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Play hunt the geocache
As a professional technophobe, I’ve always dismissed geocaching as something I’d never want to do.
I imagined it as a geeky kind of activity, designed to entice those who spend their lives on computers out of doors into the fresh air.
So when my sister Jill suggested taking the children out to hunt for so-called caches, I wasn’t enthusiastic.
We were on the North Yorks Moors and, frankly, I’d have preferred a walk. “You’ll have more than a walk,” Jill told me, as she pulled out her mobile phone and tapped onto the geocache website, geocaching.com.
Immediately, directions flashed up, with an electronic compass point directing us to the nearest cache. This was about a mile away, in the moorland village of Danby. On arriving, the directions took us to a bench on a small green in front of a row of houses.
I checked it over and couldn’t see anything. Then my daughter examined it and found a tiny magnetic capsule attached to the underside of the seat. We opened it and found a small, long strip of paper containing the names and home towns of people who had found it previously. Most were from Yorkshire, but some came from further afield. We added ours.
I was surprised by how exciting it was to find the cache, and was reminded of treasure hunts we took part in on the moors when I was a child.
Generally, those finding a cache leave a souvenir of their visit – a pen, a badge, or a trinket of some sort – but this container was so small it was impossible. You can also set up caches yourself.
Before heading off, we took advantage of the Stonehouse Bakery, a lovely bread and cake shop with a cafe as a bonus. We sat in the window enjoying lunch while plotting our move to the next cache, which appeared to be some distance away. So much for my fear of not getting enough exercise.
Often described as a ‘game of hi-tech hide and seek’, geocaching is a great way of exploring new and familiar places in a fun, interesting way. It is a treasure hunt using GPS – Global Positioning System – technology. Equipped with a GPS or Smartphone, you follow online clues to find hidden containers, called caches, all over the world There are thousands of caches across the Bradford district, and finding them can make a day out in the countryside or town more fun. Andy Ross, who lives in Sandy Lane, is an old hand, having geocached in Spain and Greece.
“It is great, it introduces you to new places in the district,” he says. “I’ve been to places I never knew existed – little footpaths in Wilsden, for instance – where people have been to put a cache.”
Andy works for Bradford Council, and when geocaching first took off, the authority placed a number in parks across the district, believeing that they would draw in more visitors. “We set up about a dozen caches but soon realised that people were geocaching off their own bat, so we left them to it,” he says.
“Our parks still have many caches – Lister Park has about five, and there is a handful in Peel Park.”
He adds: “St Ives estate has around 20. Across Bradford there are woodland sites and countryside sites – there are quite a lot on Ilkley Moor, and along the River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.”
He adds: “I’d recommend it as a family activity – it is a great way of getting out and about and it is a different way of having a walk.”
Geocaching dates back to 2000, when the first documented placement of a GPS-located cache took place on May 3 in Beavercreek, Oregon. A plastic bucket buried into the ground, its contents included books, money and videos.
Our second find on the North York Moors was about two miles away near the neighbouring village of Castleton. The directions – which show the distance you are from the cache – took us along a moorland road and up into the heather.
Beside a gatepost sat a triangular stone, and under it lay an ice-cream tub covered in camouflage material. In it was a treasure trove of objects including a pen and pad, a badge, a Barbie toy and, best of all, a ‘travel bug’.
The travel bug – which hangs on a keyring with instructions – travels from cache to cache. This one had been all around Britain, and in Germany. The note invited us to take him on his travels.
My sister, who lives in London, took him to place at a site near her home. The bug is trackable, meaning when you have its code you can follow his journey online. We didn’t have much to leave at the cache, but found a plectrum in my rucksack so we left that. Caches are waterproof and robust – many are Tupperware or similar.
On our way back to my parents’ house a few miles away, we found another clue in the market town of Stokesley. The list of names was hidden inside a film canister in a hole in a tree. My sister’s seven-year-old son, Ned, loved putting his hand in to pull it out.
The appeal of geocaching is that wherever you are, there’s one near you.
Factfile * There are geocache sites across the district, including Lister Park, Peel Park, St Ives at Bingley, Ilkley Moor and along the River Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.
* To get started you need to register on the website geocaching.com. Basic geocaching – which is adequate for most needs – is free, but upgrades are available for a fee.