Last week we spent the week in Wales. We had a holiday rental at Plas Talgarth near Machynlleth. The first time I visited Plas Talgarth was in 1979 when I was 3. We went every year for the whole of my childhood – one week in the summer and later a second week at New Year. My mum and sister still go every year, but now we usually only go every 5-6 years. It’s a place with special memories. Not least… treasure hunts. 

I’ve previously written about the Car Treasure Hunts we used to undertake, but this year we did something different. My brother-in-law, Nick, created a fantastic walking treasure hunt in a very ingenious way.

The able-bodied were split into teams of two. Each team needed to be armed with a mobile phone with a couple of preloaded apps: NFC Tools and What Three Words.

NFC Tools is a programme that allows you to read NFC tags. These tags can be embedded in or attached to different things – stickers, posters, even business cards (find out more about NFC tags here). 

What Three Words is an absolutely brilliant app. Every 3 metre square of the world has been given a unique combination of three words. If you’ve not heard of the app, download it now and have a play. It’s brilliant.  For example, the entrance to the Savoy Hotel is minus.pasta.pipes, while the part of the playground my best friend, Lorraine, and I used to play marbles in at primary school is oiled.peanut.proud. What three words, is used in some parts of the world for deliveries, as it is more accurate and specific than the regular postal system.

On our hunt, Nick had hidden a stack of white plastic cards (like hotel room keys) around the grounds of Plas Talgarth. The first card was given to us as a starter. Scanning the card would give two of three words and a clue to the third word. For example, the first tag gave us:

???? = someone who applies heat to an ore to extract a base metal

Solving the clue gave us the word “smelter”, giving the first three word location –  “XXX” – which happened to be on the porch of the house.

From there, we scanned the second and solved that clue to take us to the (sadly empty) outdoor swimming pool. 

The hunt took us all over the estate. There were several phone calls back to Nick in the bungalow – either complaining about the toughness of the clues and asking for help, or not being able to find the tags in the location. 

In true treasure hunt style, some of the tags were pretty well hidden. Cards were hidden in tree branches, on the underside of picnic tables and, in one case, on the other side of a barbed wire fence. Each team that found the tag had to re-hide for the next team, so I expect the last team had the toughest time of all. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the GPS on most phones isn’t particularly accurate. So we could be 10 metres off the actual point in any direction – extending the search area.

The clues were also not always straightforward. There was at least 30 minute of (fairly heated) discussion when all teams had made it to the end. As is normally the case, the hard-working treasure hunt creator took the full force of the (hot and tired) teams’ anger. The clue that was most keenly disputed was “A paper receptacle for ditties”. I formulated a fairly good argument about why a songbook can’t be described as a receptacle. We had to call for help on that clue.

But the layout of the hunt generated the bulk of the abuse. Plas Talgarth is on a hill, which is at times quite steep. Instead of creating a lovely circle around the estate, Nick has positioned the clues so that teams had to go from the bottom of the hill to the top multiple times.

Oh, it was infuriating! Up to the picnic table at the viewpoint on the fun run. Down to the far corner of the tennis courts right at the bottom of the estate. Up to the top hole of the ‘pitch and putt’ course. Down to the tree near the pond below the lapwing homes right at the bottom. Up to the pole climb near Bluebell corner in the woods…. Etc. 

I lost my hunt partner, Alfie, half way round the hunt because he absolutely refused to climb the hill one more time. But by that time, we’d caught up on the previous team, my niece, Jasmine, and my younger son, Bertie. Bertie also refused to climb the hill again, so Jasmine and I continued together. 

But after the rant had subsided and we’d all had a cold drink, we all agreed that it was an excellent hunt. The idea to combine these two apps was genius. It combined the three essential elements of any good treasure hunt. 1) Navigation, 2) Clue solving, 3) Searching. I highly recommend this system to all budding treasure hunt creators out there… but maybe avoid forcing your hunters to climb a hill on a hot day multiple times!