Letterboxing on Dartmoor – the art of hiding boxes for others to find – has long been a popular pastime.. The craggy landscape of the national park provides an abundance of hiding places and the activity can be equally enjoyed by serious enthusiasts and families looking for a day out with a difference.
History of Dartmoor Letterboxing
In 1854 James Perrott, a Dartmoor guide, placed a bottle at Cranmere Pool, in the north of the moor, for walkers to put their visiting cards in. The hike across the moorland was no easy task and putting a card in the bottle was a way of recognising the achievement of getting there. The bottle was later replaced by a more permanent box.
This led to the practice of leaving boxes in other relatively inaccessible places. These would include letters or postcards addressed to themselves, to be posted back to them when found by other walkers. Eventually people started to circulate clues indicating the whereabouts of letterboxes and maps were produced.
Modern Letterboxing on Dartmoor
Today letterboxes tend to be hidden in more accessible parts of the moor. They are small, weatherproof boxes containing a notebook, rubber stamp and inkpad. Those who find them stamp the book to show that they have visited (using either the stamp provided or one of their own). They may also carry their own notebook to stamp so that they can prove that they have found the letterbox.
Clues to location may be given to friends, or made more widely available. The clues may relate to compass bearings, or to local landmarks, so that for the most serious letterboxers the activity is sometimes compared with orienteering.
There is an informal group called the Dartmoor Letterboxing Club, whose membership is open to anyone who has found 100 or more letterboxes. They hold twice-yearly meets on the Sundays when the changeover between Greenwich Mean Time and British Summer Time occurs. These give an opportunity for letterboxers to meet up and to buy catalogues of clues, as well as other items such as rubber stamps and badges.
Letterboxing for Families
It is easy for families to have a day out hunting for letterboxes without being armed with clues or compasses. Locations such as Haytor and Hound Tor, with their crops of granite rocks, attract many letterboxes and these can be found by searching in the many crevices and spaces between the rocks.
Families who visit Dartmoor often may like to create their own letterbox, using a tupperware box or even an old ice cream carton. Include a rubber stamp (the more distinctive the design the better!), an inkpad and a notebook. You may also like to provide a pen and ask people to record their names and home locations so that you can see who has been visiting your letterbox when you return. (Make sure you can remember where you have put the box!)
Some modern letterboxers have also revived the tradition of including a blank stamped addressed postcard in their boxes for the finder to complete and return when they get home.
The Letterbox Code
Because Dartmoor is a national park there are a few simple rules that letterboxers should follow. Letterboxes must not be placed in any site of antiquity, or anywhere which might cause danger to the finder. Similarly, letterbox hunters are asked not to search any historic sites, and to respect and care for the countryside.
Although letterboxing is most closely associated with Dartmoor, it is now a popular hobby worldwide, with almost 100,000 boxes hidden in North America alone. There is even a letterboxing app for IOS devices (search for “Clue Tracker for Letterboxing”). And it is credited with being the inspiration for geocaching – a similar pastime but with modern technology!