August 13 – Ashridge Estate

Wild Deer and Puzzles

Hello from 1066 –  A Medieval Mosaic

We have been to Ashridge Estate before when we had a house sit in Aldbury but this is the place where the Geolympix takes place. The last one was two years ago and we were unable to go at that time. The next one is a Winter Olympix and will be held on 27 October 2018 and I am hoping we will be able to attend. I was talking to SimplyPaul at the UK Mega recently, he organises the Geolympix, and he said that many of the caches currently in the estate would be archived and replaced with new ones in October. As I have been working on a series of puzzles I decided that today we should go and find all these caches in case they are among the ones which will be archived.

Ashridge Estate is only about a half hour trip away and on the way we found St Albans Sainsbury’s supermarket which is huge. We had a quick look around, bought a couple of bananas for lunch and filled up with petrol which is now £1.27.9 at its lowest and often £1.33.9.

Anyway, on arriving at Ashridge Estate, we were reminded just how huge it is, 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) in an area of the Chilterns Hills. The estate has beech and oak woodlands, commons and chalk downlands. These very different landscapes which support a rich variety of wildlife, including carpets of bluebells in spring, rare butterflies in summer and the fallow deer rut in autumn. There are miles of footpaths and bridleways to explore on foot or by bike. Just after we had found one of the caches mike called me back and about 3 feet away from the path was a baby deer crouching in the bracken waiting for its mother to return. It did not look like it had been born very long and did not seem at all afraid or interested in standing up and moving away. We left him alone and hoped his mother would return soon. We also saw another deer walking around in the forest without any real fear of humans. I guess they are used to us although they may have some problems with the dogs who walk without leads around the park. The deer are very small, not much bigger than a dog. They are much smaller than the breeds farmed in Peel Forest, our home in New Zealand.

We walked 400m to the first puzzle cache which was an Alfakodo puzzle. It is the first time I have done a puzzle like this but is a nice easy straightforward one. None of the other puzzles were close by so we moved to the road leading up to the monument and started another walking loop where we picked up two traditional and six more puzzle caches. They were Sudoku, who does not love Sudoku, Kakuro, which I always find more challenging but when you finally get the right combinations it falls into place, Wordsearch and Codeword, both favourite puzzles so no problems there. Two of the puzzles caused a few problems, one was a crossword and one a Cryptic crossword. Now I am HOPELESS at crosswords! However, there is a helper online where you put the clue and the number of letters and it gives you possible answers. This is a very slow way of doing a crossword but it works and my only hope. It works for me. Hanjie is another slow puzzle but not difficult where you have clues and have to block out a grid until you have a pattern which gives you the answer, sort of like a QR code. Flow is a puzzle I love and I have an app on my computer and on my cell phone which I do regularly. Doing them on paper is more challenging and required a lot of liquid paper to erase mistakes.

After a quick drive up to the visitor’s centre we drove to a different car park and started another walk where we collected seven more traditional caches and three more puzzles – Arithmetic which was a challenging but fun puzzle, Futoshiki which I have never come across but which I enjoyed finding numbers greater and less than others to fit into a chart and finally Hidato which is a really good puzzle of finding the pathway between numbers from 1 – 72 in order. I have done these before and it didn’t cause too many problems. The walk through the field to the last two was a little scary as there were cow pats everywhere but as we could not see any cows we thought we were OK. After we left the field we saw that there were indeed cows in the field but luckily they had not seen us. Cows are very inquisitive and have the habit of coming towards you which can be at best nerve-wracking or even dangerous. The second of these finals was wedged well down into an old tree which required quite a bit of manipulation to remove it. We put a couple of picks into the hole which will make it a bit easier for the next person but also would stop the cows from finding it as they can play havoc with geocaches. After heading back to the main track we found an allee named “Princes Ride” which goes from Ashridge House to Bridgewater Monument at the far end of the park. It reminded us of Great Windsor Park although possibly not quite as long. We found three more caches as we walked towards the house to get some decent photos of it.

Ashridge House dates from 1283 when it was an Augustinian monastery. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the house was used as a Royal residence by King Henry VIII. Henry VIII bequeathed Ashridge to the infant Princess Elizabeth, who lived here for eight years and was eventually arrested here by her sister by Mary in 1554. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1603, her Lord Chancellor Thomas Egerton, bought the estate and an earldom, becoming the Earl of Bridgewater. In 1808 the fourth Earl became the first Duke of Bridgewater. His youngest son became known as the Canal Duke after developing waterways for transport in the industrial revolution. In 1825 the house was designed in the Gothic revival style by architect James Wyatt. The 190 acres of gardens were designed by Humphry Repton. In WW1 and WW2 it was a hospital and later becoming a ladies finishing school. Since 1959, Ashridge House has been the home of Ashridge Business School and a world-class conference venue.

Finally weary from such a long walk we returned to the car for the drive home. On the way, we passed through Northchurch where I realised that there was a church micro to find. As we turned the corner I remembered that we had been here before but there is nowhere to park. We turned into “The Meads” which was a crescent full of houses, found a park and quickly went to find the cache, another church micro for our list – 843rd. As it was now 8 pm we did not visit the church as it would have been closed.

Another great day finding 24 geocaches. There are still three more puzzles in the series which I have been completely unable to solve. I will have to get some help before trying those again, maybe in October. One of the other special things about the Ashridge Estate is that the woods are home to GC177, Europe’s 9th oldest cache, which we have found. It also has England’s 2nd oldest (after GC171, set the same day at Coombe Hill, approx 8m/13Km away) and Britain/UK’s 3rd oldest. (GCF0 – Scotland’s First is the UK’s oldest). There is also GC18BC, the oldest Puzzle/Mystery/Unknown in the whole of the UK!