As many of you know, my favourite hobby is geocaching. One of the most sought-after geocaches in the world is Necropolis of Britannia Manor III, located in Austin, Texas. So when we visited the capital of the Lone Star State for the inaugural Formula 1 US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas last month (see November 12th blog), we couldn’t resist attempting it ourselves.
Warning! This blog contains semi-spoilers. Although it doesn’t contain any specific answers, if you’re a purist you probably shouldn’t read it until after you’ve done the cache, especially if you’re familiar with Austin.
In geocaching circles, the person responsible for Necropolis of Britannia Manor III goes by the nickname of Lord British. In real life, Richard Garriott is a software developer and space tourist. Although I’m not sure the terms ‘real life’ and ‘space tourist’ belong in the same sentence! That said, space tourist is a title I hope to earn one day: Jaspa the Space Tourist. It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Anyway, getting back to the cache, Necropolis of Britannia Manor III is presented in the form of an eight chapter story called ‘The Guardian’s Quest’. Each chapter takes you to a different spot in Austin, and as you progress through the story, you gather the information needed to find and unlock the final location. Being the main character in a series of books that have travel as a major theme, this idea really appealed to me.
The tone of the cache is set in Chapter 1 (The Stone Cutter), with a visit to the workshop of a stonemason specialising in gravestones. We briefly met the (very friendly) stone cutter himself, quickly obtained the necessary information and cheerfully moved on to the next location.
Chapter 2 (The Past Guardian) takes place in one of Austin’s oldest cemeteries. Here our attempt at the cache stalled and, to be honest, very nearly failed. Like other cachers before us, we spent much too long searching for the final resting place of ‘The Past Guardian’, despite being provided with a map that took us to within a few yards of his grave. In the end, we found it thanks to a random photo posted by a previous cacher and a bit of lateral thinking. [Only two minutes ago, while writing this blog, I noticed the Past Guardian’s name actually appears in a hint late in the cache listing! As Mr Simpson would say, “D’oh!”]
We had another minor hiccup with Chapter 3 (Great Friends of Austin). We did a little homework before our trip (although clearly not enough, given our trouble with Chapter 2) and went armed with a list of important Austinites buried in the cemetery. Unfortunately, the person we were looking for wasn’t on the list! Thankfully though, after only a few moments frustration, we realised which grave was the correct one.
After that, the rest of the cache was plain sailing. In many ways, I felt that Chapters 4 (The Glorious Lagoon) and 5 (The High Ground) were the highlights (no pun intended). They took us to parts of Austin well worth seeing, which most tourists probably miss. For me, that’s the real beauty of geocaching.
Then after two more quick stops, we were on our way to the final.
To be frank, until this point Necropolis of Britannia Manor III is similar to any number of well-thought-out puzzle caches that lead you from one location to another. But Chapter 8 (Britannia Manor III) turns it into something else entirely. Something unique and very special. Chapter 8 is where this cache really comes into its own.
Mr Garriott and his friends have created a deserted path straight out of a horror movie set, complete with graves, skeletons clawing their way out of the ground, and even Bigfoot! At night the whole thing comes alive – or is that un-alive – thanks to a host of lights, sounds and puppetry, all triggered by motion sensors.
And at the end of the path is the cache itself. If you can use the word ‘geocache’ for a 12-foot-tall wooden tower with a concrete foundation, topped by a viewing platform, and sealed with an electronic lock. It even contains (amongst a whole host of other things) a one-of-a-kind money press, which turns quarters into oval souvenir coins with Britannia Manor III on one side and Garriott’s own image on the other.
Yes, the final part of Necropolis of Britannia Manor III alone certainly justifies the hype surrounding this cache.