Since the very first time we went out on a caching trail with mel-ray, the “Chiltern Hundred” caching series had been mentioned. This is a large series in Hertfordshire placed by the number 1 UK cacher, drsolly, consisting of 109 traditional caches + 1 bonus with a 5/5 difficulty and terrain rating. The series is split into 3 loops so it can be done on separate days, or just one day.
Along with “The UK Mega Series” and “The Sussex Amble” this is one of the UK’s biggest trails over the most miles. With 300+ “Found it” logs on the caches it is very well known and very often visited. I’d always been quite unsure of the mileage for it. I’d heard a lot of people say the series was 25 miles around, so this is what we based our planning on. Initially we thought we’d really give it a go and do it in a single day… and then we had a moment of weakness and decided that it wasn’t practical and we should just split it into two days… Finally, last Saturday at the Goldhanger meet we finalised our plans and whilst I was chatting to another cacher, unbeknown to me the rest of the team were discussing doing the Chiltern Hundred this Saturday with a 5am start so we could honour our initial plans and walk it in 1 day. Blimey! I did think they were joking so this was followed by me asking “Really? Really? Really? Are we DEFINTELY doing it this Saturday?” a lot as they often pull my leg about these things! Fellow Essex cachers schoolfrenz and The Kitty Cachers had recently done amazingly well and managed the series in a day with a record breaking time by doing a fair bit of power walking, but we’re nowhere near as fit as them so I did think we had bitten off a bit more than we could chew, however it was a challenge so we thought we’d try our best…
The Chiltern Hundred was a big and special trail, so I decided it required some special planning. I used CACH’EYE to plot the route and measure the distance between the caches. My measurements said the route would be around 21 miles. I wasn’t totally sure of the measurements, so we did allow time in case the route was 25 miles like others had said. The next step was to read all of the logs. Yes, I checked out every single cache. I created a spreadsheet to mark those that would be tricky, and Googled some of the hints that would be hard to decipher in the field and added notes. This spreadsheet also meant that I could add reminders next to each of the caches to jog my memory for logging as I do hate just “TFTC” I noticed that a few of the caches had a lot of DNF’s on them and in some cases these stretched back to 2 months. I remembered seeing a post on the Groundspeak forums from drsolly once saying he didn’t mind people replacing the caches if they were definitely gone as long as they weren’t particular ones that were tricky and most likely there. I couldn’t recall which, so emailed drsolly and offered to be the maintenance girl and replace the missing ones for him. It’s a good series and I wasn’t going to just stick film cans in place. I had some small tubs and a few tubes that could be used. Drsolly got back to me and said that it was a good idea and offered to be our PAF. The Chiltern bonus is quite special in that every cache has a number in it, however you only need 85 numbers to get the coordinates for the bonus to allow for muggled caches on the route. To get the coordinates, you have to then go on to his website and type in all of the numbers you have. If you have at least 85 numbers then the website spits out the coordinates. It was arranged that at each replacement I would ring drsolly and check it was ok to replace and get the required bonus number from him to add to the logbook. He had a list of those that were likely to be missing, as well as some which had a damaged container or needed a fresh logbook so we made sure we took plenty of supplies.
An early start
*YAWN* The Chiltern Hundred series was a 1.5 hour drive for us meaning we had to get up at 3am in the morning to get there for our 5am start. I don’t think I have EVER gotten up that early before, but it was a special day and required special dedication. We started our mammoth trek at cache #039. The series can be started at cache #001 however that’s in Chesham where parking isn’t all that easy. Although you can park at the station for £4 a day, we had two cars and planned to move the car after completing the first of the three loops. We parked by some houses and the cars were fine.
CH039 was a tricky one to start on as it had a lot of DNF’s on it and was one drsolly told me was likely to be there despite the DNF’s. It was a bad one to start at 5am whilst we were half asleep and we couldn’t find it on the first look around. We returned at the end of the trail and Ray found it pretty quickly. I was really surprised when he revealed it. It wasn’t really a hard hide, just not in the most obvious place.
We carried on the trail in ascending order. The weather was kind to us as it was cool and quite cloudy. I think we would have actually died if the sun had been shining like it has been recently. It really was the perfect walking weather. Everything went very smoothly with most of the caches being quick, easy finds… That was until we got to cache #047. The hint told us that this would be up high. There were 3 big trees and an ivy covered wall. We spent 15 minutes here searching absolutely everywhere. We checked every tree thoroughly and all checked along the wall in gardening gloves (As there was broken glass along it). I wanted to be sure that the cache was definitely gone if were were going to replace it. It was 5:45am and I knew drsolly wouldn’t appreciate a phone call to check about this one. “Climb on my back” said Ray to Squirtchy. Squirtchy looked scared, Ray looked confident and we just all laughed. Ray was serious though, and it wasn’t long before Squirtchy was up that tree checking for the cache…
Ah, that wasn’t good enough. Just in case it could be higher, “Get on my shoulders Aaron!” said Ray to Squirtchy. We all laughed again… God, he was serious *again* and so Squirtchy was lifted right up and into the trees for thorough searchings!!!!!!!!
The cache wasn’t there! We decided this one needed a replacement and put it in the location that matched previous logs (I pulled them all up on my iPhone). Unfortunately this was the only one that we couldn’t contact drsolly for to get the bonus number for, but we’ve let him know about it. We had such a laugh in the park for this cache. It was a good time of day for these antics as well as it was just us, the ducks and the geese…
We passed through Chesham and then onto cache 001. It was then on to a slightly confusing section of the trail. Between caches CH004 and CH009 it was a little muddled and we had to double back on ourselves. We asked drsolly about it afterwards and he said it wasn’t originally like that, but he had to move some caches. This section went through a farm area. First we had to cross through a field of over-friendly horses. We were scared, but Squirtchy was the brave one who just made a bit of fuss of the horse and we were safe to pass by. That was the first hurdle… Next came the cow field. Ah! Cows!
We luckily passed by the cows without getting killed. 😉 We grabbed sticks, just in case, however they stayed out of our way. CH022 was our second and final cow encounter for the trip. These cows were however much cuter as they were behind a fence. We stood at their trough and they all came charging and Moo-ing at us. I don’t think it was an aggressive Moo, sounded more like “Foooooood”. We didn’t have any though. We spent a little while chatting to the cows. I loved the variety of colours. When we walked away, they followed us up on the other side of the field as far as they could get. I think we made some friends!
We were treated to some lovely views of the country side on this first loop, however there weren’t too many hills, which was fine by us! It was then on to cache CH023. I had this one marked as tricky as it had 278 finds and 121 DNF’s which was a lot compared to the rest of the caches on the series, but I was sure this was mainly because the hint was quite cryptic. Although I’m not totally sure how, I knew what the hint referred to however still Googled it to make sure. Although confident we knew where this was, this cache was the one that took the longest to find out of all others on the series and was the only non-replacement cache that I resorted to ringing drsolly for. Thankfully it was 9am by now so we didn’t disturb him! We must have spent at least 20 minutes here and hunted so hard. Drsolly told us we needed to change the position that we were searching. This cache was a very precise placement, however there were two ways of working out where that precise place was and we had focused too long on the wrong place despite having quite an extensive search at the other place as well. Once we relocated for a final time the cache was found within a few minutes (And I did a little jumpy dance to celebrate! Hehe!). The problem here was that a previous finder had put it in the wrong place. We put the cache back where it belonged and moved on. Thank God (or rather drsolly) for that!!!
CH032 was time for our next replacement. We had this one marked as gone and it definitely wasn’t as there was only one place that matched the clue. After replacing it two little yorkies ran up to us to say hello. They were so friendly and cute (nothing like Teddy, but don’t tell him I said that! ;)).
Finally it was on to cache #038, then back to find #039 and we were done! We started this loop at 5am on the dot and finished at 10:28am. My GPSr clocked it as 9.81 miles in 5hours 28 minutes. A damn good start! We moved the car to a point where the next two loops met near The Bell pub and stopped for an hour for a sit down and some food and a cuppa. Mel had prepared some lovely flapjacks and sausage rolls and we brought carrot cake and ham rolls. A well deserved break.
On to the second loop…
We started this next loop at CH052. Another nice stroll through the countryside with some lovely views and nice wild flowers growing near the cache locations. I slacked off in some places to do some snapping whilst the others searched.
I should add that all of the caches on this trail were of a decent size. Most of them were small 330ml beakers with plenty of room for swaps, and some were slightly smaller tubes. It was nice to have such a large non-micro trail.
Cache CH071 was a great hide, and one that I am very shocked doesn’t have any favorite points on it. I certainly added one! It was hidden under a little helmet someone had made. We spoke to drsolly about it afterwards and he told us he actually found it at GZ. What a strange thing to find in the countryside. We certainly had a few laughs with it…
It was then on to our first major hill of the loop from CH076. It wasn’t really that big a hill, but it felt like it.
This second loop was pretty easy going, and I’d say was the easiest of all. We didn’t have to do any replacements here, just had to move one cache which had fallen on to private property and was causing DNF’s. We had to hop a little fence made from string to retrieve it and replaced it in a lot safer location.
We started this loop at 11:38am and finished at 3:04pm. I clocked this loop as 6.2 miles which we completed in 3 hours and 26 minutes. It was then time for a half hour sit down for a quick refuel and rest before our final loop…
The 3rd and Final loop
And then it was on to our final loop of the day. At this point my feet were ok. They knew they had been going for a while, but were letting me continue. I think I must have been feeling the miles on this loop though as I took few pictures along here. This was also the loop where there were the most caches that needed replacing, 4 to be precise. A lot of these hides were ones that were high in trees so our guess was that they fell out and just went missing. We managed to get hold of drsolly for all of the locations and replace them with some decent sized boxes and include the bonus number in the log books.
The loop passed through a nice little woodland area and in one point there was quite a long stretch between caches which we suspected meant there was a puzzle cache lurking near by however we couldn’t prove this so just carried on with the trek.
CH098 is the one that I’ll remember as the one where I was really starting to feel the walk. This was also our 100th find of the day. I had to collapse and rest on the floor whilst the others did the logbook signing here. Due to this loop running alongside the second loop, there was about a 0.70mile trek between this and the next cache. This trek however felt like about 20 miles!!! We were however delighted when we got to a point with half a mile to go to the next cache where we realised the stretch up to cache CH108 was entirely on the road. We were delighted as it meant it was a lot smoother under foot. We crawled on up the lane…
Along here we were amused by a little dog sat outside a chicken coop chasing the chickens around. That little dog certainly had to work for his dinner! 😉
There were also a few friendly horses along the side of the road who came up to us for some fuss. The energy tanks were empty and the reserve tanks very nearly all gone so the fuss was quick before moving on.
Finally cache CH108 was found. One last easy stroll to CH109 remained. Squirtchy said he was going to sprint to the final cache. And then we all saw the bloody hill we had to go up to get there!!!!!!! Talk about kick us when we’re down!!! 😉
We finally made it after climbing 2 stiles as well. Our jelly legs were about to give up and our sore feet were desperate for a rest so we all just collapsed at CH109 to do the search which was at least on the ground. We however searched, and searched and searched. The cache location consisted of holly hedges so it was quite a painful one. Finally I resorted in ringing drsolly and ladysolly told me exactly where it should be. There were plenty of DNF’s on this one from previous visitors as well. So Andy volunteered and with thick gloves nearly demolished the area.10 minutes later and there honestly was no cache. I rang ladysolly again who said it was ok to add a replacement and just as she was about to tell me the bonus number Andy found a little bit of paper that had the bonus number on it! This had obviously fallen out of the cache, but there still was no container. We replaced this one and were pleased to finish on a high finding the last one. We did feel bad for previous finders who had to end the series on a DNF 😦 Thankfully future cachers should now have more luck! 🙂
And so that was that. We started this final loop at 3:31pm and finished at 7:03pm meaning this took us 3 hours and 34 minutes. I clocked this loop as being 6.3 miles. We were so happy with today’s achievement and delighted to be able to say we completed the entire circuit in just a day. Our total walking time was 12 hours and 28 minutes and I recorded the whole chiltern as 22.31 miles of walking.
And on to the bonus…
It was then on to the final Chiltern cache, the bonus. I’d submitted the web form on my iPhone whilst on the final loop and it spat out the coordinates after I fed in 88 of the numbers. Although we had the coordinates we still wrote down all of the numbers for the bonus in the rest of the caches! It just felt like the right thing to do. We drove over to the bonus and were rewarded with an ammo can in a lovely wooded area. A fine finish to our excellent day. Ray spotted the hide, I retrieved it and then we paused wondering who whould open it. I got the honours and soon we were inside the Chiltern bonus! Some of us posed for photos looking a little bit worse for wear, but I think Ray still looks as fresh as the minute he got out of the car!!!
However, I think the day finally caught up with him when we were trying to pack the bonus away. He just couldn’t seem to get the log back in the container! 😉
We finished the day with a cuppa tea served by a very special lady 😉 and some quick cache and dashing to end the day. We finished on 122 finds, although I still have some logging to do! A big congratulations to squirtchy who reached his 600th find.
And in conclusion
The Chiltern 100 is an amazing series, and a great challenge. If I had to make the choice again I would definitely do it in just 1 day. Researching the hints and logs before hand was definitely a good move as we had a bit better insight as to where some would be. Although others have said they recorded 25 miles, I’m positive it was only just over 22 miles (Only, she says!!!) I definitely think it was a good move contacting drsolly and arranging to do the maintenance. It means that future cachers will be able to find all of the caches on this very special trail and as we replaced with decent sized containers means that the trail isn’t littered with film cans! I’m actually quite surprised other cachers hadn’t offered to do the maintenance sooner. It is definitely a trail to do in a group if you are going to attempt it in one day. We couldn’t have coped without mel-ray and squirtchy. Not only did it help to have extra eyes for the searching, but we had such a laugh and enjoyed the great company.
Our stats for the Chiltern Hundred are as follows. There are varying reports of the mileage from various cachers, however my Garmin recorded it as 22.31 miles.
Our Chiltern100 stats:
Total walking: 22.31 miles, Time: 12:28
Loop 1: 9.81 miles, Time: 5:28 (5:00am-10:28am)
(1 hour lunch break)
Loop 2: 6.2 miles, Time: 3:26 (11:38am – 3:04pm)
(30 minute break)
Loop 3: 6.3 miles, Time: 3:34 (3:31pm – 7:03pm)
Total time in area including breaks: Approx 14 hours.