Saturday, 29 May 2010

Bad habits die hard

The 14000 box benchmark is now very close. A few walks have left us just one good day's boxing from reaching the milestone.

However, impatience and anticipation had taken over. This sudden urgency neutralised the slightly iffy weather forecast for today.

Letterboxing in the rain - a brave or stupid idea? Unless it were for a first-in-book, we would normally just take a look out the window and, if it's tipping down, put the kettle on.

Once this morning's heavy rain had passed we genuinely believed we would get a few hours boxing in.

After lunch, the clouds were heavy and low, but we continued anyway.

We were not alone. The car park was full! We took huge comfort in this.

Bearings impossible, the GPS came into its own. However most of the clues on the list lacked GPS references and were reliant on paces and close bearings.

We put up with the heavy showers and thick fog for 4 hours before giving up.

Every piece of walking gear soaked through, only 7 boxes found, 2 of which were unexpected, and we are still 12 away from our target.
The moral of the story is don't letterbox in the rain - its just not worth it.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

'Mined' the gap

WITC only had chance for a short stroll in the last few days.
It was the first time in ages we've been on a walk where the box thief had evidently been at work, with at least 5 boxes off site. This meant we only had a measly 9 stamps to show for the day. It didn't even fill the page of our scrapbook.
Our route encompassed the area around Wheal Betsy, and we had never explored this National Trust property up close.
Its a fascinating mine, with a 71 year history from 1806 when it opened as a copper and lead mine, though it also yielded quantities of silver and arsenic from it's 900 metre deep shaft.
Originally, Wheal Betsy was a water powered operation, with water provided by the Tavy below Ger Tor, via the Reddaford leat. Then in 1868 the building which remains today was built to house the Cornish Beam pumping engine, and steam power took over.
The mine closed in 1877, and the National Trust acquired and made the ruin safe in 1967.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

They don't make them like they used to...

WITC was out on the moor last Winter whenever possible, even when icicles hung from our noses, and a layer of snow had to be swept from box sites. You can wrap up against the cold, after all, this is weather for which disposable handwarmers were designed for.

This weekend however, less than 3 weeks since hat and gloves were still required on Dartmoor, we experience the hottest days of the year so far. It reached 22.3C at Powder Mills near Postbridge on Friday according to the weather station at

It didn't feel like 22.3 at Avon Dam yesterday. It was sweltering out there. The heat haze wobbled the whole scene, every ascent left us bathed in sweat. We had to plunge our bare feet into Bala Brook to cool down (WITC does not subscribe to any Dartmoor skinny-dipping club)

Our route lead us past Black Tor and up to the West side of the reservoir then South West across Bala, Middle and Red Brooks up to Wacka Tor and back to Shipley Bridge via the most dangerous and inappropriate bridleway on the moor - otherwise known as Diamond Lane. Its a challenging scramble for humans, and I cannot imagine horses tackling this ancient byway.

We also refound a box we originally discovered in 2004. Dartmoor Rescue Group - Buckland (Registered box No.15789) Only found 3 times in 4 years! It was in perfect condition, the original book dry and legible, the stamp complete and undistorted. OK, so its in a (now outlawed) ammunition can. You only need to visit a few 'Curried Letterboxers' to see that stamps today don't last, and it doesn't matter if two pillpots are used and contents wrapped in plastic bags, the damp get in and turns book to mush and staples to rust within too long. It leaves WITC wondering what we can learn to make today's boxes more durable.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Double Dart

A small yet dramatic section of the Dart Valley was our destination this weekend. We had a couple of boxes to find at Luckey Tor, and its been many years since we've visited Sharp Tor. Starting at Dartmeet, we stayed close to the river, before aiming above the tree line as we headed around Vag Hill.

The hidden valley, the unexpected rock outcrops, the stunted trees and moss covered rocks. It might have been a busy day on the river bank, but up here it was deserted, and wonderful in the warm sun. Then down to Luckey Tor, where we saw an artist in action, painting the scene in the dappled shade.

Its one of the steepest slopes on the south moor climbing from the Dart up to Sharp Tor's summit, but the effort is certainly worth it, with it's short summit ridge offering spectacular views up and down the Double Dart. We searched, as we have done before, for registered box No.415 and again, without success.

We returned to Dartmeet via the summit of Vag Hill, and noted the sites of 2 recent fires on the way. One obviously arson, since it ran alongside the road with a ragged edge. The other looked more controlled, but had destroyed the location of one box we looked for.

Dartmeet on a Sunday isn't a place WITC typically enjoys, but we understand why it is such a popular spot. When, like us, you have such personal experiences of both and their individual courses, you see them as such different rivers and associate them with very different landscapes. The West with Wistmans Wood, the stepping stones below Dunnabridge and the wilderness below Wildbanks Hill. The East and its Waterfall, Kit Rocks or Postbridge Clapper. Its great to see the forces of West and East Darts combine.

With a little over 6 miles covered, and 21 boxes found, WITC is edging ever closer to 14000 boxes total. 154 to go.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Life on the edge

When the gloom descends, or the snow falls, gales blow in or when time is short, WITC heads to the boundary of the National Park. The places where granite and grazed moorland grass meet pasture, back garden and managed woodland.

There is always something to discover in these spots. Patches of access land enclosed by farmland are sometimes topped by a high spot from which you can enjoy Dartmoor from a new perspective.

Personal favourites are Blackingstone Rock and Meldon Hill in the far North-East, and Brent Tor near Mary Tavy.

Sometimes the gems are tucked in the valleys, out of the breeze, and since Dartmoor is mainly known for its big skies, it makes an interesting change. The Walkham around Grenofen, and North Teign above Murchington spring to mind.

Its been a week of these 'Edgemoors' for WITC. Seeking a few letterboxes hidden in the corners! At Hayne Down and Wigford Down. Wigford Down isn't especially photogenic, but Hayne Down boasts Bowerman's Nose, and we passed Jays Grave on our way.

On a completely different subject, one benefit the cold Winter has given Dartmoor, is a late bracken season. A wet Summer, and another cold Winter, and we might start winning the war against this horrible, invasive plant.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Be prepared...

This weekend saw the 50th anniversary Ten Tors event take place. Massive congratulations must go out to all the competitors and event organisers.

The weather was typically challenging, but the large percentage of the teams completing the route is testiment to the good training they received, and the effort they put in.

The 55 mile routes look especially daunting. One example: Hound Tor; Chat Tor; Beardown; Staple; Hartor; Trowlesworthy; Pupers Hill; Combestone Tor; Sittaford; Shilstone Tor.

Though, strictly speaking - thats only Nine Tors and a hill, we'll definetely forgive them!

WITC spent the weekend indoors, wrapped up against the cold, the wind, and the ash. It was also chance to plan some more of our routes, including a future trip to Cranmere Pool. The closure of the ring road has made this isolated landmark as remote a spot as anywhere in England.

Much as we like it to be a challenge to reach, as Mr Perrot intended it in the 1840s, we still seek the easiest route to get there.
Base camp will be at the car park behind Scorhill Tor. After the long ascent past Manga Rock, Advance base (lunch) will be on Whitehorse Hill . Before striking for Cranmere and returning via Taw Head and Watern and Rival Tor. We'll be home in time for tea!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Flying high

The near constant North-Easterly winds of the last month have been good news for one group of Dartmoor enthusiasts. The paragliders in Corn Hole, above Shelstone Tor. We have witnessed them here many times, and at Brat Tor also, when the Westerlies blow in. It looks like an amazing way to see the moor. It also gives them a birds eye view of letterboxing, as we realised this week.

Anyone who has done the Mercy Ships charity walk around the North end of Corn Ridge will be aware of the close proximity between the boxes, and how it strikes across the hillside towards Sourton Tors. This is paraglider territory (although a few of them did get carried up to a good altitude on the thermals and disappeared off over the ridge). Generally, they are silent, except for the barely audible beeps of their variometers. It is often their fast moving shadows casting on the hillside which make you aware of their presence.
Shelstone Tor gave us an opportunity to shelter from the breeze and from the gaze from above.
We had chosen to extend our walk to cover more of the West Okement Valley and finished the route with an impressive total of 45 stamps.

The cool wind had evidently discouraged many walkers from the valley, and since the ominous grey clouds did not produce any rain, we were delighted. On a quiet day in the area, I hope we kept the paragliders entertained, as they did us.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Keep away! Firing today!

Merrivale, Okehampton and Willsworthy. The three ranges of the Dartmoor Training Area. Last week WITC had the opportunity to skirt round the boundary of Willsworthy range whilst it was closed for live firing, and it gave us the opportunity to recall our encounters with military training on the moor.

The MOD uses roughly 13ooo of the National Parks 94400 hectare total for light exercises, as well as live ammunition training (when the flags are up) and firing with blanks (possible, when the flags are down).

Encounters with the forces when the flags are down, and ranges open, are normally limited to short walking convoys of blue waterproof-clad marines around Drivage Bottom, or TA tents on Ringmoor Down.

WITC has vivid recollections though of stepping over a regiment of Gurkhas lying flat in the peat hollows, linked by telephone wire awaiting some unknown invasion whilst we were letterboxing near Ockerton Court, which was a touch un-nerving.

Or the time when we joined, somewhat reluctantly, the defence of Great Mis Tor hut with a formation of armed, camouflaged troops, who, fortunately didn't stand in our way as we paced over and through their numbers to find our box.

Military training has taken place on Dartmoor since the early 1800s. It was used intensively by the allies during the Second World War, then theres the origins of Ten Tors, the anti-glider posts on Hameldown, the Route formerly known as the Ring Road, RAF Harrowbeer near Yelverton... Dartmoor and the military are close, and although the relationship seems a touch one sided, it appears its going to remain close for years to come.