Two weeks ago, I walked the first section of the daunting Essex Way on a geocaching trail. With a decent weather forecast predicted for Saturday, we decided to head out on the next leg – Coopersale to High Ongar.
I will freely admit right here that I was a bit ambitious with this section, as it’s double the distance we covered in the first part. Originally, I’d planned to stop at Greensted, but with the A414 carving a nice line across the map, it seemed to make sense to tack on the section between Greensted and High Ongar. So again, we parked one car at either end of the section and started walking.
Back over the motorway bridge at Gernon Bushes, we were straight into more woodland for 019. There were quite a few people around this time, so we had to dawdle and backtrack a bit to avoid being spotted groping around behind trees and fenceposts. The landowner here has clearly has some issues with walkers in the past – there are signs and fences all over the place warning where the public right of way ends and private land begins.
At one point, in a particularly deserted bit of woodland, three deer suddenly charged out of the undergrowth and across the path in front of us which was amazing to watch. The 3G signal is particularly rubbish here – I had no signal at all on my phone for a good 1km or so and it was flaky either side of that. If you have a GPS with the caches already loaded on it, this is, of course, not a problem, but this is where relying on a smartphone isn’t ideal.
Because the Essex Way is so massive, it kind of goes without saying that there are places where there were already geocaches, so there is the occasional break in the trail. We found two of these as we crossed High Wood. And one contained a trackable.
I’m going to take a moment here to explain what trackables are.
A trackable (often known as a TB), is an item which cachers move from one cache to another. Its owner logs the TB using a unique code which then allows them to follow its progress around the world. When a cacher comes across a trackable in a cache and takes it, they have to log it using the unique code which is usually found either stamped on a metal dog tag or on the item itself. Then when they drop it off in another cache, they use the website or app to log that they have done this. These two options basically log the TB in and out of a cache and mean the owner can see where it is at any given time, or who’s got hold of it.
You can use pretty much any object you like as a TB by attaching a trackable dog tag to it, or by buying a specific trackable. Lots of people use small toys, special coins, plastic figures etc but the range is pretty big. Needless to say, there are retailers who sell geocaching kit – see here to get an idea of what a trackable can look like. Some of them will have a goal, to get from one country to another, or be photographed in specific places, that kind of thing. Ideally, if you pick up a TB, you should check its goal and if you will be able to help it along in its journey but as it’s completely unpredictable as to who will find it, it could end up anywhere.
One of the downsides of trackables is that they go missing. A lot. Cachers will take them and forget to log them, or forget they have them altogether. Sometimes people steal them if they like the look of them (magpie tendencies kicking in again), and sometimes parents geocaching with their kids will take them as toys, not realising what they’re for.
But if it doesn’t go missing, a trackable can travel the world for years. I found one in a central London cache which had started life in Thailand before spending the next four years travelling around Australia, south east Asia and Europe. It went up to Edinburgh with my husband on a work trip, who dropped it in a cache at Rosslyn Chapel, where it was found by some Canadians over for the Edinburgh Festival, who took it back to Canada with them.
So here endeth the lesson on trackables.
Back on the trail
The footpath took us through a couple of fields and up a hill with a fantastic view from the top. There was another cache series here based around pies, so we took the opportunity to nab a couple of them as we passed through Toot Hill. Part of the next section appears to run across someone’s paddock, and we made our way through a series of gates and stiles.
By this time we’d started to see another signature on the logs for the same day. Whoever it was had either walked the trail that morning or was just short distance ahead of us. Once we got to Toot Hill, we spotted a man writing down numbers from a fire hydrant marker (a classic caching clue) and we knew we were treading on the heels of another geocacher. It wasn’t long before we caught up with him and we ended up combining our efforts as far as cache 050, where we parted ways. A lovely chap from another area of Essex, he was aiming for his 2000th cache and was a lot better equipped than we were, with a proper rucksack, waterproof clothes and walking boots. He was also the organiser for local caching events in Hullbridge and kindly invited us along. It was only the second time we’ve met another cacher in the field, so to speak, and we enjoyed the walk with him.
The next stop was Greensted, where the footpath brings you out by the church of St Andrew Greensted-Juxta-Ongar. It’s a fascinating little church, and the oldest wooden church in the world, which is also home to the grave of a crusader. Go around the side and you’ll see a now-blocked hole in the wall which was where lepers used to watch services. If you can spare the time, go inside and have a look around. They also sell a range of local produce. There is actually a church micro geocache here (a series of caches placed near churches) but we’d tried to find it previously and been unsuccessful.
Next to the church, the footpath diverts down what looks like someone’s driveway, but it’s still part of the Essex Way. The section between Greensted and Chipping Ongar is relatively short, again skirting ploughed fields. There’s another cache series here too which we had a look for, having to scramble down into a ditch to retrieve. Once in Chipping Ongar, it wasn’t obvious where the footpath started again on the other side of the road through the village. After a few minutes of head-scratching, I spotted a footpath behind the library which leads past the now empty motte and bailey for what was once Ongar Castle.
Picking up the Essex Way trail at cache 047 led us along an alarmingly busy track – clearly where all the locals walk their dogs. By this time, we were pretty footsore and looking forward to the end of the section. Fortunately, the few caches between Chipping Ongar and the A414 at High Ongar were nice and easy, taking us through some meadows and back to the car.
Although this section was much longer, the walk is so nice that the views and peaceful countryside made it worthwhile. I probably wouldn’t have done this walk without the lure of geocaching, but now that I’m doing it, I’d continue even without the geocaching. Apart from a very few small areas, the path is largely deserted. Apart from our geocaching friend and the sections of path located very near villages, we actually saw pretty much no-one. When you spend all day surrounded by other people and crammed onto trains, it’s quite relaxing to not see another soul for hours.
The Coopersale to High Ongar section was about eight miles and took us in the region of five hours to walk. It’s not a difficult walk in at the moment though I anticipate a lot of mud once autumn and winter set in. We covered caches 019-054 on the Essex Way trail, and a handful of others which were nearby, totalling 43 finds. Here’s the map:
Next section: High Ongar to Shellow Bowells.