An introduction to geocaching

International Geocaching logo

I got myself roped into a four hour canoe trip to Abingdon on Sunday and was inadvertently inducted into the secret world of geocaching.

Actually, it’s hardly secret. There are apparently 5 million geocachers worldwide and 1.4 million geocaches listed on the web. They have a website:

But sometimes the best way to keep things hidden is to be as open about them as possible. Or something like that. It was certainly a secret world to me before I met Elephant Guy (not his real name but his geocaching handle – I don’t know if they call them handles but it’s the kind of thing where they would).

We’d been canoeing for a couple of hours and had moored up at Radley Boathouse to eat lunch. Elephant Guy, though I didn’t know his moniker then, started acting suspiciously. He had a handheld device that could have been a mobile phone or a walkie-talkie but actually looked most like a GPS receiver and he was going up to parts of the boathouse structure, feeling behind iron I-section girders and scrutinising all the horizontal surfaces.

I could picture the ensuing news article about a fanatical anti-yachting terrorist organisation that had blown up Radley Boathouse.

Rather than providing the obligatory comment, ‘yes, I went on a canoeing trip with Elephant Guy and he seemed utterly, utterly normal and I would never have thought in a million years he was the leader of an anti-yachting terrorist cell,’ I would have to admit, ‘err, well, he acted really suspiciously and it did cross my mind that he was trying to blow up Radley Boathouse but I didn’t warn anyone because I didn’t want to look stupid and go “burn the witch, burn the witch!” and now it feels like these devastating events are all my fault …’

Well, as you and I know, it didn’t come to that because Elephant Guy is a geocacher, as he patiently explained to us. Geocaching is a kind of non-virtual game where you hunt for containers (in this case a 35 mm film canister) using coordinates and clues posted on a website. You can also place your own containers according to the rules set out by one of several geocaching organisations.

According to Elephant Guy, caches can be in remote and exotic locations or at busy urban sites. The latter often requires a certain amount of subterfuge (e.g. pretending to tie one’s shoelaces when bending down to search for a cache) to prevent non-geocachers, or ‘muggles’ as they are referred to by the cognoscenti, from discovering and removing the cache.

Or perhaps that was just elaborate cover for his fanatical anti-yachting terrorist activities. Maybe the national press will be knocking on my door sometime soon.

‘Did you know he’d been in Kenya and southern Africa, where he attended training camps learning anti-yachting sabotage techniques under the elaborate cover of being a geocacher?’

‘Err, well, I just thought he was a perfectly normal guy that went around hunting GPS co-ordinates, finding small canisters and writing his moniker on the log sheet in them, sometimes exchanging small objects, coins and the like, sometimes heading out to remote places in Africa and leaving his own caches, obviously with the permission and connivance of Groundspeak (the company that runs’

‘Are you a complete idiot?’


Comments are closed.