hard not to feel furtive when you are scrabbling around in the bushes
somewhere in Milton Keynes as joggers trot by, craning their necks
to see what you are doing. After all, doing anything in bushes is
pretty much deviant behaviour once you are an adult. They're
fine to hide contraband cigarettes or girlie magazines in if you
are a teenager, but rustling in the undergrowth as a grown up marks
you out as some kind of weirdo or, at the very least, a birdwatcher.
I have my girlfriend, Christina, with me to help allay any suspicion
and I also have some electronic gadgetry that tells me this is a
very specific bush; the one I have been looking for; the one located
at N52° 03.352 W 000° 47.640. The gadget in question is
a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, which triangulates
your position by bouncing a signal off orbiting satellites to tell
you where you are.
reason we are stumbling around the shrubbery is to try out the little-known
but fast growing GPS-based pastime that is geocaching. Barely four
years old, geocaching started when someone buried a stash of goodies
and posted the co-ordinates on the Internet. The hobby then quickly
grew from the reserve of a handful of gadget freaks into a global
game of hide and seek, using the website geocaching.com to register
and find new caches.
are 80,000 caches worldwide, mostly in the US," says Richard
Peat, one of the founders of the Geocaching Association of Great
Britain, who enjoys geocaching as a means to get out and about in
the countryside. "The UK is fourth with about 2,500 caches."
There are now thought to be as many as 3,000 geocachers in the UK.
you need to do is put in a postcode and the website finds a cache
near to you. You then punch the co-ordinates given into a GPS receiver
(which can be picked up for less than £100) and it draws a
line from your location to the cache.
borrowed GPS receiver insists that we are right on top of the cache,
but we can't find anything that resembles the Tupperware containers
or ammunition boxes that usually hide a log book, a handful of key
rings or the odd small toy. We look up trees, kick aside leaves
and get chirped at by a robin, whose nest we seem to be right next
to, but to no avail.
we admit defeat and head off in search of another cache.
Christina already seems somewhat disillusioned with the hobby as
she gets back behind the wheel to traverse the many roundabouts
of the New Town. Things get worse as I try to direct her through
the bizarre maze of housing estates and numbered roads that make
up the town's traffic system, using GPS rather than road maps.
doesn't help that I'm not very good with right and left.
here on V10, er… no, I mean left," I say, receiving
a black look for my troubles.
we reach Milton Keynes village, the hamlet where the urban sprawl
began and the place that we have to pick up clues for a quiz-based
geocache. We have some of the co-ordinates from the website but
have to count doors, fire hydrants and words on monuments to get
the rest of the figures.
over here," I say, spotting the bus shelter with the doors
that we have to count.
can't," says a somewhat tense Christina, citing a fictitious
build up of traffic behind her.
argument and some counting later we have nearly all the numbers
we need. We then realise that we are not alone. Another couple are
obviously doing exactly the same as us. I had assumed that they
were just out walking their dogs, but they have pencils and paper.
feels like we have been caught doing something sordid in the bushes,
and before we have even got to the rooting about in the bushes part.
Luckily it seems that they feel the same way and keep their distance.
They also get one of the clues wrong and head off in the wrong direction,
leaving us to find the cache first and feel all superior.
cache is in a green ammunition box. Not much of interest in there,
but we sign the logbook, leave some stickers and head for our next
target, which promises stunning scenery. This is what much of geocaching
is actually about, with some caches being 'virtual caches'
where an unexpectedly attractive location is the reward and there
is no hidden box. Though more experienced cachers often shun these
in favour of 'micro caches', which consist of hard-to-find
35mm film canisters with tiny logbooks inside.
we head off we again find ourselves at the mercy of Milton Keyne's
bizarre traffic system, where A-roads suddenly disappear into housing
estates with no easy way out. Eventually we find the Bow Brickhill
village church alluded to in the website instructions and head past
it to a car park. From here we clamber up a path and find ourselves
rewarded with a picturesque walk through the woods, with the trees
displaying every shade of red, orange and brown imaginable.
a leisurely autumnal stroll through crunching leaves and a minimal
amount of scrabbling through an evergreen bush we find the cache.
I open the ammo box, which is reassuringly marked 'contents
harmless', and discover a smurf, some chalk and a Bob The
Builder notebook. Hardly the Holy Grail, but a little better than
our last find so I drop a badge, a sticker and a toy tooth with
waving arms into the box before re-burying the container under leaves
and heading back to the car.
this time it is getting dark and we are both in the need of some
food, so I dig out the Good Pub Guide that is left in the glove
box for such occasions. Disappointingly, none of the listings have
GPS co-ordinates next to the descriptions of food and drinks on
offer. So we have to resort to the old fashioned road atlas to get
us to our pub of choice, which seems a most unsatisfying way of
finding things just as I was getting used to my every move being
dictated by long strings of numbers and guided by expensive hardware
orbiting miles above my head. Roll on geopubbing.
can find out more about geocaching at www.geocaching.com
and the Geocaching Association of Great Britain's website,