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Family activities: Hunting for geocache treasure in the Peak District

PUBLISHED: 10:28 05 May 2015 | UPDATED: 20:39 23 October 2015

Ladybower Reservoir Photo: Gary Wallis www.insightphotographic.com

Ladybower Reservoir Photo: Gary Wallis www.insightphotographic.com

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Geocaching is an exciting outdoor treasure hunt for the digital generation

The 'treasure chest'The 'treasure chest'

We now take GPS technology for granted. Smart phone apps allow us to find the nearest restaurants and petrol stations, you can update your location on social network sites, while car journeys are made easier with a simple SatNav.

It is now 20 years since the GPS satellites became fully operational and allowed technology to adapt in new, fascinating ways. In the two decades we’ve been able to accurately pinpoint our location with gadgets, there has been an explosion in usage – particularly since the millennium as GPS technology became commonplace.

It’s not just on the road that this hi-tech boom has made our lives more fun; there has also been much use of hand-held GPS devices on the hills of Derbyshire. As a hobby, geocaching may have had a bit of a ‘geeky’ beginning, but there are now thousands of people taking part in the hiking treasure hunts and families are discovering some of the best are right on their doorstep. Taking part in a geocache hike is one of the ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾.’

The wonderful thing about geocaching for those who have families is that it can actually encourage reluctant young walkers to get active in the outdoors. I’ve written several walking books and make sure I take my two kids with me whenever I can, so I know it’s often difficult to persuade them to put on their walking boots and waterproof trousers. But dangle a bit of ‘treasure’ in front of them like a Peak District carrot and you may find the days begins very differently.

Finding geocache treasureFinding geocache treasure

The adventure – and it is an adventure – starts at home. You firstly have to choose which bit of hidden treasure you’re going to look for. The website www.geocaching.com is brilliant for this. There are so many geocaches that have been placed – literally thousands – that you should be able to find one near the spot you actually want to go walking in. Often, the geocache can be a little extra something to get you and the kids more motivated.

Eric Schudiske, from the geocaching.com website says the rise in the hobby has been phenomenal over recent years. ‘Geocaching continues to grow in popularity year over year, fuelled in large part by the growth of the smartphone. The free Geocaching app gives would-be explorers a chance to hit the “Find Nearby Geocaches” button and be off on a spontaneous adventure in no time.

‘Since Geocaching.com launching 2000, more than 10 million accounts have been created. We estimate, globally, that there are more than 1,000,000 people actively geocaching each year. We’ve seen geocaching grow from just 75 geocaches around the world in 2000 to more than 2.5 million hidden around the world today.’

Once you’ve picked the cache you want to find, your next job is to solve a puzzle. On the site there’ll be a series of letters you have to decode and it’s important that you spend time doing this as it will make your job of finding it much easier. The geocache we opted for was close to Ladybower Reservoir and had been set up by a Scout group from Hillsborough, Sheffield. Deciphering their code is something the kids enjoyed doing and it told us that we needed to be looking ‘under a pile of stones near a wall.’

Once you’ve written down the co-ordinates, you’re all set. Well, almost. The crucial job before you set off is making sure you’ve got everything you need in your bag. Apart from the usual good quality clothing and footwear, you have to take a map of the area you’re heading to. Ordnance Survey maps at a scale of 1:25 000 will be a great aid, but the most important bit of kit is the GPS. After it’s aligned with satellites, this will give you a 10 figure grid reference that will allow you to find the precise location of the cache. Don’t forget to write down the co-ordinates from the geocaching website.

Handheld GPS devices needn’t require a mortgage extension – there are models out there for under £100 – but check your smart phone to see if you can get an app that would help. There are plenty out there to choose from.

When we were kitted up at Fairholmes car park, next to Ladybower Reservoir, the kids were off! I’ve never seen them more motivated to take part in a lengthy countryside walk. It gave me the chance to teach them a bit of map reading, dealing with grid references and locating our position with the GPS. After that, I gave leadership powers over to them! Whether you’re out with children or grandchildren, I’d urge you to do this if possible. Let them follow the map and find the way to where the treasure is to be found.

They did well. Climbing up to Lockerbrook Farm, taking the right paths, choosing the correct direction. We were soon in the right area to start hunting for the pile of stones beside the wall. The top tip here is that you can’t rely on just a six-figure grid reference; this will get you to the rough area where you need to be looking but when you’re actually there you’re going to need more accurate co-ordinates.

This is the part when you hold the GPS in front of you and watch your co-ordinates change as you walk each step. And it’s literally a case of moving around to match your reading with the figures given on the website. Too far one way and you have to come back. Carefully does it... match them up. It became clear which wall we were looking for, and then the search was on for a pile of stones.

Hidden beneath mossy rocks was a white geocaching plastic tub; inside was a choice of low-cost toys, with the idea being that you choose one to take and leave another behind. We came away with a rubber bouncing ball and left a fossil dig kit. If you find this, take care because it’s messy!

Inside each geocache you’ll also find the all-important log book and a pencil. This is so you can record your visit, saying who was there, what the date was, what you took and noting the gem of treasure you left behind for the next family going on their own adventure.

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