HI-TECH trails are open for the first time in Wales this summer in the woods of the Clwydian Range.

The new EarthCaching treasure hunts take youngsters and their families on guided geological tours of two forests, exploring the landscape and its heritage by solving puzzles and playing games along the way.

The free trails are the idea of Dr Jacqui Malpas, geodiversity officer for the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. She said: “EarthCaching is a great way to learn more about our wonderful world. It can take you to places you would not normally visit and teach you about why those places are special or unique.”

The system is similar to the better-known Geocaching which uses GPS – global positioning satellites – to guide participants to a series of buried items.
In EarthCaching the hand-held GPS sets, map and backpack lead visitors to Coed Nercwys and Coed Moel Famau along a mystery tour through the ages and events
which have shaped the landscape.

The person commissioned to set up the trails is Nigel McDonald of No-Nonsense Interpretation, who created the UK’s first Geocaching trail at the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre at Craven Arms. Nigel said: “Families who visit the AONB can hire one of these GPS devices and a backpack with a map from Loggerheads and enjoy a day exploring the area and learning about it as well, all for free.

“When they have completed the trail and puzzles they can dip into the treasure chest and take home a fossil such as an ammonite or a piece of fool’s gold.

“It’s something which has proved very successful in Craven Arms. It’s a very good tourism product but is also educational and fun.”

The project has been set up by Denbighshire Countryside Services and rural development agency Cadwyn Clwyd’s Rural Tourism Project, with £30,000 from the
European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development through the Welsh Assembly Government’s Rural Development Plan 2007-2013. It is part of a three-year plan in rural Flintshire and Denbighshire to revitalise communities and their economies.

Other major funders are the Welsh Assembly Government Aggregates Levy Fund for Wales and the Association of Welsh RIGS Groups. Cadwyn Clwyd’s funding has helped to provide provided 15 GPS handsets plus a supply of special maps.

Dr Malpas said the trails which take visitors through the woods explain what they can see at a number of different spots, including features such as ‘kettle’ holes from the last Ice Age, ancient beaches and archeological evidence of lead mining and farming.

She said: “It’s a fantastic way of learning about the geology and history and heritage of the area.

“And EarthCaching means there isn’t even a little box of things being left in a specific spot which can cause some damage by people trying to find it.”

Countryside officer for the Clwydian Range AONB, David Shiel, said: “The forest has a fascinating story to tell from the geological forces that shaped the area to the human influences that followed, including ancient burial sites over 4,000 years old, old lead mines from the 18th and 19th century and an abandoned farmstead hidden within the trees that cloaked the open mountain when they were planted in the early 1960s.

“It is an ideal location for an EarthCaching trail because the story it has to tell lies under the trees.”

l Anyone interested in Cadwyn Clwyd’s Rural Tourism Project can contact Ceri Hughes on 01824 705802 or email ceri.hughes@cadwynclwyd.co.uk