Chalking The Horse: It’s the Neigh-borly Thing to Do — Interview With CITO Host The Wombles

Cache In Trash Out® (CITO) is an environmental initiative supported by the geocaching community. Since 2002, CITO helps preserve the natural beauty of cache-friendly spaces. In that time, more than 363,000 people have volunteered at 18,000 events.

Lots of cachers think of CITO as a chance to pick up trash—which it definitely is. But the events are not limited to this—it’s also a chance to preserve the integrity of cache-friendly places in other outside-of-the-box ways!

The Wombles is a British geocacher who has taken improving mother earth to a whole new level. He hosts regular CITOs, among them a recurring crowd favorite—Wombling free – Chalking the Horse—meaning that, if you’re in the UK, you can attend!

The Uffington White Horse is a prehistoric chalk figure in the English hillside shaped like, you guessed it, a horse. First chalked approximately 3,000 years ago by inhabitants of either the Iron or Bronze age, it requires routine cleaning and preservation. 

We caught up with The Wombles to discuss geocaching, CITO, and his commitment to preserving this prehistoric symbol:

HQ. What’s your background outside of geocaching?  

TW. I’m a recently retired Engineer and Programme Director from the Telecoms industry. Outside of geocaching I volunteer by teaching Advanced Driving and for 4×4 response.

HQ. How and when did you hear about geocaching?

TW. I started in 2001*  after reading about geocaching in a computing magazine.  At the time there weren’t many caches so I helped establish UK caching by negotiating with the major landowners for caching permissions.

*(HQ Note: Geocaching was born after selective ability was turned off in 2000, meaning that The Wombles has been participating for just about as long as geocaching has existed!)

HQ. What is the story behind your username?

TW. The Wombles are fictional furry creatures who tidy up and recycle what they find. They were created for children’s books and TV shows. We chose it as a family friendly name when we adopted our three children because it seemed appropriate.

HQ. What was the first CITO you hosted?

TW. In 2010 I hosted a CITO for the National Trust and UK caching organisation GAGB (The Geocaching Association of Great Britain), GAGB CITO with the NT (GC29Z9Z). We had 60 people attend and collected 43 bags of rubbish. 

HQ. What gave you the idea to “chalk the horse?”

TW. Other cachers had already held events to chalk hill figures. The National Trust wanted people to help with maintenance at the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, a 3,000 year old chalk hill figure. I set up two CITOs this summer to help with this.

HQ. What has been the community/National Trust reaction to your CITOs?

TW. There has been a great reaction to these CITOs. How often do you get an opportunity to help maintain a prehistoric hill figure and ancient monument? It is very different to the norm and people get a feeling of shared ownership over their heritage. 

HQ. What is your favorite CITO you’ve attended or hosted?

TW. Apart from chalking the horse, we had a great reaction to a 2012 litter pick up in a community space near Bristol (GC39V61). Some locals were on their fourth litter pick up on the site and were rather bemused by cachers appearing with GPSrs and enthusiastically diving into the bushes to retrieve rubbish. I was initially concerned that there wouldn’t be enough for our 50 volunteers to do. However the rubbish came and kept coming. We got 80 bags of rubbish plus lots of much larger rubbish such as 8 tyres, 2 wheels, a lawnmower, tent, security fencing, exhaust, bodywork, wheelbarrow, garden bench, astro turf, bottles, sign stand, large amounts of scrap metal and my personal favourite: a genuine kitchen sink. The only thing we didn’t retrieve was half a car (a car chassis)!

HQ. In your opinion, what’s the best approach to creating a CITO?

TW. Team up with a community or volunteer group. They will usually help with the mechanics of a CITO but are looking for people.

HQ. If someone reading this is looking for inspiration, what words of advice would you give them?

TW. It’s really not difficult to arrange a CITO. You can start by linking up with a volunteer group during the CITO season when cachers will want to earn a CITO souvenir. You’ll get plenty of cachers volunteering. 

HQ. Have you ever had an idea that you thought was impossible?

TW. No! Some ideas may take a little more effort but it’s worth it.

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