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Using Great Northern to go on the world's largest treasure hunt

Two women walking across a bridge in the woods 

By Lunges & Lycra | Published on 11 January 2019

As fitness bloggers there’s nothing we love more than getting outdoors, exploring a new place and being active. Gyms and treadmills have their place but staying fit and healthy doesn’t have to mean endless burpees or lifting heavy weights. It’s much more fun if you add stunning scenery and a bit of mud!

Over the next few months we’ll be sharing some of the ways you can take a transformative journey with Great Northern and enjoy active adventures along the route. From hiking in the Fens to the stations that are near great spots for wild swimming and the best cycle rides that allow you to hop on the train home, there’s so much cool stuff out there to discover.

As part of the collaboration we’ll be offering options for all fitness levels and there’s the added bonus that exercising outdoors is not only great for your physical health, it gives your mind a boost too. Studies have shown that exercising in green spaces and near water may improve your mood and self-esteem more than exercising indoors. Bonus!

Our first journey takes us to Finsbury Park station, where just a short walk away we explore a new way of exercising outdoors.

Transform Your Winter Walk Into a Digital Treasure Hunt

There’s something magical about the winter months, when holly bushes are bright with berries and the ground is covered in a layer of twinkling frost. Yeah, yeah, we know, this is the UK, it’s grey and drizzly a lot of the time too but get a crisp winter day where the sun is shining and the sky is clear and you just can’t beat it.

Which is why you shouldn’t let those perfect days go to waste. There’s nothing like a stroll in the fresh air to make you feel alive, particularly if you’ve been cooped up with stuffy central heating for hours. Don’t limit yourself to walking round the local park either, there are so many green spaces and beautiful countryside locations to discover on the Great Northern line. Many of them are within a couple of stops of main stations too, making them super-easy to get to.

So grab the family or get a group of friends together, jump on the train for a short journey and visit a nearby beauty spot or area you’ve never been before.

Transform your day into one of fun and exploration and add an additional element of fun to your walk with geocaching. Probably the most enjoyable outdoor experience you’ve never heard of, it’ll make you see even the most familiar of places in a totally new light, it’s great for all ages and, if you go by train, you can have a pint in a country pub when you finish too, always a winner.

What is geocaching?

Two women looking into some bushes

Billed as the world’s largest treasure hunt, geocaching started in the US in 2000 and is now played in 190 countries worldwide. The idea is simple, you look for geocaches – cleverly hidden containers placed by other users – with the help of a free geocaching app.

Using GPS, the app shows you where geocaches are hidden, gives you directions and hints to help you find them and allows you to log your finds. It’s basically your own digital treasure map.

The craziest thing is, there are more than three million geocaches, or caches as they’re often called, worldwide and when you download the app, you’ll probably find you’ve been walking past one every day without ever knowing.

Caches come in all shapes and sizes, they can be as small as a film container or as large as a box file, some are Tupperware containers, some are metal canisters, some are camouflage – there are nine in our local park and we had absolutely no idea.

What happened when we went geocaching?

Two woman holding a geocaching cannister

We live in London and while there are many more green spaces than you’d think in the capital, we’re always looking for an excuse to explore new ones. The Parkland Walk in north London is somewhere we’d only been to once years ago and so we decided to get to know it better by geocaching.

A disused railway line, the walk has been transformed into a local nature reserve and runs for around 4.5 miles between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace. We started at Finsbury Park as it’s just one stop from King’s Cross station on the Great Northern line, making it ridiculously easy to get to – it takes about six minutes. There’s also a train station at the other end, Alexandra Palace, meaning we could hop on back to King’s Cross when we’d finished. If you’re planning a point-to-point walk it’s always good to plot one between two train stations so you know you can get home easily at the end.

Home to bats, wildlife and more than 200 species of wild flowers the Parkland Walk isn’t the most densely populated area for geocaches, which is one of the reasons we chose it as it allowed us to get a bit of a walk in in-between. If you’re with young children who can’t walk far, you may want to pick somewhere with a greater number in close proximity.

Setting off from Finsbury Park station along the Parkland Walk South, we spent the first 10 minutes or so having a chat and enjoying the green surrounds – it’s like the countryside in the city – until we looked on the geocaching app. Then we got excited.

We’re not going to give any secret locations away here, you’re going to need to find it for yourself but we could see that there was a cache in the nearby area. As we got closer, the map counted down how many metres away we were – at around 50 metres an alert pops up telling you you’re nearly there. Then it’s time to look at the directions and hints given on the app.

Following the map and watching the metres countdown – and then up again when you overshoot – isn’t as straightforward as you’d think, these things are well hidden, which is what makes discovering them so rewarding. You’ll find yourself on hands and knees searching under tree roots and combing through clumps of ivy. It helps if you’ve got a big stick to prod undergrowth. When you eventually find that cache though, it is so worth it. There were more than a few high fives and whoops in our camp.

What’s in a geocache?

The first cache we found was a bit like finding fairies hidden in the bushes, an amazing secret that only a few people knew about. It was a small Tupperware box hidden by the base of a tree. Inside most caches you’ll find a little log book to add your name and a message as well as a number of small toys and trinkets, the idea being you can swap one for something you bring along.

Another nice touch is that the placer of the cache has often written a bit about the history of the location. From our first cache we discovered the tale of a sculpture known as the Spriggan on the Parkland Walk. The mythical creature is said to be inspired by an urban legend, which claims the area was haunted by a ghostly goat-man in the 1970s and 80s. Local children would dare each other to run along the walk in the dark. Not that we believe in ghosts or anything but we wouldn’t fancy it.

Where can you geocache?

Two woman walking along a path

After our first successful geocaching discovery we followed the app off the beaten track into the trails of Highgate Woods. Here we found a very cool oblong cache hidden where the person who placed it played soldiers as a child.

We admitted defeat trying to find a cache on the northern side of the Parkland Walk – apparently it was in a camouflage container, too camouflage for us! And our final cache of the day was in Alexandra Palace Park hidden in the remains of a Cold War bunker – somewhere we wouldn’t have known existed without the app – and also handily close to the train station home where we could jump on the regular Great Northern line service to King’s Cross, which takes around 10 minutes. Perfect.

While we chose to go geocaching as part of a picturesque walk, there are plenty of caches in the city and urban areas too. There are a few dotted along the canal near Kings Cross station for example, there are probably some near your workplace and Emma found one right by her house when she got home. So dig out that Great Northern route map and get planning your next adventure.

Images courtesy of Anna Rachel Photography

Travel with Great Northern

The nearest train station to Parkland Walk South is Finsbury Park, and for Parkland Walk North it's Alexandra Palace.