Things to do (for free!): Geocaching

Copy of Leeds castle bannerMany of you will have heard of Geocaching and I may have even made you stop and look for a geocache or two on an outing! With the Bank Holiday weekend coming up, and the last week or so of school holidays, it’s a great time to try it (and even better, the basic version of the app is free!).

Well, what is it I hear you ask and will we like it?  It’s basically an international GPS-based outdoor hunt for hidden containers (caches) which other “geocachers” have hidden.  The containers might be large (think ice cream container or bigger), tiny (we once found a magnetic capsule that looked like something out of a James Bond film) and anything in between.  They are always hidden in public places or with land owners’ permission (there are lots on National Trust land for example). You may well have passed one without even realising.

Some of the containers contain little tokens of “treasure” such as a marble, a hair clip or Lego piece which, as the finder, you are invited to take in exchange for some little thing of your own (no money or food) but the real excitement (for adults as well as kids) is finding the cache.  I can tell you from experience that some of them are very hard to find!  They might be hidden inside fence posts, buried under logs, magnetically attached to a street sign and there’s even one near us which requires you to scale a very tall tree (my oldest is a great climber but we still haven’t managed it after multiple return visits!).

You may even be lucky enough to come across a “trackable” which is an item in a cache which has its own mission (i.e to travel to as many different countries as possible or to reach a specific place) which you take and help on its way by placing it in a different cache.

Untitled designWe love it because it’s a great excuse to get out for a walk with a purpose or explore a new area and there are often trails of geocaches in a series which take you on circular walks.   They are hidden everywhere in many different countries, so on holiday it gives the kids a great focus while we enjoy exploring a new town or area.

The app (by Groundspeak) is easy to use and free for the basic geocaches.  Simply use the app’s map which locates where you are and tap on the geocache you want to hunt for.  It tells you how far away the cache is, beeps when you’re getting close and shows you which direction to head in (although of course you can’t always walk directly in a straight line to find a cache!).  Once you’ve found it, log it on the app and in the physical log book at the cache (don’t forget to bring a pen!).  Your finds will show up as smiley faces on the app’s map!

As keen geocachers, we pay for the premium level of the app (to date we’ve found 92!) which costs around £20 a year and gives you access to more geocaches and shows trail maps which we find very useful for exploring the many lovely paths of the Surrey Hills.   Living next to the North Downs way, we also have our own cache logged on the app.  The boys love it when we get a notification that someone has found it!

Lou’s top tips:
If you’re trying it with the kids for the first time, pick an area with a few caches close to each other so they don’t get discouraged (our first one ended up being a very long and muddy walk!).  If you’re local to me in Surrey, Headley Heath has lots and there’s a town-based trail in Ashtead.

The National Trust often has specifc geocaching trails and GPS kits which you can hire for around £5 (Polesden Lacey in Surrey for example or Newark Park in Gloucestershire).

Let me know if you find any!



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