Friday, 21 April 2017

Past, present & future: The book.

Lets face it: the overwhelming majority of the Letterboxes I find are word-of-mouth boxes.  These are clues that I have received from fellow Letterboxers, and generally via email.  I purchase a copy of the Catalogue of Dartmoor Letterboxes (the 'book), but its not the most thumbed document in the house.

Some stats which maybe summarise my relationship over time with the Catalogue...

Of the first 1000 boxes we located, less than 90 were not registered with the 100 Club.

Yet, up to last week, of the most recent 1000 boxes I have found, only 60 had been registered, and 40 of those were Charity Walk boxes.

So what has changed?
- As a Letterboxer, I (we) developed.  Siting boxes, exchanging clues, engaging with the establishment Letterboxers and forming a network of trusted contacts - a 'clique'.  I wouldn't say I'm snobbish about my clue-sourcing habits: I've just become more selective.
- Dartmoor Letterboxing has undergone massive changes: Social (aging participants, austerity, pressures on free time), and technological (GPS, email, Geocaching), plus changes caused by internal factors (the book's '5 year rule') as well as external factors (the thief, access point closures).  

Everybody needs to start somewhere.  So we begin, (began) 26 years ago on this day, on April 21st 1991, with no book at all, but a charity walk: 'British Mammals', sited on Barn Hill and Pew Tor.  We found some of the set, after all, our compass skills weren't great (our compass wasn't great either).  Within a month, we'd hit our 100 boxes, joined the 100 club, and purchased our copy of the catalogue.  I remember a real sense of pride that came with receiving my 100 club card - being 11 years old and all!

Looking back, catalogues from this time look weathered and worn.  Beside joining us for every walk, they were highlighted and scribbled in.  Clues were colour coded:

Green = box found.  
Yellow = Box reported missing.  
Blue = Box in need of attention.  
Pink = Box deleted.  
The annual process of updating each catalogue with the highlighter was a time consuming 2-person operation.

This book was our bible.  The clues within conjured up thoughts of exciting days into distant mid-Moor spots.  With the exception of the bi-annual injection of charity walks, this was our sole source of clues.  The book was bulging with new clues.  Success rates of finding boxes was high, and we were very, very happy.

Fast forward to today.  The number of clues in the catalogue has decreased again from its 90's peak.  I treat my catalogue as you would treat a faded rock idol.  You fondly remember all the hits and best work.  You somehow ignore or blank out all the pain, disappointment and frustration it caused.  Which perhaps, eventually, led to it's demise.  When the failure rate exceeded the success rate.  When the excitement and happiness was tied to the new cluesheet emailed to us personally from a Letterboxer we knew.  When the challenge of solving a cryptic clue and beating fellow Letterboxers to be first-in-book replaced the challenge of highlighting every clue in the book green.

This feeling clearly wasn't unique to us.  Catalogue clues have aged badly.  Flick through the pages and see part-series and 'lost boxes', with clues so obscure, they could never be confirmed off-site if unfound.  One of our own fits this category.  Sited in 1993, Super Snack Sites No.10 is registered in the book.  I never registered it, it just appeared in an update and found its way into the book.  I've never been able to re-find it, and deleted it.  Only to see it, re-established, with it's original 1993 bearings back in the book.  I own it, I still Letterbox, and I can't delete it.  There must be many 'lost boxes' unmaintained by absent owners, languishing in the book.

Bearings.  There's an issue.  The world has turned over the years.  It keeps turning.  True North and Grid North have converged and have started to disconnect in opposite directions.  Not a speedy process, but a box sited 24 years ago, will see bearings be at least 6 degrees wrong by now, if they were correct to begin with.  What I'm saying is, the clues in the book lack the credibility that they once did.

Consider the future.  Imagine if you will 26 years from now.  April 21st 2043.  I'll be in my early 60s. What will the future hold for the catalogue.  You can read my fortune telling piece in a blog post from February 2011 on the future of the hobby, so I won't repeat myself, but accountability and accuracy will be key to the survival of the book.  I hope that it does survive, and offer countless Letterboxers - both new and old - the same excitement and happiness it once offered us.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Challenge 2: ✔️ Achieved


Godfrey Swinscow's is 98 today.  A hugely impressive age for a gentleman and a legend, Godfrey is surely the Godfather of modern Letterboxing.  I visited him earlier this afternoon in his care home near Dartmouth to wish him a Happy Birthday.  I took with me a birthday card stamped by over 100 Letterboxers who attended Sunday's Meet at Lee Moor (massive thanks to you all!).  

Back in the early 1980s, the National Park authority considered the eradication of this cheeky and unmannerly, if rather infant hobby.  Godfrey was on hand to save Letterboxing, with the creation of the 100 club, and introduction of a code of conduct for siting boxes, and a system of Letterbox registration.  The Park Authority were appeased, and Letterboxing is seen today as an attractive feature of Dartmoor by the DNPA, who call it "a great way to introduce children and young people to the joys of exploring Dartmoor and improve navigational skills".

Godfrey officially retired from Letterboxing 10 years ago.  His enduring legacy within the Letterboxing activity and community were discussed at length at our table at the Meet. Several people noted the energy he demonstrated.  How he welcomed them as newcomers to Letterboxing.  He strongly encouraged the involvement of young people in the hobby.  Some mentioned his Letterbox collection.  It is widely believed that Godfrey owned a copy of every Letterbox sited until his retirement.  A vast accumulation of stamps that the lucky few were invited to appreciate at his home.  Many recalled how generous he was to them with time or knowledge.  Almost everyone had a story to tell about Godfrey.  How they first met, or how their friendship lasted.  

Our family first met Godfrey some months before Letterboxing featured in our lives.  His wife Anne - who wrote published books about Letterboxing - welcomed my Mother, Jill and a friend to stay during a charity horse ride in November 1990.  As well as writing, Anne was heavily involved in the Riding for the Disabled Association.  This single overnight stay led to a connection - a link - around cats.  Anne and Godfrey also bred pedigree persian cats, and our family bought two.  My Mother made the birthday card, and joined me at the Meet on Sunday. As Letterboxers, we met Godfrey on countless times at the Wednesday gatherings in Bovey Tracey, and at the bi-annual Meets.  His perseverence and determination was incredible.  I took several late night phone calls from him regarding my Letterbox's tough cryptic clues. No other Letterboxer was as persistent.  Godfrey was tenacious and clever, a real legend of the hobby, and one I was delighted to meet again.

Godfrey was very cheerful today, but alas, his mobility limited by a wheelchair and afflicted with dementia, he did not recall me, or Dartmoor, or Letterboxing.  He was very intrigued by the card, which I explained was filled with the personal stamps as well as love and best wishes of his friends.  I'm not sure he will remember me now, but the card had a message that remains.
"Dear Godfrey.  Wishing you the warmest and happiest of birthdays.  We would like to take this moment as an opportunity to acknowledge all of your hard work and to tell you that we all appreciate your huge contribution to the Letterboxing community.  Congratulations on celebrating your 98th birthday!  With much love, your Letterboxing family"
He was keen to shake my hand and make me feel welcome.  He was truly grateful for the card and the visit.  I left him saying that I look forward to seeing him again.  Anne had left the home just prior to my visit, so perhaps when I return I will see them both.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Challenging the challenger

So this year of Letterboxing challenges: what's in store?  Besides the completed first challenge of removing Upland Trotter 'Litterboxes'?

Well, I am certain about a few, cautious about some more, and have no idea on a couple.  I'd love to share some of the challenges I do have planned though.  These include using Letterboxing to raise money for a local charity, completing a two day Letterbox expedition, restoring of of the 'original' Dartmoor Letterboxes, and plans afoot for siting a couple of my own Letterbox series.

I see a rebirth for the Dartmoor Letterbox catalogue in my house, some recognition of a few Letterbox pioneers too, plus an introduction to Letterboxing to a brand new (if rather young) Dartmoor Letterboxer!

I'm really looking forward to this year.  It should be a good one!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Challenge 1: ✔️ Achieved

Have I mentioned these yet?

No, I don't think I have... 

During the next year, in my solemn, executive capacity as whoisthechallenger, I am aiming to complete certain monthly Letterboxing challenges.

These challenges are kinda personal to me.  I've considered challenges which will make me try something new, pushing the boundaries of conventional Dartmoor Letterboxing, or simply to provide a motivation to get out on the Moors each month.  I hope you'll join me on my journey.  Starting with this February.  Which despite the day of this post, had nothing to do with pancakes...


Within the past 12 months, and in-spite of the belief that I'd previously cleared Dartmoor of them, I've have had 2 sketchy reports of very old our own 'Upland Trotter' Letterboxes still on site.  Stories of one came via the Dartmoor Letterboxing-dot-org forum, located on Over Tor, near Merrivale.  We sited 'Its Called What...?! No.1 - Mrs Bray's Hand Wash Basin' in 1994, as part of a Word-of-mouth series of 4 stamps.  Armed with a newly provided 8 figure grid reference and a very old clue, I set out in snow in early February.  To my surprise, it was still on site, dry and stamp-able.  The book had long gone of course.  The day turned into a cold and increasingly snowy affair around Great Mis Tor, Mistor Marsh and Clay Tor.  I had a few new boxes to find, and a long overdue Christmas Letterbox walk to complete.  The dusting of white stuff did hinder progress somewhat...  

The second - and as far as I am aware - the only other original Upland Trotter box on Dartmoor was sited in 1993.  'Haunts of Dartmoor No.11 - Nine Maidens' was the final one of this set.  We had tried and failed to retrieve it before.  This one had been located by another Letterboxer, and I went to investigate.  With newly updated 10 figure grid reference in hand, I headed to Belstone.  I took the chance to do a short walk around Halstock Hill and Scarey Tor in warm sunshine, in stark contrast to the Wintry mix a few short weeks previously.  The walk culminated in the lofty site of our old Letterbox.

Curiously, in it's place I found someone else's Letterbox, but despite some intense and lengthy searching, sadly I could not find our 'Haunts', and must surmise from this that it has been removed already.  I'd really hoped to have evidence of this box to formally conclude it's 24 years.  It was not to be.  And so I must officially claim again, that Dartmoor is clear of Upland Trotter Letterboxes.

For now, at least!

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Before the year was out - Part 2

My final Letterbox walk of 2016 was on the East side of Dartmoor.  A short stroll on what proved to be a crowded day around Holwell and Haytor Quarries.  I was eager to explore a quieter side to this popular spot, which I will come on to shortly.

I parked below Saddle Tor, and made straight for Holwell Tor.  I was searching for two new Letterbox sets sited in the area, and a host of other Boxes too.  As were several other notable Letterboxers.  The first dry weekday since the clues were released had triggered many walkers to don their boots and grab their compasses.  At times during the day, a procession from one one box to the next commenced.  It was great to meet the Brixton Pixies, the Saltash Stamper, and others.  Alas, though, I decided to cut the walks off early, missing the few boxes around Smallacombe Rocks to the West, and head instead for Haytor granite quarries.  This astonishing site of antiquities retains a level of beauty, charm and industrial wonder unmatched - in my opinion - by anywhere else on Dartmoor.  

These quarries were worked extensively between the 1820s and 1860s, providing building materials for amongst other things, Exeter's war memorial, and the original London Bridge - which now resides in Lake Havasu City, in Arizona.

After exploring the quarry, and completing my circular route, I ducked down into the Becka brook valley to visit Emsworthy.  This area belongs to Devon Wildlife Trust.  This nature reserve encompasses the mire - which is a wildlife haven - and a mid 19th century farmhouse, long abandoned, whose fields come alive in June with bluebells.  On a cold November day such as this, the bare trees and the grey walls didn't provide such a riot of colour, yet it was no less impressive.  Alone in the silent and still atmosphere, I wandered in and around the barn.  It is left to the imagination to consider this place in it's 1850s heyday.  I felt totally absorbed in the scene as I had been earlier at the quarry.  No Letterboxes to be found down here, of course.  Check out the nature reserve for yourself: I highly recommend it.

A truly thought provoking and moving day.  Which also finished with a total of 19 stamps collected.