Kit and Fiona came down to Aberystwyth to visit the other week for the first time in ages, and – as Paul already wrote – they made the mistake of introducing everybody down here to the phenomenon known as geocaching.

Dan and Paul watch as Kit resets his GPS receiver and Fiona packs up a geocache

For those who’ve not heard about it before, geocaching is often described as “a global game of hide & seek played using GPS technology”. Personally, I prefer Kit’s explanation, which is “using military satellites to find lost Tupperware”. Put simply, participants hide caches (often plastic stay-fresh containers) in interesting places around the globe, and publish the GPS co-ordinates online on websites like, then other participants try to find them.

Ruth helps Paul up a particularly steep slope

I suppose one could also describe the activity in the context of the pastimes it is most similar to. It could be described as being a little like rambling (although some caches are in urban locations and many are reachable by car), orienteering (but generally with less need to be able to triangulate points and read a map and more ability to use a GPS effectively and understand its limitations), hide & seek (finding things that have been hidden rather than people, of course), and one of any number of hobbies ending with “-spotting” (each geocache has a unique number, and many participants are trying to visit as many as possible, or to visit particular subsets of them).

A small geocache wrapped in grey tape to help camoflage it, the roll of tape, and a TomTom navigation system (being used as a backup GPS receiver).

I suppose another way of describing it might be in the context of the hot cold game, which you probably played as a kid: where while looking for something hidden, the hider calls out “warmer, warmer, colder, warmer again, hot!” as an indication to the seeker as to whether or not they’re on the right track. This analogy is particularly apt when one gets within a few metres of the cache, at which point GPS devices become almost useless at telling you which direction to go in (and of uncertain value at telling you how far away you are – when in a wooded area or surrounded by tall buildings, GPS can be thrown off by tens or even hundreds of metres).

Ruth watches as Kit gets a reading for the cache that Fiona and Paul are preparing to plant

Since Kit and Fiona’s visit, a number of us have jumped right in to geocaching. Paul, Ruth, Jimmy, Claire and I are all now represented on the site: as pacifist_049 (Paul), fleeblewidget (Ruth), JimEsk (Jimmy & Claire), and avapoet (me).

Kit and Ruth prepare to hide one of Paul's first caches

I can’t speak for all of these people, but there’s something about geocaching that’s really grabbed my interest. Since their visit, I’ve been out and found a number of the caches in and around Aberystwyth, and I’ve even hidden the first of my own. At the very least, I’ve been glad of the excuse to make better use of my bike, but more than that: I’ve been pleased to get around and see parts of the town and countryside that I don’t normally visit or look that closely at. Yes, even when I’ve ended up stuck up on a hill in the dark (that’ll teach me to go ‘caching after work in the short days of winter!).

Geocaching way up the Rheidol valley

Perhaps strangest, though, is my (so-far limited) experience of the local geocaching community. After you’ve visited a few sites around here you begin to notice patterns in the names of the people who’ve been there before you, and you start seeing the same aliases appearing again and again. And in a town the size of Aberystwyth, it’s invariably only a matter of time before you make contact with, well, everybody.

Paul, Kit, Fiona and I wandering back from a cache (sorry about the wonkiness of the picture: this one was taken by Ruth, and she's all wobbly and stuff).

At the weekend I was in Morrisons, buying plastic tubs and other supplies with which to make caches – I suppose that in itself might have made me stand out: who goes to Morrisons to buy a stack of small Tupperware boxes and notepads small enough to fit inside them? – when a man come over to me. He looked at me, as if trying to work out where he knew me from, and then looked down at my hands and saw what I was carrying. “Avapoet?” he asked. “Treedoctor2000?” I replied. So there we have it, I’m officially part of the local geocaching community, and I didn’t even mean to.

Ruth finds a cache!

So there we have it, a glowing review for a fun new activity that if you haven’t tried, you ought to. If you own a GPS or even a modern mobile phone or even just a portable SatNav system, you’ve probably got all you need to get started, and with almost a million caches around the globe, there are sure to be a few near you. So if you were waiting for my approval before you went and did so, here it is.

Now get away from the computer and go do something outdoors!

Further Reading

  • More photos courtesy of my camera and Kit’s camera. I’ve been careful to use only photos that don’t give away huge clues about where caches are in this blog post, but there may be spoilers in the other photos: you have been warned!
  • Paul wrote a  brief blog post about geocaching, too.
  • The caches I’ve found and the ones I’ve hidden (more of the latter coming soon).