If, like me, your children are unable to walk for more than five minutes without whingeing or demanding something, geocaching might be for you.
Having heard positive reports from other parents about geocaching, which is an outdoor treasure hunt using hand-held GPS devices, we were keen to give it a go. There are more than two million geocaches worldwide, with varying degrees of difficulty, sizes and shapes.
As we had arranged to meet up with some friends near Hampstead, I registered at geocaching.com with the basic membership (there is also an app for iPhones and Android) and typed in the postcode, which threw up details of two nearby ‘caches’.
Mentioning the words ‘treasure’ and ‘hunt’ to the children made their eyes light up, so I was careful to downplay the quality of this treasure, priming them beforehand that it was more about the taking part than the acquisition of possessions.
Having read the rules, we noted that we should sign and date the cache logbook and understood that if we took anything from the geocache we should leave something of equal or greater value. We would then need to re-hide the cache exactly as we found it and share our experience online.
For each cache, you are given an encrypted hint (a code that you crack yourself – or you can cheat and get the phone to unscramble instantly) to help you along.
Our first geocache was the one at the Vale of Health Pond on Hampstead Heath. “Small cache in the semi-wild eastern part of the Heath, next to a nice pond (no swimming here though). Will hold most smaller swaps and TBs [travel bug or trackable tag that is attached to an item],” we were told.
“Sit down and enjoy the view of the pond. Then look for the cache, a small clip-lock box with some green/black camouflage. Mind the thorns.”
It took a while for us to find it, but find it we did – with hardly any moaning from the kids, or adults!
We left some inexpensive trinkets in the cache – it was very full already – and went on our way to the next, The Hollow Lair of Hampstead, which seems to have now been dropped. This was a trickier one to find but more rewarding when we did, as it felt like we had worked harder – and walked further through rougher ‘terrain’.
It was exhilarating being in the open space without any electronic devices (except for, er, the phone, strictly for its navigating purposes you understand), getting fresh air, sloshing through the winter mud and doing something that was free.
And, it being Hampstead, we were also able to discover a posh café where we geotracked some hot chocolate and cake. Result.