26th July – 3rd August was UK Mega week and this year, the honours went to Essex as the venue. It was an easy decision for me to attend this mega – it’s not too far from where njcbailey & Walden Eleanor live in Essex, so when they said they were going, The_Mother and I decided to book a camping pitch for a long weekend there too!
We got the ferry to Holyhead in Wales on Thursday, leaving the miserable rainy weather of Dublin behind and driving to Essex. I had handpicked 12 caches on the way to boost my number of UK counties found and we managed to nab 10 out of 12! We arrived in Saffron Walden at 7pm and enjoyed dinner at Chez Bailey and what was to be our our last night in a bed until the following Monday.
On Friday morning, we set off in a 2 car convoy to Barleylands Farm in Billericay, where the camping and mega were being held. The weather was glorious for our entire stay – who needs to go to Spain for sun?! After setting up camp and flying the pirate, Irish and Essex flags between our tents, brought along by njcbailey, it was off to find the first caches of the weekend!
After finding 15 caches and enjoying a barbeque dinner at Camp Bailey-Murphy, we attended UKME2015 – The Mega Flitch Trials Camping Event – the first of 5 events I attended over the weekend! The idea for the event is based on the Dunmow Flitch Trials, where a flitch of bacon is awarded to married couples from anywhere in the world, if they can satisfy the Judge and Jury of 6 maidens and 6 bachelors that in ‘twelvemonth and a day’, they have ‘not wisht themselves unmarried again’.
The spin at this event was that three geocaching couples had to swear that for a year and a day, they had not had any DNFs. The judge introduced himself as Judge Jeremy Kyle and the jury were the attending geocachers, who were really unforgiving, shouting ‘GUILTY!’ as soon as the couples were introduced. The event was great fun and the rest of the weekend just got better and better.
Saturday was mega day itself and MEGA is just one word I would choose to describe it; brilliant, fabulous and awesome would be others! As well as the many caches, including 10 very innovative and extremely fun James Bond themed lab caches, there was the Essex Dog Display team, a rock choir and a parkour demonstration. Never a dull moment! There was so much to see and do!
Since Barleylands was absolutely packed out with geocachers, we decided to drive slightly further afield to pick up some more caches. A lovely walk around Little and Great Burstead was how we spent our afternoon, picking up 19 caches along the way. Then it was back to camp for a well deserved bottle of cider and food!
Cache types run….
A few weeks prior to the mega, I suggested to THE_Chris that a cache types run was a real possibility on the day after the mega, since there was two events and a CITO up for grabs. Never one to shy away from a challenge, he had to one up me and suggest 10 types!
This meant an early start of 6:45am (it could have been much worse: he wanted to go at 5:30am!) and we headed for Tunbridge Wells in Kent to log the webcam cache Mole says “Stick ’em up!”. Thankfully it was relatively early so muggles were not too plentiful as we had to stand in a car park and hold our hands in the air until the webcam captured us doing so. I’m sure we looked even weirder than usual!
An old traditional That Old Chestnut was up next. It was located close enough to the webcam and provided a Jasmer date we both needed (September 2001). There were plenty more traditional caches during the day too. The last cache before breakfast was a letterbox hybrid in Medway, to give us both a new county on the UK counties map: Plantcache1.
By 9:50am, we were back at the campsite picking up our fourth cache type (event) and tucking in to UKME2015: The Big Breakfast – well deserved after our early start! Once we had scoffed that down, it was over to Langdon Plotlands for UKME2015: Langdon Plotlands CITO with the whole gang to nab the fifth cache type. They really made us work hard for this one! The sun was really punishing us but thankfully, we were given the task of litterpicking along the trails, so much of it was in the shade. The most interesting find was a very old dustbin lid!
After the CITO, THE_Chris and I headed off to Wat Tyler Country Park to do the very enjoyable wherigo The Devil’s Porridge. Although an event was no longer a needed cache type for the day, we decided it would be rude not to pop in to the From Gavin to Stacey event in Hockley Woods.
We then nabbed three of the four remaining cache types nearby: the earthcache Bull Beach Boundary, the multi Are We Nearly There Yet – Hockley (almost a DNF!) and a mystery Holy Cross Combinations, that I had worked out back home.
At this stage, all that was left was a virtual so off we went to Epping Forest and arrived at Lizzies Hunting Shack. A quick walk around the building and the required information jumped out. Ten types done! We had a celebratory dinner in a nearby restaurant, before stopping off for another old Jasmer Mind the Longhorns from November 2002.
All in all, a very long, tiring day but very rewarding! A big thanks to Chris for his excellent organisational skills which meant we could bring this to fruition.
A Mega Interview!
Monday morning was an early start and a long roadtrip back to Holyhead to catch our ferry. It was a very memorable weekend – so well organised and thought out – we had an absolute blast! I caught up with Cass (Geocass&Andy750x), the chairman of the Essex Mega organising committee, to reflect on their months of planning and the final product at the end.
sarahmur: How did you get involved in organising the UK Mega?
Geocass&Andy750x: The 2015 Mega was originally won by someone who bid for it to be in the “East of England”. Unfortunately nothing really became of it. I think another committee started to form to try and save it, however, that didn’t take off either. With it looking like there wouldn’t be a Mega in 2015, the GAGB (Geocaching Association of Great Britain, http://www.gagb.org.uk) stepped forward with an idea to save it. I was on the committee as the webmaster at the time so started to get involved. I looked far and wide all over the country (lots and lots of Googling) trying to find a suitable venue. It just so happened that I found an amazing one right on our doorstep in Essex: Barleylands Farm, Billericay. I contacted them with the idea, explained Geocaching a bit and to my surprise they emailed straight back and said they would be interested. So I arranged to have a meeting with their director to chat about it a bit. I was joined by my lovely friend Jen Butler (Hollyncharlie) and Jen Harley (Maple Leaf, chairman of The GAGB) to take a look at it and assess whether it would be suitable. It blew our minds! It really was the perfect venue. After the tour around we all sat in the Cafe and pondered it. Jen Harley suggested that instead of the GAGB taking it on, why didn’t we take it on as an Essex Mega? Especially as we were so local. Jen Butler phoned some of our lovely friends: John Rawnsley, Donna Rawnsley, Simon Butler, Steve Streeting, Dean Rawnsley and Andy Johnson who I thought would make a strong committee and organised a meeting the following evening to talk about the idea. Everyone turned up raring to go with many ideas, big smiles and buzzing with excitement so I guess the rest is history. We assigned jobs to everyone and I think they only made me be chairman because it was my crazy idea and they didn’t want to do any speeches! 😉 I’m very pleased to say that the entire team stuck together throughout the short 16 months that we had to do it, due to the previous committee disbanding. The original committee that formed on that night were the same people who you saw running around for Mega week and Mega day. I had a fantastic team of friends who worked long and hard with limited time and I’m so proud of them all for what we achieved!
S: What was the hardest part of the organising?
G: I suppose the hardest things were the bits and pieces that were new to us. None of us have ever set up a campsite, arranged electric hookups and generators, planned events or had to set up anything like this on such a massive scale. It was a huge learning curve and took us totally out of our comfort zones. We had some advice and stats given to us by previous mega teams and lots and lots of support from some of the people involved in previous mega committees (Jen Harley, Lilian Maund, Sharon Reid and Jackie Catterell in particular) and they helped us get the ball rolling. Once the ball was rolling it didn’t seem to stop! There was so much to sort out, but we got there in the end!
S: Were there any disasters or funny incidents along the way?
G: One funny incident that made me laugh was when we were setting up for the Thursday night event. We were running around frantically in Weald Country Park with the rangers trying to get everything in place and set up. They helped by loading up one of their trucks with all of the props and driving it along the woodland tracks into position. It was all going very well until we got to a tree with quite a low branch and the full sized guillotine on the back just would not go past! It really made me chuckle. Eventually the boys jumped on the back of the truck and helped lay it down. We must have looked absolutely insane to any passers by! I’ve attached a pic of us trying to get through the woods! We also had a minor disaster on the Monday of Mega week when we had 115 camping pitches worth of people to check in. It was a very windy day and just when we got a huge surge of people wanting to check in, our pop-up gazebo at campsite reception started to take off!!! A few Scottish cachers and volunteers held on to it for dear life to stop it blowing away and we managed to tie it to a car to keep it in place! The following day we set up a spare tent as the reception area instead. That was much more wind resistant! We don’t seem to have much luck with pop-up gazebos. I think that’s the third one we’ve had that got wrecked by the wind!
S: Did you enjoy mega week?
G: Yes and No! 😉 Monday to Saturday until about 4pm were frantic. I really didn’t stop moving, neither did the rest of the team. I don’t think I even had time to enjoy things as everytime I sat down it was time to get up again and do something else. On Saturday at 4pm I handed the golden ammo can to Wales at the Mega closing ceremony. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could finally relax. I enjoyed those last few days most because I had time to relax and reflect on what we had all achieved. It was amazing! There were so many happy, smiling faces around. It was so emotional. The massive appreciation from the caching community made all of the hard work so worth while. Now it feels like it was all a dream and never actually happened! It just went past so quickly! Looking back now and reflecting on everything, I did really, really enjoy it. No regrets in taking it on. 🙂
S: What was your favourite part of the week?
G: I absolutely love horror movies, so our ‘The Bunker’ and ‘Highwayman’s Horror’ events were my absolute favourites as I got to dress up as spooky characters. At ‘The Bunker’ I got to dress up as a zombie! I really went to town with it and ripped up an old shirt and covered it in fake blood. I made fake wounds on my body and covered by face in fake blood and make up. I found a great spot in the Bunker where I could hide behind a filing cabinet, hear the door opening and people coming through and then see their shadows on the wall as they were just about to get to me. At that point I jumped out and scared the life out of them muttering “Brainnnnnnnsssssss”. It was so much fun! For the ‘Highwayman’s Horror’ I was an old hag/plague victim circling a tree and singing “Ring a ring a roses…” and then pointing people in the right direction after singing “…we all fall down…” as the night went on and it got darker I started to get into character more and started interacting with the audience and playing around a bit. It was great fun. I tried to stay serious, but people kept saying things to make me laugh!
S: Would you do anything different if you had to do it again?
G: No, not at all. My lovely friends on the committee were absolutely fantastic and we had the most amazing bunch of volunteers and helpers who worked their socks off. They were all just as passionate about making it a great event as we were. We couldn’t have done it without those guys!
S: Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of taking on the organisation of a mega?
G: Erm, don’t do it! 😉 It really is a lot of hard work and totally absorbs your life. I guess I’d say write everything down. If you make agreements with external companies, suppliers, etc. get everything in writing so everything is secure. Talk to previous committees and get an idea of what worked for them, any lessons learnt, statistics, etc. Also, try to make the event your own. Lots of people told us they liked the Essex Mega because it was different and broke the mould. We definitely tried to put our on spin on the week and people seemed to like that.
S: Are you glad you did it and would you do it again?
G: I’m very, very, very glad that we did it. The fantastic feedback make it all so worthwhile. It was lovely to see 16 months of planning coming to life. We were all really pleased that things went well and were as we had imagined and hoped they would be. I would never be on a Mega event committee again though, it was so much hard work. It really did take over all of our lives and became a full-time job on top of our full-time jobs! I think once is more than enough! 😉
I think everyone who attended can agree that this mega was exactly as promised: MEGA. The committee can be very proud that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the entire week and I hope they are all having a well-deserved rest and recuperation period now!
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