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.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Before the year was out - Part 1

2016 couldn't and didn't end without further Letterboxing walks. Alas, the time to blog about them at the time eluded me!

Firstly, I made the long overdue return trip to Bodmin Moor.  The 'Southerly' peaks of Trewortha Tor and Hawks Tor proved a stunning destination.  I turned it into a round trip including Kilmar Tor and Sharp Tor - which I visited on my last trip here in 2015.  Since the weather was grey and visibility poor, today at least I was grateful to be walking on Bodmin's lower slopes than up in Dartmoor mizzle.

If I learnt one thing on this day, it is that access to Hawks Tor is limited.  There are few official ways in to this conservation area/public access land.  I found one way in, though I had every intention of finding another one out.  This restricted access ensured that Hawks Tor was overgrown - even by Bodmin Moor standards. Deep, lush foliage twinned with tall gorse made the going rough and tough as I approached the crumbling, unvisited granite stacks atop the airy ridge.  Passing the overgrown quarries and walls sparked my imagination.  I half expected the legendary local Beast to leap from it's lair as I beat my path to the Letterbox (only one here).

I negotiated through the vegetation, and soon found myself on the way to the neighbouring Trewortha Tor.  The direct route however was blocked by a series of barbed wire fences, coiled razor wire and high wall.  This was not intended to deter errant sheep and deer.  This was here to trap, cut and decapitate walkers like me.  With no obvious way around, I had to accept that the only way out of Hawks Tor was also the only way in.

Trewortha Tor was unlike anything I'd yet encountered.  Never before have I seen so many logan stones, gravity defying rock piles, and surreal landscapes on one tor.  I was happy to spend a few hours exploring the Tor, and found several Letterboxes in the process.  Visitors book entries indicated that this part of Bodmin Moor is rarely Letterboxed.  On a dry, wind-less Saturday, I saw one other individual all day, and that was on Kilmar Tor, which was where I headed next.  This immense ridge filled my view, and made for an interesting climb to the summit trig.  

The sun started to break through, so the remainder of my walk was a bit warmer.  Although I had no further new Letterboxes to find.  

A fascinating day overall. An unknown distance walked, and 9 Letterboxes found.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Northern exposure Part 2

Some Letterbox walks simply don't go as planned.  Take my latest, for example.  It has taken three attempts to complete my circuit of the 'track-formerly-know-as-the-Ring-Road', South of Okehampton Camp.  On each occasion I have parked at Hart Tor and the adjacent Observation Post.  I was time-bound on my first outing, and I only made it to Deep Ford.  My second attempt was thwarted by poor weather, Mist gave way to drizzle which gave way to heavy rain.  I barely made it to East Mill Tor.

Yesterday, however, on a cold, crisp morning, I tried again...

3rd time lucky...
Storm Angus, which struck the previous day was still running off the moor.  Water levels were high, but not extraordinary.  Deep Ford was not impassable.  Indeed, I saw some members of the public in a Land Rover ignore the warning signs, and drive around the military track negotiating this watery crossing of the East Okement with minimal concern.

I was determined to reach the highest point of the former Ring Road.  Observation Post (or OP) 15. I recall learning about this fabled spot through the visitor's book of the Letterbox in the Warren House Inn, way back in the early 1990s.  As novice Letterboxers, the family were eager to reach Cranmere Pool via the quickest and shortest path possible.  Parking at OP15 provided this path.  Today, it is over 3 miles on foot (unless you own a Land Rover and ignore rules) to reach this remote spot.  I had a number of Letterboxes to find up on the plateau.  However, it was other man-made objects which surprised and disappointed me on this occasion.

I am well used to finding abandoned (non-explosive) Military debris within all the ranges on the Moor.  Yet, never before have I seen it on such a scale as I did yesterday.  I counted 4 empty flare casings and 3 heaps of empty cartridge shells and clips on Okement Hill alone. 

I believe that before leaving a range, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) range wardens expect visiting army units to clear up and care for the environment.  I am aware that there has been no live firing in Okehampton range for over a week. Who knows how long this stuff has been out there!  In light of the advice of military notices everywhere ("DANGER Do not touch any military debris.  It may explode and kill you"), I didn't pack it up and remove it myself.  I tutted and left it behind.  In hindsight, I should have recorded the 10 figure grid reference and reported them to the Defence Infrastucture Organisation.  Its worth noting that the Dartmoor National Park Authority advice is to report finds of suspicious military material to the Devon & Cornwall Police non-emergency line.  The DNPA website lists the old Police number (switched off in September 2012), but the new number is 101, which works from mobile phones too.

I hope that MOD cutbacks are not impacting on their obligations to protect and care for Dartmoor's rugged, beautiful environment.  Perhaps, we'll see learn how tight the budget is in the latest minutes of the Dartmoor Steering Group.  This MOD focused party had their annual meeting at Okehampton Camp last Wednesday, and the meeting minutes are yet to be posted online as per their own rules. Rules, as we have learnt, are there to be broken.  Aren't they?

The sunshine faded away early.  The temperature plummeted, and I descended beside the Black-a-ven Brook and New Bridge, completed my circuit, and headed for home.  Mission achieved, and 21 boxes found.