarter, caught up on the Olympics for the day, planned the next day's trip and then went out for a walk in the pouring rain around the Titanic Quarter to find a few caches - what an amazing place!

Giant Titanic Airfix Kit

Wednesday 1st August
Pinch and a Punch, White Rabbits etc......... We set off towards the Giant's Causeway in the pouring rain and decided to take the picturesque coastal route.  Lots of places we passed through were displaying flags and Union Jacks but pretty sure the lamposts hadn't been painted just for the Jubilee.

Beautiful Antrim Coast

It rained heavily until we reached Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge at Ballintoy.   Carrick a Rede is a a 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm traversed by a rope bridge traditionally erected by salmon fishermen.  It was extremely windy on the rope bridge so you needed to hold on tightly to get across safely.  They say that no one has ever fallen from the bridge but many have felt unable to go back across and have had to leave the island via boat!! The cost was £5 each to go across the bridge so we decided to renew our National Trust membership whilst there as it had lapsed and this would also cover us for entry to the Giant's Causeway later in the day and any other NT properties we were planning to visit in the next 12 months.

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Then it was on to the Giant's Causeway which we had been wanting to visit for a few years.  It would normally cost around £8 each for adults but as we had just renewed our NT membership we were able to get in for 'free'.  It was very busy with visitors to the newly opened visitor centre, in fact David Cameron had visited that day, we must've just missed him, oh well his loss - A truly amazing location but a little too busy with tourists for our liking, managed to find a few quiet spots to sit and ponder though.

Giant's Causeway

Always keen to find YOSMs we headed towards one in the middle of nowhere. We drove about a mile up a forest track and parked about 0.2 miles from it but the terrain looked very boggy and there didn't seem to be any clear path through the spongy moss, pine trees and heather and without sufficient mapping we decided to give it a miss.

We did find a nearby cache GC2VEQP Gone Fishing #5 - Binevenagh Lake though and that was County Derry – done!
Groarty House B&B, Derry

Continued on to Derry arriving at our Bed and Breakfast at 19:30.  Popped out for an evening walk along the Foyle and across the Peace Bridge in Derry.

Peace Bridge, Derry

Thursday 2nd August
As there was so much to see in Derry we decided to stay longer than planned and head back into the city and get tickets for a walking tour around the city walls and visit the Museum of Free Derry .  A really good tour and John, our guide, made the tour very enjoyable with his interesting stories about the 105 day siege, the potato famine, Bloody Sunday etc.  It was well worth the £4 each it cost and even came with a complimentary cup of tea or coffee at a coffee shop at the end.

On 5/1/69 after a night of rioting and sustained police attacks on the
Bogside these words were painted on the gable wall of 33 Lecky Road
- the wall remains today the rest of the street was demolished in 1975.

Afterwards we went into the Bogside area to see the murals and to look round the museum of Free Derry - £3 entry each.  Very informative displays in the museum telling the true story of what happened on Bloody Sunday and during 'The Troubles'.  It seemed really strange walking around an area that at one time would not have been safe to, you would only have to accidentally have taken a wrong turning and that would've been the end of that

‎'The Death of Innocence' Mural of 14-year old Annette
McGavigan caught in cross-fire in 1971.
She was the 100th victim of 'the Troubles'

Then after leaving Derry around lunchtime we headed back towards Dublin via GC3QWWV The Swinging Bridge
That was County Tyrone – done!

GC1ZWRF The Big Giant and the Little Giant.
The last of the six NI counties Fermanagh – done!
Arrived back in Dublin and went straight to our Travelodge a lot later than we'd originally planned.  The guy on reception has to be the most miserable receptionist we have ever come across when checking in to a hotel, not unfriendly just purely functional.  The room was clean but is definitely the smallest hotel room we've ever stayed in.

Smallest Travelodge Room ever!

Friday 3rd August

Dropped off the hire car and then went for a walk around Dublin. We had planned to visit GCJKTN Gardiner's Treat (the other webcam cache in Ireland!) but as it was chucking it down with rain my iPhone was getting wet trying to bring up the webcam so we called upon a caching mate, Gaz_Zippy, who kindly saved the webcam image for us.  Then we carried on looking around a few of the sights but decided to head to the airport a little earlier as the rain was quite heavy so it was onto the Aircoach and back to Dublin airport ready for our flight home at 3pm.

Home again

Looking back I'm amazed at how much we fitted into the 5 days, we visited some very interesting places and met loads of friendly people, what a great place to visit.  Now where to next...............