Cache-ing in on time-off

The Whelk and I had booked onto the Anglezarke Amble and right about now, 3pm, we would be setting off for home after we’d each done our respective 16 and 24 mile circuits.
Now, the AA is one of the highlights of the running year but the conditions promised much ice and snow and a 5:15am rising is never that welcome in February. So we wimped out.

I had a really welcome lie-in and watched the Man Utd – Liverpool match, whilst getting ready for a local run. I set off at 3pm, crossed the River Dee and headed out around the large loop of the Meadows, heading down towards Ecclestone.

Waiting for the ferry ...

Waiting for the ferry ...

I’d already decided to extend the run down to the Iron Bridge at Aldford, but had researched a couple of geocaches to act as short breaks along the way. The first, close to the A55, was quickly found and was a real delight – full of superb trackables.

Well-stocked cache near the A55

Well-stocked cache near the A55

There be cache here ...

There be cache here ...

I continued down to the Iron Bridge, the path muddier and with some interesting potholes! The bridge is one of my favourite spots – a lovely view over to the church at Aldford, a slow and majestic stretch of river and fabulous trees and bushes. There’s a cache somewhere here but no phone signal so couldn’t lock-in on it. Must pre-download next time.

Iron Bridge, Aldford

Iron Bridge, Aldford

I set off back along towards Ecclestone, and very soon was on the path that bypasses the Crook of Dee. Here I met a lady who had lost one of her dogs and looked worried when I said I hadn’t seen a dog since leaving the bridge. She explained that the dog was elderly, had a weak heart and was last seen heading into the large field that comprises the Crook. This is private land and the old access path has been heavily barred with copious barbed wire. I said I’d run round the loop, back to the lodge if I could find a way into the field. I did easily by crossing a stream and circumnavigated the whole field, swamps and all (which cleaned off he mud!) but no dog was seen. Arriving back at the lodge I couldn’t see the missing dog’s owner so I headed back towards Chester.

Path beside the Dee

Path beside the Dee

First snowdrops of the year

First snowdrops of the year

Feeling a bit cheated re the cache, I recalled there being another cache between here and Ecclestone and, having a good signal now, closed-in on it. I had to clamber up beside a large tree away from the path but starting to read the main description I really began to wonder what I was getting into. I read the description, and decided to leave it until I’d studied it more.

By now I was cold and my muscles were a bit fed-up of hanging around. I pushed on to Ecclestone, through the village and down the road towards Chester before picking up the track through the woods towards the Grosvenor Bridge. I never regained the warmth in my leg muscles and it was heavy going on this return leg. A quick dive in to a shop for some chocolate and I was home.

Queen's Bridge, Chester

Queen's Bridge, Chester

The next afternoon I took a walk around the walls and picked up caches as the bus station and the Eastgate Clock. I took Lumie with me, a Windows phone, to introduce her to the art of Geocaching. I set the SportsTracker app running to record the route of my walk.

I’d previously downloaded the Geocaching app and used this to navigate to the various locations. Compared to the iPhone app I found the GPS mapping on the Lumia 800 to be jerky – you often had to wait 15-20 seconds for the dot representing yourself to follow your physical movement.
Finally, as a thorough test of the multi-tasking abilities of the phone, I took numerous photos.

Unfortunately, as soon as I switched to the Geocaching app, SportsTracker just closed down and didn’t continue running in the background. Disappointing.

I like the panorama movement of the pages in Windows Phone 7.5 and most of the Geocaching app worked well – just the mapping function felt awkwardly integrated.

Eastgate Clock - Looking a thumb-nail, magnetic cache ...

Eastgate Clock - Looking a thumb-nail, magnetic cache ...

Of the two caches, the one at the clock was a thrill to find – a nano, thumb-nail in size, magnetic and painted black. The whole of the clock superstructure and adjoining railings are of black metal. Hmmmm. Nice one.

Battle of the phones, Part 1

Only a short while ago Nokia ruled supreme in the mobile phone world. Symbian, based upon the software used in the Psion handheld computers, was the operating system for a decade of phones which steadily gained sophistication. However, apart from Calls, Texts and Games, Email on your phone was considered a luxury and only in 2005/6 did it becoming commonplace to browse the web on your phone.

Windows had attempted to break into this market with a succession of systems:- Windows CE, itself a clunky version of their desktop system Windows 95, Pocket PC2000/2 and Windows Mobile. Personally, it always seemed to me that Microsoft was trying to make a desktop operating system work on a mobile device, rather than designing a system purely for the mobile phone market.
It took Apple to make the paradigm shift – to produce a phone which treated internet connectivity as standard, which offered the user a choice of the things they could do on their phone via Apps, and which had access to music, videos and movies. Apple quickly sealed the market with iTunes, and the App store, and suddenly it was the only phone in town. It’s operating system, IOS, was based upon Mac OSX, itself a version of Unix – so it was fast and light.
The Blackberry emerged and corned the corporate market for a while, but was poorly equipped in comparison to the iPhone. Only the emergence of the Android operating system from Google threatened the dominance of IOS. However, the open-market provided for Android Apps is proving to be its Achilles heel. By not having the vetting process that all iPhone Apps require, poor or dangerous apps could be released and downloaded by unsuspecting users. Still, it was taken up by a number of phone makers – notably HTC and Samsung – and the number of users soon passed that of the iPhone.
In the meantime, however, Microsoft had withdrawn into the research lab. Windows Mobile was quietly withdrawn and all was quiet.
Nokia was also on the slide. Symbian Anna was introduced and for a while had some real energy. The new range of Nokia phones had good interactivity, superb camera, great display and wonderful design, but the operating system was still clunky and the apps lacked the sophistication of those on the iPhone or Android phones.
So the announcement in 2011 that Nokia was moving its operating system from Symbian to Windows 7 caused only a gentle ripple in the market.
In order to dent the IOS and Android market, Nokia/Windows needed to produce something special.
And they did….

Geocaching 101

This is developing into a hobby which sits nicely alongside my other activities, such as running, walking and even visiting other locations whilst on business or vacation.
Basically, Geocaching is Hide and Seek for the 21st Century. People hide things and you have to find them.
There is also a touch of the cloak-and-dagger, dead-letter boxes and of waiting until the coast is clear.
The 21st Century element comes from the integral use of the internet, GPS technology and – generally – mobile devices.

Bench with a view

Bench with a view - but where's the cache?

  • Scene: 1pm, a busy shopping street. A statue of a local poet faces me as I sit on a sturdy iron bench. Yes, this looks like the spot. With my right hand I reach under the bench and retrieve a small film canister, held in place with a magnet. Inside is a roll of paper listing the previous finders. I add my details and return everything. All that remains is to log the find on my iPhone App and the job is done.

The leading organisation for this hobby is Geocaching.com. The easy site soon draws you in and apps are are available for most devices. I’ve tried both the iPhone and Windows phone versions: the former is superb, whilst the latter needs work.

Battle Of The Smartphones!

iPhone 4S v Nokia Lumia 800

I am in the rather strange position of having two smartphones in daily use. My “main” one is my iPhone 4S, (on the Orange network) and I have just been given – literally – a Nokia Lumia 800 (on “3”) to test drive.
They are both flagship models for their respective companies, so it makes sense to compare them in active use.

The phones relative specifications and features are well-covered on other sites, so I will concentrate on using them in different scenarios – work, play and in the great outdoors. I’ll also focus on the camera and music capabilities.