Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland is one of Sir John Vanbrugh’s most famous Baroque country houses with its imposing facade and splendid, faded glory.
The country house has been restored by the National Trust but mostly remains a shell, a shadow of its heyday when the wealthy Delaval family held court and organised extravagant parties.
Today it makes for a pleasant day out so it’s perfect for a short, winter walk but it’s also ideal for trying out the Christmas toys which my partner Tony acquired from Santa.
Having persuaded him not to fly his new helicopter with video camera (a bad idea in crowds), he seemed happy to try out his new Garmin GPS gadget on a geocaching hunt.
Remember geocaching? It was a hi-tech craze that became popular a decade ago, a kind of modern treasure hunt with a technological twist.
Geocaching as a hobby dates back to 2000 when the very first cache was hidden. Fourteen years later there are around 6 million geocachers actively involved in this leisure pursuit worldwide.
So is it any good as a hobby?
It’s nearly 10 years since my last geocaching excursion to Hadrian’s Wall so I’ve been wondering how this slightly bizarre hobby had changed.
The answer is – not very much. Admittedly the GPS technology is more sophisticated but the basic premise still involves involves looking for hidden treasure troves or caches.
The GPS displays a list of geocaching locations so the first thing to do is to work out which area you’re going to target.
In common with many National Trust properties Seaton Delaval Hall has a list of caches which are scattered around its grounds so we decided to try locating the ‘hidden treasure’.
The idea is to find the cache, log your visit, leave a small item and take away another in return.
Searching for ‘Cool House’ cache
Our first attempt was the easiest with our search for what the GPS labelled the ‘Cool House’ cache taking about four minutes from start to finish.
The clue was in the name as this cache was hidden in a small hollow near the old hall’s Ice House.
Although fun, the whole process was a little too quick and easy for my liking. I was expecting a challenge of Sherlock Holmes proportions but this was more like a tech version of ‘hide and seek’.
Perhaps I’ve read too many Conan Doyle stories like The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle or The Empty House with their many twists and turns.
Once we found the cache box, the contents of the cache were underwhelming with only one small item in the plastic container.
We left our own ‘treasure’, a compilation CD of music called ‘Car Wash’ which I’d compiled for the car, but didn’t take away the solitary smiley-faced item in the cache.
Our second attempt was also easy – it was located under a bush near the Church of Our Lady which lies adjacent to the hall’s gardens.
Again, the contents of the box weren’t much to write home about but perhaps we were just unlucky that nobody had left anything exciting.
So far, so easy…
Next up was a trickier cache site located somewhere in the the hall’s outer gardens.
But this time Tammy’s poor reading of the GPS meant that we got stuck behind a large hedge and a ‘ha ha’ (a ditch popular in country house gardens – no laughing matter) which barred the way.
After a detour we got back on track and found the treasure trove in the woodland about 200 metres from the main hall. This had been a harder task but only because of Tammy’s dubious use of technology.
Once again, the cache held a tiny badge, so there was nothing much to discover, so we penned our names ‘Tammy and Tony’ and replaced the box back in the hollow.
By now I was wondering if geocaching is always like this or if we’d been unlucky in that our caches were a bit dull.
The final cache was a little more interesting in terms of its location so I’ll keep this one a secret in case you’re tempted to go geocaching at Seaton Delaval Hall.
Create your GPS ‘adventure’
As I was typing this blog post at home, Tony had been experimenting with his GPS and computer in another room and came racing upstairs with exciting new developments.
He had discovered that you can create a record of your geocaching adventure online complete with maps, images, notes and stories about your finds.
Naturally I was very excited about this development which seemed to breathe new life into the whole geocaching experience.
In fact it works for any adventure, regardless of whether it’s a geocaching trip, a walk or a holiday excursion.
So he sprang into action and re-created our geocaching adventure and trip to Seaton Delaval Hall on the internet which looked like this example below.
Follow our adventure in its full technicolour glory with a slide show on the Garmin GPS website.
Mapping your walking route
If you’re tempted by this technology, you’ll need a GPS or a mobile phone with a built-in GPS gadget.
- Create a track of your walking route on the GPS.
- Upload the track plus your photos to the free Garmin Basecamp app on your computer. It should work with track generated by any GPS, not just a Garmin one, but we’ve not tested that ourselves. It will automatically add them to the walk route based on date and time information on your photos.
- Add other information like background stories, type of terrain and difficulty of the walk.
- If you want to be more sophisticated, you can add descriptions and captions to the photos which will appear on a slight show.
- Upload your finished geo-walk to the Garmin Basecamp server (or whatever GPS system you’re using) so that others can view the adventure. Wow!
One of the great things about this GPS adventure mapping is that you can tell the story of the place you’re visiting in both words and vision.
I’m looking forward to trying out this GPS technology in future much more than the geocaching experience itself!
Seaton Delaval’s rich history
To be honest, I’ve only scratched the surface of the GPS technology which brings new life to Seaton Delaval Hall’s rich family history.
The Hall’s story dates back to the late 11th century and the country house itself was built between 1719 and 1730 for Admiral George Delaval by architect, Sir John Vanbrugh, one of the master builders of the English Baroque style.
Over 900 years, the house and its inhabitants experienced mixed fortunes including terrible fires, military occupation and physical ruin.
Several owners were infamous for their scandalous behaviour and gambling parties whilst two experienced dramatic deaths. one falling from a horse and another tumbling down the house’s outer stairs.
For many years a large part of the hall fell into disrepair until the National Trust restored the main building to a more stable condition, if not its full glory.
Next time, I’ll be incorporating this fascinating history story into the GPS adventure.
I’d be interested to hear if any of my readers and fellow bloggers have been experimenting with this innovation in travel story telling…
In the meantime the jury is still out on old-style geocaching and treasure hunting-style adventures, but I’m won over by the GPS adventure technology.
Tammy’s top travel tips
Geocaching uses a GPS (Global Positioning System) into which you can type in map co-ordinates and track down any given location, guided by satellites.
Seaton Delaval Hall and gardens are located on The Avenue in Seaton Sluice, Northumberland in North East England. Check opening times as the hall closes for part of the winter season.
Find out more about Open Caching on this geocaching community website.
There are numerous geocaching sites across the UK and worldwide – check your GPS system for a full list and their co-ordinates.