Saturday, 20 January 2018

Challenge 12: ✔️ Achieved


Cranmere Pool and Duck's Pool. Two remote and wild locations. Two iconic and historic Letterboxes.

Established and endorsed by the establishment, marked on the maps. Maintained by Park Rangers and visited by "the masses".  Oh, and two woven badges are available - if you collect such things!

These two, sited some 85 years apart have come to symbolise the hobby for many people. A destination and a justification. A home in a far away land.

Perhaps it is no wonder that it is Cranmere Pool and Duck's Pool retain their lure on Letterboxers, walkers and other Moor users.  Reaching such mid-moor locations at any time of the year, especially midwinter, provides a target, a mission.  A challenge even.

Now, Cranmere Pool. There's somewhere I haven't been in some time...

This week, I carefully chose a weather window, between the snow and the ice and the gales, to visit the 'original' Dartmoor Letterbox.  I last visited here on New Year's Day 2012, on my way out to Fur Tor from Row Tor.  This destination was the subject of a couple of blog posts.  The walk (here), and my announcement (here) of it, proved to be my undoing as an anonymous blogger though...

I've subsequently visited Hangingstone Hill and OP15, but not ventured this far out until now.  I parked - as is now convention - at Row Tor, and walked the 5 miles or so up the former Ring Road to OP15 and followed tracks and boggy paths past Ockerton Court, down the peat pass, and up the West Okement river to the famous concrete and stone box.

The storm clouds brewed and stirred.  I dodged a few showers, and was pelted by others.  A wintery mix of sleet and cold rain in stong West-North West winds.  I was so determined to reach Cranmere Pool, that I was happy to suffer the worst of weathers.  I had a very short list of other boxes to find along the way.  As it happened I searched for none of them.  I only had one target in mind.  Reaching Cranmere would complete this challenge, and complete my year of challenges.  I had toyed with an idea early in 2017 of doing a Letterbox walk which encompassed Duck's Pool AND Cranmere Pool.  A pilgrimage if you will.  Although this never happened, these two independent trips in two weeks have made challenging Mid-Winter hikes in themselves.

The shallow depression at Cranmere Pool was dotted with icy ponds and snow gathered on all sides.  I ducked down in the shelter of the box to check out the contents, hoping beyond everything else that all parts were present and correct.  The visitor's book was replaced recently.  The stamps (both of them) were in good order too.  I was pleased with an entry on page 5 of the book, with the previous visitor (who merely initialed "D.K") checking in 3 days previously.  This is far from the hey-day of this Letterbox, when an average of 14 people visited every day.  I was only the second stamp carrying Letterboxer in the book, following 'Box Hunter' who - just as I did 6 years earlier - clocked in on New Years Day.

Curiously, I noticed a possible glaring error in the introduction to this new book.  It indicates that the Prince of Wales visited Cranmere in 1906, perhaps mislead by the WMN clippings stuck inside the 1906 book (as my blog detailed here). Yet I can find no evidence of George V, when as Prince of Wales, making this Dartmoor walk.

Normal rules don't apply at Cranmere, as at Duck's Pool.  I have these stamps already, and I have stamped the book several times in history, but I always repeat the process here.  Unlike any other letterboxes, this is standard practise here.  'Why?'  I pondered.  I packed up as quickly as possible, aware that the weather was due to worsen during the afternoon.  I put my head down and stomped back to Ockerton Court, and OP15 beyond.  I climbed in to the military shelter to add layers and have some refreshment out of the cold wind.

The long walk back to Row Tor down the metalled army track allowed me time to reflect on this final challenge.  I believe that most Letterboxers will make the journey at least once during their Letterboxing days to both these distant outposts.  I know many Letterboxers consider Duck's Pool and Cranmere Pool now out of reach - a walk too far.  Perhaps the aging Letterboxing population can no longer make up the majority of visitors, yet perhaps Duck's Pool and Cranmere Pool can help spark the imagination and enthusiasm of a next generation of Letterboxers.  The D of E'ers who scribble their names in the Duck's Pool book have real potential to be inspired to go Letterboxing.  Perhaps  "D.K." who visited Cranmere before me, could be encouraged to go home and have a personal stamp made.  The responsibility of these two Letterboxes is huge, but the responsibility of those who maintain and look after them is bigger.  Ensuring they are in good condition, that the books are replaced when full, that they are stored appropriately for future generations.  To quickly make repairs, replace missing stamps efficiently, and ensure details in the books - contact details, Letterbox history, how to get involved, etc) are informative, helpful and most of all correct.

These Letterboxes are our hobby's most formal ambassadors - elder statesmen, if you prefer.  We should treat them with respect, and they should reflect well on our hobby.  As I complete my year of  challenges I have grown to respect these boxes even more, and I promise that I will return again soon.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Long time, no see

Duck's Pool - there's somewhere I haven't been in a while.  This was a thought that went round my head at New Year.  As I was bedridden with flu, I was mulling over the walks I wanted to do, and boxes I wanted to find early in 2018.

This one was top of my list.  You will remember that in June last year, I discovered the location of Duck's Pool's visitor's books, and took time to study the first one from 1938.  I recall reading comments from members of the Archaeological Exploration Society who had made regular visits from their field trip base at Redlake Tip.  I remember the dedication shown by the Dobson Moormen (who first created the permanent William Crossing Memorial and Letterbox at the Pool) to visit and maintain the site.

Yet I had not been to Duck's Pool in nearly 10 years.  Time to return.

I parked below Gutter Tor, near the scout hut, which on the day of my visit was home to a large number of military reservists, who were being put through their paces around the compound.  The weather was cool, but their was no wind, no clouds, and hardly another soul on the Moor.  I set off in high spirits up the Eylesbarrow track.  I was pursued very slowly by a mountain biker, who was carefully picking a decent route up the rutted path.  **Note to BMC: This track could do with investment through that Mend the Mountains fund currently being raised for the Nuns Cross side of Eylesbarrow!

Once past boggy ground, I struck off towards the Hartor Tors and the Plym.  My first real destination of Letterboxing substance was Calveslake Tor, which is off the beaten path for many walks other than this one.  Calveslake Tor proved successful for Letterboxing as always.  Though I was soon on my way to Great Gnats Head - high on the hill above.  I revelled in the easy terrain and fast pace.  Once the summit was reached, I was up on the great South Plateau.  The generally featureless, peaty, boggy central expanse of the Southern Moor, including Nakers, Green, Skir and Crane Hills.  Plus the headwaters of the Plym, Erme, Avon and Swincombe.  I splashed across to Ducks Pool to find the area almost exactly as I recalled it in my mind.

I headed straight to the Crossing Memorial, where the original 1938 Letterbox is sited.  I was alarmed by what I found.  The box is on site, but the stamp was missing.  In the metal container was a word-of-mouth Letterbox originally sited in 1999. Activity in both visitor's books suggest both events occurred between May and July of 2017.

The overwhelming majority of visitors who left their mark in the original box's book (which has been on site since 2016) were day hikers, Duke of Edinburgh participants and Ten Tor'ers. The last visitor called in on December 6th. Some 5 weeks before me. This seems an extraordinary long time, even by Duck's Pool standards. I vowed to contact the custodian of Ducks Pool Letterbox on my return home.  I stamped the book myself, and continued my Letterboxing in and around the valley, but the sun was dipping low and thoughts turned towards my return home.

I aimed for Plym Head, then downstream to Plym Ford and the track that would lead me back to the car.  I found a few boxes at Crane Lake and Evil Combe as I passed by.  The sun setting ahead of me made for incredible photography and a very visual indication of how long I had to get to Gutter Tor car park.

My day out at had been successful as a Letterbox walk.  Ducks Pool was surprising due the state that it was in, although it should shortly be back up to standard.  As far as my walks go, it was the furthest I'd been in some months, which gives me confidence for forthcoming routes planned.

I urge everyone who can to (re)visit Ducks Pool, to make their mark in the book, and support the maintenance of part of our hobby's heritage.  Maybe the journey will surprise you too.