Showing posts from 2010

Days of Summer

As we've passed the shortest day and, on the eve of another year, WITC's thoughts have turned to plans and forthcoming walks.  Snow, ice and fog have restricted our walks of recent, but scanning through our scrapbooks, we were reminded of our routes last Summer.

One stand-out walk was to Snowdon, Broad Falls and Huntingdon Barrow in late June. The parking area near Scorriton was empty and the moor appeared deserted of people. A couple of Dartmoor icons made their entrance: a rangale of deer we spooked, and then we were buzzed by two of the Army's low flying, tank destroying Apache helicopters.

Emphasising our solitary wander, the desolate landscape and utter wilderness around us, was Huntingdon Warren Farm. A warren possibly as early as the 1600's and only demolished shortly after WW2.

The weather was warm, with a light breeze and patchy sunshine. The boxes were easy to find the happy skylarks tweeted, and the miles passed quickly underfoot. Ahhh... memories, eh?
Happy N…

Merry Christmas

Seasons Greetings from WITC! This year, our Christmas Message goes out to the owners of Metheral Hill 7.
Your Dartmoor letterbox has had a good innings. In the near 20 years it has been out on the moor (so the sodden book suggests) it must have seen many visitors and several severe winters. Unfortunately, the smashed pot had become brittle since time, sunshine and mice have had their effect. We believed it should be brought in, and so we removed it. I'd love to say it is off to meet it's maker - the hand carved stamp was as good as new. If you are, or know of the creator - please inform them of our actions. WITC are not experts at removing other people's boxes. We are not thieves. We are just conciencious about litter on Dartmoor.
Similarly, if you know what box we have brought in, please let us know.

Who is responsible?

Dartmoor Chris has been in touch. He had planned to site some boxes on Dartmoor for just 3 days this Christmas. Due to the extreme weather we are suffering at the moment, these boxes will no longer be sited in the Gutter Tor area. To be exact, the email read:-
"Many roads around that area are far too dangerous to even attempt with snow and ice on them. I do not wish to cause you to damage your vehicles attempting to visit the boxes like last year at Holming Beam, where I understand that one or two of you did manage to allow the wall to jump out in front of you."
Thanks for thinking of us Chris. It made WITC wonder about who is responsible where letterboxing is concerned. Crashing the car on the way to the car park... Losing boots in the marsh... Twisting ankles in the clitter searching... Have legal issues ever arisen where charity or timed letterboxes are concerned? Such issues have to be dealt with where organised walks, such as the Abbots Way, OATS walk and Ten Tor…

The Taw

At last, we had a thaw in the snow. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not brilliant, so we took the opportunity to get out on the moor. Our destination was Steeperton Tor. We parked in Belstone village and followed the East bank of the Taw upstream. The Easterly wind was biting, and there was still plenty of ice lying on the ground, but the sun shone and fortunately all boggy ground was solid.
At Ottery Tor we said hello to the only other walker we saw all day.
We progressed along the hillside crossing Small Brook, then Steeperton Brook and up to the summit of Steeperton Tor. This peak has one of the best views on the moor. It felt like the wind had dropped and we lingered at the flagpole, before descending to Bow Combe. Due to the short days, WITC had already planned for this route to be linear, and that there would be a straight-forward walk back to the car. Our route was 8 miles long. With just 18 boxes found.

Serving time

Is it curtains for Dartmoor Prison?
The bill just arrived. The lease to the Duchy of over £660,000 per year, and this despite the jail housing fewer than 500 inmates. With critical Government reports in recent years, it's crumbling structure with increasing maintenance costs and Public Sector cutbacks looming. Can this institution be supported any longer? Website has reported that it could be closed down and become a tourist attraction. A bizarre idea? Maybe. It might work though... The current prison museum is renowned as a good day out, but to see Dartmoor Prison - a world famous, historical building made into a popular 'Alcatraz' style must-see can only be good for Princetown and the region.

White? Out.

So Winter has arrived unusually early this year. WITC has retreated to the snow-free coasts, and will be back on the Moor just as soon as the snow thaws. Which, if the Met Office is right, may take a week or more. Bugger.


We were almost caught out this week by the rapidly shortening days. We were so engrossed in our route, we lost track of time, and suddenly we were thinking about where the torch was packed in our rucksacks. Its never been used to navigate our way off the moor. Only caves, Grants Pot a couple of weeks ago, and rabbit-like holes under rocks have required its use in the past.
It was hat and glove chilly out there. Wrapped up, we set off from the car park below Shilstone Tor and on up to Throwleigh Common and Raybarrow Pool.
After relative success around Bert Grattons Hut, we squelched (very wet underfoot this week) to the summit of Kennon Hill. This is a staggering viewpoint for a not-so-lofty peak. You can follow the River Teign from near source, down past Castle Drogo and away to the South. To the North and West, Cosdon, Steeperton and Hangingstone Hill are the high Dartmoor skyline.
We descended to the bolted-on hill on which sits a granite outcrop with many names. Rippator, Ri…


Sticking the stamps in our scrapbook from our latest walk, WITC paused to consider the unquestionable routines which we follow each walk.
As with all routines, in the cold light of day, they seem bizarre and unnecessary. But, we've always done them, so they remain! Clues will not be read (aloud or otherwise) within sight of the car park. For obvious reasons: Its too early in the day to gather a tail.
Upon discovering a box, a rock or other dry seat should be found, so as to ensure that we will not disturb the box surrounds or cause unnecessary erosion (this 'wear' is a giveaway to any other letterboxer!)
The book is always stamped first. That is, after inspecting who the previous visitor was and try to ascertain the date of their visit.
Ink colour. Everyone knows that ink colour is important - right? Personalities are always stamped in purple and red. 1st in books are always stamped in gold. A Dartmoor Lane: Pink. Edgemoors: Blue. Mickey Mouse stamps: Brown...

A burning issue

Forget the heavy rain falling and the gale force winds. Our letterbox walks are becoming more and more affected by fire, or more importantly, the after effects of fire. We are still several months from swaling season - the time when commoners can legally burn the moorland to improve grazing, and WITC has said before that we support responsible swaling. Recent seasons have been notable by the number of out-of-control fires. Burning in strong winds, without adequate facilities to fight the flames.
Then there is arson. Idiots flicking cigarettes out of car windows. Then there is the amount of litter on the moor causing ignition. We are finding more and more damaged letterboxes due to fire, like the one photographed here on the slopes of Leedon Tor (which we obviously removed as a 'litterbox'). WITC is also seeing more and more land struggling to recover from being burned. What we need are fire-proof boxes - ammo cans, for example. It makes even more of a case to carry le…

Southern comfort

This week WITC rolled up their sleeves, put their heads down and stomped into the wilderness of the Southern moor.
Starting at Gutter Tor and aiming for Plym Head to start. Our one and only encounter with a badger on Dartmoor was in this area - at Evilcombe - but many years ago. On this occasion, we weren't that lucky. The hunt was out, and the hounds were inadvertently rounding the scattered grazing sheep up into a huge flock which was then hurried from the Plym valley to the Erme.
At Plym Head, having failed to find the rain guage, we turned for Green Hill and Blacklane Brook. Its a barren land of long grass and big skies. And few letterboxes. We bypassed Ducks Pool and went West to Philpotts cave, and crossed Blacklane Brook, where WITC once camped out for a night.
Grants Pot. This curious little overgrown cave/adit entrance - home to one of Dartmoor's first letterboxes. We dared ourselves to go in this time, but the dripping water and pitch darkness meant we chicken…

The 'Meet'

Whoisthechallenger was there. Were you?
The 62nd bi-annual meet returned to Lee Moor last weekend. The crowds piled in to the village hall to avoid the drizzle. Charity walks, stamps and magazines traded places over tables along with stories and laughter.
It was great to see so many familiar and not-so-familiar faces. There is an air of celebrity about finally meeting the holder of a personal stamp. An image which may dominate weekend letterbox trips, and subsequent walk-talk.
We have stocked up on charity walks in great places to explore in the coming months. West Mill Tor, Cramber Tor, Longaford Tor - to name just three. We stared longingly at the outdoor equipment, and read with intrigue about a new website coming this Winter called Dartmoor Online. Brought to us by, amongst others, Dartmoor experts: Tom Greeves and Elizabeth Stanbrook. Its a subscription based quarterly update. With news, reviews and suchlike. Its launch page is at

The OMM is on

Its difficult to letterbox discreetly when the moor is so busy! This weekend the international, highly regarded event, the Original Mountain Marathon comes to Devon, and hundreds of groups of runners are criss-crossing the moor. This was the scene at one checkpoint. Runners converging from all directions. WITC sat stamping up a letterbox feeling slightly exposed... Some 3000 runners were expected to take part on 8 different routes. Some Elite routes involved the distance of two marathons over two days whilst carrying all camping equipment and food!
Congratulations to all the competitors.


Is it Autumn? Or has Winter arrived? Autumn officially started on September 23rd (Autumn Equinox). British Summertime officially ends at 2am on Sunday, October 31st (see you at the meet!). Although Winter doesn't start until December 22nd. Last year, November was wet and warm, and December freezing cold.
What season is it? Look out the window. Yesterday, hail and thunder kept WITC at home.
On a recent walk, it was the Autumn colours which were very much in evidence. Hen Tor and the Trowlesworthys were bathed in warm light, though the air temperature was distinctly chilly.
The weather forecast suggests that the next month will be unsettled but milder than average. Spring, anyone?


Congratulations to Ron's Ramblers on their discovery of a new granite cross on Great Nodden.
The cross has been removed from the moor temporarily. It will then have a new base created, and will be returned and re-erected in the place it was discovered.
At last - a decent close-by bearing on the slopes of Great Nodden!
However, will this one vanish from our psyche just as quickly? Thus joining the ranks alongside the cross discovered on Gutter Tor last year, and the Touchstone Millenium Menhir.
Stuff it, I'm getting a stamp made for it already!

If I owned a tor...

Ah, If I owned a Dartmoor tor.... I stand on top, survey my land and.. well, thats about all I could do with it.
I could stick a Vixen Tor style fence round the thing and hammer in a No Entry sign. I could dismantle it and sell it for profit piece by piece. However I think the Duchy of Cornwall might have something to say about these suggestions. Personally I'd be happy just to sit and stare at it feeling the immense responsibility of a billion tonnes of back garden. So could you if you want to splash out on Headland Warren Farm near Postbridge (pictured). Birch Tor is incorporated in the property. Estate Agent Jackson, Stops and Staff call the Farm, on the market at a knock-down £675,000, a "unique moorland paradise". You get a lot for your money too: 2 adjoining 2 bedroomed self-catering cottages, Vitifer Mine and Bennetts Cross, stables and nearly 600 acres of land,a thatched home, newly refurbished throughout, and a whole load of history. Since it was previously …


It all started for us with a trip to the Swincombe valley a few months ago. One of WITC stumbled upon an incribed stone on the hillside and found no mention of it on the map. The incription was of the letters DPA in an oval. It looked modern in design. Cue head scratching all round. Was it a memorial? Was it to do with Dartmoor Prison? The Dartmoor Park Authority?
An internet search at home later that day provided answers. Dartmoor Preservation Association. A charity that is dedicated to the protection of artefacts, access rights and Dartmoor's heritage. Also of the promotion of considered development and a close relationship with Dartmoor National Park Authority.
Why does this charity have a boundary stone near the River Swincombe? It turns out that they own this land. They purchased it from South West Water in 1985 after plans to build a reservoir in the valley fell through. They actually have 10 boundary stones which border the 50 acres they possess.
Interestingly, the DPA also o…

Saturday, October 9th 2010

If you don't recognise this tor, you are forgiven. It was the only glimpse that WITC had of the destination of our walk today. Suffice to say it was a shorter route than expected, and only 11 boxes were found. There were no crowds and at least it was mild.We walked out on the sheltered side of the ridge and the sunshine attempted to make an appearance in the far distance on the opposite side of the river, but was gone almost instantly. We made a beeline back to the car once we had reached a point where we gave up in near gale force winds and zero visibility.It was at this stage that we met the only other person we saw today. A Dartmoor Ranger out repairing gates. Even he gave up around midday. Although he was probably just returning to Princetown for lunch. The tor above is Great Mis Tor. An appropriate name as it happens.

Thursday, October 7th 2010

As predicted, the weather was poor. As we drove up towards Cold East Cross from Ashburton, it was clear that the cloud was low and a stiff wind was blowing. Regular bearing Rippon Tor was not visible, and the temperature was low.
So far as one grid square-wonders go, it is very difficult to match Buckland Beacon. Even if you find no boxes, it is a fantastic viewpoint, whilst still generally avoiding the worst of the weather. Fortunately within a couple of hours of walking, the cloud lifted and the sun started to shine. It is well known that this area is popular with Ashburton's dog walkers, but WITC was surprised to meet a group of Geological Surveyors out here. Clipboards and pens out checking out the rocks. They still showed more curiousity in letterboxing than your typical member of the public.
We sheltered against the main bulk of the Beacon for a break. On the leeward side we had a great view of last Saturday's destination: the great ridge of Hameldown. On the sum…

Wednesday, October 6th 2010

Have you been to Bellever recently? The Forestry Commision are in charge here. The village is neat and tidy and the YHA looks substantial and organised. Pay & Display car parking, 'Explore Bellever Forest' leaflets to take away, waymarked trails... it appears they trying very hard to create a real attraction in the centre of Dartmoor.

On the whole, it appears a successful operation. The East Dart River at this point looks amazing as it passes beneath the 1-and-a-half bridges, and Bellever Tor - a short stroll from the car park - enjoys one of the best 360 panoramas in the National Park.

It was this area we wandered today. Beginning the route at Bellever village Pay & Display car park, and winding South to Dunnabridge Pound and Judges Chair, then North to Riddon Ridge, with Laughter and Bellever Tors between. 10 miles and 20 boxes found. It is certainly not a frequently letterboxed area with some boxes absent of visitors for a year or so.

Our route involved more than it&#…

Monday, October 4th 2010

Our week of letterboxing continued today with a trip up the Avon Valley around Dockwell Ridge, Shipley Tor and Brockhill.
With an early start at Cross Furzes, WITC enjoyed the magnificent sunrise for the first few kilometres of the Abbots Way to Water Oke Corner, where we paused to look back at the site of Saturday's walk at Hameldown, and then walked on to Brockhill Stream. The water ran high after the past few days bad weather. The Avon Dam Reservoir was at capacity, and the water piled over the dam.
We walked down the paved track to the bridge below Black Tor meeting many day trippers making the most of the great weather. Then we left the convoy and up to Shipley Tor. The temperature and the bracken were high and we were relieved to finally reach the summit of Dockwell Ridge.
The walk on the East side of this ridge is in stark contrast to that of the West. Rolling, lonely hillsides descending to plantations and farmland were our company for the second half of the day. Finall…

Saturday, October 2nd 2010

After yesterday's torrential rainfall, we took full advantage of the good weather on the moors today. We'd had plans to visit Hameldown for some time, and finally had the chance to go.

Starting at Firth Bridge, only slightly concerned about the patchy mist we set off towards Hookney Tor and then Grimspound. We shared the lay by with a few other walkers, but it seemed the foggy start had made many hesitate. Up to the trig point on Hameldown and down the ridge passing Broad, Single, Two Burrows and up to the summit of Hameldown Beacon to enjoy the sunshine which had descended on the day. Following the line of the Beech Hedge down before crossing the ridge and turning North near Old House Boundary Stone. We stopped to help a sheep stuck in a narrow trench atthe head of the valley below Broad Burrow and then continued on to Blue Jug and Grey Wether and the swollen Webbern River. The moors were sodden after the recent rains. The Rivers Plym and Dart which we had passed in the car firs…

Battle plans

The Dartmoor training areas are set for 10 years of dramatic change of use according to the latest draft of the MOD's Integrated Rural Management Plan.

"Soldiers are taught to be considerate of others with whom they share Dartmoor" the plan states, with maps expected to to be drawn up showing areas of high wildlife sensitivity, and then issued to the armed forces.

As part of the effort to minimise the threat of erosion, signficant deterioration in features and ensure the safety of populations of native species, there are plans to improve tracks and cut back bracken and shrub.

To reduce the visual impact of the military, many MOD features will be moved, or combined elsewhere. One of the priority tasks, the plan says, is to remove Yes Tor flagpole.

Others involve moving Great Mis Flagpole to below the skyline, and making Black Down Flagpole temporary.

Holming Beam is due for a renewal since the buildings are coming to the end of their useful life.

One thing is for cert…

Simply the best

The favourite haunt of WITC is without doubt the area of Watern Tor, Stone Tor and Kes Tor. We were delighted to take advantage of a window in the weather and return there on a recent walk.

Its a special place for us because of its unusual granite formations, its extensive views and its distance from WITC's home. I don't think we would be so fond of the place, if it were just down the road.

Parking below Kes, taking the grassy route towards Fernworthy forest before heading North across the Teign near Manga Rails. Up to Watern and the Thirlstone, which is amazing piece of geology up close, then descending to Scorhill Circle and down the road towards Gidleigh.

A track leads through the woods here, past Gidleigh Tor hidden in the trees, over the Teign again, and up to the car.

It was a successful letterbox walk too. 34 boxes found, and one first-in-a-book.

A WITC new series...

Who Is The Challenger is considering putting out a letterbox series. It has yet to be decided if this would be a walk in a single area, or series across the moor. It has also to be decided if this would be Word of Mouth or go straight to the updates.
In the meantime we have to think of a subject matter for the set... We don't want to repeat something that has already been done. Equally we want to make the set desirable and worth finding. Ideas we've had so far include:

Trigger Happy. A series of the trigged rocks of the moor.

Cave Dwellers. Celebrating all the caves on the moor.
A Year in the Life. As Dartmoor National Park Authority prepares to celebrate it's 60th anniversary in 2011, a stamp for every year with an occasion to remember.
Hare Round Beardown. The Beardown Tor's ridge is full of interest yet so rarely visited till now due to the lack of boxes.

Modern Classics. The Cranmere Pools of the 21st Century immortilised.

The 'Rocky Hollow' Picture Show. Nuff s…

"Better a bad day on the hill...

than a good day in the office" as the saying goes.
WITC tested this theory out last week in the Erme and Yealm valleys. With the haze thick enough to cut with a knife, and the boxes hard to come by, it was not a great day's letterboxing. We started, as ever, at New Waste. Its a useful starting place though the walk up Stalldown Barrow from there always is an unwelcome start to the day. Beyond Hillsons House comes the great view and walk down to Downings House where surprises are guaranteed. A chance encounter with a plump young fox which WITC flushed out from the deep grass.
North through unvisited territory of Bledge Brook and on to the Kiss-In-The-Ring stone circle. Also known as The Dancers. This is a part of the fascinating and unique past of Dartmoor. The stone row that runs North from here is said to be the longest prehistoric stone row in the world. Its more than 2 miles long, and is either Neolithic or Bronze age - so potentially up to 11000 years old.Turning for home, …

Stannon Tor

The 'foxy' series took us out to the Beehive Hut just off the East Dart recently, and we welcomed the opportunity to return to Stannon Tor and the Sheepfold.
The sheepfold is an astonishing structure. Though there are a few sheepfolds on the moor, the sheepfold below Stannon - otherwise known as the Scotch Sheepfold - is notable by it's sheer scale. It was built in the early 19th century and designed to be a sheep pen, with an occupied house also contained within its walls. We had extended our walk to Fernworthy, and were impressed by our own fitness to complete the 11 mile route.

WITC did the walk on a busy day, with 3 other letterboxers in the area. With the weather fine and 43 boxes found, it was smiles all round.