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.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Challenge 5: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 5: TRACK DOWN CRANMERE POOL'S HISTORIC VISITOR BOOKS

I'm not one to refuse a long Letterbox walk, but I rarely seem to spend time collecting stamps indoors.  Yet, as we know, Letterboxing is so much more than stamps.  Take visitors books, for instance.  These little volumes of history and heritage: and how Letterboxing began in the eyes of James Perrott in 1854 of course.  So I went in search of visitors books indoors this month, and boy - did I find some crackers!

I had a hunch that when Cranmere Pool's books were full, they were sent to Plymouth for storage.  I called Plymouth Museum many years ago, believing they were held there, but was politely told I was misinformed.  However, a chance look at the Records Office catalogue a few weeks ago and - low and behold - visitor books galore!  Not just Cranmere Pool (Registered Box No.12) books either.  Ducks Pool (Reg'd No.35), Fur Tor (No.19) and Crow Tor No.1 (No.23) are available in Plymouth Records Office too. I requested permission to access the archive, selected a view choice books to view and I, er... visited!

Cranmere Pool

"This book and the zinc box in which it is enclosed, placed here by permission of the Duchy Authorities have been provided by two lovers of the Moor for the use of visitors to the Pool.  It is hoped they will record their names and impressions in the book and so make it of interest to those who come after them"...."Postcards or letters left in the box will be posted by the next caller who will please write on them the date at which he takes them away."
Introduction to Cranmere Pool visitors book, 1905 

The 'Original' Letterbox.  Visitor books are available from 1905 until 2012.  Where more recent books are, I have no idea.  I requested a look at the first book, and one from 1921 - a notable year in Cranmere's distinguished history.

One of the first visitors in the first available book (dated April 8th 1905) simply wrote "Moriarty" - one for 'Sherlock' fans out there...  Though the first message was on the next day from a visitor from Dublin, who sheds light on the distance and conditions in which the approach was made, typical of the Edwardian era, I suppose.

"From Lane End via Amicombe and Kneeset Mine. Weather: mist and dense fog at times... Rather wet"

I think we can all imagine how joyous that early Spring walk must have been!  The Letterbox has visitors from all round the UK and the globe (I noticed 'America' recorded more than once).  Perrott's legacy was well known.

The last visitor in this book dated it in September 1906 (which for the record, pre-dates the first aeroplane flight in Europe).  A hand-drawn table concludes the book, showing that during it's 18 month stint on the Moor, 7470 people checked in.  Averaged out, that is 14 every day.  Far busier than I'd have expected!

Stuck inside the front cover of this 1905 book is an intriguing pair of undated newspaper cuttings concerning Cranmere Pool Letterbox.  They actually come from the Western Morning News some 16 years later, in May 1921.  It was that year's visitor book that I requested to view - the only incomplete book in the Record Office collection.  It was in this month, that the heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, along with hosts, guides and press entourage, visited Cranmere Pool.


The first WMN cutting refers to the original 1921 visitor book being unexpectedly removed (perhaps predictably?) from the Moor.  The Prince had made the "long and tiring tramp" to the Box and had requested the book remain on the Moor, whilst Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey (the Prince's comptroller and Treasurer) who accompanied the royal visitor, requested that "no one would remove the page which the Prince had autographed and dated", and repeats this request in the visitor's book itself.

The second cutting informs the readership that the visitors book had not been stolen, and was in safe hands.  Mr Heath, a Plymouth solicitor, is named as the man responsible for Cranmere Pool.  It's upkeep supported by supscription.  Heath makes it clear that it wasn't him who removed the book (which I learnt from the visitor's books final entry, was done by a gentleman from Okehampton) requesting it to be forwarded to Plymouth Library, where "all the visitors books, as they are filled in are sent to for inspection".  I suddenly learnt the origin of my misguided belief regarding the museum.

The visitor's book containing Edward's (later Edward VIII before then abdicating) autograph is in remarkable condition.  The page in question is well thumbed but intact.  Sir Lionel signs the same page in May 19th 1921, along with Duchy Keeper of the Records: James (Jim) Endacott, Sir Walter Peacock and Raleigh Phillpotts (of peat pass fame), whilst on the subsequent page, hacks from the Press Association, Daily Telegraph, TImes of London and two from Western Morning News sign in, one of whom seems brimming with pride to write:

"The only man to photograph his Highness at Cranmere on 19/05/21"

It must have been an exciting day to be at the head of the West Okement.  Perhaps as much as seeing this history with my own eyes!


Fast forward now, to the very beginnings of popular and mainstream Letterboxing.  The birth of the 100 Club; The dawn of personal stamps.  I opened the visitors book from 1983.  It is rare - if not impossible to see such pristine "old" visitor books, and perhaps what struck me most was how familiar they are.  Over 30 years have passed, and the ways in which we use (perhaps abuse) visitor books is unchanged.  I read again the introductory paragraph from Cranmere c.1905, repeated above.  A far more elegant and genteel pastime, lost forever it seems.

This book is packed with the scribbles, stamps and signatures of various Cranmere pilgrims.  Many still familiar stamps appear: The Hand Of Man, Brixham Grasshopper, Dartmoor Bounders, Diptford Letterbox Hound (Godfrey Swinscow), Steelman amongst many others make several appearances, suggesting this wasn't an annual trip.  Countless North Dartmoor Passport Holders make their mark!  Including No.1 - which I don't recall seeing anywhere else.

It was a hugely rewarding day in the centre of Plymouth - which didn't end there.  I was thrilled to see all the books, and piece together a classic bit of the Dartmoor Letterboxing story.

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.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The other half of the day

Beyond Middle Tor, and the restoration of the box there, I had an entire walk to do.  My ultimate goal was Watern Tor, for I really do love that place.  The solitude, the geology, the views, are quite special.  Along the way, there would be two crossings of the unique Manga Rails, a visit to the obscure ruin of Will May's House and a fly-by of the iconic Kes Tor.


On a hot, still day like this, I'd expect crowds but beyond Shovel Down's antiquities, I was almost alone in the hills.  Among the gorse above the North Teign River, not to far from the Rails, a green tent was pitched - entirely legitimately.  The drum-taut guy lines indicated to me that it was not abandoned.  It was an eerie outpost of civilisation, and one that made me consider how long a tent would (could) remain pitched and unsearched out here.  I, for one, would feel deeply uncomfortable unzipping a tent door just out of curiosity.



Will May was an 18th century peat cutter from Chagford.  His tiny "house" was actually only a shelter, but a very well preserved one at that, on the slopes overlooking the the Mire to the East of Watern Tor.  A number of boxes are sited for this ruin, although none are located too close to it.



Watern Combe featured on my walk, and this small valley was a suntrap today.  Often overlooked by Letterboxers, this was a successful diversion for me.  One box in this combe was last found two years previously, and averaged fewer than 1 visit per year over the last decade.  Far from the madding crowds indeed!

I paused and considered my return route from the Thirlestone outcrop on Watern.  By following the back to Frenchbeer, I was sure of a worn path, but a more hilly, more zig-zag route.

By contouring around hills, and flanking Kes Tor, I'd be on a smoother, potentially faster path.  So it was this route I chose.  It still took 90 minutes to return to the car though.

11 Letterboxes found.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Challenge 4: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 4: RE-ESTABLISH AN 'ORIGINAL' DARTMOOR LETTERBOX

Finally, an opportunity to add a clue to the Dartmoor Letterbox catalogue, and take a burden off my my mind brought about by a vow I made in 2014.
"...It was at Middle Tor that I carried out my good deed of the day.  Middle Tor Letterbox celebrates its 30th birthday this year and was registered in the catalogue as box number 1259.  Not one of the originals, but an early one nevertheless.  The box was in it's cave on the East side of the tor - box broken, and full of water, stamp in pieces, book turned to pulp.  I dried it out the best I could, confirmed it's identity and brought it home.  I intend to renovate it and re-establish it later this year..."
- whoisthechallenger blog; "Good Friday", 18th April 2014 

At number 1259, no, it isn't one of the originals, but at now 33-years-old, it is an old-timer that deserves to be back on the Moor, and not in a cupboard in my house.  I had a new stamp made, which harked back to the original design.  I provided it with a new clip-lock box, and (whisper it) a new ammunition can, complete with 'Dartmoor Letterbox' painted on it - to avoid confusion or concern.



An inkpad, pen and nice hard-backed visitors book rounded off the replacement unit.  


A trip to Middle Tor was next on my agenda, on a hot and still May day.  A short walk back to the cave under the boulder on Middle Tor's flank.  Imagine my surprise to find another Letterbox had appeared to have moved in, albeit on the rock shelf above.



Middle Tor is often overlooked, and perhaps this is how the original box survived for 30 years in a relatively obvious site.  Finally, and only succumbing, to the ravages of the elements and time.  I'm sure I'll become a regular visitor to this Eastern peak, in my role as custodian of this box.  If you have a copy of a pre-2010 Letterbox Catalogue, you'll know the clue to find it.  If you purchase next year's, with any luck, it'll be back, in all it's glory.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Speaking of books...

Since we're on the subject of books, perhaps this would be a good time for a book review.



It seems a long time I read and reviewed John Kemp's "The Secret Letterbox": A book giving Dartmoor Letterboxing a leading role. When I learnt of novel in which a Cornish guy named Barber goes Dartmoor Letterboxing, I thought my autobiography was out, and I rushed to get a copy!

So, I've just read Mystery At Potter's Lodge: The 23rd Murray Barber PI Case. this intriguing read from St Austell writer Julie Burns-Sweeney, is set in Devon and Cornwall, following the exploits of a private investigator with the unusual ability to communicate with the dead!

The lead character is faced with a murky and mysterious mix of retribution and murder. When it's not quite clear who is guilty, and who's the victim.

I really enjoyed this read. The writer has captured the spirit of the Moor perfectly, has plot twists, humour, original storyline plus a thread of Letterboxing weaved throughout. Highly recommend. Out as an Ebook or paperback available here.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Challenge 3: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 3: BRING THE LETTERBOX CATALOGUE BACK INTO REGULAR USE (IN MY HOUSEHOLD!)


This month, I have been rekindling an old relationship with 'the book' - the Catalogue of Dartmoor Letterboxes.  In fact I have only been looking for the registered letterboxes found within it's pages.  Yes - I did a charity walk, which is also registered, but I was keen to avoid all the Word of Mouth boxes, that would usually form my routes.


Why?  Well, I believe this is a great way to take the temperature of our hobby.  Newbies will spend their money on this book, and use it to further their experience of Letterboxing.  They need not have already found 100 boxes to purchase a copy - that rule no longer applies - so this book could be their ticket to join the 100 club, and spark future generation's interest in the pastime.

So where did the book take me this month?  


I went on two trips.  Two vastly different areas.  One to deep Northern moor, remote, wild and rugged.  Vergyland Combe, Brim Brook and Dinger Tor, to be precise, via East Mill.  The other area more tame and familiar: Chinkwell and Honeybag Tors.  So it was up North first, and a dozen-or-so boxes on my list, besides the MacMillan Cancer Support charity walk.  The weather was great - warm, dry, calm and sunny.  The car park at Row Tor wasn't overfull, and a dry few months meant that the going underfoot was reasonable.  Everything was in my favour.  I had almost total success with the charity walk, missing just one, but my success rate with my other clues wasn't so high.  I located 5 catalogue boxes between West Mill and East Mill, but nothing further South of here.  As enjoyable a-walk it was South of the Ring Road, it was a fruitless Letterbox walk.


Of the boxes that I failed to find up North, I cannot be truly certain that any are missing.  I failed to find any ex-site, or any hint that I was searching where others had previously.  The whole experience could be summarised by "Follow that dog", registered box number 36994.  Sited in 2005, this box has distant bearings, none of which now seem to coincide.  As I have previously said, 12 years will see a lot of natural bearing changes.  There are no close up bearings, no indication of what the box is hidden under.  It is my belief, that the only hope this box has, is to be found by chance.


My second catalogue-based-walk around the stunning ridge high above Widecombe was made up of 12 boxes - some long established, others comparatively new.  I found 3 of them.  I had 5 chance finds, which is to be expected anywhere near Bonehill Rocks.  One of the 3 I did find, was registered box number 94.  An original.  Sited by Godfrey Swinscow, and now adopted by the Plymouth Get Together.


Perhaps though, this route's success could be summarised by box "Cook Family on Honeybag", registered number 49204, so less than a year old.  This box has no bearings, and a vague clue.  I paced 150 large paces from the wall up the hill, but was faced with countless rowan trees along the ridge.  Suffice to say, I did not find this box.  Perhaps the Cook family were inspired by Godfrey's 'original' clue, which is equally vague, but sadly far more obvious.

I respect the catalogue's values.  I support the removal of 10 figure GPS from Letterbox clues - anything that helps to defeat the thief is good, plus I don't tend to use or rely on a GPS.  Having a published code of conduct is vital, and 'other' boxes (travellers, boxes in other places) being provided a clear home is useful.

Perhaps the 5-year re-registration system of the 2000s was a wiser idea than we give it credit for.  The concept of having to re-register a Letterbox after 5 years encourages ownership and responsible Letterboxing.  I believe an original intention was to cap the number of 'live' boxes in the catalogue.  A Letterbox requiring checking, clue updating, and regular attention is sure to receive more visits, and benefit the hobby as a whole.  When the system ceased in 2012, the system again became 'self-governing', with deletions and new boxes balancing each other.  It does however, leave us with a book of increasingly elderly boxes, which as my walk around Dinger Tor proved, has it's faults.

I want to conclude my challenge using the wise words of the foreword to the Letterbox Catalogue of Autumn 1986: 

"The reputation for accuracy which the Catalogue has justly earned depends, in the first instance, on the accuracy of the information recorded"

This was part of a wider plea to support Godfrey Swinscow physically visit and personally check every clue and Letterbox before it's registration and publication in the catalogue.  An arduous and exhausting job!

The catalogue was founded on professionalism, accuracy and reliability of the content.  Anything that can be done to return to days when this is the norm, must be encouraged at all costs.

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, fewer 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 WERE 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

Challenge 2: PAY TRIBUTE TO A LETTERBOXING HERO

Godfrey Swinscow 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, restoration of an 'original' Dartmoor Letterbox, 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...

Challenge 1: REMOVE REMAINING UPLAND TROTTER LETTERBOXES

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.