As a family we’ve become increasingly immobile in recent months. On a recent walk around Clumber Park our four-year old son got off his bike and declared that he’d prefer to be at home sat on the sofa. I could sympathise. Encouraging him to come out for a walk is becoming increasingly difficult. The lure of the Wii, and particularly Zelda and Mario is too strong.
I’d heard about geocaching a few months ago. It’s kind of like an electronic treasure hunt. I downloaded a free iPhone app (there’s also an Android version). We sold it to our son as being a bit like Zelda, but outdoors, and without any monsters. He was enthusiastic as we embarked on our first quest around Matlock a few weeks ago.
The app indicated that there were several geocaches within a mile or so of where we’d parked up in the centre of town. You can follow a compass that points in the direction of the geocache and displays how far you’ve got until you reach it. It differs from using a sat nav in that you don’t get turn by turn directions. Instead working out the route for yourself, whether that be along footpaths, roads or in our case through parks.
The phone soon indicated we were within a few meters of our first cache. Found in a tiny, very pretty little park that otherwise we’d probably never have visited. Although we didn’t know exactly know what we were looking for, there didn’t seem to be anything there. We consulted a hint on the app that you can use if you’re struggling. This indicated it was below a letter “H” on an inscription on a park bench. We found the bench, but nothing else. Though Thomas was convinced that he’d found it. In fact he’d found a stick, but he was happy enough for now.
We headed off following our compass and the in-app map for the next cache. Our route led us along a scenic walk along the river. Thomas was excited by the hunting element of the walk. I suppose it gives a walk a sense of purpose and, it really made it more fun for all three of us. Eventually the map and compass indicated we were at the cache. we spent some time searching beside trees on the edge of the riverside path. Eventually turning over a stone and finding a small Tupperware box containing a log book (effectively a roll of paper with dates and signatures on) and a small collection (a cache, I suppose) of trinkets. charms, a tiny torch, the kind of things you’d find in Christmas crackers. Not being up to speed on the whole geo-caching business we were empty-handed (it’s etiquette to leave a gift as you take one). The four-year old was fairly understanding, though I’m sure next time this’ll add a new dimension, like most kids he’s got an insatiable appetite for more “stuff”.
One thing that surprised us was how many people had visited this geo-cache, about 20 in the past fortnight. Probably over a hundred in the past year. Although a couple of months ago we’d never heard of it, it’s clearly a popular activity, and I can see why. Unfortunately, with it being February it began to rain, and rather than trudge bravely on hunting down the other caches that had appeared on my iPhone screen, we headed back to the car.
It’s something we’ll definitely try again. The app was really easy to use, and all three of us enjoyed it. I’ve even looked at the possibility of buying a handheld GPS device. The phone version is great but needs a 3g signal. Thus ruling out really rural locations, where I imagine the most fun is to be had.
Geocaching: What you’ll need
- An Android or iPhone Geocaching App and a charged GPS enabled phone. Or a handheld GPS device (from about £80 on Amazon)
- Some trinkets to leave in the caches
- Some waterproof clothing (in the UK anyway)
More information can be found at geocaching.com
If you’ve got any geocaching hints or tips, or experiences to share please get involved in the comments.