Friday, 30 January 2015

The lower Swincombe river

Flowing from the slopes of Eylesbarrow to a confluence with the West Dart – a distance no more than 4 miles – The short yet fascinating Swincombe river takes in many more features and far more history than its diminutive size would suggest.

It was the lower part of this river valley that I headed to on my most recent Dartmoor Letterboxing adventure. I started at the estate of Sherberton Farm. One of Dartmoor's oldest such properties. The weather was incredible; bright blue skies, not even the slightest hint of wind. I had the moor to myself, and perhaps this was due to the low temperature. All pools and bogs were frozen solid, with patches of snow visible on some higher slopes. I set off for Deep Swincombe. A fabulous combe off the river valley. Its steep sided and rocky, chocked full of tinners huts, workings and, so it transpired – snow. Letterboxes found required defrosting, or a thump to release it from an icy grip in the ground.

As I continued upstream, the concrete and brick structure of the Swincombe Intake Works came into view. Built in the early 20th century to provide water to Torbay, it was subject to a controversial planning application to extend it in the early 1980s, but alas it was refused, and the area now lies in private hands.

The track up to the works makes for a solid and easy route back to the car. Close to the Sherberton Estate, where a bridleway crosses the Swincombe river, the Fairy Bridge would normally be found. A bridge was originally installed here to aid mine workers cross the unpredictable river, where a ford already existed. Over the years the wooden structure had been replaced on more than one occasion. However, the National Park Authority removed the bridge last Autumn. A victim of last February's storms, the footbridge was condemned, and funding for a replacement is being sought.

I approached the car. The clouds were building, the ice was melting, and sensation in my extremities was recovering. I could reflect on a highly successful day.  9 boxes found.

Sunday, 11 January 2015


Another day, and another email arrives from a fellow Letterboxer who is reviewing their list of contacts.  The new year and the brisk wind blowing has put the group into the mood for Spring cleaning.  Or is it more than that?
As I said in my previous post, the spate of letterbox thefts has put boxers on the defensive, hence boxing friends and confidantes are under intense scrutiny.  
One card only...this will give you all who have worked them out a chance to collect the whole set because the thief IS one of you on my list of 161 boxers, or someone on your list... If things go well more walks will follow.  If not, this will be my last set.
                                                                   - Frustration evident in note on one Letterboxer's clue sheet

If, as some Letterboxers have found, word-of-mouth clues are sent out only for the boxes to swiftly go missing, it is hard to avoid the possibility that the criminal could be someone you trusted.  

A debate was sparked on the Geocaching site regarding the removal of litterboxes - unmaintained Letterboxes.  Indeed, a similar debate has raged on the Letterboxing forums too.  Yet when letterboxes which are clearly looked after, in reasonably good condition, with owner's detail inside begin to vanish, it seems far more sinister.  There are elements of the wider Dartmoor community that clearly oppose the hobby.  No boxer remains immune to the thefts.  My recent set lost a box though I assume it was stolen (and my contact details were inside).

Why the sudden housekeeping?  If the thief is among us, Letterboxers must urgently review who receives their clues.  Additional comments discouraging the passing on of WOM clues to friends have been added for years, though with limited effect.  Sending clues to those still known to be Letterboxing is a must, and the past few years have seen numbers of active Letterboxers ebb and flow,  Passing the clues to the must trusted and loyal contacts is perhaps the best route, making the hobby more exclusive and secretive than ever.

I'll finish by repeating what I said in my previous post to any potential Letterbox thieves reading my blog.  One day you will be found and face justice - theft is a crime.  Thieves will never succeed wiping out Dartmoor Letterboxing.