In a tradition dating from 1854 the ‘Dartmoor Letterboxes’ are placed across the moors for walkers to discover.
The first letterbox was actually a bottle, placed by a Dartmoor guide called James Perrott. Visitors to the isolated spot would leave their visiting card inside the bottle as proof that they had been there.
Some of the boxes are easy to find, and accessible from roads, while others are both in accessible places, and hard to find when you get there! The task might be seen as a mix of map-reading and orienteering to find the location, then puzzle solving (or treasure hunting…’take 10 paces north’) to find the
The searcher will have a list of clues, ranging from the straightforward to the downright cryptic, and aims to find the letterboxes, which each contain a rubber stamp. The finder stamps the book in the letterbox with their own stamp, and their own log book with the stamp in the letterbox.
A compass is highly recommended, as is the Ordnance Survey leisure Map of Dartmoor. Sturdy boots and suitable clothing are advised.
There are many of these boxes hidden in Dartmoor – at least 10,000 are listed, and there is competition to have as many stamps in a personal log book as possible. Very few are immediately obvious to the casual visitor.
The boxes are usually small, waterproof tins. Traditionally ammunition tins have been used, but this practice is discouraged since the army use Dartmoor for army training practice, and it might be possible that a real ammunition tin turns up instead!
When hunting for a Dartmoor letterbox remember that there are rules attached to the placing of the boxes, essentially to ensure that the environment and ancient monuments are never placed at risk from careless placement.
The same rules apply of course to those searching for them – you will never, for example, need to dislodge a rock that forms part of a traditional stone wall!
For those who lack the patience or time to search for hundreds of obscure letterboxes, there are organised charity events with clues to a few of the more easily found and accessible boxes.
The Dartmoor Letterbox 100 Club maintains lists of the letterboxes and clues, and issues monthly newsletters. There are various badges and car stickers that are awarded if you find lots of them – try for the special ‘5,000 boxes’ badge if you have plenty of time on your hands!
Note: the great success of Dartmoor letterboxes has led to them being introduced in many other places around the world, as a way to encourage people to venture into the countryside while also having fun.