Monday, 20 May 2019


In late April, my Mum passed away.
Jill Barber

It was all very sudden, very unexpected, and understandably very shocking to all family and friends, who remember a sprightly, passionate, hardworking, enthusiastic quilter, crafter, traveler, and cat lover.

You see, my Mum - Jill Barber - was remarkable.  She was one of my closest confidantes, and we shared many adventures at home and abroad.  Whether it be hiking in the Lake District or car rallying in Sweden and Germany.  She was great fun to be around, and I will miss her terribly.

Mum Letterboxed, of course.  She was one of The Upland Trotters (1991-2012), but tired of participation in the hobby well before my late Father did, so my return to the UK from World travels was good Dartmoor news for him, at least, as I provided some companionship on the Moor.  In more recent years, Mum peeped over the Letterbox 'wall' to see what was going on.  She attended the Meet with me to get Godfrey Swinscow's 98th Birthday Card filled with Personal Stamps.  She was sat along-side me again when I sold my Caves & Tunnels charity walk in 2017.

Far more eloquent and poignant tributes have been paid to Mum in the past few weeks, but she was very fatalist, and made her final wishes very clear.  She wished for her life and achievements to be celebrated, and my sisters and I will forever try to honour her memory and legacy.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

A fine time to visit Fur Tor

Fur Tor: "The Queen of the Moor". The remotest Dartmoor Tor and the damn finest example of rocky outcrops you're ever likely to see.

To be honest, there is never a bad time to visit Fur Tor. Perhaps when the range is closed for live military firing. Or gale-force windy days, maybe. But on the whole, this is the ultimate, and destination-perfection.

And it's just got a whole lot better.

The original Letterbox - the one marked on old OS maps - the 1950s Letterbox - is back on site, after an absence of some 26 years. You may recall that I took a look at some of the Letterbox's Visitor's books in an earlier blog post ( This is a heritage Letterbox. One that deserves to be on site, warmly welcoming Fur Tor's weary pilgrims. Converting walkers into Letterboxers, then converting Letterboxers into believers.

Believers that this rich and varied hobby has a history which deserves to be restored. And not just restored, but utilised to enhance Letterboxing. To educate, inspire, and enthuse a new generation of Letterboxers. Historical boxes restored, supported and celebrated!

The Bovey Tracey Bracken Basher reestablished this Fur Tor Letterbox (pictured). There will be many avid Letterboxers young and old who will have never found the original Fur Tor Letterbox during it's first 45 years on the Moor. There is now an opportunity to have another try!

I urge you - no - implore you, to visit Fur Tor. To find this Letterbox, leave a message in the book, leave a stamped-addressed postcard for the next visitor to post on. Have your own fine time at this heritage box. Then ask yourself: Where do you see this hobby of ours going in the 21st century? If not a technological route ala Geocaching (which most are no keen on), then how about a restoration led reinvention?

I'd welcome your comments on this!

Monday, 21 January 2019

To the Mires!

Dire forecasts of 4 weeks of snow motivated me to get out on the Moor this past weekend. In what was my first Letterboxing session since the new year, it was to the deepest South Moor that I was headed. Parking at Venford and striking out for Ryder's Hill, my destination was Fishlake Mire, vire Aune Head and Nakers Hill.

For peace and solitude these spots are unrivaled. As I sat stamping up on the grassy slopes overlooking Fishlake, I could not consider anyone other than a Letterboxed gracing this place with a visit. I stumbled on a geocache at Aune Head, so this Mire would be a little less lonely, but on the whole, and judging by visitor books, if you hate crowds, be here now.

With 8 boxes found and a welcome opportunity taken to stretch my legs and clear my head, twas a great day. The weather was kind too, saving the rain - as it did - to my final mile approaching the car.

Monday, 15 October 2018

A welcome return

Junior Challenger made a welcome return to Letterboxing last week with a short stroll on Bodmin Moor. I was aware of two Cornish Letterboxes on Berry Down - a 282 metre hill just North of St Neot. With hopes as high as the lofty destination, we set off through tight bridleways and dense gorse in search of these hidden Boxes. I was aware that they were last found some three years ago, but was bouyed by their easy-sounding clues, updated grid references and the sunny weather - always a gauge of success!

Junior has grown up a lot since his first Letterboxing experience at Kings Tor a year ago. However he does struggle in uneven terrain, and, as it transpired, Berry Down is really quite uneven. In fact it resembled a giant bramble patch strewn with ankle braking holes and deep grass patches, devoid of paths. This kind of undergrowth makes Letterboxing tough for anyone - let alone the under 2's. Perhaps understandably we failed to find one of the Boxes. The other, however was a total hit. Its discovery, on site and in good condition, was greeted by manic applause and cheers from Junior.  A reaction quite dissimilar to that that we've encouraged when doing litter picks together. This is reassuring, since his memories of finds at Kings Tor must be, at best, fleeting.

We disassembled the Letterbox "Wenmouth Cross" and studied the contents together. Junior got inked up before inking up the stamp, imprints were taken.  The Visitors Book (unmarked in 3 years as expected) was duly marked.  Junior helped pack it all back in the pot, and I suitably rehid it. The Letterboxing education has moved on considerably. We've now covered the long arduous walk, disappointment, perseverance, success, stamping, hiding and the triumphant return to the car.

Junior looks forward to the next Letterboxing adventure, as does Daddy.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Laid to rest

Today, on a sparkling, sunny day in Devon, a beautiful and dignified funeral service took place. Well over 100 people saw Godfrey and Anne's seagrass caskets arrive in style, one in a horse-drawn hearse. The order of service included a deeply personal and moving choice of readings and hymns. One of the smartest and most inspiring eulogies you'll ever hear was read by the vicar. Oh, and the late Ken Dodd sang Happiness as the caskets were carried from the church. What a charismatic, heroic, devoted, talented couple Godfrey and Anne Swinscow were. 

They will be sorely missed.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Not the walk I'd intended...

...but the walk that I needed. Yes.

I was relieved to be back on Dartmoor turf. Climbing over High Down towards Brat Tor.  I have been here too often of late and there are numerous other places I need to go, but I had hopes of visiting the Rattlebrook, Dunnagoats and Green Tor this time around.  The weather forecast was in my favour, and I was hopeful the early mist would clear and a good day's Boxing would be had.

Not far from the car, I remembered that I hadn't checked my emails for any late arrivals of clues in this area. I logged on from my smartphone and was stunned by some terrible news.

Early in August the Letterboxing world was rocked by the death of Godfrey Swinscow. Aged 99, Godfrey had had a good life. He would, of course - to quote a forum contributor - be disappointed not to have made it to the 100 Club.  The sad news that stood out from my email on this particular morning was the death of Godfrey's wife Anne - author of the books I blogged about in May this year. Just 2 weeks since Godfrey's passing, this was so tragic.

I was in a daze. I'd come out here -as per usual - to clear my head, but was now feeling confused and upset. I just kept on walking.  Here I was, ascending the col between Brat and Arms Tor, when the rain came. 

Thoughts of clues and original walk plans had gone.  What was I to do. My head was more than full now. I had to go to Cranmere Pool! It seemed the obvious thing to do! In memoriam? Out of respect? To seek some solace? To report this latest sad news? I don't really know why. It certainly wasn't Letterboxing weather, and this certainly isn't the best route to Cranmere. Perhaps for my own mind, I simply needed to return to the original Dartmoor Letterbox.

I knew the way, but adjusted my map anyway. Over Rattlebrook Hill and Chat Tor, skirting Amicombe Hill before the climb up to the Okehampton Range plateau - Great Knesset and the slog over Black Ridge. Then on to the head of the West Okement and 'The Pool'.

Driving rain and low cloud soaked me to the skin. The deep wet grass, tussocks and water filled peat ponds atop Black Ridge did little to lighten my mood either. I found three boxes by chance. But I was focused on my target.

I reached Cranmere in time to witness a couple of walkers rushing away in the direction of OP15. They didn't see me approach as their hoods were up and they were attentively watching where they stepped.

Amazingly on this wet day I was the 6th visitor to write in the book.  I wrote in my route, the weather and a short tribute to Godfrey and Anne.

I didn't hang around. It was almost 3pm and I needed to get home.

As I packed up to leave, contemplating the damp stomp ahead, my luck changed and the rain subsided. By the time I reached Black Ridge, the mist had lifted, and as I approached Great Kneeset, the clouds disappeared and the views in all directions were inspiring.  The sunshine even made an appearance.

I continued on obvious paths over Amicombe Hill, over Green Tor to Bleak House. I took a moment to wander the ruined building: Trying and failing to imagine a lifetime spent in a remote and cold dwelling.  It took 40 minutes  from here to walk the last few kilometers to the car, from where I reflected on my day, and considered my achievement. Not thinking of a day's Letterboxing missed, but of friends remembered. Rest in peace God and Anne.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

On the road - Part I

I've been hearing and reading plenty lately about the environmental impact of our roads.  Whether it be air pollution, biodiversity on our verges, or routes through protected landscapes, subject matter has been everywhere.  Now, to my shame, I drive lots, especially on my commute to and from Dartmoor.  Yet recent walks (and drives) have made got me thinking, in this case, about where I parked.  Forgive me if this goes a bit off topic...

A loop of the Staple Tors above the Walkham Valley was in order. I was searching for a birthday series sited for a highly regarded, well respected veteran of the hobby. It was a walk during the June/July heatwave (set to make a return in August!) The past few months have seen a glorious spell of hot, dry conditions on the Moor. 

Low river levels, drier marshy areas, parched grass Letterbox plugs. OK - so not everyone was happy with the weather, but it suited me. This was my first Letterbox walk in some time. I'd missed Ten Tors, cuckoos, cotton grass and bluebells. I was returning to the season of horse flies and bracken.  Packed and dressed accordingly, with extra fluids on board, I was anticipating a breathless ramble.

The car park I headed for was beneath, and on the same side of the road as Little Staple Tor, overlooking Vixen Tor.  At the back of the parking area is an enormous granite boulder.  Upon it, though suffering from age and clear vandalism, is inscribed the following:


This is known locally as - rather obviously - the Rees Jeffreys car park.

This got me thinking.  I was vaguely aware of the name this car park had, but no how that came about.  This memorial lead me to the story of William Rees Jeffreys, perhaps the most powerful and influential voices in recent UK transport history.  Born in 1872, Rees Jefferys: mechanical engineer; keen cyclist; campaigner for safer roads and supporter of using an aesthetically kind transport infrastructure to connect people with the countryside for recreation.  He was Secretary of the RAC, Secretary of the Cylists Touring Club, but most importantly, Secretary for Roads when the Ministry of Transport came about in 1919.

It was WRJ who championed the sealing of the UK road network, a system which was previously dusty during the Summer, muddy in the Winter, and always a noise nuisance.  He promoted the First Severn bridge.  He pushed for a UK Road Classification System, dividing the UK into 9 areas, and resulted in all major routes in the South West beginning in the number 3 (A30, A39, A386 etc).  WRJ was an exponent of road safety, investing heavily upgrading what he considered an inadequate and hazardous road network in the 1920s and '30s.  In 1937 Prime Minister Lloyd George described WRJ as "the greatest authority on roads in the United Kingdom and one of the greatest in the whole world".

Ahem.  Back to my Letterbox walk though. The SSW'ly breeze was in evidence throughout the walk, combined with building clouds, helping to keep me cool. The route was generous on Letterboxes, and, still dreaming of hitting the 16000 landmark this decade, I was grateful of this.  I sought more sheltered corner for lunch, out of the wind and perhaps ironically, away from the ever-present road noise!

It wasn't much of a social experience though. I didn't see another soul walking all day.  On current evidence, perhaps the work of Rees Jefferys to link people with the beauty of the countryside had gone to waste.

Or maybe not.  Upon his death in 1954, a legacy trust fund was set up, to help fund training, research and projects which improve the highway network and roadside environment.  Aims include a better and safer system with an enhanced experience for road users.

The fund accepts applications for funds via their webpage ( and publishes annual reports.  These are available for every year back except 1955-1962, when interestingly the trustee board admit they don't know who got what, and ask the public if they have a copy they could have!

Besides Dartmoor car parks, the breadth and range of investment projects is heartening.  For example, in 2017, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts was granted £28,000 for a 3 year project tackling flooding through roadside wildflower planting.  A noble cause.

I considered my day out as I drove West into the sunset.  14 Letterboxes found.