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Geocaching in Gwynedd

Author: Ruth Willmore

During lockdown, Ruth Willmore discovered geocaching. Now, she’s discovered countless caches across North Wales and has started hiding her own! Here, she tells us more…

In March this year, like virtually everyone else, my life was turned upside down by a phone call from work telling that I was now on furlough. I work fulltime for a small, specialist travel company, and after a stressful beginning to the year suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands.

The first couple of months were spent enjoying the sunshine, tidying the house and relaxing, but by June I was looking for things to do. I found a sponsored challenge “Operation Bletchley” in aid of The Soldiers' Charity which involved walking 100 miles during July and solving codes. After checking my Fitbit statistics this seemed possible and I signed up. I loved walking around my local area, exploring new paths and challenging myself to take longer walks. Every 10 miles a new code arrived in my inbox. I loved it and it gave me some focus for the month. Towards the end of July, I wanted something new; I knew by now that furlough was continuing until the end of October.

A little research reminded me of a hobby I’d read about previously: Geocaching. Described as a treasure hunt, or using multi-million-pound technology to find Tupperware in the woods, geocaching involves using GPS coordinates to find “caches” hidden around the world.

I downloaded the app, and discovered that there are several caches within my area, and set off to find the first one. After a little trial and error, I found the small plastic tube hidden under loose wood in a hollow in a tree, I excitedly signed the logbook and recorded my find on the geocaching app. The following day I dragged my husband on a walk in the opposite direction and we found another small plastic tube hiding under a pile of rocks. I was now hooked, and had found six caches by the end of July. Caches vary tremendously, from tiny “nano” caches, with a scrap of paper for a logbook, through the standard lunch box size with a few plastic toys to swap, to I believe much larger, hidden in plain sight. As a minimum, each cache will contain a paper logbook to record your name or initials and the date you found the cache. There are often swappable items too — plastic toys, badges, and collectible items. There may be a pen, but others need tweezers to remove the paper logbook.

The first step is to study the Geocache map and select a cache or caches to find. Each has a difficulty rating and a terrain rating, giving an idea of how hard the actual cache will be to find, and how challenging the walk to find it will be. The cache description will also include the size of the cache, from micro to large, and an encoded hint to help find it. Once a suitable cache is identified, the app provides navigation to the site. Depending on the strength of the GPS signal, which is affected by trees and tall buildings, the GPS will take you to within a few metres. It is then a case of hunting for the container, using the description, hint, and experience to find the hiding place. Sometimes reading back through previous logs will provide clues to the location, and when all else fails cachers can “PAF” — phone (or send a message) to a friend or previous finder. The elation when finding the 35mm film pot hidden under a piece of slate at the base of a fence post is worth the cold wet rummage through the undergrowth. After signing the log and swapping any collectibles, the cache must be re-hidden exactly as it was found, and care taken to ensure that the site is left undamaged.

I learned that it is recommended to find at least twenty different caches before placing one of your own, so that was my challenge for August. Walking further and further from home, and even beginning to get in the car to drive to some further afield I achieved this aim and discovered several places I would never otherwise have visited. After moaning about a wet walk one day, a friend suggested walking up the paved road to St Cynhaearn's church. I was delighted to find a beautiful redundant church just over a mile from home. This became a regular walk, and I enjoyed my visits inside and I bought a few of the postcards to send to family members I hadn’t seen during lockdown.

There are series of caches with themes. For example, “SideTracked” is a series placed near railway stations, of which there are plenty locally. I discovered another series, “Church Micros”, which had not yet reached my corner of North Wales, despite being one of the most long running and numerous Geocaching series. Geocachers from all over the world have heard of this series and often plan to find a few when visiting Britain.

Having grown up in vicarages, this series appealed, and I decided to extend it to two of the churches I had discovered on my walks, as I wanted to bring other people to these peaceful sites. My 8 year old niece helped me to find a suitable place at St Beuno’s church in Penmorfa and she mentioned that it would be important to ensure that people looking for the cache did not have to walk on any of the graves. I bought some small magnetic pots, and these fitted well on the drainpipes. I gained permission from Friends of Friendless Churches and placed my caches, ensuring that the locations were respectful, and would not cause any damage to the buildings.

The next step was to write the cache description, information that would be of interest to the geocaches who are going to look for them. This is an opportunity to highlight the history and architecture of the hiding place and surrounds, and to entice people to find this particular cache. Friends of Friendless Churches’ website gave me plenty of information for my descriptions. As the caches were placed on the drainpipes, my hidden hint is “incy wincy spider”.

I am looking forward to being able to explore more of the Church Micro series and discovering more church buildings around the country. One day, I hope to be able to join a “Cache In Trash Out” event, joining other geocachers to pick up litter in a churchyard.

My two Church Micro caches have been visited by a few people now, with comments including “Was thrilled to see another friendless church on the map. I really love this series. This one did not disappoint. Beautiful glass and furniture inside. So nice to have places of worship like this open at this time when our regular church is out of action.” and “Parked up at Pentrefelin and walked up to the church. Never knew there was one up here. Found the cache and had a good look inside the church. Thanks for bringing me here.”

Has this inspired you to join in geocaching?

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