I wanted to write something to get my rant about the behaviour of a professional football club off the top of my blog, especially since they have said that they will attempt to rectify their wrong doing. I also thought I might try something a little unusual for me and write something positive, so I’m going to tell you about a hobby I took up a few months ago – which I am enjoying a lot – Geocaching.

In a nutshell; Geocaching is a GPS-driven treasure hunt game, where people hide containers in the real world, and then players try to find them.

A Cache location I found last weekend

The locations of the caches are listed on the geocaching.com website where you can search for them by distance to a given location. All this information is also available via the geocaching app1 which you can download to your smart phone.  Although the game was originally designed (in 2000 when the GPS satellites were made available for everyone to use) for dedicated GPS devices, the fact that GPS-containing smart phones are now so common means that many people will not need to invest in a dedicated GPS device in order to play the game. For this reason I’ll concentrate on explaining the game from the point of view of the smart-phone user2.

Page for a cache on iPhone app

Selecting a local cache you’d like to find on the app, you can look at various maps (street/topographic/satellite) to see where the cache is hidden.  There is also a compass feature to so show you how far and in which direction you need to go to reach the cache.  There is normally a gentle hint as to the exact location, such as “In tree stump” or “magnetic, on fence post”, but there will be some hunting to be done once you’re at the final location.

The majority of caches are physical containers of various sizes, ranging from thimble sized, through film canisters and sandwich boxes to ammo cases.  The larger containers often contain items for trade, these are generally small toys and low value items which make the treasure hunt fun for kids, but I have seen books, DVDs and CDs.  The rule for trading is a simple one, and is enforced only by the honesty of finders – only take something if you’re leaving something of equal or greater value.  The one constant of each cache (even the tiny thimble caches) is a logbook on which to sign your username to prove you’ve found the cache.  Once you’ve found the cache and signed the log book, you log the find on-line (or on the app on the move) so that you can keep track of your finds on the geocaching.com website.

And that essentially, is Geocaching 101.  The game has a few more complexities; there are trackable items such as special coins and Travel Bugs which are moved between caches by finders, and their progress can be followed on-line.  There are also several different types of caches including Multi-caches that require you to go to 2 or more locations in order to find the final cache, and Puzzle caches which require finders to solve a puzzle in order to find the final cache. The other main type of cache is the Earthcache, which do not have physical containers, but instead require finders to answer a simple question about the geophysical surroundings of a location and is designed as an educational cache to learn more about the geography of an area.  The site is well designed with each cache given a star rating for both difficulty of find and the terrain needed to be covered to discover the cache. For example a 1* terrain will be wheelchair accessible from flat tarmac, whilst a 5* terrain may be a long hike up a mountain or even in a cave. But the rating system allows finders to get a feel for what they’re taking on before deciding if they wish to tackle the cache.

The game is a great way to give a goal to a walk (or cycle) in the countryside – in fact many caches are set in nice circular walks in the country and come complete with information on the length and difficulty of the whole route and cache owners usually describe whether a cache is accessible by bikes and pushchairs. However, caches (usually smaller ones) are also found in urban environments too and take finders to, and tell them about buildings and areas that they might have otherwise have overlooked. Whether you play in the town or the country, Geocaching is a great way of using modern technology to get out and about and active. It also seems to appeal to kids, especially the larger caches which are filled with “treasure” to trade after the excitement of finding the hidden container.

Caches placed on a 2-mile circular walk from North Stoke village, on the edge of Bath

What I particularly enjoy about the game is the fact that each time I find a cache I know that it has been placed there by another player of the game for no benefit to themselves other than the satisfaction of giving others something to find.  I also like the fact that each find has been replaced by previous finders rather than stealing or moving it to stop the enjoyment of the game for others – a little faith in humanity restored every time3.

The game is staggeringly huge and constantly growing and changing.  There are over 1.8 million caches world wide currently, and I’d guess 50,000 at least in the UK.  I pretty much guarantee that there’s one within half a mile of where you’re sat right now, wherever you are.  So what are you waiting for?  Go and take a look, and get Geocaching.

Caches in Bath City Centre – See there’s bloody loads!

 1. The app costs £6.99, though is a one-off cost. There is a free intro app, which will display the 3 closest caches to your current location which will give you a good taste for the game, but you’ll soon want the full app if you get into it. Registration on the website is free, though there is a “Premium Member” upgrade in order to get the most out of the site, but at $30 USD per year, this still represents excellent value for money for a hobby that can be played 365 days a year.
2. In theory it’s possible to play without any GPS device since GPS co-ordinates can be (and are on the website) converted into OS Map grid references, but my guess is this would make the game a whole lot more difficult.
3. Having said that – they do occasionally go missing – but owners usually quickly disable them on the website to avoid others going on wasted journeys and replace them fairly quickly too.