Time to embark on another treasure hunt

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The family holiday in Pitlochry was on hold. I pulled the car into a ditch on an isolated country lane and got out.

The sky was beginning to bruise and night would soon pull its cold, dark cloak around me.

Checking the directions and co-ordinates on my mobile phone I walked quickly towards a stone wall protecting a deserted field.

From the information I had been given I knew the package would be on the other side of the wall, nestled near the bottom where it could only be found by someone who knew where to look.

Scaling the wall I landed softly on the other side and started to search for my prize.

There it was, hidden under some loose stones.

I had it.

Now to show it to the others.

I hoisted myself onto the wall, but unfortunately my trousers caught on some barbed wire and I fell, landing with a bum-numbing thump.

Much to the amusement of my wife – and three-year-old son, who was holding out his wee hands to take what I had found.

I opened the dirty Tupperware box and handed him a little plastic butterfly.

He gave me one of his toy Smurfs and I placed it in the box for someone else to find.

Welcome to the wonderful world of geocaching or online treasure hunting – a fun activity for kids of all ages, even those who are a mosquito’s tweeter away from 40 and should know better than to try to scale stone walls in search of little trinkets after just eating their tea.

Starting up at the turn of the century, the online phenomenon has people searching for – and hiding – items in containers all over the place. Participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches’, anywhere around the round world.

A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their established code name. Larger containers such as plastic storage containers also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value.

It’s basically hi-tech orienteering with a wee toy available at the end of your search.

The box I discovered in Pitlochry was just one of thousands in Scotland.

My wife, Jayne, got involved in geochaching last year as a fun past-time she could enjoy with our son Charlie and I was bitten by the bug a few weeks ago when I helped them track down a container in Cambus, Alloa, while visiting my parents.

“Charlie’s face lights up when he finds a box,” said Jayne. “It doesn’t matter what wee toy is in it, he enjoys searching for it – that’s the main thing.”

Accepted geocaching procedure begins with someone placing their container in a suitably fiendish hidey hole. They will then record the cache’s co-ordinates which, along with other details and cryptic clues concerning the location, are then posted online on a listing site, allowing others to obtain the co-ordinates, follow the clues and attempt to seek out the prize using their GPS handheld receivers or mobile phone if it is endowed with the necessary apps.

When they find the container, the triumphant geocachers record their exploits in the logbook and online and are free to snaffle any object – except the logbook and pen – from the cache as long as they leave an item in its place.

Like any hobby worth its salt, geocaching is not without its risks and there are more than a few incidents where cachers have come to the attention of the boys in blue for their treasure-hunting activities.

In the most extreme cases an ill-advised placement of a geocache container has led to bomb squad personnel being called out to investigate the suspect package. On one such occasion Mickey Mouse and his mates had to evacuate Disneyland as experts checked out a container found on the grounds.

A couple of years ago the West Yorkshire market town of Wetherby was brought to a standstill when someone reported a man acting suspiciously, carrying a small plastic box.

Thanks to the current times we live in, with 9/11, 7/7, bombs and terrorism never far from our minds, it took about one second for the witness to put two and two together and come to the perfectly understandable, albeit totally wrong, conclusion that this poor devil was planting some kind of explosive device.

It must have looked like a case for Jack Bauer though, especially when the man hid the box and then walked away talking to someone on his mobile phone.

Enter the Royal Logistic Corps from Catterick Garrison and that tank-like wee robot from the Steve Guttenberg classic ‘Short Circuit’. Needless to say there were a lot of relieved, and a couple of red, faces when the real story eventually came to light.

That well-publicised incident actually led police to urge the geocaching community to have a bit of a think before placing their cache in built-up, urban areas.

Although the Trimble family have yet to hide their first cache, I don’t think we will put it in a place that will cause the powers-that-be to get their knickers in a twist. And we have now drawn up a set of unofficial rules to protect ourselves when we go out a-hunting.

Never venture onto private ground in pursuit of a cache. That includes breaking into someone’s house.

Never do anything in the least bit dangerous, now including climbing a stone wall, in the pursuit of a cache.

Never go out at dusk or night time in pursuit of a cache, especially if it happens to be in Zetland Park – refer back to rule two.

Always have a back-up toy ready for Charlie.

If the sun ever shines again and the weather in Central Scotland remembers about spring and summer, then I shall be out every weekend hunting for ‘treasure’.

So if you happen to see me acting suspiciously near a farmer’s field or somewhere similar, then don’t report me, I’m simply doing a spot of geocaching.

FACTFILE:

1. Geocaching is derived from the 150-year-old game of letterboxing, which uses clues and references to landmarks embedded in

stories.

2. The first documented placement of a GPS-located cache took place on May 3, 2000, by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon.

3. Originally referred to as ‘gps stashing’, the name was soon changed to’geocaching’ due to the negative connotations of the word stash.

4. If a geocache has been vandalised, it is said to have been ‘plundered’.

5. The ‘Geocacher’s Creed’ urges participants to avoid causing disruptions or public alarm.