Monday, 9 October 2017

The Caves & Tunnels of Dartmoor

Just some of the stamps in the charity walk
'The Caves & Tunnels of Dartmoor' is the title of my latest Letterboxing project: a Charity Walk sited this month, and out on the Moor until the end of March 2018.

A 4-mile route in the spectacular Upper Lyd Valley
I have never sited a charity Letterbox walk, so the whole experience so far has been fascinating.  Let me explain.  I had a desire to do some good.  To raise some cash for a charity which does work on Dartmoor.  I had an idea for a set of interesting boxes.  I have a passion for the environment and conservation.  It seemed obvious to choose a wildlife charity, and Mid Devon Bat Rescue - based near North Tawton - stood out.  This charity is run by volunteers, helping lost, injured or orphaned bats.  It's large enough to care for a significant proportion of Dartmoor (a line from about Tavistock to Newton Abbot northwards in fact) yet small enough that funds raised by a charity walk will make a real, tangible difference.

The final box of the walk, also containing a visitor's book
My caves and tunnels themed stamps were suitably appropriate.  Kari, who runs the charity was on board with the idea, and so it has happened!

The boxes are sited in the Lyd Valley.  Chosen for various reasons not least because it is a stunning place to go Letterboxing in the off-season.  There are 14 boxes in the walk plus a complementary with the cluesheet.

If you would like a copy of the clues, they cost £2.50 of which all proceeds go to Mid Devon Bat Rescue.  The boxes are on the Moor now, and will be there until next Spring.  

For a copy, please post a cheque for £2.50 made payable to 'Kari Bettoney'  plus a stamped-addressed-envelope to whoisthechallenger.  Email me (see below) for my address.

Any problems or queries, please email me: whoisthechallenger@rocketmail.com

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Challenge 8: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 8: COMPLETE A 2-DAY LETTERBOX EXPEDITION

Wow.  Where do I start with this one?  I really wanted to do this challenge.  It might even have been the first one I came up with.  It has taken a great deal of thought and planning as I had many things to consider:

Personal circumstances.  I have a busy job, with a busy home life, and I'd need to have 2 consecutive days to spare, considering my family's needs too.  When I put the idea to my wife she joked that I'd probably have the best night's sleep in months.

Plans.  It needed to work with the other pre-planned events and challenges, which kinda set a schedule.

External factors.  I needed decent weather and good health on my side.

Once these were dealt with, I needed to decide where to go and where to camp.  For a long time I'd planned to plonk my tent on the summit of Belstone Tor, and spend 2 solid days scouring the slopes finding as much as possible.  I concluded that this was a bit dull.  I considered the Perambulation walk, as I've never done it.  But thats 50 miles of walking, and I'm not sure I'd have time (or energy) to Letterbox!  As Autumn clumsily stumbled in, my plan changed to a trans-moor walk, camping at the Plume of Feathers in Princetown, and the cosy amenities this provided.  However, the transport issues proved tricky.  So I settled on a long distance circular route encompassing unvisited corners, typically overlooked on my day-walks.  This inevitably meant the seemingly inaccessible West side of the River Erme.

I have a hotch-potch of camping gear gathered over time, neatly stored away ready for Armageddon to strike.  With the simple addition of food and fuel, I was packed in no time.  The camping element of this challenge, it seemed, was far easier to prepare for than the Letterboxing element.  I had a route in mind, with an endless list of generally older Letterboxes to search for.  Since the New Waste car park's closure, the Erme valley lacks visitors.  I was prepared for boxes grown in, deteriorated, missing perhaps.  I was not expecting chance finds.  I was expecting pathless terrain through long grass, and a headwind.  To be honest, I saw this as a wild camp in every respect, and a Letterbox expedition unlike any other.

I wasn't disappointed either!

I last wild camped on Dartmoor 18 years ago, in a bivvy-bag at Fur Tor.  Five years before that, I had a 3 night adventure with schoolfriends as we cycled (mainly pushed) our way from OP15 to Ivybridge across the Moor.  I distinctly remember camping out at Teignhead Clapper, Deep Swincombe and Phillpott's Cave.  I may be out of practice, but I knew what to expect.

Carrying Junior Challenger last month was a useful exercise in handling a heavy, unwieldy backpack.  I saw a window of good weather in the same week that Storm Aileen hit the UK.  Aware that it would be sodden underfoot, and the Erme would be running high, I packed accordingly (extra, extra socks).  I wanted to test a potential new - albeit no quicker -  route up to Stalldown.  Parking opposite Harford Church, it involved crossing the road bridge over the river, and using access land to pass Tristis Rock and trekking due North towards Hillson's House.  I was ready.

Day 1.
Starting at lunchtime meant I could avoid packing even more food, and start walking on a full stomach.  The wind was gusty, the clouds were often dark, but the sun was out, and I was confident I'd get to the head of a stream to strike camp.  I'd hoped it to be Red Lake, but saw it more likely to be Hortonsford Brook.  Head of a stream for two reasons: a nearby source of fresh water, and a nearby hilltop for mobile signal to call home with news of my success.

I found the first Letterbox with minimal drama.  I was the first visitor in 3 years though, which confirmed everything I suspected about how this walk would pan out.  I failed to find another Letterbox until dusk, when shadows were lengthening, and my mind was more on cooking dinner than compass bearings.  I'd taken a direct route off Stalldown Barrow to Downings House Brook.  

The strength of the wind had persuaded me to take a route up the riverbank rather than across Stall Moor to the Bledge Brook.  This mazy, miry, moorland watercourse would be followed from foot to source, before crossing over the divide to the neighbouring Hortonsford Bottom.  Here, I settled on a site for the tent - not far from the rain gauge.  I'd use it as base camp for the few Boxes I had to find around Langcombe Head and surrounds.

Pitched and unpacked, I got the stove going for a cup of tea.  From the doorway of my tent, I looked East spying Ryders Hill and Huntingdon Warren on the horizon beyond Redlake Tip.  Main course at dinner was a Wayfarer meal.  If you are unfamiliar with these ration kits - imagine NASA space food.  The packet says "Can be eaten hot or cold".  I chose hot for my vegetable curry and rice.  Remove price label, place in boiling water for 4-7 minutes.  Cool for 1 minute.  Eat.  It's wholesome, unfussy, glamour-free nutrition.  Its also quite a small portion, so buy two, is my advice.

Sat in the tent at dusk, watching a rainbow move into the view and contemplating the rain laden clouds on their way, I considered the fact that I hadn't seen anyone on the Moor all day, except for a cyclist in Harford.  I enjoyed the solitude at this remote spot.

I fell asleep just after sunset, to the sound of rain on the tent flysheet.  I did indeed have the best nights sleep in months.  At 6am, as it started to get light, I emerged warm and dry from my sleeping bag, aware that the Moor outside was far from warm and dry.  It was crystal clear though, with not a cloud in the sky.

Day 2
Breakfast was fruit and tea, which I had the pleasure of taking with me Letterboxing down the valley.  Giving the tent as much time as possible to dry off before packing it away.  Finally, I could wait no more, so I packed up and headed for the river.  After a week of rain or showers, I had to walk up to Blacklane Brook Foot to find somewhere suitable to cross.  This far upstream was not on my clue sheet, so I swiftly walked down the true left bank to Red Lake Foot, and commenced Letterboxing in earnest.  Day 2's clue list was far longer than Day 1's.  I took a direct path from the confluence towards Erme Pound, then on to Hook Lake.


Again, I was all to aware of the unvisited nature of this valley by how dense the undergrowth is here.  It was difficult to locate even a horse track through the thick grass to follow.  After Hook Lake, I made the quick ascent of the hill to the (misnamed) Redlake Tramway.  It was definitely only steam trains which shuttled up and down this route once upon a time.

My 5 hours of glorious weather ended at this point.  Clouds had been building from the North for some time, but a sudden hailstorm chased me down the track to Leftlake.  I sheltered from the pelting under the bridge.  It was a lengthy storm, and confirmed my thoughts that the Letterboxing was all but over, and lunch at the car was calling.

The sun did make another appearance behind the shower.  By this point, I was on the slopes of Three Barrows - a hill I haven't visited since 2011.  The view from the summit bringing the summits of the South East moor closer to the expedition: Eastern White Barrow and Pupers.  I was able to find a couple of boxes up here, but I was on my way before long towards Piles Hill, and it was here that I met the only person I'd seen since the previous morning.  This walker was later joined by a couple of cyclists, then a couple more walkers all following the Redlake Railway into the Moor.  My tent was safely under the rucksack cover, so no comments were made about my 'camp in the rain'.

At Spurrell's Cross, I considered my next move - off the moor at Harford Moor Gate or a last box at Tor Rocks.  Then, out of nowhere, a roll of thunder from around the Yealm Head area.  With that, I ran.  The rain followed shortly after.  Heavy constant rain, but my concern was for the thunderstorm, so I'd ran for the trees around the Butter Brook Reservoir.  Some shelter, and being the lowest point in the area, some protection if lightning came my way.  It didn't, so I took my chance to leave the Moor quietly with no further boxes found.

Overall, I am delighted with the way the expedition went.  I'm chuffed with my efforts, since I must have walked about 20 miles in all, in places I don't often see, and it was a rare camping trip for me.  I found 9 boxes, which I only consider to be a negative for the valley, and it's neglected status within the hobby.  I am actually pleased that I found that many, taking into account the terrain and inclement conditions!

It was a unique, solo adventure, which I might never have the chance to repeat, though I hope one day I will.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Rumbling on

Yennadon Quarry from Yennadon Down
The longest running saga in Dartmoor planning rumbles on.  No - I'm not talking about the eviction battle at Steward Community Woodland.  I'm talking about Yennadon Quarry, on the outskirts of Dousland near Burrator, and their intentions to expand.

If you've seen this quarry in the past decade, you'll appreciate how the boundary pushes hard against the surrounding fence, providing livestock, dog-walkers and Letterboxers alike airy cliff-edge views deep into the workings from Yennadon Down.  As early as June 2008, the quarry operators have been investigating - through official channels - the potential for expansion.  Their intention is to expand North, increasing the size of the quarry by roughly a third.  Opposition to the plan cite concerns regarding, amongst other things, the increased noise levels, traffic, dust, plus the impacts on local ecology, common land, and water run off.   Up until now, committee rejections, conditions applied, repeated delays and red tape have have frustrated the quarry owner's efforts.  Local residents and Dartmoor organisations have been polarised on the issue.  The Dartmoor Preservation Association object to the plan, whilst the Dartmoor Society broadly support it.  Proponents point at increased local employment, and the sustainable extraction of a useful, desirable and ancient resource: Dartmoor granite.
Peek Hill from Yennadon Down

The expansion plan was initially refused by the National Park Authority in 2014.  Amended, with conditions applied, it was resubmitted in 2015.  Planning Officers recommended that it be refused again, due to the "unacceptable impacts on Dartmoor's special qualities" including landscape and tranquility.  However, the Authority never got to formally consider the new application since the late arrival of some documents delayed the decision in December 2015, then again in February 2016, and it then failed to reappear at May's meeting as all had hoped.

18 more months have come and gone.  So much time has now passed, local development criteria has changed, quarry precedents elsewhere have been set, and earlier conditions have been revisited by different planning staff.  So, the Planning Officer's recommendation has been changed from 'Reject' to 'Approve'.  The refreshed application finally made it back to the DNPA Development Committee's meeting in July this year, only for the complex legalities of the planning process to thwart progress yet again.  This time, written advice from a QC had been received late in the day before the meeting, and Planning Officers had not had time to reflect on this.  The earliest opportunity for the plans to be reconsidered is now October.  Frustration for the quarry operators and local residents.  More 'ball kicking' from the authorities and legal teams.  It rumbles on.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Challenge 7: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 7: INTRODUCE SOMEONE NEW TO LETTERBOXING

As you probably know - or guessed - I generally Letterbox alone.  This month's challenge, however, meant getting someone out on Dartmoor, Letterboxing with me, in a Letterboxing lesson of sorts.  I selected someone very close to me to take on their first Letterboxing trip. I'm confident they'll become regular Letterboxers, and I'll do all I can to support that.

Who was this newbie? My 9 month old son, obviously!

I wanted to make sure it was a day to remember - not forget, so a day of decent weather and not too far from the car was chosen.  A route of 3 miles seemed right.  A comprehensive picnic lunch was packed, as was clothing for all seasons too.  There was even some space left over for ink pads and postcards!


We went to King's Tor and Swelltor, parking at Yellowmeade Farm.  This was a novel experience for me. Junior Challenger was comfortable in his Littlelife backpack, and I was comfortable carrying him, but Letterboxing can be a funny business of crouching and ducking and stretching and crawling. None of which are easy with a top-heavy baby carrier!  Stream crossing too, was unexpectedly tricky.  These things must be considered in future trips.  Time to invest in a walking pole, perhaps?!?

I was 11 years old when I started Letterboxing. I don't think I walked on Dartmoor before my 10th birthday.  I wish I could pass on my lifetime of knowledge and experience.  Formed through personal and shared events, occurrences and encounters.  These escapades are impossible to pass on, and so a new lifetime of memorable walks and weekends need to be formed.

Our short walk passed Yellowmeade Farm and Foggintor before climbing up to the back-o'Swelltor.  A perhaps ambitious, though entirely flexible, series of clues lead us across to Kings Tor, then down to the railway bridge, and following the old track along past Little Kings Tor and crossing the stream below Four Winds and returning to the car.

That was the plan at least!  Junior Challenger slept until the midway point of the walk.  He was awoken at the first Letterbox - a seminal moment in his life!  Let it always be known that it was called 'The Dodo Birthday Box'.  However, junior had little time for bearings and clues, and a great appetite.  So we settled among the outcrops of Kings Tor for lunch.  My shoulders welcomed the break too.  Alas all food carried in was carried out, just in another form.

The walk was cut short as the wind picked up, and clouds built.  There is plenty of time to instill the 'JOM' mentality:  At some point, every Letterboxer surely considers there is time for 'Just One More' box.  On this occasion though, we headed straight for Four Winds, which on this day, was packed with holidaymakers and walkers.  A short walk up the hill returned us to the car.

Junior Challenger charmed some fellow hill-walkers, who were impressed by his carrier and Letterboxing enthusiasm.  In actual fact, Junior appeared more fascinated by the nearby sheep than the hobby which took him to this point.  More interested in the long swaying grass, than the inspiring views of the Moor.  More engrossed in the insides of his rucksack than the significance of the day.  That's kids, they say.  Don't expect it to change anytime soon, they say.


That all said, I can confidently state Jnr's shirt has it right.  "Let the Adventure Begin"!  7 Letterboxes found.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Sell, sell, sell

It might be coincidence, it might be intentional, it might be something in the water, but Postbridge businesses are suddenly up for sale, WITC notes.

The East Dart Hotel, the Post Office Stores and Beechwood B&B are all up for sale currently, and the village seems ripe for investors.  The East Dart Hotel has 14 bedrooms, bar and restaurant (and a Letterbox).  It is a substantial property, and yours for £425,000.

The Post Office Stores - popular with locals and visitors alike - comes with the 4 bedroomed house next door.  It has been owned as the family business of Annie & Gerald Smerdon for 17 years.  I don't know why they are moving on, but you can take on this busy establishment for £340,000.

Beechwood B&B gets a 5-star 'Excellent' rating at Tripadvisor.com.  Its a 7 bedroomed, 19th century house, with grounds "incorporating a feature pond with waterfall and views to the front over Higher and Lower White Tor", which sounds delightful and is my personal choice at £350,000. 

All three properties are Leasehold, with annual rent payable to the Duchy of Cornwall, so bear this in mind.

So any budding Peter de Savery's out there, get your skates on, and head to Postbridge!

Friday, 28 July 2017

Challenge 6: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 6: PUT OUT A NEW SERIES OF LETTERBOXES

Halfway through my year of Letterboxing challenges already!

I haven't sited a new set of Letterboxes in 2 years!  A rather poor show for an active Letterboxer such as myself.  2016 was packed full of horticulture training, which was all-consuming.  2017 has been about fatherhood, which is no less engrossing!

Anyway, this isn't a time for excuses.  Here is a second (and probably final) series of The Heights of Summer.  In 2013, I put the first set out around High Willhays and Yes Tor.  This time, I've headed down to Southern Dartmoor's highest ground.  This is a kinda circular route up to the highest peak in the area - Ryder's Hill.  The boxes will be out until the end of the year, and any missing boxes will not be replaced.

Sandy Way 68 69 Box plugged in NE facing bank of gully/track, just beneath a gorse bush, 4p on 247˚ from dead (albeit standing) 10ft tree. FROM THIS TREE: Beacon 056˚ A living tree nearby 102˚ Lone rock in line with cairn on skyline 197˚ A well worn path crosses the gully 9p downhill.

Mardle Head 66 69 Tri-trunked hawthorn 049˚ and 18p away. Lone tree 066.5˚ Boundary stone at ford 125˚ Centre of obvious large rock in bank 217.5˚ Box under pvcr, in light clitter. Site faces SE.

Rounders Hole 66 69 Boundary stone 085˚ and approx 85p away! Centre of cairn on skyline 017.5˚ Lone tree 069˚ RHE of RH peat bank in gully 153˚ Box plugged in top of grassy tussock, 8p away from top of N bank of deep gully.

Petre’s Bound Stone 65 69 Top of subject just vis 080˚ and approx 187p away. Cairn 170˚ Tip 210.5˚ Box plugged in very low N facing mossy/grassy bank, opposite (2p away) from more prominent W/E running grassy turf tie.

Ryder’s Hill Summit 65 69 Trig 107˚ and 130p away. Box about halfway up N facing bank of reedy hollow. Behind a small rock in nat hole. Hedge 028˚ Tip 211˚ Mast 303˚

Ringleshutes Mine 67 69 Highest point of mine workings 324˚ LHS of dam 039˚ Boundary stone on skyline 145˚ Box at top of S bank of gully, plugged on top of W end of 7ft peat bank, 1ft back.

Holne Town Gutter 68 70  From bridge over leat, walk approx 80 prickly paces on 335˚ to a ragged hawthorn in a small gully. Box 3p away on 255˚ from this tree, tucked under N’ly point of embedded boulder. Beacon 058˚ Road just vis thru branches 100˚ Largest gorse in green patch 226.5˚ (Contains visitors book)

Any problems, please email me: whoisthechallenger@rocketmail.com

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Visitors books - Revisited


In my previous post I mentioned that the Plymouth & West Devon Records Office held far more than just Cranmere Pool visitors books.  Ducks Pool, Fur Tor and Crow Tor books are stored at the office.  There may be even more that I haven't identified.  I requested to see some noteworthy books from each of these Letterboxes.

Here are some details of what I found:


Ducks Pool

"William Crossing Memorial.  By kind permission of the Duchy of Cornwall, for use in conjunction with the above [stamp], this book has been placed here for the signatures of visitors by Dobson's Moormen. [23rd] October 1938"


Located under a giant rock at the head of a tributary of the Blacklane Brook, Ducks Pool is another permanent fixture on the Moor, and place of pilgrimage for many Letterboxers.

I had requested to view the first visitors book, placed in the box by the 10 named Moormen. Ducks Pool received regular visits - especially from the Moormen themselves, but this hardbacked book remained on site for almost 14 years.  It bears witness to a dramatic time in history.  For instance, after the outbreak of War, it was 9 days before the first visitor signed in, adding "peace and solitude" to their name.  Two days after VE day, a "Victory walk" was recorded in the book.

Sylvia Sayer, Chairwoman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association - advocate of conserving Dartmoor's heritage with an ambivalent attitude to Letterboxing - wrote in the book in 1951:
"Perfect weather.   Very pleasant to find Ducks Pool so beautiful and unspoilt - we hope that all who visit Ducks Pool will join the Dartmoor Preservation Association."
Many wrote that Ducks Pool reminded them of the long trek out to Cranmere.  Although, generally, visitors welcomed and duly noted the quiet isolation at Ducks Pool, in comparison to the rowdy Northern neighbour at Cranmere Pool. A grid was drawn up at the back of the first visitors book, indicating that Ducks Pool Letterbox had been on site for about 5045 days, with 2994 visits recorded.  That equates to around 4 visits per week.


Fur Tor

Again, the first available book for - the now missing - Fur Tor Letterbox was requested.  This book covered the years 1957-1959.  This box was sited in the cave on the main outcrop.  Registered with the 100 Club as Box No.19, it had been on site for 8 years, although this particular visitors book was showing it's age.  It had been removed (and replaced) by Captain John Joyner - Adventure Training Officer of the Junior Leaders Regiment of the Royal Corps of Signals - in September 1959.  We know this because a letter detailing as much was included in the Records Office archive.

A group of regiment captains, Junior leaders and some Norweigan apprentices carried out this mission and returned the "battered remains" of the old visitor book to Plymouth City Library "in accordance with the directions written upon it".

Capt Joyner initially sought to replace the stamp, which was missing on his first visit.  It was replaced by someone else whilst he was organising his renovation, so there was a time when there were two stamps in the box.  The old visitors book, lacking a front cover, and several of it's early pages was "in such a state that it would not have survived the Winter".  The state of disrepair that this box suffered, the missing stamp, and the informal ownership suggest that Fur Tor Letterbox differs greatly from Cranmere and Ducks Pool's more ordered existence.

The theft of stamps attracted some comments in the book.  On Saturday, August 16th, 1958, a group from Exeter University (1927-31) signed in.  They wrote: 
"The Cranmere stamp and the Fur Tor stamp both missing for the first time for about 20 years.  A THIEF!!  Kindly replace both stamps for our pleasure.
  The Fur Tor stamp was idly imprinted just once in the book (that I saw), although the image has been partially ripped out, suggesting a visitor sought a copy.

The Letterbox thief was active in the 50's too, as was frustration about their activities.  The 'Queen of the Moor' deserves a permanent Letterbox, and it is a shame that this original box no longer survives, deleted, as it was, from the Catalogue in 1993.

Captain Joyner would later become Major Joyner.  He and Lt Col Lionel Gregory (who wrote the letter featured above) were the partnership widely recognised for establishing the Ten Tors expedition.  Joyner was the 'architect', who designed the routes and checkpoint procedure.  As the regiment's commanding officer, Gregory was Chief Controller of the first Ten Tors in September 1960 (when Cranmere Pool was one of the checkpoints!)

Read more about the beginnings of Ten Tors here.  Lt Col Gregory MBE passed away in 2014.  Read his fascinating obituary here.

Crow Tor

Finally, a mystery.  Crow Tor No.1 (Registered Box No.23) was sited on the Tor itself in 1962. As with Fur Tor, this box has long gone. Visitors books for this Letterbox are definitely stored at Plymouth Record Office from 1962 to 1977. Then there is a gap of 6 years.  Curiously, a single extra, incomplete book from 1983 exists, which I requested to see.  It wasn't anything like I expected.

The quality of the hardbound book - with "Crow Tor Visitors" imprinted on the front, suggests a long established Letterbox, but the book covered just a few days - between July 14th and 16th - and the method of recording visits was simply visitor name, arrival time and departure time.  Judging by the length of stay - typically 6 hours - the group departures, and the repeated names, something odd happened here then, and probably not a Letterboxing trip...

If you can shed any light on this Crow Tor visitor book, please let me know via comments!

YOU CAN VISIT THE RECORDS OFFICE TOO!

Log on http://web.plymouth.gov.uk/archivescatalogue and search for "Cranmere Pool", "Ducks Pool, "Fur Tor" or "Crow Tor".

You must arrange to visit in advance.  Email the Records office (pwdro@plymouth.gov.uk) with the archive numbers of items you wish to view.  Don't worry - you can request to see more when you get there!  Be sensible: there are hundreds of books stored here!  Note their opening hours.

Take £5 in cash if you wish to photograph any item, as a charge applies for unlimited photgraphy, and cards are not accepted.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Challenge 5: ✔️ Achieved

Challenge 5: TRACK DOWN CRANMERE POOL'S HISTORIC VISITOR BOOKS

I'm not one to refuse a long Letterbox walk, but I rarely seem to spend time collecting stamps indoors.  Yet, as we know, Letterboxing is so much more than stamps.  Take visitors books, for instance.  These little volumes of history and heritage: and how Letterboxing began in the eyes of James Perrott in 1854 of course.  So I went in search of visitors books indoors this month, and boy - did I find some crackers!

I had a hunch that when Cranmere Pool's books were full, they were sent to Plymouth for storage.  I called Plymouth Museum many years ago, believing they were held there, but was politely told I was misinformed.  However, a chance look at the Records Office catalogue a few weeks ago and - low and behold - visitor books galore!  Not just Cranmere Pool (Registered Box No.12) books either.  Ducks Pool (Reg'd No.35), Fur Tor (No.19) and Crow Tor No.1 (No.23) are available in Plymouth Records Office too. I requested permission to access the archive, selected a view choice books to view and I, er... visited!

Cranmere Pool

"This book and the zinc box in which it is enclosed, placed here by permission of the Duchy Authorities have been provided by two lovers of the Moor for the use of visitors to the Pool.  It is hoped they will record their names and impressions in the book and so make it of interest to those who come after them"...."Postcards or letters left in the box will be posted by the next caller who will please write on them the date at which he takes them away."
Introduction to Cranmere Pool visitors book, 1905 

The 'Original' Letterbox.  Visitor books are available from 1905 until 2012.  Where more recent books are, I have no idea.  I requested a look at the first book, and one from 1921 - a notable year in Cranmere's distinguished history.

One of the first visitors in the first available book (dated April 8th 1905) simply wrote "Moriarty" - one for 'Sherlock' fans out there...  Though the first message was on the next day from a visitor from Dublin, who sheds light on the distance and conditions in which the approach was made, typical of the Edwardian era, I suppose.

"From Lane End via Amicombe and Kneeset Mine. Weather: mist and dense fog at times... Rather wet"

I think we can all imagine how joyous that early Spring walk must have been!  The Letterbox has visitors from all round the UK and the globe (I noticed 'America' recorded more than once).  Perrott's legacy was well known.

The last visitor in this book dated it in September 1906 (which for the record, pre-dates the first aeroplane flight in Europe).  A hand-drawn table concludes the book, showing that during it's 18 month stint on the Moor, 7470 people checked in.  Averaged out, that is 14 every day.  Far busier than I'd have expected!

Stuck inside the front cover of this 1905 book is an intriguing pair of undated newspaper cuttings concerning Cranmere Pool Letterbox.  They actually come from the Western Morning News some 16 years later, in May 1921.  It was that year's visitor book that I requested to view - the only incomplete book in the Record Office collection.  It was in this month, that the heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, along with hosts, guides and press entourage, visited Cranmere Pool.


The first WMN cutting refers to the original 1921 visitor book being unexpectedly removed (perhaps predictably?) from the Moor.  The Prince had made the "long and tiring tramp" to the Box and had requested the book remain on the Moor, whilst Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey (the Prince's comptroller and Treasurer) who accompanied the royal visitor, requested that "no one would remove the page which the Prince had autographed and dated", and repeats this request in the visitor's book itself.

The second cutting informs the readership that the visitors book had not been stolen, and was in safe hands.  Mr Heath, a Plymouth solicitor, is named as the man responsible for Cranmere Pool.  It's upkeep supported by supscription.  Heath makes it clear that it wasn't him who removed the book (which I learnt from the visitor's books final entry, was done by a gentleman from Okehampton) requesting it to be forwarded to Plymouth Library, where "all the visitors books, as they are filled in are sent to for inspection".  I suddenly learnt the origin of my misguided belief regarding the museum.

The visitor's book containing Edward's (later Edward VIII before then abdicating) autograph is in remarkable condition.  The page in question is well thumbed but intact.  Sir Lionel signs the same page in May 19th 1921, along with Duchy Keeper of the Records: James (Jim) Endacott, Sir Walter Peacock and Raleigh Phillpotts (of peat pass fame), whilst on the subsequent page, hacks from the Press Association, Daily Telegraph, TImes of London and two from Western Morning News sign in, one of whom seems brimming with pride to write:

"The only man to photograph his Highness at Cranmere on 19/05/21"

It must have been an exciting day to be at the head of the West Okement.  Perhaps as much as seeing this history with my own eyes!


Fast forward now, to the very beginnings of popular and mainstream Letterboxing.  The birth of the 100 Club; The dawn of personal stamps.  I opened the visitors book from 1983.  It is rare - if not impossible to see such pristine "old" visitor books, and perhaps what struck me most was how familiar they are.  Over 30 years have passed, and the ways in which we use (perhaps abuse) visitor books is unchanged.  I read again the introductory paragraph from Cranmere c.1905, repeated above.  A far more elegant and genteel pastime, lost forever it seems.

This book is packed with the scribbles, stamps and signatures of various Cranmere pilgrims.  Many still familiar stamps appear: The Hand Of Man, Brixham Grasshopper, Dartmoor Bounders, Diptford Letterbox Hound (Godfrey Swinscow), Steelman amongst many others make several appearances, suggesting this wasn't an annual trip.  Countless North Dartmoor Passport Holders make their mark!  Including No.1 - which I don't recall seeing anywhere else.

It was a hugely rewarding day in the centre of Plymouth - which didn't end there.  I was thrilled to see all the books, and piece together a classic bit of the Dartmoor Letterboxing story.

YOU CAN VISIT THE RECORDS OFFICE TOO!

Log on http://web.plymouth.gov.uk/archivescatalogue and search for "Cranmere Pool", "Ducks Pool, "Fur Tor" or "Crow Tor".

You must arrange to visit in advance.  Email the Records office (pwdro@plymouth.gov.uk) with the archive numbers of items you wish to view.  Don't worry - you can request to see more when you get there!  Be sensible: there are hundreds of books stored here!  Note their opening hours.

Take £5 in cash if you wish to photograph any item, as a charge applies for unlimited photgraphy, and cards are not accepted.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The other half of the day

Beyond Middle Tor, and the restoration of the box there, I had an entire walk to do.  My ultimate goal was Watern Tor, for I really do love that place.  The solitude, the geology, the views, are quite special.  Along the way, there would be two crossings of the unique Manga Rails, a visit to the obscure ruin of Will May's House and a fly-by of the iconic Kes Tor.


On a hot, still day like this, I'd expect crowds but beyond Shovel Down's antiquities, I was almost alone in the hills.  Among the gorse above the North Teign River, not to far from the Rails, a green tent was pitched - entirely legitimately.  The drum-taut guy lines indicated to me that it was not abandoned.  It was an eerie outpost of civilisation, and one that made me consider how long a tent would (could) remain pitched and unsearched out here.  I, for one, would feel deeply uncomfortable unzipping a tent door just out of curiosity.



Will May was an 18th century peat cutter from Chagford.  His tiny "house" was actually only a shelter, but a very well preserved one at that, on the slopes overlooking the the Mire to the East of Watern Tor.  A number of boxes are sited for this ruin, although none are located too close to it.



Watern Combe featured on my walk, and this small valley was a suntrap today.  Often overlooked by Letterboxers, this was a successful diversion for me.  One box in this combe was last found two years previously, and averaged fewer than 1 visit per year over the last decade.  Far from the madding crowds indeed!

I paused and considered my return route from the Thirlestone outcrop on Watern.  By following the back to Frenchbeer, I was sure of a worn path, but a more hilly, more zig-zag route.

By contouring around hills, and flanking Kes Tor, I'd be on a smoother, potentially faster path.  So it was this route I chose.  It still took 90 minutes to return to the car though.

11 Letterboxes found.