Reluctant walkers in tow? Get them hunting for treasure, says
Penny Bunting. We find out how geocaching in the Somerset Levels can turn a walk into an adventure
Going for a walk in the country is a great way to get the whole family out in the fresh air, get some exercise – and enjoy many of the fantastic landscapes that the UK has to offer.
Mountains, rivers, coastlines and forests are all easily accessible across the country – often with way-marked paths and trails to guide you on your way.
But what do you do if you have kids in tow and they’re reluctant walkers? Making a walk fun for kids can be a challenge – but geocaching may be the answer.
Most kids love a treasure hunt – and there is treasure in the form of geocaches hidden in thousands of locations across the UK, just waiting to be found. In fact, last time you went for a walk you probably passed one or two without even realising it.
Geocaching is a global activity – there are more than two million geocaches worldwide – that can experienced independently without the need to join a club or attend an organized event.
Sign up for free account at www.geocaching.com, type in your chosen location and look for geocaches to seek out. Most come with a code to crack – this will give you a hint or clue to help you find the cache – along with the precise co-ordinates of the hidden cache.
To get the most out of geocaching, you need a smart phone or GPS device – although if you have decent map-reading skills, some caches are possible to track down with just the clues.
What you will actually find when you locate a geocache is a container holding a notepad and pencil (to log your find) and often a small prize to take away. This is unlikely to be anything of great value – a pair of pearl earrings, say – but you might find marbles, small toys, bead necklaces, hair slides or balloons.
If you take a prize, you must replace it with another item of equal or greater value – so be sure to carry a few trinkets with you (a great way to get rid of all those unwanted bits and bobs that kids seem to collect). Of course, if you don’t want the prize, you can always leave it for the next treasure-hunter to find.
Hide and seek in the Somerset Levels
The Somerset Levels is a great location for geocaching, with plenty of hidden caches – and lots to see as you hunt for them. This region of south-west England contains a network of protected nature reserves, with a wide range of habitats providing homes for many different species.
We explored a few of these – and armed with maps, clues, and the promise of finding treasure, our walk around a nature reserve suddenly became a small adventure.
Our first hunt was at the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Westhay Moor National Nature Reserve. Located a few miles north of Glastonbury, this 106-hectare wetland reserve is part of the mystical Avalon Marshes and is a haven for all kinds of wildlife including water voles, bitterns and Cetti’s warblers.
There are five caches hidden within walking distance of the reserve car park, and you can walk a circuit to try and discover them all. The first was easy enough to find – a camouflaged box, containing stickers and a toy car, hidden under a boardwalk.
After a little exploration we had found three more – although one remained stubbornly elusive.
Along the way we enjoyed the delights of Westhay Moor – a beautiful area of glistening lakes, pools and ditches and home to darting dragonflies – and kept our eyes peeled for otters and little grebes, which are often seen at the nature reserve. There are two bird hides on the marked trail, where views across the reedbeds may offer glimpses of reed warblers, or marsh harriers searching for prey.
A little further south, more geocaching opportunities are on offer at Ham Wall. This RSPB nature reserve is one of the best places in the UK to see a starling murmuration – when, just before dusk, millions of starlings fly in huge swirling clouds before roosting in the reedbeds.
Kingfishers, barn owls and bitterns are regularly seen at the reserve – and during our walk we spotted a pair of great crested grebes and a roe deer.
There are six caches to find within an easy walking circuit around the reserve. Some are easier to find than others, including some tiny containers containing just a log book. On a sunny day, the circular walk that links this series of caches is fabulous: birdsong abounds and there’s always lots of activity out on the water, viewable from one of the hides or platforms.
Having treasure to find at regular points around a circular trail undoubtedly makes a walk more fun – it certainly worked for our kids. And, who knows – your own reluctant walkers might actually enjoy themselves!
What am I looking for?
Geocache containers come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest may be a 35mm film canister containing a tiny pencil and log book. Other caches can much bigger boxes or container – some are as big as a shoe box or bucket – and may contain a selection of prizes. It’s even possible to find specially adapted items such as fir cones or tennis balls that contain a cache.
Hiding locations vary widely. Try looking under the seats of benches. Sometimes containers are magnetized so that they can be attached to vertical surfaces. In wooded areas, caches may be hidden in holes in trees, under roots or covered with leaves. If you’re struggling to find a cache, spend some time looking closely at the surrounding environment and ask yourself “If I was trying to hide something, where would I put it?”
Green Adventures August 2015
Where to stay:
Barrow Farm Barns are luxury self-catering cottages and lodges situated between Glastonbury and Wells and just a short drive from the Avalon Marshes.
The lodges are modern and spacious and sleep 4 people in two bedrooms. They have been recently built using sustainable materials, with energy-efficient lighting, under-floor heating and good insulation.