Geocaching is a treasure hunt by GPS – and it’s a great way to explore the Scottish countryside
There are boxes of treasure hidden all over Scotland â€“ on Ben Nevis, in the Cairngorms, and in parks, villages, towns and cities across the country.
In fact, did you know that there are more than two million hidden treasures, or geocaches, hidden worldwide â€“ and they are all available for you to search out?
Welcome to the wonderful world of geocaching, a fast-growing outdoors pursuit that now claims to include six million geocachers.
My introduction to geocaching came on a cold but bright winterâ€™s day on the banks of the River Leven, near Dumbarton, with my friend Ellen Arnison and her two sons.
While 11-year-old Rowan and brother Altair, 14, do go walking with their mum, they normally require a bit of cajoling. On the day that we had earmarked for a geocache walk they looked up from their computer games and out of the window and immediately decided it was â€œtoo coldâ€, â€œrainy lookingâ€ and that â€œwalking is boringâ€.
â€œBut we are going to search for treasure on this walk,â€ their mum told them.Â â€œWe are going to see what is hidden at the end of the walk.â€
Suddenly the boys were more interested in this walk. â€œTreasure?â€ asked Rowan. â€œWhat kind of treasure?â€
â€œAnd how will we find this treasure?â€ said Altair. â€œHow will we know where it is?â€
What Ellen and I had planned was an updated version of a treasure hunt, called geocaching. By using a GPS-enabled device, geocachers navigate to a set of GPS co-ordinates and attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.
Where did geocaching start?
It was in May 2000 when GPS enthusiast and computer consultant Dave Ulmer launched the Great American GPS Stash Hunt. He hid the first cache in woodland in Oregon, near Portland, and posted the co-ordinates on a GPS usersâ€™ forum.
The rules for the finder were simple: “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.” Then tell others about the geocache find. Within a few days, several people had found the cache and reported their experiences on the forum.
Four months later, another American, Jeremy Irish, developed the idea to create a website, Geocaching.com
In 2000, there were 75 hidden caches in the world. Today, there are more than 2.25 million. In Scotland alone there are many hundreds.
The caches, from small waterproof containers to large wooden boxes, are hidden in villages and cities, on hillsides, in woodland and even on top of cliffs. They can be found at the end of a short stroll on a well-trodden path or after a day of serious hiking. You could cycle to some of the caches, on paths and on off-road trails.
On the hunt for the River Leven geocache
To date, there are more than six million geocachers worldwide and last month, I joined their ranks, alongside Ellen and her boys.
Ellen, of Bridge of Weir, said: â€œWhen I heard about geocaching â€“ I canâ€™t recall where â€“ I thought it would be good to try with the kids. I guess the only thing stopping me was signing up to the geocaching website and downloading the app.â€
A free Geocaching Intro app, for smartphones, reveals some of the geocaches in your local area. For Â£6.99 for three months or Â£20.99 for a year, a Geocaching Premium app gives access to information about caches hidden worldwide. It is also possible to also key in the co-ordinates of caches to other GPS devices.
Each cache is graded according to how difficult it is to find and the terrain en route. In its simplest form, a cache always contains a logbook or logsheet for finders to log a discovery.
Larger caches also include items of treasure, such as small toys and mementos. If you decide to take something from a cache you need to replace it with something of equal or greater value.
Our first geocaching outing is along the flat and tarmacked River Leven Walkway, from Dumbarton. The mission is to find the â€œLoopy Leven â€“ Hole in the Waw Poolâ€ cache.
Ellen says: â€œI wanted an easier walk so the boys would be able to follow the route and find the cache themselves.â€
Although the route itself is not detailed, the geocaching app has a GPS map that can be viewed in street and satellite mode to allow participants to navigate towards the cache.
At frequent intervals along the 1.5-mile trail, Rowan announces the reducing distance to the cache. Altair keeps a careful eye on his brotherâ€™s map reading to make sure he is leading us in the right direction.
â€œLooking for a geocache makes a walk seem more interesting,â€ says Rowan.
â€œItâ€™s definitely better than just walking,â€ adds Altair.
With 100 metres to go to find the cache, the boys race off to be the first to find the treasure. But itâ€™s not as easy as they imagine and 10 minutes of hunting in and around the cache co-ordinate area finally reveals a watertight container the size of a squat baked bin tin.
Inside, the cache contains a logsheet with a long list of finders dating back to October 2012. The boys also discover a number of small treasures. They remove one and replace it with a toy car. They look satisfied with the hunt and the find.
Ellen says: â€œIt feels like there is a reward for encouraging the boys to go for a walk. It is good that the cache took a bit of hunting to find. It adds a sense of intrigue and mystery to our adventure.
â€œI think weâ€™ll try another geocaching hunt soon. Itâ€™s a great way to get the kids out walking and a useful way to explore new places.â€
To get started, check out: www.geocaching.com
* Tell us about the geocaches you have found.