Monday, 21 November 2016

Northern exposure Part 2

Some Letterbox walks simply don't go as planned.  Take my latest, for example.  It has taken three attempts to complete my circuit of the 'track-formerly-know-as-the-Ring-Road', South of Okehampton Camp.  On each occasion I have parked at Hart Tor and the adjacent Observation Post.  I was time-bound on my first outing, and I only made it to Deep Ford.  My second attempt was thwarted by poor weather, Mist gave way to drizzle which gave way to heavy rain.  I barely made it to East Mill Tor.

Yesterday, however, on a cold, crisp morning, I tried again...

3rd time lucky...
Storm Angus, which struck the previous day was still running off the moor.  Water levels were high, but not extraordinary.  Deep Ford was not impassable.  Indeed, I saw some members of the public in a Land Rover ignore the warning signs, and drive around the military track negotiating this watery crossing of the East Okement with minimal concern.

I was determined to reach the highest point of the former Ring Road.  Observation Post (or OP) 15. I recall learning about this fabled spot through the visitor's book of the Letterbox in the Warren House Inn, way back in the early 1990s.  As novice Letterboxers, the family were eager to reach Cranmere Pool via the quickest and shortest path possible.  Parking at OP15 provided this path.  Today, it is over 3 miles on foot (unless you own a Land Rover and ignore rules) to reach this remote spot.  I had a number of Letterboxes to find up on the plateau.  However, it was other man-made objects which surprised and disappointed me on this occasion.

I am well used to finding abandoned (non-explosive) Military debris within all the ranges on the Moor.  Yet, never before have I seen it on such a scale as I did yesterday.  I counted 4 empty flare casings and 3 heaps of empty cartridge shells and clips on Okement Hill alone. 

I believe that before leaving a range, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) range wardens expect visiting army units to clear up and care for the environment.  I am aware that there has been no live firing in Okehampton range for over a week. Who knows how long this stuff has been out there!  In light of the advice of military notices everywhere ("DANGER Do not touch any military debris.  It may explode and kill you"), I didn't pack it up and remove it myself.  I tutted and left it behind.  In hindsight, I should have recorded the 10 figure grid reference and reported them to the Defence Infrastucture Organisation.  Its worth noting that the Dartmoor National Park Authority advice is to report finds of suspicious military material to the Devon & Cornwall Police non-emergency line.  The DNPA website lists the old Police number (switched off in September 2012), but the new number is 101, which works from mobile phones too.

I hope that MOD cutbacks are not impacting on their obligations to protect and care for Dartmoor's rugged, beautiful environment.  Perhaps, we'll see learn how tight the budget is in the latest minutes of the Dartmoor Steering Group.  This MOD focused party had their annual meeting at Okehampton Camp last Wednesday, and the meeting minutes are yet to be posted online as per their own rules. Rules, as we have learnt, are there to be broken.  Aren't they?

The sunshine faded away early.  The temperature plummeted, and I descended beside the Black-a-ven Brook and New Bridge, completed my circuit, and headed for home.  Mission achieved, and 21 boxes found.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Northern exposure Part 1

It has occurred that I haven't walked much since my declaration of love for Dartmoor Letterboxing in the Summer.  I sought to rectify this recently, with a commitment to visit some wild spots before the days became too short.  Walkham Head has become quite fashionable since the hobby of Dartmoor 365'ing has become a 'thing'.  John Hayward's 1991 book: 'Dartmoor 365' encouraged the exploration of each of Dartmoor's 365 square miles, providing a highlight, an item, a landmark or a story for every one.  The Dartmoor 365ing hobby has spawned a popular Facebook group.  It has also an associated game operated by Dartefacts.  Walkham Head Peat Pass is considered the only real highlight of grid square 57 81.  Indeed, there isn't too much else here.  Or is there??

Boots on, and Baggator bound, I made the familiar journey to west Dartmoor on a bright and breezy day.  I had many boxes to find on a circular walk out to Tavy Hole, and returning via Standon Hill.  After a long absence, even the long slog up to Lynch Tor was enjoyable!  From beside the flagpole, the views were as incredible as can be.  The absence of haze allowed for distant points of Cornwall to be visible.  Limsboro cairn is shrinking though.  According to, between 1979 and 2004, the diameter of this rock pile went from 22.5m to 14.3m.  I neglected to bring my tape measure, so cannot vouch for any further reduction.

Where have the rocks gone?  Are they sheltering Dartmoor Letterbox sites? Er, no.  Progress in locating my list of clues was steady but not amazing.  The Thief likes this tor.  Perhaps they were migrating to Ken's Cairn in nearby Black Lane.  Er, again, no.  As you'll see from the picture in my previous post.  It is growing but, not to that extent.

My walk took me East now to Turf House.  This curious series of banks and standing stone, all that remains of it.  I was surprised to find a box that lay unfound for 3 years.  Although, that I required all my skill and keys to dig it out of it's peaty hole, suggested otherwise.  The recent dry weather allowed for a direct walk across the usually boggy river head here to the peat pass.  The going was rough, but not tough.  This grid square, which John Hayward describes as "desolate" in "dreary weather", but "invigorating" in Summer sunshine, certainly resembled the latter today.  However after finding a few Letterboxes out here, I became acutely aware of the setting sun.

A warm glow fell upon the scene, which encouraged photography, but also quickened my step back towards the car.  I wanted to complete my 'circle' which involved the East bank of Baggator Brook and Standon Farm.  Suffice to say that I made it, and was back at the car just in time for sunset.

A cracking day all in all, with 21 boxes found, and the appetite for more Northern exposure well and truly whetted.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016


I was delighted to see that, earlier this month, my blog passed 50000 page views.  A significant milestone in the life of an insignificant collection of ramblings!  Many thanks to everyone who reads my blog, and for taking an interest in Dartmoor Letterboxing.  My blog was always a bit of a self indulgence: an opportunity to form a record for my future self, as well as sharing my experiences and journeys with the World.  It has helped me to remain motivated, and keen to explore more that the park has to offer.  In the cases of the MOD plans and Mires project, it has provided a platform to share my findings.  

The blog is also a bit of a legacy for the 'The Upland Trotters', a family personal stamp which might - at some later date - make a reappearance in the Dartmoor's Letterbox visitor books...

I put this idea out there inspired by another recent momentous milestone in the lives of our family.  Last week my wife gave birth to a happy and healthy baby boy!  Our first child, and the second Cornishman (that we know of!) in the Barber clan, after my late father, John.  This one too is a sure-fire born Letterboxer - if ever I've seen one!

We'll have to give it until the Spring, at least, before my wife lets me pack him into his little carrier and take him out on the Moors.  Then I can introduce him to the joys of searching peat banks and patches of clitter around lone trees.  The heights and the scrambles of the North Moor.  The thrill of first-in-books and fleeting glimpses of deer and fox.  I hope you'll join me - through this blog - on our journey.  Exciting paths lay ahead: I cannot wait!!

Wednesday, 2 November 2016