Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cornwall 2014

Out of all the places I've ever visited Cornwall is by far my most favourite destination.  I have very fond memories of childhood holidays there and Mark and I took some of our first holidays on our motorbikes together in Cornwall, I have lost count of the amount of times I've visited and am always looking for excuses to re-visit.  So when Mark told me there was a couple of caches he 'needed' to find for a challenge and also a new Wherigo to play I said 'I'M IN! When are we going?'

We set off after work on Friday afternoon for the 213 mile journey to Roche in mid-cornwall which was to be our base for the weekend.

On Saturday we got up very early and headed down to Penzanze to catch the 06:40 train to Lelant to walk the St Michael's Way.

Throughout Europe there is a network of pilgrim routes which lead to one of the three most important places of Christian pilgrimage in the world - the Cathedral of St James in Santiago de Compostela, North West Spain.  The St Michael's Way Trail is one of these routes.  The St Michael's Way was thought to have been used by pilgrims, missionaries and travellers, especially those from Ireland and Wales, to avoid crossing the treacherous waters around Land's End.  I became interested and intrigued by these pilgrim routes when we watched the 2010 movie 'The Way' starring Michael Sheen, it's a fictional story about a man who walks the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain following the death of his son who had been killed in a freak storm walking the same route.  The movie is inspiring and thought provoking and if I ever get the chance it's a walk I would love to do, maybe that's one for the 'when we retire' list.... The St Michaels Way seemed much more achievable in a weekend as it's only 13 miles long.

Also there just happens to be a cache series along the St Michael's Way.  The Fordh Sen Myghal series.  As the route follows an official pilgrim route, it's very easy to follow all the shell marker posts.  Very early on in the walk we realised that if we spent too long at each cache location we would never get back to Penzanze before nightfall so after a few DNFs we decided that if we hadn't found the cache within 30 secs we could move on to the next. None of the previous logs were of any help as they were nearly all cut and paste logs.... (on our return home we see that the ones we struggled on have a high no. of DNFs).

I found that once we'd decided to do this and just concentrate on enjoying the walk and the fabulous scenery I enjoyed it a whole lot more.  I don't want to be negative though as the walk really is fabulous and the fact that we had 21 DNFs didn't detract from our enjoyment of the walk but it's a real pity a bit more thought couldn't have gone into the hides as a lot of the caches were just lobbed into brambles and hedges and a fair few we found just lying on the open ground.  A lot of micros and vague or no hints.  But like I said, if you just forget about the caching and concentrate on the scenery it's much more enjoyable.

All in all the walk took us about 8 hours to get back to Penzance, this was taking into account a couple of detours and plenty of stops to look at the fabulous scenery and eat our lunch.  We were so lucky with the weather too, the sun shone all day.

After completing the walk we headed into Penzance for Cornish Pasties - yum yum.

Early evening we went off to St Enoder to do the wherigo before heading into Newquay to watch the sunset.

We first became aware of the Drive on the Moor series last year but as we're not fans of drive-by caching we decided to put it on the to-do list for a possible cycling series as we're massive fans of caching by bike.

The plan was to do just over half of them and then leave the rest for our next visit to the area.  We couldn't have picked a better day as the weather was gloriously sunny.  The scenery and countryside was beautiful.

We covered 13 miles in about 3 hours on our bikes.  All the caches were well hidden, obvious to the trained cachers' eye but invisible to passers by - just how caches should be hidden!

Then it was time to head home after a fantastic weekend. Can't wait for our next trip to Cornwall.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Mega Event Sintra, Portugal

Lisbon Tram

In August last year I was flicking through a magazine at the hairdressers and spotted a feature about the beautiful coastal region of Alentejo in Portugal, it looked amazing and as we'd not been to Portugal before I decided I'd really like to go.

Mark said he thought that the Mega Portugal might be on again in 2014 so he contacted the organisers of the previous Portuguese mega to ask if there were any plans yet and they said yes but they didn't know when it would be, so we decided to carry on with our other plans and keep it in mind for maybe another year......  As time went by we starting booking up our trips for this year then in March Mark spotted that the Mega Portugal had been published and that it also coincided with our wedding anniversary..... so what better way to celebrate.

We booked flights to Lisbon and a hotel in Sintra for 3 nights, we'd attend the mega then drive down the coast, stopping off at the Alentejo coast on the way and stay the last 3 nights in the Algarve so we could explore the area and along that stretch of the coast from Sagres to Faro then fly back from Faro airport.  That was the plan anyway....

Let the fun begin........

Flew to Lisbon from Bristol, picked up hire car and drove to Chalet Saudade in Sintra.  A beautifully renovated hotel restored in vintage style, the attention to detail was quite impressive.  Breakfast was served in a charming cafe around the corner each morning, also run by the owners of the hotel and done out in same vintage style.

The next day we drove out of Sintra to do a Letterbox and Wherigo on the way to Lisbon, the Wherigo was in quite a run down part of town and at times we felt quite uncomfortable as we didn't really know anything about the area.  The one think that shocked us was the quantity of litter, it was everywhere and the whole place could've done with a bloomin' good CITO.

Then it was onto Lisbon itself which was a nightmare to drive around. Oh I forgot to mention the hire car - this was a very underpowered Fiat Panda and it literally puffed and panted up the narrow hilly cobbled streets in Lisbon and was a complete joke on the Sintra mountain hairpin bends!  You'd have thought we'd have learnt our lesson after the SEAT experience ....... Anyway we managed to find somewhere to park, which oddly was in a fully automated underground car park. Never used one before, you literally drive into a garage and get out, the door shuts and you get a ticket and the car then vanishes underground and when the door opens, as if by magic, your car has gone!  When you come back you pay and then the car appears in the next garage along!  Simples.  I found a video on Youtube that shows what happens underground .

The plan was to find the virtual, A great view of Lisbon at St. George's Castle (Castelo de Sao Jorge).

We didn't know until we got there that you had to pay to get in and was a pricey €7.50 each but as we'd gone to all that trouble we decided to go for it and it was an interesting place to visit with some great views of Lisbon and included entry into the camera obscura and a half hour talk from an English speaking guide.

The drive around Lisbon was very stressful and I was glad to get back to the relative calmness of Sintra.

Friday night we attended an event in Sintra, quite a novel idea, a night walk around Sintra specifically for photography and exchanging photographic hints and tips.  I didn't have room for my dslr camera in my case, pity as there were some amazing photo opportunities. I did take a few on my compact camera though.  The walk took a couple of hours and we we're led on a circular walk around the town by the event organisers, which involved quite a few steep sections.

Saturday was the day of the mega event.  We made our way to the park where the mega event was to be held.

Promoting Mega Essex 2015
We checked-in, signed log, had a quick catchup with Signal the Frog, handed out some Mega Essex cards then at 10am went off to find the first lab cache. They hadn't yet been placed by the organiser so while we were waiting for them to be made available we joined the large group from the event that were going on a guided walk up the mountain to Castle Mouros right at the top.

We walked the steep climb up to the top then most of the group headed straight back down but the receptionist at our hotel had said that if there's one place we must visit during our short stay in Sintra then this was it so along with another cacher from Belgium we paid our money went into the castle ruins.

This has to be one of the most amazing places I've ever been. The views were absolutely stunning and the location quite surreal.

We spent a an hour or so exploring and taking in the views before heading back down.  On our way we bumped into the organiser who had just been round placing the lab caches so we decided to find them before heading back to the main event. There were 10 of them and we managed FTF on Nos 1 to 6.
Me and Annie Love, Lackey, Geocaching HQ

At #6 we had searched high and low and just about to give up when we were joined by Annie Love, Groundspeak Lackey from Seattle, we enjoyed a great chat with her and also a Portuguese reviewer and then we went on to find the rest of the lab caches in the series together.

We had to be at the CITO for 3pm and as it was only about 7 miles away we thought we had plenty of time to grab late lunch before driving out to the Sintra forest.  Haha we'd forgotten that Portuguese miles are a little like Welsh miles in that you need to multiply the time needed to travel by 3. Tomtom took us right around the Wrekin as it tried to make sense of the unpaved forest roads and hairpin bends.

Pile of ivy

On the way we noted that we hadn't seen any litter in the forest and we thought maybe the location would be a local picnic spot that attracted litter louts. We eventually got there at 3.45 and soon realised that this was no ordinary CITO....... We arrived to find a working party in full swing tearing down ivy from all the trees.  Everyone was just getting stuck in ripping down the choking vines. It was great fun and by 5pm there were piles of ivy everywhere and a whole load of trees that could now breathe easily.

That's the brilliant thing about attending events in other countries, especially megas, the interesting and varied people that you meet and the chance to exchange caching stories about crazy adventures. We got taking to the Canadian cacher from Belgian who we'd first met earlier in the day plus a couple from Sweden.

Annie Love at WWFM
After the CITO we headed back to Sintra to take part in a crazy WWFM at 6pm on the strike of the church bell the air was filled with bubbles! So crazy and so much fun.

We had hoped to bump into some old caching friends Team Caracache who we first met very early on in our caching career and who now live out in Portugal permanently.  Luckily they spotted us at the flash mob and it was good to catch up with them.

 Here is a short video of our trip to the Mega Event and side events.


It's our 23rd wedding anniversary today, we're travelling down to the Algarve region for the rest of our holiday.

We stopped off on the way to go for a walk and find a few caches along a short stretch of the Alentejo coast. There are some beautiful walks in this area, we could really do with a couple of weeks out here. 

On the way we passed large areas of cork tree plantations.  We hadn't realised about the Portuguese cork industry until I read about it in our Rough Guide to Portugal, so we were quite keen to see the trees.

Cork Plantation

Portugal is the premier producer of cork in the world and it accounts for about 50% of the world’s total cork production and about 720,000 hectares of land in Portugal is dedicated to the cultivation of cork oak trees from where cork is obtained. You can read more about the Cork industry here if you want
Harvested cork tree

The temperature was noticeably hotter in this area with, the car temp gauge showed 32 degrees. We're just not used to these temperatures and walking in the heat on sandy paths was quite hard going. 

We arrived at Caldas de Monchique and checked in to our hotel .   We enjoyed a lovely meal and drinks in the restaurant to celebrate our anniversary.  A very tranquil place in a beautiful area.


The plan for today was to drive down to Lagos and enjoy a day travelling along the coast.  Rather annoyingly our TomTom broke today so this made things a little tricky but not impossible, we made use of Mark's mapping app which doesn't rely on data roaming to be switched on and obviously the Oregons were a big help.

We didn't find many caches but enjoyed stopping off at Sagres to find the 'The End of the World' cache which is the most south westerly cache in Europe and has the most favourite points in the whole of Portugal.  Then to Salema to find an Earthcache and a paddle in the sea, where we spent a while relaxing at a cafe before moving on to Praia de Luz for a walk along the beach. 
The End of the World

The  Algarve is a very beautiful region but if I was honest it's not really the sort of place we'd usually choose for a holiday destination, mainly due to the high number of holidaymakers at all the resorts, we like to find places off the beaten track, where we can experience the local culture and try out some of the language or phrases we've learnt, most of the places along this coast you didn't need to know any Portuguese and the food served up was the same as you'd get at home - couldn't believe how many places were adverting a 'Full English Breakfast'.

But if you ignore all that it really was a beautiful place and so easy to sit and relax in the heat of the day


Our last day in Portugal, but our flight wasn't until 10pm so we spent the day lazily travelling from one place to another along the coast, finding a few caches along the way.

We stopped off at Silves first for a wonder around before heading to Carvoeiro to do the only Webcam in Portugal - Mark had been going on about this one for so long so I am really pleased we were finally able to tick it off.

Next on our planned list of places to visit was Alcantarilha where we had read about a Chapel of Bones.  There was a cache there too which was handy .... The entire interior of the chapel is lined with the bones of over 1000 former parishioners.  Rather disturbingly, when the local cemetery became too full, these bones were dug up and used to decorate the chapel.

It was quite amusing because we spent ages looking for this cache, we looked everywhere, there were a few benches around so we thought it must be under one of them.  Just after I'd been on my hands and knees looking I noticed an elderly man watching me from up the road so not wanting to draw attention to ourselves we stopped searching.  Mark was feeling around with his hands under a different bench and by now I'd given up as I had seen the chapel and just gave it up as a DNF on the cache.  Anyway, as I was walking away, I heard someone whistle and it was the elderly gentleman, he was tapping the underside of his seat and we realised he meant the cache was under the bench Mark was sat on - so he knew all about the cache, what a helpful man. 

Chapel of Bones
Then we continued on to Albufueira, not much to write home about, very busy with tourists and we managed a DNF.

The last stop on our trip was Cais Comercial in Faro which is our new most southerly cache.

Then it was time to head off to the airport and return our hire car.

It's been a tiring but fun few days, we've had a brilliant time, met some lovely people and visited some beautiful places.


12 cache types (11+ Lab Caches)
Distance driven: 806km but felt double that.
New most southerly at N37 00.293
Gosh! Also a new most westerly find W009 27.362

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Mega Weekend in Ypres

Mark had spotted The Great War Mega Event being promoted while at the Brugse Beer Mega Event last year so we had put it as a 'maybe' on the calendar, then after Christmas our plans for this year were starting to fall into place so we decided to book a weekend in Ypres so we could attend.  Initially it was just for the two of us then Beth asked if she could come along too, she was already due to take part in the Race for Life on the Sunday but managed to change this to a different location on a different day so she could still come along.  We were really pleased that Beth wanted to join us on one of our trips, she'd visited Ypres with the school a few years ago and was keen to come back to the area again.


At 3am Saturday morning the alarm clock went off and our crazy weekend adventure started.

Our crossing on Le Shuttle was for 8.20 so we hoped to get there in time for last check-in at 7:50 - we made it in plenty of time and even managed to get an earlier crossing.

We arrived in Calais and headed straight for a boulangerie in  little town called Herzeele, where Mark had visited on his way to the the Brugge Mega event last year.  Luckily Beth speaks French which made things very easy for us as she was able to buy everything we needed for our lunch.

Then we headed straight to the Mega event which was about an hours drive.  The event was held in the grounds of a pub called De Dreve in Zonnebeke, Belgium.  The owner has had an interest in the First World War since childhood and the pub is also a museum.

We were really surprised to bump into cacher, Lima2311 who we'd met at our event in Eindhoven.  He'd travelled down to the area for the day.  We often wonder when we meet cachers far away from home whether we'll ever bump into them again.

A really well organised event, everyone was very friendly and helpful.
Fun, fun, fun!

We had purchased a roadbook with all the new caches in but unfortunately, apart from the Lab caches, we ran out of time to do them as we were keen to do the Wherigo in Poperinge which had been set for the mega event and also another Wherigo in Roselare which was on our to-do list.

Lab caches

There were five lab caches set for this mega event and they were all very well thought out.  They involved 'discovering' three of the organising team (wearing green polo shirts), selfies with three other helpers (identifiable by their orange shirts), climbing ropes to obtain a code, studying a magic eye picture to get final co-ords for an ammo box and the last one involved using a 'layar' app on a smartphone which is something we hadn't come across before - very clever!

A little bit about the wherigos:

The first one Shot at Dawn was a town trail walk around Poperinge.  During World War I Poperinge was one of only two towns in Belgium not under German occupation.  It was used to billet British troops and also provided a safe area for field hospitals.
Execution post

The wherigo followed the last days of a young Jamaican soldier who was shot for desertion.  It took you to the death cells and execution point and was a poignant and stark reminder of the horrors of war.  It also included many other points of interest around the town.

We had no idea how long it would take us when we set off but in the end it was quite a long walk around the town, some of the stages were quite far apart and it took us a good couple of hours to complete but well worth it.

The next wherigo was:

alles of niets

This means 'all or nothing' well it very nearly was nothing, on several occasions.  The cartridge was completely in Dutch but was only 1.5 difficulty so just how difficult could it be?

The wherigo was a straightforward walk from zone to zone answering a question at each zone, some of the zones were more difficult than others as we tried to get the gist of what was being asked and a wrong answer meant backtracking to the previous zone.  We had been working our way through the stages for about an hour when we hit upon what seemed an impossible question, well we understood the question but just couldn't find the answer.  We had to find the number of the house where two 'kabouters' lived.  We fathomed that it meant gnomes but after walking up and down the road we couldn't see any and thought maybe they'd moved out.  A man was working on a car outside one of the houses, he had been watching us intently so Mark thought we ought to explain what we were looking for and maybe he could help.  It seemed that Dutch wasn't his strong point so he went and fetched his neighbour who also didn't understand Dutch  very well and neither of them knew what 'kabouters' meant. They couldn't speak English or German either but could speak French! - it just so happens that we had someone who could speak French as well - by this point Beth had disappeared around the corner as she could see what was about to happen, I manage to 'encourage' her to come back and speak to them as it would be good practice.

Within moments they were deep in conversation about 'little men with pointed hats' and our new friends then smiled and started laughing when they realised what we were looking for and turned round in the direction of said gnomes and then we all spotted them - UP ON THE ROOF!  Even though we now had the information we wanted they still carried on chattering away in French to Beth about something they had seen on the internet about people stealing gnomes and thought that maybe we were collecting gnomes, luckily Beth managed to reassure them that we only needed to look at them ..... you had to be there, it was hilarous.  We thought then that maybe this was the last stage but there were a few more tricky translations to get through and then a timed zone to run at the end!  But we did actually find the final and very rewarding it was too.

We arrived at our B&B a bit later than planned and the owner said he didn't think we were going to turn up, what we hadn't realised was that we were the only guests and that the B&B actually only had one guest room.  The owner was very friendly and helpful and we'd highly recommend it as a base to stay for the area.   We definitely hope to return in the future.
Basketcase Crew, Dadu13, Delta68 and Pegz

Sunday morning we got up bright and early ready to attend the CITO .  We arrived and met up with caching friends Basketcase Crew and Dadu13.  The CITO was also slighly unusual in that there was a choice of 3 areas to work with 3 separate finishing/collection points.  We all chose to head back to the one at Ypres so we could explore the town picking up litter as we went.  This was a really great idea. 

We definitely needed more time in Ypres itself as there was so much to see but we did find time to visit the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing which was extremely moving and poignant.  

We had to meet at 1pm for a group photo to be taken by the organisers and for the litter to be taken away.  

Then we went our separate ways and we headed off to do the Steenstraete cycle series which was a completely bike friendly series of 23 caches plus a bonus.  This was a lovely flat cycle ride along good cycle roads, all caches were very clever hides but all very easy to spot by the trained eye.  The route was very popular with other cyclists and is situated near a really good cycle friendly cafe, Steenstraete Eetkaffee where we stopped for a well earned cuppa at the end.

We were so lucky with the weather too, the sun shone the whole weekend.

Our crossing was for 8.20pm at Calais but we'd stopped to photograph poppy fields on the way so were 10 mins late, which probably would've been OK but there were long queues at check-in due to it being the end of the school holidays, we had to wait 1½ hours for the next available crossing.  Arriving home at 12:20am - Wheesh!!