Letterboxing in Dartmoor with Kids

August 14, 2010

Dartmoor National Park came to my attention several years ago with this article.At the time, I remember thinking it would be so cool to do some letterboxing in the area where it originated, but I didn't really think it would happen. And then when we started planning our trip to England, I dug out the article and started trying to figure out if it was possible. Turns out it is a little more challenging to get on-line information about letterboxes at Dartmoor than I had anticipated. Actually, searching for letterboxes in the rest of England was also challenging. I just assumed that the birth country of letterboxing would be easy and similar to the on-line searching that we do when we are in the States. I eventually became so frustrated that I returned to that original article and decided to contact the author, Carol Rifka, directly. Thanks to the power of google searching I was able to track her down and here's the advice she gave me. Since it was so helpful, I thought I would just go ahead and share it word for word:
Hi Lucia,
Nice to hear from you and glad you found the article a good reference! Yes,
Dartmoor letterboxing is quite different than American letterboxing. Both easier and more difficult and, well, kind of strange. There are a lot of unofficial letterboxes on Dartmoor. Usually these are placed by kids or families. You can basically just let your kids look for these at the more popular places on Dartmoor--Hound Tor (highly recommended for kids, rock scrambling etc.), Haytor, Bonehill Rocks etc. These are all on the east side of the moor. There are lots of boulders and big rock piles with nooks and crannies where people hide boxes. You'll see what I mean when you get there. You don't need clues and it's ideal for younger kids because in the course of normal exploring and peeking around they're bound to find a box or two or more. The downside is that as those boxes are unofficial and not particularly well hidden they can often be wet or missing the stamp. It's luck of the draw, but ideal for younger kids.

If you want to get more serious and get out the compass and maps (you'll want/need the Ordnance Survey map OL 28) you'll have to contact the Letterboxing 100 club in writing and buy a copy of their Catalogue of Dartmoor Letterboxes. It's all a bit weird and very "secret society", and I have to say, we've only really done a few of those official boxes. They're nicer boxes than the ones you just stumble across and there is an actual feeling of accomplishment when you find them, so worth doing I'd say. The clues aren't as "fun" as I think the American clues are. They're just compass and map directions with maybe reference to a land feature. The Ordnance Survey maps are very very detailed, so you can find even the smallest landmark on there.

Here's a couple links that you mind find useful...

***Dartmoor National Park letterboxing info: http://www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/index/visiting/vi-enjoyingdartmoor/vi-letterboxing.htm
***Letterbox 100 club: http://www.userfriendly-devon.co.uk/100club/

Keep your fingers crossed for good weather. The last co
uple summers here have been abysmal. Oddly enough we're going to be in Italy for most of August. Tuscany, just outside Florence. I know Sicily is quite a ways from Tuscany, but any general Italy tips would be much appreciated!
All the best,

And Carol's advice was "spot-on" (Thank you, Carol and hope you are having fun in Tuscany!). We went the kid friendly route of just showing up and searching. Our first stop was the Haytor visitor center where the park ranger recommended some hiking areas surrounding Haytor and Bonehill Rocks. We didn't find any boxes on Haytor, but our first letterbox was actually at the ice cream truck at the base of Haytor Rock. While waiting for our Devon cream cones, we just happened to mention to the driver that we were hoping to find some letterboxes. He got a big grin on his face and pulled out a box from under the counter. After that fun and suprising discovery, we headed to Bonehill Rocks where we hit the jackpot. Box after box crammed into nooks and crannies. We were giddy with excitement. As Carol mentioned some were in better shape than others and sadly most of them were store bought and not hand carved, but we have never experienced anything quite like this. We found over twenty boxes in less than half an hour!
It would be fun to return in the future when the kids are a bit older to try searching for the boxes via the more official clues (it sounds like you have to write ahead for coordinates). Very glad we made the effort to experience letterboxing in Dartmoor. It was a fun afternoon for all of us.
shelly said...

That looks like such a beautiful spot and great fun for the kids to climb and explore! Fun!!!

se7en said...

Totally cool and on my official "must do in my lifetime list!!!"

likeschocolate said...

What a fun activity! When you mentioned it before in your visit to Germany, I thought you were talking about a type of print style like Roman or Georgia. Now my little mind is wondering how many places I have been too that have these hidden little boxes.

Ross kernick said...

Letterboxing is fun. We live at Haytor and are always on the moor. I often find letterboxes when shooting 360 virtual tours of Dartmoor Tors for www.moortours.co.uk. Geocaching is also fun but extends to the whole world, there a a lot of geocaches on Dartmoor too.

Nancy said...

Wow! when you mentioned letterboxing at Dartmoor before, I was hoping you'd post more. I will have to pass this on to a friend who is a huge letterboxing fanatic. When the weather warms up a bit we will need to start trying our hand at this!

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