Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Datum with destiny?

WITC has long been aware of the Datum poles in Okehampton Army Range. We have a map circa 1995 with them plotted on. All 13 of them.

From Datum S near New Bridge in the North to Datum W on Black Ridge in the South. From Datum D close to the Red-a-ven Head to Datum L not far from Knack Mine.

Long ago, they had a letterbox series out for them, we searched for and found them too.

The triangular topped signs are evidently part of the Moor's extensive military history. However we cannot for the life of us remember what they were designed to do. The term 'datum' suggests they are out there for navigational reasons. Possibly for callibrating distance and direction of firing.

WITC does not believe that all 13 letter based posts remain on the moor. Datum D is falling to bits, and others have fallen over. There were probably 26 in the first place! They look in a poor state of repair, so go find them before they disappear.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Mist it

The Dartmoor mist is infamous. The mainstream media can hardly utter the word Dartmoor without mentioning its 'notorious' sudden fogs which can roll in and disorrientate even the experienced navigator.

They encourage all who venture into the park to be prepared for them, even if its a June day with a weather forecast of hot, dry and sunny. Take your map, compass, full waterproofs, and your wits about you, because that mist will turn up without any warning. One minute: perfect, next minute: nothing.

It was with wits and waterproofs about us that on a recent June day we went to Devils Tor. The forecast said hot, dry and sunny but by the time we reached Beardown Man we were fighting zero visibility. We saw the misty level from the car park, but continued anyway, after all, we aren't warned about walking into the fog, just of the fog descending on to us! Duh!

However, stumbling around in thick mist reminded us of our moral about rain, and the novelty soon wore off. We were on the verges of giving up, when something the media hadn't prepared us for happened. One minute: nothing. Next minute: perfect! The mist rose, the sun shone, and our walk wasn't ruined! Hooray!

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hooten Wheals & surrounds

Even in the 19th century - a century which saw extrordinary feats of engineering skill and tenacity - the Hexworthy Tin Mine stands out. Remote and desolate, Wheal Unity (Around Hooten Wheals), Ringleshutes and Hensroost Mines first recorded to produce tin in the mid 1200's. A water wheel was still standing as late as 1934. It was the American military, training on Dartmoor during WW2 who destroyed many of the structures which still stood.
Today, Hooten Wheels has visible stakes, pillars and crane bases. Only nature has taken back what was once hers, and rounded corners throughout the whole mine.
We took advantage of the recent good weather to head up the O'Brook and revisit these sites. It is impossible to imagine them as a living, breathing place of work. 45 men were employed there in 1908.

It was another successful walk for us. 38 boxes found. As a sign of the times, we found, at the head of Holne Moor Leat, the DNPA notice reminding the public of the £100 fine for obstructing the water supply or damming the brook. Hardly a money maker, and I'd love to find out if anyone has ever actually been fined £100 for this crime!

Thanks to Dr Tom Greeves for the neccessary information.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

How it all began

History was made on April 21st 1991, when whoisthechallenger took their first steps letterboxing. We had walked on Dartmoor once before, with a damp stroll near Avon Dam.

It was seen as a means of getting out as a family, with exercise and good value day out in mind that drew us to Dartmoor. A work colleague was a keen letterboxer and recommended it to us.

It was this colleague who provided us with a charity walk cluesheet, and, with folding mirror compass in hand and none of WITC dressed correctly, we set out over Barn Hill (as most people do when they start). It was embarrassment all round when another boxer told us to move when we had sat down for lunch in the hollow unexpectectly also containing one of the charity walk.

During the day, we found 5 unregistered boxes, which we didn't count since we thought it could not be counted towards our 100 club membership. One of WITC worked at the Treby Arms in Sparkwell, now closed, and this topped our day's total up to 11.

Laughable today - a walk around Heckwood and Pew Tors and only finding 11 boxes...

In the absence of a photocopier to put a copy of the map in our album, we hand drew a map - a method which lasted about a year. Registered numbers were written on the stamps, which we maintained until we found more word of mouth boxes than catalogue boxes. Arrows indicated where on the walk we found them, a method which survived about a month!

It was a simpler time, and its certain that there are more boxes on the moor now than then.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Wall, I never...

The Dartmoor newtake wall is an engineering masterpiece. Such is it's bold authority that beyond it, wild camping is permitted, and letterboxing is somehow ligitimised.

Whilst on a recent walk from Crockern Tor, around Broad Down, the quality and quantity of stone and skill involved with creating the walls was all too clear.

The Stinnions newtake is not of the highest quality you will find on the moor, but is still a wonder to behold. The time, effort and skill involved in building such a wall is stunning. Originally built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries with the assistance of crow bars and similar tools, it tended to deviate around the largest boulders if it couldn't incorporate them.

It was with these images of blood, sweat and toil of the landowners and 'wallers' of the past in our minds when we walked below Higher White Tor and saw a more modern explanation for the visible quality of the work...

Many thanks to Tim Sandles and for the neccesary information.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Gear and stuff

GPS may be the death of letterboxing. 10 figure grid references make letterboxing quick, convenient and... too easy? It might be cheating, and it aids the box thief, but the GPS is here to stay.

We haven't yet become letterboxing purists and cast aside our GPS in search of a simpler time. We get by with a beaten up (broken screened) Garmin Etrex H. That, alongside our Silva Expedition 54s have found our boxes for as long as we can remember.

We try to avoid the rain, but Sprayway and Paramo keep us dry and when the cold weather comes, we don our Canadian Mountain Equipment Co-op fleecies.
But its our boots which were treated this week. With a wash with soapy water, a warm up in the sun, and reproofing. The instructions say wash inside and out - as they are attacked by bacteria from the feet - and time to dry out. We probably don't treat our boots well enough, but the Goretex keeps going, and waterproof socks (in one of WITC's cases) will suffice. The boots will wear out before they give out!

We love the local outdoor stores and can't pass one without looking in at the latest gadgets. X-socks, and their 'breathing abilities', disposable handwarmers, Leki trekking poles...

What could we not do without on the moor? The latest edition laminated OS map. Essential.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The White Rajahs

In 2003, Sheepstor, its namesake tor and surrounding land went under the hammer in a Somerset auction, and apparently ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney showed an interest in bidding, since he already owns land on Exmoor...

We enjoyed the nice weather with a wander over Sheeps Tor, over to Hingston Hill and back along the shoreline of Burrator.

We started with a look around Sheepstor churchyard. Here lie the the princely rulers of the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946.

The 'White Rajahs', otherwise known as the Brooke family, who, as reward for efforts fighting piracy, received land on the island of Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei. After the Second World War, the Brooke brothers handed their independent kingdom over to the UK, who are still a protectorate of the state (now of Malaysia).

A complicated history, but the tombs of Sir James, Charles and Vyner Brooke - the White Rajahs happen to be in the peaceful graveyard at St Leonards Church in Sheepstor.

Sheeps Tor is a massive bulk, with awesome views, but a dull eastern flank around to the Narrator Brook, with only a visit to Outcombe Rocks to liven the walk. Onwards to Combeshead Tor with its graffiti on the Northern outcrop. WITC has seen littering and vandalism elsewhere, but does not believe graffiti exists on any other other tor on the moor like this.

Hingston Hill next, with its stone row and iconic lone tree. Then the descent to Down Tor, Middleworth Tor, Snapper Tor and Norsworthy Bridge and the walk past the unusual Burrator Arboretum on the way back to the car. Planted after the storm of 1987, its a mixture of trees set beside the road.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Cranmere at last

We finally made it on our planned letterbox walk to Cranmere Pool. The weather was perfect, the terrain was excellent and the route full of finds. A good day all round.

Starting at 8am at Scorhill Tor, we rushed around the Teign Turn, and up to Manga Rock. Ahead of schedule, we slowed on our amble up to Manga Cairn. A lone deer wandered across the hillside above, it stopped at precisely the same moment WITC did. Nobody moved. Then the deer headedtowards us. WITC reached for the


With the breeze in our faces, we hadn't alerted the animal, but after a few minutes, the deer spooked, and ran off towards Teignhead Farm. These rare encounters are magical.

After a morning snack, we made our first ever visit to Raspberry
Garden, which proved very fruitful!! Climbing over Whitehorse

Hill and descending to East Dart
Head. We found ourselves suddenly behind
schedule. So we made a bee-line for Cranmere.

Having met no one else up to this point on the walk, we were

surprised to find Cranmere Pool bustling. A geocacher who had walked up from Postbridge, a couple on holiday who had walked down from Belstone. The visitor's book in the main box showed that it had received daily visits despite the treks involved.

We returned via the Hanging Stone, Watern Tor and Will May's

House. We were not, as the plan had us, home in time for tea. We were home
after sunset.