Written by: Joanne Parcell
There’s treasure in them there hills…
Taking your kids for an afternoon walk that doesn’t end up at the multiplex or shopping mall, might seem like an impossible task, but recreational hiking has taken on a new dimension for many with the introduction of Geocaching.
Placed in thousands of locations in both urban and rural areas throughout the UK, seeking out these officially-designated treasure troves using a basic GPS or phone app adds a whole new level of excitement to a Sunday afternoon stroll and will teach your offspring a thing or two about navigation whilst improving their fitness. And it doesn’t cost a penny, either…
The history of geocaching is as interesting as the cross-country treasure hunts it may take you on. In May 2000, 24 satellites around the planet started beaming back exceptionally precise GPS coordinates, meaning people could locate themselves or a hidden object for that matter, to within a couple of centimetres.
A computer consultant called Dave Ulman of Portland, Oregon, decided to test the accuracy of the new system and hid the first ever geocache. The phenomenon rapidly swept the planet and today, there are just under 2 million active geocaches, with over 5 million participants roaming hills, valleys, mountains and flowerbeds trying to find them.
Think of geocaching as an outdoor treasure hunt – you need to hunt down the hidden containers, using the GPS on your smartphone. Use your handset to navigate to a set of precise coordinates, and when you arrive at the location, you will find one of a dozen types of geocache, which can include puzzles and letterboxes.
Getting started is simple – register for your membership at the official site, geocaching.com. Enter your postcode, hit search, and see where your local stashes are located. Key the coordinates into your GPS and with a bit of luck, it won’t take long to find. Once you’ve discovered it, sign the logbook, and exchange the object in the cache for something of an equal or greater value. To begin with, look for the easier traditional caches – a quick glance at the website will tell you if it is still findable.
As your navigational skills improve, you can become a Premium Member – for about £20 a year you can upgrade your account. Amongst other things, this allows you to categorise your results in terms of difficulty of find, points, and terrain rating.
Caches come in various sizes – anything from a 35mm film canister to a large Tupperware container or bucket. It may even be a fake rock with a hidden compartment or a decoy bird. Geocaches may be craftily hidden, but there’s no need to take a spade, as they are never buried.
Researching the location of your quarry is vital. The terrain could be tough and it may involve climbing or crossing a river. If you are in an urban environment, it can be simple – just follow the GPS arrow on your smartphone. However, out in the wilderness or up a mountain, your map reading skills will come into play. Consult the forum for information and photographs regarding your next find, but be careful – too much information can spoil the surprise.
So, you’ve narrowed down the area where you think the cache could be and now you’re rooting round in tree stumps and bramble bushes and there it is, tucked away under a tree root. Well done, you’ve found your first cache and been bitten by the geocache bug. What next? Once you have found it, note its location, and how it was hidden. Sign and date the logbook, along with a few words about your experience. If you are trading items, then replace it for something of an equal or greater value, then put the cache back exactly how and where it was. Once you return home, log the details on the website. The owner of the hoard will be notified of your find and keen to share your experiences, such as the condition of the container.
As with all outdoor activities, being prepared and staying safe is paramount – be sure to tell somebody where you’re going, and that you have the correct equipment. Take extra food, clothing, and water, and be mindful of the environment such as dangerous plants and wildlife.
So, are you fed up of walking round the same town parks and nature trails? Ready to stretch your legs whilst stretching your mind? Then get involved in geocaching, the worldwide treasure hunt. It’s unlikely you’ll ever find a chest of gold and glittering jewels, but by participating in this increasingly popular activity, you’ll be joining a vibrant and active community, with the benefit of exploring places you’ve never usually see.