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.