Sunday, 3 September 2017

Rumbling on

Yennadon Quarry from Yennadon Down
The longest running saga in Dartmoor planning rumbles on.  No - I'm not talking about the eviction battle at Steward Community Woodland.  I'm talking about Yennadon Quarry, on the outskirts of Dousland near Burrator, and their intentions to expand.

If you've seen this quarry in the past decade, you'll appreciate how the boundary pushes hard against the surrounding fence, providing livestock, dog-walkers and Letterboxers alike airy cliff-edge views deep into the workings from Yennadon Down.  As early as June 2008, the quarry operators have been investigating - through official channels - the potential for expansion.  Their intention is to expand North, increasing the size of the quarry by roughly a third.  Opposition to the plan cite concerns regarding, amongst other things, the increased noise levels, traffic, dust, plus the impacts on local ecology, common land, and water run off.   Up until now, committee rejections, conditions applied, repeated delays and red tape have have frustrated the quarry owner's efforts.  Local residents and Dartmoor organisations have been polarised on the issue.  The Dartmoor Preservation Association object to the plan, whilst the Dartmoor Society broadly support it.  Proponents point at increased local employment, and the sustainable extraction of a useful, desirable and ancient resource: Dartmoor granite.
Peek Hill from Yennadon Down

The expansion plan was initially refused by the National Park Authority in 2014.  Amended, with conditions applied, it was resubmitted in 2015.  Planning Officers recommended that it be refused again, due to the "unacceptable impacts on Dartmoor's special qualities" including landscape and tranquility.  However, the Authority never got to formally consider the new application since the late arrival of some documents delayed the decision in December 2015, then again in February 2016, and it then failed to reappear at May's meeting as all had hoped.

18 more months have come and gone.  So much time has now passed, local development criteria has changed, quarry precedents elsewhere have been set, and earlier conditions have been revisited by different planning staff.  So, the Planning Officer's recommendation has been changed from 'Reject' to 'Approve'.  The refreshed application finally made it back to the DNPA Development Committee's meeting in July this year, only for the complex legalities of the planning process to thwart progress yet again.  This time, written advice from a QC had been received late in the day before the meeting, and Planning Officers had not had time to reflect on this.  The earliest opportunity for the plans to be reconsidered is now October.  Frustration for the quarry operators and local residents.  More 'ball kicking' from the authorities and legal teams.  It rumbles on.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Challenge 7: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 7: INTRODUCE SOMEONE NEW TO LETTERBOXING

As you probably know - or guessed - I generally Letterbox alone.  This month's challenge, however, meant getting someone out on Dartmoor, Letterboxing with me, in a Letterboxing lesson of sorts.  I selected someone very close to me to take on their first Letterboxing trip. I'm confident they'll become regular Letterboxers, and I'll do all I can to support that.

Who was this newbie? My 9 month old son, obviously!

I wanted to make sure it was a day to remember - not forget, so a day of decent weather and not too far from the car was chosen.  A route of 3 miles seemed right.  A comprehensive picnic lunch was packed, as was clothing for all seasons too.  There was even some space left over for ink pads and postcards!


We went to King's Tor and Swelltor, parking at Yellowmeade Farm.  This was a novel experience for me. Junior Challenger was comfortable in his Littlelife backpack, and I was comfortable carrying him, but Letterboxing can be a funny business of crouching and ducking and stretching and crawling. None of which are easy with a top-heavy baby carrier!  Stream crossing too, was unexpectedly tricky.  These things must be considered in future trips.  Time to invest in a walking pole, perhaps?!?

I was 11 years old when I started Letterboxing. I don't think I walked on Dartmoor before my 10th birthday.  I wish I could pass on my lifetime of knowledge and experience.  Formed through personal and shared events, occurrences and encounters.  These escapades are impossible to pass on, and so a new lifetime of memorable walks and weekends need to be formed.

Our short walk passed Yellowmeade Farm and Foggintor before climbing up to the back-o'Swelltor.  A perhaps ambitious, though entirely flexible, series of clues lead us across to Kings Tor, then down to the railway bridge, and following the old track along past Little Kings Tor and crossing the stream below Four Winds and returning to the car.

That was the plan at least!  Junior Challenger slept until the midway point of the walk.  He was awoken at the first Letterbox - a seminal moment in his life!  Let it always be known that it was called 'The Dodo Birthday Box'.  However, junior had little time for bearings and clues, and a great appetite.  So we settled among the outcrops of Kings Tor for lunch.  My shoulders welcomed the break too.  Alas all food carried in was carried out, just in another form.

The walk was cut short as the wind picked up, and clouds built.  There is plenty of time to instill the 'JOM' mentality:  At some point, every Letterboxer surely considers there is time for 'Just One More' box.  On this occasion though, we headed straight for Four Winds, which on this day, was packed with holidaymakers and walkers.  A short walk up the hill returned us to the car.

Junior Challenger charmed some fellow hill-walkers, who were impressed by his carrier and Letterboxing enthusiasm.  In actual fact, Junior appeared more fascinated by the nearby sheep than the hobby which took him to this point.  More interested in the long swaying grass, than the inspiring views of the Moor.  More engrossed in the insides of his rucksack than the significance of the day.  That's kids, they say.  Don't expect it to change anytime soon, they say.


That all said, I can confidently state Jnr's shirt has it right.  "Let the Adventure Begin"!  7 Letterboxes found.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Sell, sell, sell

It might be coincidence, it might be intentional, it might be something in the water, but Postbridge businesses are suddenly up for sale, WITC notes.

The East Dart Hotel, the Post Office Stores and Beechwood B&B are all up for sale currently, and the village seems ripe for investors.  The East Dart Hotel has 14 bedrooms, bar and restaurant (and a Letterbox).  It is a substantial property, and yours for £425,000.

The Post Office Stores - popular with locals and visitors alike - comes with the 4 bedroomed house next door.  It has been owned as the family business of Annie & Gerald Smerdon for 17 years.  I don't know why they are moving on, but you can take on this busy establishment for £340,000.

Beechwood B&B gets a 5-star 'Excellent' rating at Tripadvisor.com.  Its a 7 bedroomed, 19th century house, with grounds "incorporating a feature pond with waterfall and views to the front over Higher and Lower White Tor", which sounds delightful and is my personal choice at £350,000. 

All three properties are Leasehold, with annual rent payable to the Duchy of Cornwall, so bear this in mind.

So any budding Peter de Savery's out there, get your skates on, and head to Postbridge!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Challenge 6: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 6: PUT OUT A NEW SERIES OF LETTERBOXES

Halfway through my year of Letterboxing challenges already!

I haven't sited a new set of Letterboxes in 2 years!  A rather poor show for an active Letterboxer such as myself.  2016 was packed full of horticulture training, which was all-consuming.  2017 has been about fatherhood, which is no less engrossing!

Anyway, this isn't a time for excuses.  Here is a second (and probably final) series of The Heights of Summer.  In 2013, I put the first set out around High Willhays and Yes Tor.  This time, I've headed down to Southern Dartmoor's highest ground.  This is a kinda circular route up to the highest peak in the area - Ryder's Hill.  The boxes will be out until the end of the year, and any missing boxes will not be replaced.

Sandy Way 68 69 Box plugged in NE facing bank of gully/track, just beneath a gorse bush, 4p on 247˚ from dead (albeit standing) 10ft tree. FROM THIS TREE: Beacon 056˚ A living tree nearby 102˚ Lone rock in line with cairn on skyline 197˚ A well worn path crosses the gully 9p downhill.

Mardle Head 66 69 Tri-trunked hawthorn 049˚ and 18p away. Lone tree 066.5˚ Boundary stone at ford 125˚ Centre of obvious large rock in bank 217.5˚ Box under pvcr, in light clitter. Site faces SE.

Rounders Hole 66 69 Boundary stone 085˚ and approx 85p away! Centre of cairn on skyline 017.5˚ Lone tree 069˚ RHE of RH peat bank in gully 153˚ Box plugged in top of grassy tussock, 8p away from top of N bank of deep gully.

Petre’s Bound Stone 65 69 Top of subject just vis 080˚ and approx 187p away. Cairn 170˚ Tip 210.5˚ Box plugged in very low N facing mossy/grassy bank, opposite (2p away) from more prominent W/E running grassy turf tie.

Ryder’s Hill Summit 65 69 Trig 107˚ and 130p away. Box about halfway up N facing bank of reedy hollow. Behind a small rock in nat hole. Hedge 028˚ Tip 211˚ Mast 303˚

Ringleshutes Mine 67 69 Highest point of mine workings 324˚ LHS of dam 039˚ Boundary stone on skyline 145˚ Box at top of S bank of gully, plugged on top of W end of 7ft peat bank, 1ft back.

Holne Town Gutter 68 70  From bridge over leat, walk approx 80 prickly paces on 335˚ to a ragged hawthorn in a small gully. Box 3p away on 255˚ from this tree, tucked under N’ly point of embedded boulder. Beacon 058˚ Road just vis thru branches 100˚ Largest gorse in green patch 226.5˚ (Contains visitors book)

Any problems, please email me: whoisthechallenger@rocketmail.com

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Visitors books - Revisited


In my previous post I mentioned that the Plymouth & West Devon Records Office held far more than just Cranmere Pool visitors books.  Ducks Pool, Fur Tor and Crow Tor books are stored at the office.  There may be even more that I haven't identified.  I requested to see some noteworthy books from each of these Letterboxes.

Here are some details of what I found:


Ducks Pool

"William Crossing Memorial.  By kind permission of the Duchy of Cornwall, for use in conjunction with the above [stamp], this book has been placed here for the signatures of visitors by Dobson's Moormen. [23rd] October 1938"


Located under a giant rock at the head of a tributary of the Blacklane Brook, Ducks Pool is another permanent fixture on the Moor, and place of pilgrimage for many Letterboxers.

I had requested to view the first visitors book, placed in the box by the 10 named Moormen. Ducks Pool received regular visits - especially from the Moormen themselves, but this hardbacked book remained on site for almost 14 years.  It bears witness to a dramatic time in history.  For instance, after the outbreak of War, it was 9 days before the first visitor signed in, adding "peace and solitude" to their name.  Two days after VE day, a "Victory walk" was recorded in the book.

Sylvia Sayer, Chairwoman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association - advocate of conserving Dartmoor's heritage with an ambivalent attitude to Letterboxing - wrote in the book in 1951:
"Perfect weather.   Very pleasant to find Ducks Pool so beautiful and unspoilt - we hope that all who visit Ducks Pool will join the Dartmoor Preservation Association."
Many wrote that Ducks Pool reminded them of the long trek out to Cranmere.  Although, generally, visitors welcomed and duly noted the quiet isolation at Ducks Pool, in comparison to the rowdy Northern neighbour at Cranmere Pool. A grid was drawn up at the back of the first visitors book, indicating that Ducks Pool Letterbox had been on site for about 5045 days, with 2994 visits recorded.  That equates to around 4 visits per week.


Fur Tor

Again, the first available book for - the now missing - Fur Tor Letterbox was requested.  This book covered the years 1957-1959.  This box was sited in the cave on the main outcrop.  Registered with the 100 Club as Box No.19, it had been on site for 8 years, although this particular visitors book was showing it's age.  It had been removed (and replaced) by Captain John Joyner - Adventure Training Officer of the Junior Leaders Regiment of the Royal Corps of Signals - in September 1959.  We know this because a letter detailing as much was included in the Records Office archive.

A group of regiment captains, Junior leaders and some Norweigan apprentices carried out this mission and returned the "battered remains" of the old visitor book to Plymouth City Library "in accordance with the directions written upon it".

Capt Joyner initially sought to replace the stamp, which was missing on his first visit.  It was replaced by someone else whilst he was organising his renovation, so there was a time when there were two stamps in the box.  The old visitors book, lacking a front cover, and several of it's early pages was "in such a state that it would not have survived the Winter".  The state of disrepair that this box suffered, the missing stamp, and the informal ownership suggest that Fur Tor Letterbox differs greatly from Cranmere and Ducks Pool's more ordered existence.

The theft of stamps attracted some comments in the book.  On Saturday, August 16th, 1958, a group from Exeter University (1927-31) signed in.  They wrote: 
"The Cranmere stamp and the Fur Tor stamp both missing for the first time for about 20 years.  A THIEF!!  Kindly replace both stamps for our pleasure.
  The Fur Tor stamp was idly imprinted just once in the book (that I saw), although the image has been partially ripped out, suggesting a visitor sought a copy.

The Letterbox thief was active in the 50's too, as was frustration about their activities.  The 'Queen of the Moor' deserves a permanent Letterbox, and it is a shame that this original box no longer survives, deleted, as it was, from the Catalogue in 1993.

Captain Joyner would later become Major Joyner.  He and Lt Col Lionel Gregory (who wrote the letter featured above) were the partnership widely recognised for establishing the Ten Tors expedition.  Joyner was the 'architect', who designed the routes and checkpoint procedure.  As the regiment's commanding officer, Gregory was Chief Controller of the first Ten Tors in September 1960 (when Cranmere Pool was one of the checkpoints!)

Read more about the beginnings of Ten Tors here.  Lt Col Gregory MBE passed away in 2014.  Read his fascinating obituary here.

Crow Tor

Finally, a mystery.  Crow Tor No.1 (Registered Box No.23) was sited on the Tor itself in 1962. As with Fur Tor, this box has long gone. Visitors books for this Letterbox are definitely stored at Plymouth Record Office from 1962 to 1977. Then there is a gap of 6 years.  Curiously, a single extra, incomplete book from 1983 exists, which I requested to see.  It wasn't anything like I expected.

The quality of the hardbound book - with "Crow Tor Visitors" imprinted on the front, suggests a long established Letterbox, but the book covered just a few days - between July 14th and 16th - and the method of recording visits was simply visitor name, arrival time and departure time.  Judging by the length of stay - typically 6 hours - the group departures, and the repeated names, something odd happened here then, and probably not a Letterboxing trip...

If you can shed any light on this Crow Tor visitor book, please let me know via comments!

YOU CAN VISIT THE RECORDS OFFICE TOO!

Log on http://web.plymouth.gov.uk/archivescatalogue and search for "Cranmere Pool", "Ducks Pool, "Fur Tor" or "Crow Tor".

You must arrange to visit in advance.  Email the Records office (pwdro@plymouth.gov.uk) with the archive numbers of items you wish to view.  Don't worry - you can request to see more when you get there!  Be sensible: there are hundreds of books stored here!  Note their opening hours.

Take £5 in cash if you wish to photograph any item, as a charge applies for unlimited photgraphy, and cards are not accepted.