We’re off on an urban treasure hunt in the Corsa – but this is the hi-tech version, known as geocaching. Join us in the search for caches around the country
If you enjoyed treasure hunts as a child, you’ll love Geocaching – treasure-hunting with a high-tech twist. A Geocache player hides a ‘cache’, or the treasure, and logs its position via GPS – Global Positioning System – then posts a few clues and its coordinates online to help others find it. Once you’ve discovered the hiding place, you sign the logbook that’s tucked away inside the cache – remember to bring a pen! – then put it back again for fellow Geocachers to find. Geocaching.com claims there are 2,765,208 active Geocaches and over six million Geocachers worldwide, so there’s sure to be a Geocache near you! Today, we’re going Geocaching in the Vauxhall Corsa. Packed with technology, incredibly compact and fun to drive, Vauxhall’s cutting-edge supermini is the perfect Geocaching companion.
There are no less than nine different Corsa trim levels to choose from, all of which feature a heated windscreen, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, hill start assist, cruise control and a multi-function steering wheel as standard. We’ve got the Limited Edition model, which adds 17-inch black alloy wheels and sports suspension, LED daytime-running lights, sports front seats and Vauxhall’s OnStar system. A treasure, indeed.
Geocachers can use any GPS-enabled device, but it’s easiest to download the official Geocaching app. Simply open the app on your smartphone, and the closest Geocaches to you – or any location worldwide that you type in – are displayed on a map. It’s then down to you to use clues, the app’s compass and your own cunning to find them.
Handily for us, the Corsa Limited Edition comes as standard with Vauxhall’s state-of-the-art OnStar system. As well as automatically alerting the emergency services in the event of an accident and tracking the vehicle should it be stolen, Vauxhall OnStar includes a Wi-Fi hotspot. It means we can hook up our iPhone to the Corsa’s in-car Wi-Fi, then quickly download the Geocaching app.
Our route will connect three towns and cities known for technological innovation, and our first is East London’s Tech City. Based predominantly in Shoreditch, in 2010, there were an estimated 85 tech companies in the area, a figure that’s now swollen to 5,000, according to Wired magazine.
Google has an office in Bonhill Street, and the Geocaching app reveals a cache hidden on Old Street. It’s labelled ‘Wesley’s Chapel’, a reference to the Methodist chapel built in 1778. We find parking nearby, jump out of the car and click on the green Geocaching icon at Wesley’s Chapel.
Some caches are tiny and feature just a logbook, others are much larger, with treasure that you replace or swap for something of equal or greater value. The app says we’re close by when we’re just outside the chapel, but a look around its gates and nearby walls yields nothing. Then we spot a small utility box at the side of the pavement. It looks like the perfect hiding place. Sure enough, there’s a tiny little tube wrapped in duct tape and fixed to the back of the structure with a magnet; it’s a favourite Geocacher tactic. We eagerly open it up and unroll a scroll of paper painstakingly tucked inside; it feels a bit like finding a hidden treasure map.
Amazingly, there’s a huge long list of names, several of whom have found the same Geocache in the past couple of days. I write down my name and the date, then tuck the scroll back up in the tube and hide it again. One down, two to go!
Leaving the clogged capital’s city centre, it’s a chance to stretch the Corsa’s legs on the open road. Our car has the 1.0-litre ecoFLEX petrol engine, which might only have three cylinders compared with most cars’ four, but it’s lightweight, compact and turbocharged, so it’s both incredibly frugal – an outstanding 57.6mpg on the combined cycle – and also surprisingly powerful at 115PS.
The Corsa makes for a nice place to spend a commute, with the comfy sports seats in our Limited Edition model, soft-touch plastics and a funky, modern design. It also packs some big-car technology, including the optional Side Blind-Spot Detection, and a Front Camera System, which can display traffic signs, and warn you if you drift from your lane or approach a slower car too quickly. It all helps to make journeys much safer.
Next stop is Cambridge, dubbed ‘the nearest thing Europe has to Silicon Valley’ thanks to the university’s strong ties with local technology companies that specialise in software, electronics and biotechnology.
I open up the Geocaching app and the compass points us along the banks of the River Cam. The hint tells us the cache is over water and will require something to stand on, which sounds a bit daunting. We keep an eye on the app until it says we’re right next to the cache.
It soon dawns on us that the supports arcing under a nearby bridge are the perfect hiding place. The best option is to hold our smartphone up into the air and snap the upper section of each support. For the first few supports we see nothing, but then – bingo! – there’s a small box lurking in the shadows. I leap up, pull myself up on the support and knock the package onto the ground. It’s a small package with a piece of paper folded inside, names and dates scrawled all over it.
We stay over in Cambridge that evening, striking out for Oxford and our third cache early next morning. Oxford’s tech link is via the Science Park, home to around 60 companies, including IBM Telelogic and Sharp Laboratories.
We use CarPlay to access our Apple maps and follow the instructions to South Parks Road where we park up. The app’s description tells us ‘the building you need to find is most famous for its pioneering work on penicillin’. The hint reveals that the cache is ‘hidden behind the fence post’.
You do feel a little conspicuous nosing around fences in the middle of town, but we find the cache tucked away close to the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology. We sign our name, then return it to its original place.
It’s the last cache and the end of our adventure. But with well over two million more to find, why not embark on a Geocaching adventure of your own? Log onto geocaching.com to find out more.
How Geocaching Began
On 2nd May 2000, the US government turned off selective availability (SA), which had made public GPS signals less accurate for national security reasons.
With SA off, anyone could precisely pinpoint their location or the location of other items.
On 3rd May, computer consultant Dave Ulmer hid a black bucket in woodland near Beavercreek, Oregon. He left various prizes – videos, books, software, and a catapult – along with a logbook and pencil.
Ulmer posted the bucket’s co-ordinates online, and noted that the finder should ‘take some stuff, leave some stuff’. He called it the ‘Great American GPS Stash Hunt’.
Mike Teague quickly found Ulmer’s bucket, and the idea spread. Teague posted other co-ordinates on his website.
Concerned that ‘stash’ had negative connotations, players suggested alternatives. One suggested ‘Geocaching’ – ‘geo’ for earth, and the now-global scope of the game, and ‘cache’, which suggested both hiding and technology – your smartphone can ‘cache’ online maps, for instance, so you can access them offline.
With Mike Teague’s help, Jeremy Irish set up geocaching.com on 2nd September 2000. Back then, there were 75 caches worldwide; today, there are 2,765,208 and the number changes every day.