With the unexpected heat wave that we’ve been experiencing over the past couple of weeks, a couple of trips caching along the river were in order. On 24th September our river of choice was the River Lea, and on 2nd Octobber it was the River Nene.
Our trip to the River Nene also had us filling in the final two boxes on our difficulty/terrain matrix. That’s it now. All 81 combinations complete (And surprisingly I’m still alive to tell the tale!)
We had completed the caches along the River Lea during a couple of trips the year before. We had done it on bike and I remember a big section where there were no caches. This section was then filled with 12 caches so we returned to get them, this time on foot. It wasn’t a chore though, it wasn’t like “We cycled this section last year and now we’ve got to do it AGAIN”, but a real pleasure to return. It’s not often that we visit a beautiful place a few times when caching as once is usually enough to clear the area and last time we were cycling so weren’t able to absorb the area. This time we took a very slow stroll down the river in the sunshine. We started early to avoid muggles, and the majority of muggles at that time of the morning were just rowing up and down the river.
Fellow Essex cachers, Team SOS (a big group consisting of many of our caching friends) had done the caches on a canal boat a few weeks before our visit and had kindly replaced all of the missing caches and logbooks so we were able to stroll down the river and find all of them. A big thank you to all of Team SOS!
Despite it being quite a busy area, the only muggles we had to avoid whilst trying to retrieve a cache were the swans who hissed at us!
After grabbing the 12 remaining River lea caches we were able to loop back through Lea Valley country park to grab a few more caches. We had attempted some of them on our previous trips, however found the park a bit hard to navigate as our GPSr didn’t have any maps on it. We were a lot better prepared this time around.
The country park was really quite beautiful with lovely lakes and plenty of birds. Information boards told us about the otters that lived there, but I think they were sleeping!
We stopped for lunch along the river and watched families hire boats to go up and down the river. I did quite fancy a go (More on this later!) however after a little while we felt ourselves heading off for some much needed shade to do the HPW series. This took us on a lovely stroll around ‘Hoddesdon Park Wood’ for 9 caches. The cache containers were mostly a decent size with swaps and it was really enjoyable weaving in and out of the trees. We noticed that a previous visitor had left something even more annoying than a calling card in the caches, corks with their names scribbled on! It seemed quite a pointless thing to do as it wasn’t as if anyone would swap something for a crappy old cork. They even put one in a film can so the logbook was all squashed at the bottom! We did some removals, as everything was getting crammed in the containers because of these.
We’d definitely recommend the series around the Hoddesdon woods. Plenty of shade, birds, and mushrooms to spot!
The following weekend we were also tempted towards the river, this time it was the River Nene and we weren’t going to walk it. We weren’t going to cycle it, we were going to paddle it. (YIKES!) I’m sure for most people this isn’t a big deal, but poor little Cass can’t swim and is terrified of water so the Cache By Kayak series sounded quite terrifying!. It also didn’t help that it was a last minute decision so I hadn’t been able to mentally prepare. We had asked a friend with all the boating necessaries a long while ago if we could borrow them. We never heard anything again until out of the blue he offered to bring us the gear this weekend! We couldn’t say no, two of the caches that required a boat were sitting as empty squares on our difficulty/terrain matrix and this may be the last chance we would get. So, a quick check on YouTube trained me (ahem!) on how to paddle a Kayak and the preparation was done.
Sunday morning was lovely and sunny and probably the perfect morning for an enjoyable paddle along the river. We started early, before it got too hot packing little but our pen and our GPSr (I was convinced we would fall in). The river was surprisingly quiet and shallow (But I was still scared). We didn’t see any other boats, kayaks, canoes, etc. and there weren’t that many muggles either, even when it got busier later in the morning. It was the perfect river for a beginner and it all went very well, well for the first 2 or 3 meters and then we met THE SWANS! Ah! More swans than I had ever seen in my entire life. Talk about the worst cache to start with. To cut a long story short, I was too scared to get the cache that was near the swans (we had a few tag alongs) and flipped into a massive panic attack. So we bypassed that one! The second cache, Kneely there, we spotted easily however were unable to reach as it required kneeling on the kayak so that we could reach it and there was no way that was happening!!! So it was onto the 3rd cache, Reed ‘em and weep which was a nice half mile paddle up the river, through a lock which went very well (surprisingly!), to a container that was missing. I checked the logs in the morning and realised it was gone, but the CO had said if you spot the ring that the container was attached to you could log it. We spotted it, but didn’t feel right claiming that so had brought along a replacement container that we hooked on a branch and later asked the CO if we could log it. The CO said that of course we could, but they had actually visited in the afternoon to do the replacement so swapped our cache for theirs! Typical! As if that wasn’t bad enough, they actually did the maintenance on an inflatable tiger!!! And there was me freaking out in a proper, stable kayak! At that point we turned around and went back through the mad swans, which were just as scary. It must have been at least a mile and a half of paddling to the next cache, Bolt. It was worth it though as it was a find, and a very easy find which filled the D1/T5 square on our D/T grid which is, in my opinion, the hardest one to fill. The last cache, Follow the Arrow was another easy find before we paddled back. Those last few caches and the paddle back were the most rewarding and confident boosting ones. I felt quite pleased with myself after that. I think I would have been braver if we had done those caches before the one with the swans, however despite us only being able to find 3 out of the 5 caches along the series it felt very rewarding!
It’s definitely a series I would recommend, particularly for beginner kayak/canoeing due to the river being so quiet and shallow. It also probably helps if you don’t have a massive water phobia! After the crazy paddle down the river we took a short stroll down the river, if only to give the swans an evil look! We noticed a herd of horses. There were 13 of them and when we first looked we thought they were a special breen as they had very brown tails and manes. When we got closer we realised that the brown colour was caused by thousands of little brown thistle heads weaved into their fur. Teddy gets annoyed if he gets one or two thistles caught in his fur, but these horses were literally covered. It was horrible, and very sad. I took photos, and jotted down the GPS coords and sent these to the RSPCA. They got straight back to me and acknowleged my report telling me they would pass it on to a field officer. I just hope they can help these poor horses as they looked so uncomfortable. It’s unbelievable that someone could leave them like this.
We’d travelled a long way to the River Nene for the kayaking series and wanted to make our trip worthwhile so in the afternoon visited a series around Sywell Country Park and reservoir. Planning this trip consisted of me noticing a loop of caches around a body of water and knowing it would be enjoyable. I wasn’t wrong! I always end up liking cache series around reservoirs, or lakes.
Despite the cache containers not being very exciting (just film cans and tubes) the area was beautiful and we were pleased with our choice of caches to finish off the day. It was so hot out however and the conveniently placed benches around the reservoir were most welcome.
There were plenty of circular series around the area to keep us busy, however we wimped out because of the heat and settled for some drive-by’s instead. There were quite a lot around the area, especially as we hadn’t been there before. The highlight of these however, was “The Plane! The Plane!” placed at Sywell Airfield. To get the cache you had to enter the airfield, however once there you could stand and watch the planes flying. We stayed there for a little while before heading home.
A successful day of caching and completing our difficulty/terrain matrix was definitely a massive achievement that we’re really proud of. It was a great challenge as it forced us to seek caches that we wouldn’t usually do, and helped us find caches that were quite special. Not only had we paddled down a river, but entered an old tin mine, entered an old quarry, climbed numerous trees, climbed to the peaks of a couple of mountains, did some scrambling, climbed up a waterfall (by mistake!), waded through a swamp, done a bit of amateur rock climbing, and solved some extremely hard puzzles!
For anyone attempting the challenge, our qualifying caches are below. Of course we just keep our fingers crossed that no-one changes the difficulty and terrain ratings of those caches!!!