|Published: 14th April 2009 10:13|
Rediscover your inner child with our start-up guide to geocaching ! AboutMyArea explores this fast-growing new game which uses satellite technology to combine brilliant hikes with adult treasure hunts.
From the remotest peaks to city centre parks, your walks are increasingly likely to lead you within metres of hidden treasure troves. Across the UK, more than 35,000 containers known as "geocaches" are squirreled away in car parks, hollow trees and nooks. The South Downs is host to dozens, Hyde Park has four and even the demanding environs of Snowdon have scores. These geocaches are the key element of "geocaching" - a fast-growing game that uses GPS satellite technology for treasure hunts across the world.
Anyone can take part in geocaching, and the great news for walkers is that many geocache locations are an excuse for a good yomp. The concept is simple: you look up geocaches online, plot the coordinates into a GPS device and then embark on an expedition to find your hidden treasure.
The contents of caches vary massively and are mostly low in financial value. A typical find might unearth a logbook, toys and other knick-knacks, usually wrapped in individual plastic bags to protect them from the weather. Other forms of caches include events, multi-parters (where one cache provides the location of another cache) and educational geology-themed caches known as EarthCaches.
Once a niche hobby in the US, geocaching has grown hugely in the UK thanks to the falling price of GPS handsets, an army of volunteers and a healthy social scene online and in pubs around the country. "The sport is seeing an almost exponential growth and the character of the game is changing," says Peter Howard, one of the UK's most prolific geocachers. "It's becoming a much more mainstream activity and, for something that frequently involves whole families participating and getting out and about, that can only be a good thing."
The appeal is as varied as those taking part, from families turning walking into an interactive game to serious hikers rewarding themselves for challenging routes. "Imagine being on a mystery tour and being taken to something you never knew existed - that's geocaching," says Dave Love, a geocacher in Edinburgh. Other enthusiasts cite fun, the joy of the outdoors and the thrill of finding a well-hidden cache as attractions.
For an activity that can appear solitary, the social aspect is important to many geocachers. "The social scene is part of the fun - it's an excuse to meet up in a pub occasionally and swap stories," says Nick Meredith, a regular cacher. "It shows what a pleasant and like-minded group geocachers are."
As you'd expect for a game that relies on the internet, geocaching is moving with the times. Over 14 geocaching programmes have been written for the iPhone 3G, taking advantage of its GPS and internet connection to allow cachers to look-up caches while they're on the hoof. Early adopters are even taking advantage of microblogging service Twitter to post their geocache discoveries in real-time, opening up new social possibilities. The advent of Google Maps and its integration into geocaching sites has also helped cachers who don't know their latitude from their longitude.
Top Geocaching Websites
Run by a commercial company called Groundspeak, Geocaching.com is the undisputed king of geocaching listings and forums: it hosts over 35,000 UK caches alone.
This is the official site of the Geocaching Association of Great Britain and is home to a lively forum discussing UK events and UK-specific debates, such as the Forestry Commission's stance on geocaching.
An alternative to Geocaching.com, this site is home to thousands of what it claims are ‘high quality' cache locations. Although it lists very few UK geocaches, it is useful if you're geocaching abroad.
If you want to hear the voices of real geocachers, this weekly podcast is a great place to start. It focuses on US geocaching, but features useful advice on GPS hardware and general tips that apply to the UK, too.
This new social networking site for geocachers shows a lot of promise. Although it's early days in terms of the number of people using it, you may find it helps you meet like-minded geocachers in your area.
Source: Adam Vaughan in WALK - the magazine of the Ramblers
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