|View from the Bishop of Barf|
With a week's annual leave, I put aside my studies for a while and made a long overdue visit to some friends in the North of England. This also provided me with an opportunity to attempt (again) Letterboxing in the Lake District. I've been here before. I used to live in Keswick, in Northern Lakeland, and I have tried, unsuccessfully, on more than one occasion to find Letterboxes around here. This time would surely be different.
|The Bishop of Barf, or Bishop Rock|
There are now longer lists of boxes in the National Park, but to cast my net wider still, I approached some Letterboxers who had links to the Lake District. Perhaps they had knowledge of existing Letterboxes. One reply sounded perfect... last confirmed on site 2-and-a-half years ago by the owner... No more than a mile from the road... Hidden with a bottle of beer... Lets go!
This particular box belongs to 'The old man of the Moor' aka 86 year-old Ken of Tavistock. He has been Dartmoor Letterboxing for many decades, but has visited family in Applethwaite every year for 40 years. Nearby, and on the steep, loose scree slopes of the absurdly named hill 'Barf' is a local landmark. A bright white painted rock. This is Bishop's Rock. Legend has it that the Bishop of Derry wagered in a local hostelry that he could ride his horse to the summit of Barf via this direct, craggy route. The rock stands at a point where both hapless horse and rider stumbled, and fell to their deaths. Every few years, the local mountain rescue and other volunteers scramble up the hill to repaint the rock, which is visible for miles around.
|Ken's Letterbox & Beer|
In 1993, Ken climbed up to the 'Bishop of Barf' and sited a letterbox of the same name. He informed me that the box was found sporadically during the early 21st century, and his last visit was in September 2012. On this occasion he left a stamped addressed postcard to himself for the next visitor to return, and a bottle of local Jennings Beer. He was yet to receive the card back so assumed it remained unfound.
|Don't look down!!|
Barf is located on the opposite side of the valley to Skiddaw - England's 4th highest mountain. Barf is not so high, but quite dramatic. At 460 metres, Barf is about the same height as Three Barrows, but the car park is at 60 metres altitude and only 400 metres distant from the summit. You must understand that the gradients are unmatched on Dartmoor! When asked by Ken if I wished to find his box, he did enquire if I was scared of heights, and advised against any decent from the rock, less I wished to lose the backside of my trousers!
|View from Barf summit over Bassenthwaite Lake|
|The descent route|
The box is sited 60 paces from a lone Rowan tree, named by Alfred Wainwright as the 'solitary tree'. On it's trunk I could make out some familiar, carved initials of OMOTM - the Old Man Of The Moor, not far from Bishop Rock. I found the box, and the beer, both on site and in great condition. I pocketed the postcard, stamped the visitors book, and took a few copies of the stamp in rapidly worsening weather. Hiding the box again, I considered how right Ken's advice was! The box is about halfway up the slope. I was between a rock and a hard place. So far this was a proper scramble. Above me, this terrain continued, with a semi-rock climb in gale force winds with rain and sleet pelting me as I approached the summit. I am full of admiration of Ken who completed this route in 2012 in his mid-80s. I collapsed in a heap upon reaching shelter near the summit cairn, struggling to catch my breath.
I took the walkers path back to the car, which was more like a stream and was very slippery in places.
The day had proved that Lake District Letterboxing has little in common with Dartmoor Letterboxing. Thoroughly enjoyable and hugely rewarding. Hard work, and potentially hazardous though. The beer, unfortunately, didn't taste so good after it's long wait...
|'Solitary tree' (centre) and Bishop Rock (bottom right) from descent route|
|The direct ascent route to the Bishop of Barf.|
Next up: Exmoor