Letterboxing on Dartmoor


What is ‘letterboxing’?

The leisure pursuit of letterboxing is very similar to orienteering in fact, except that the whole family can join in with you irrespective of their age group – and it’s SLOWER!

You have to find objects (“letterboxes”) which are hidden away within the boundaries of the Dartmoor National Park.

This may seem an impossible task as the Dartmoor National Park covers some 365 square miles! How, you may well ask, does one find an object located within such a wide area?

Firstly you have to be able to read a map and know how to use a compass. You don’t know how? Then get someone to teach you – its fun!

Assuming that I can read a map and use a compass, how do I know where to search?

You have to ask people who are walking on Dartmoor!

Yes! That is how it is done – initially.

You recognize the sort of people to ask because they are the ones who carry a map around their necks, a compass in their hand – and what is a certain give-away – they have their bottoms in the air and their heads under a rock! They are searching for a letterbox themselves.

To do this they must have had access to some clues as to where the letterbox is hidden didn’t they! With me so far?
If they have one clue it is odds on that they have others! You ask them to share those clues with you – and they will assure you. Letterboxers are a kindly lot!

What do the clues consist of?

Well, for example the clue for a box will include a grid reference, some compass bearings taken off a visible landmark (a prominent tree, house or church tower or whatever), and details of paces etc: to or from another object close at hand and near to the box.

The map you would use is obviously one for that area – ie. a large scale map of Dartmoor. You would find the grid reference and go to the road indicated and look.

The trouble is there maybe three or four well-laden holly trees that you can see!

Yep! You have to check out each one using the bearings given. You will find it if you are persistent.

The box can still be hard to locate as it is often cunningly camouflaged. It may be under a rock or hidden in a crevice, or covered by heather or moss! It is not always easy!

I have had to visit a site 5 times before I located the box – and I was searching in an area only 50ft square! Yes, I found it – eventually!

What does the letterbox consist of?

It is usually a Tupperware container or even an old ice cream carton. Some are even in the small plastic containers that 35mm films are sold in. Those really are hard to find!

Inside the box will be a rubber ink stamp, a notebook, and frequently an inking pad. The rubber stamps are, more often than not, beautifully designed and can depict anything and relate to as many subjects as there are on the Web! Birds, football stars, jokes, dogs.

Some are made by children and are produced from soft eraser rubber. All stamps are considered to be of equal value. Some are home-made, others are professionally produced. Kid’s efforts do count nevertheless. Many are quite lovely.

What do I do with the rubber stamp?

You use the ink pad to ink it up and then take an impression on some plain postcards or notebook that you bring with you. This is a copy of the stamp that you take away with you.

Then you write your comments or details into the notebook found inside the box – and leave that behind!

If you have a rubber stamp of your own (and eventually you will) you stamp that into the notebook. This allows the box owner to know who has visited the particular site, and when and by whom. Simple isn’t it!

Also, for those that are naturally lazy, there are letterboxes installed in most pubs that surround the Dartmoor National Park. You will have to ask for them though.

It is a gentle way of getting you into the pub to buy the beer! Don’t be surprised if you get hard looks if you only take a copy of the pub stamp and clear off without buying something – although some people do of course. Don’t ask when the place is heaving with visitors either!

Is there an easy way to get some clues?

Well now, after you have collected 100 you will be given a special ID card which will allow you to purchase the annual letterbox catalog list in book form.
Even though you don’t have the DI card and number you will soon learn where they come from and how to get one!

Also, other boxers will let you have copies of old “update” sheets which are issued every two weeks to registered boxers. They are sold at 10p per sheet and indicate only the very latest boxes that have been put out. You will be given old sheets for free from people you enquire from.

How will I know where to get information from?

It really isn’t complicated, but because some people take delight in destroying other people’s pleasure not too many clues are available to “unregistered” boxers – initially, that is.
Your collecting that magic number of 100 boxes indicates to the people who put the boxes out that you really do intend to stick with it and will not vandalize the box sites. It does happen!

My best advice to you is to ask anyone whom you see grubbing around old rocks on the moors. Letterboxers are genuinely nice people as people go and are only too willing to get someone else “hooked” on this very pleasant pastime.

I reiterate – ASK. Devonshire people love to chat – but they will mostly wait for you to make the first move!

Books are available on the subject of Letterboxing from local bookshops.

Give it a try!

Is there really a Club?

Yes, one exists, and membership is free! There is a membership and those who belong to the club meet twice a year in the Village Hall at Lee Moor Public Hall – PL7. They always meet on the Sunday nearest to when we in the UK change from Summer Time to Winter Time – and vice versa.

Even without a fixed membership list, there are hundreds, if not thousands of us who enjoy this leisure activity! Anyone can come to the Meet at Lee Moor, PL7.


Please be aware that most of Dartmoor is privately owned, and you walk there by the courtesy of the owners. Please do not abuse this privilege. Show your appreciation to the Dartmoor National Park and landowners by adhering to the Letterbox Owners/Hunters code, and educating others in this practice.


Boxes should not be sited

In any kind of antiquity, in or near stone rows or circles, cists or cairns; nor in any kind of building, walls or ruins, peat cutters’ or tinners’ huts etc.

In any potentially dangerous situation where injuries could be caused.

As a fixture. Cement or any other building material is not to be used.


When searching for boxes

Do not disturb any antiquities such as stone rows, circles, cists or cairns, nor any buildings, walls or ruins, peat cutters’ or tinners’ huts etc.

Replace the box as carefully as you would hope to find it.

Leave the site better than you find it! You are encouraged to take away any litter left by people who care for the moor less than you do.

ALWAYS Follow the Country Code.

Birds – Winter Feeding Regimes


There are many people who are disappointed when birds fail to visit their beautifully designed bird-table and see their neighbors bird-table seemingly befeathered by birds. Why should this be?

Many garden centers sell large economy bags of hard peanuts and dry corn with a little sunflower seed mixed in and call it ‘Wild Bird Food’. Rather a waste of money generally!

In truth, it is almost inedible by most of our garden favorites. Hawfinches may crack them open. They can even crack open cherry stones! Pigeons will swallow whatever will fit into their beaks – but smaller birds? Well…
Starlings will eat almost anything, as will doves and pigeons. But our poor friends the robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and thrushes cannot eat such foods! They are really meat-eaters.

Few people realize that there are hard-beaked birds and soft-beaked birds. One lot usually can cope with seeds and the others can’t.
Sparrows will eat corn and millet, but finches prefer seeds that can be easily split open and winkled out. They adore sunflower seeds – in my garden, especially the black seeded variety. The striped variety will be eaten more slowly and be avoided altogether if the black variety is available.

For soft billed birds I usually drop an extra bag of sultanas and currents into the shopping trolley as we go around the supermarket and almost always grab a carton of ®Atora suet granules. I find that the ®Atora brand does not stick together in warm periods, and is easily mixed with the other ingredients when I make up the food mixes. They are very slightly dearer but are worth it in the long run.

Whilst at the garden center go to the pets area, (they usually have one), and buy a large packet of ®‘Bogena Mynah Food’ or ®‘Bogena Universal Food’®. It is around £4.00 per kilo. This is an ideal food for blackbirds and such and all other birds will eat it too. It is never wasted.
Also buy some crushed oats or similar food. I will add a list of foods suitable for mixing at the end of this piece and you can make your own. Even small soft-bills will take the occasional morsel if it will fit into their mouths without breaking into small pieces.

I know that it is best to give natural foods but crumbed bread and dried up pastry can serve as tasty food for the fussiest eater – hard or soft billed – so long as it is in manageable sizes.
Starlings will manage to make very large pieces break down in seconds but some birds just do not have the skills. I find that a pied wagtail follows closely on the heels of the starlings as he eats such tiny morsels that most other birds just ignore.

Have a supply of water nearby if you can, and site the table away from areas where cats can lurk and hide. Don’t expect to keep a cat and to see a large variety of birds as well.

Starlings and greenfinches will usually visit the table but smaller birds such as chaffinches, dunnocks, robins are really ground feeders and are at extreme risk if there is cat cover around and will stay away.

Another point about feeding birds is that they don’t always feed at the table. Some only feed on the ground. Others prefer to peck fat out of cracks in the wood. Food dropped into shortish grass is used up – especially by the long-beaked starlings.

One way of catering for blue tits etc. is to spread or smear some soft suet under arris rails on fences and into knotholes and on the branches of strong bushes or trees. The birds will eventually find the source and begin to visit regularly.

I hope these few pointers will help you to get better use from your bird table and that your pleasure is increased. I feed almost all year and so the birds expect it. I am careful what I feed during the season that young birds are in the nests.
Lazy parents can be inclined to carry off food from the table – and that is not good for small fledglings or young – they can choke!

I do get some special seed foods at the end of March that build the birds up to produce eggs etc. It is useful to add a few vitamin drops into the food too.

One additional point about feeding birds and only getting the ubiquitous starlings – just remember that you are relieving the pressure on someone else bird table and the smaller birds are probably feeding there. After all, it’s supposed to be about caring for birds and not about having semi-wild exotic feathered pets coming to call.

Good foods to mix:-

  • Black sunflower seed.
  • Peanuts – whole & granules.
  • Hemp.
  • Pinhead Oatmeal.
  • Porridge Oats.
  • Budgerigar Tonic seed
  • Sultanas.
  • Suet (Atora shredded) & blocks.
  • Wild birdseed mixture.
  • Pigeon Mix – for pigeons of course – if you’ve got some!
  • Tinned Sweetcorn – add directly to the table not mix!
  • Fresh fruit – broken into bits – not cut! Add directly to the table.
  • Bread crumbs – toasted preferred.

Best of all is to try to think like a bird. You’ll be surprised how helpful this apparently ‘silly’ technique can be. Try it!

How to make a real pasty


There are few culinary delights to tickle the pallet or to cause one to clutch one’s tummy pain quite like a Westcountry pasty.

I state the above because there is nothing quite like a well-made pasty as there is a badly made one either:) Here we intend to show you how to make a ‘real’ pasty – be it Cornish or Devonshire ones. They are the same thing as they were principally hard rock miners’ staple source of food. The folklore surrounding the pasty has even ‘crumbled over’ into “Stargazy Pie“. Take no notice of that piffle. It has nothing to do with a pasty but a lot to do with the Cornish sense of fun when it comes to talking to strangers. You have been warned!

Firstly we will give the recipe for the wonderful flaky pastry. Not an originally used pasty covering as it contains fat that could well be in short supply to the average miner at the time.


To be able to create the best flaky pastry the lard must be grated from frozen into the flour and the water MUST be ICE cold. Mix with a knife if your hands are inclined to be hot(Ed.)

PASTRY – flaky

3 lb plain flour

1.5 lb lard      Must be frozen

1 level teaspoon salt

Ice cold water.

Sieve flour and add salt. Grate frozen lard into flour, mixing with a knife to seperate.

Then add ice cold water in small amounts and mix to a firm dough.

Roll out into a square on floured surface and fold into 3.

Place dough into plastic bag or wrap in clingfilm and rest in fridge for one

hour – preferably rest overnight.

When rested, the dough, not you:-), but the dough, roll out on a floured surface and cut around a tea plate sized circular template.

This will make 8 good sized individual pasties.

This pastry is exceptional when micro-waved. can be used for apple pasties, pies,tarts etc too!


Slice/chip into minute slivers 5 medium potatoes, extremely finely.

If it resembles snow you are a Champion Cook already.

Keep the slices exceptionally small and thin. NEVER diced. NEVER! NEVER!

Add a medium sized swede turnip (unless you don’t like swede!) same as potato.

3 sliced and finely cut onions.

1.75lbs – 2lbs skirt of beef (MUST BE SKIRT!) NOT CHUCK STEAK…skirt!!!!!!

Place a layer of potato, a layer of swede, a layer of onion and then lastly the meat.

Pepper and salt to taste – ensuring that there is sufficient pastry available to crimp and seal across the top.

Dampen edges of pastry ring with milk and/or egg yolk to seal.

If you are conversant with pasty-making then crimp along edge, keeping ingredients in.

Easier to handle when hot and easier to eat too!

Throw away the ‘handle’ away later if the pastry is hard:)

A small ‘nib’ of meat fat can be added to the top of inside filling to be discarded after cooking. (not much fat with skirt of beef!!!!) Find some fat from somewhere.

Butter – if no other available.

As an added bonus just sprinkle lightly with a crumbled beef stock cube before sealing but be miserly – very very miserly with it. Just enough to taste. Imagine nutmeg…

Pierce top with a single knife stab – 1/2 inch!

Cook in hot oven for 3/4 hr and until golden brown on top.

Eat hot for preference.

As a special treat cut a small hole in top and pour in a sherry glassful of fresh milk.

Sweet and beautiful! Really…Booooodiful!!!!!!

If you don’t create a mouth-watering feast, either hot or cold, then you have lost your zest for life and your taste buds need hot curry and black pepper to stimulate them.

Shame on you!-) Enjoy!!!!!

Brentor – The Western Gateway to Dartmoor

The Western Gateway to Dartmoor

Brentor village nestles on the eastern side of the river Burn valley. This is small a village with little in the way of facilities for the visitor.
The parish has two churches, one is situated within the village itself and is dedicated as “Christ’s Church”, the other is located some 1/2 mile away on top of Brent Tor.

Brentor is approximately 4 miles from the ancient market and stannary town of Tavistock. There is a regular bus service from Tavistock to Brentor via Mary Tavy.
It should be on the list of anyone who enjoys rambling and wishes their route to take them along picturesque country lanes and occasional stretches of open moorland. Local guide books will help to ensure an enjoyable walk.

Of particular note is the tiny church of St. Michael Du Rupe.
This tiny church sits atop of Brent Tor where it dominates the countryside for miles around. The tor is in fact all that remains of a volcano. The outer parts of the volcano have weathered away and the core plug remains.

 St. Michael D’Rupe, Brentor.
The church is 37ft long and just under 15ft wide, and has a belfry.
The tower was struck by lightning in 1995 and extensive repairs have been carried out.

This quaint little church atop the tor is a must for tourists, whether on foot or by car. The views from the summit, which is just a gentle climb of short duration, are magnificent. See for yourself! There is a steep way up for those who like to climb!

One legend associated with the church is that the devil threw down the stones when the builders began construction at the top. In the end the builders decided to build at the foot of the tor. The devil, being very contrary, threw the stones to the top where they formed themselves into the church!
It is also reputed to have been built by a sailor who promised to build a church on the first point of land he saw after a bad storm at sea!

The church is also said to be located on very important ley lines and is just the place for those who enjoy dowsing these magical lines of force. Lots of people try it here!

The book “The Sun and the Serpent” gives lots of details about the ley lines at this site. It is here that one can detect the ley line that runs across country to Glastonbury.
There are also signs of prehistoric hut circles and old trial workings for minerals nearby. Ochre was once produced at Brentor.

Old photographs of Brentor

Mary Tavy – Another aspect of Dartmoor

Mary Tavy

Mary Tavy village nestles on the eastern side of the valley leading to the River Tavy. Once a thriving mining community in the 1800s, it is now just a small rural village with a population just short of 900 people.

It is somewhat like the curate’s egg – good in parts – with many things of interest (if you know where to look!) to encourage the curious tourist. It is approximately 3 miles from the ancient market and the stannary town of Tavistock.

Find out what it is really like by exploring these pages. Not all page links are obvious! You really will have to explore.

The tiny hamlet of Horndon is just one and a half miles away. It is here that you find the true feeling of being in the countryside. There are rare slipper orchids to be seen in the graveyard of the local Methodist Chapel, and shady lanes to wander along, leading down to Hill Bridge and the river Tavy in the valley below. Leftward is the way to Black Hill, across the moorland, and to the Wheal Jewell Reservoir area, and ‘Ring O’ Bells’.
Ask anyone the way to the river at Hillbridge and they will point you in the right direction.orkid
Rare Slipper Orchid – Horndon

For those who want to follow the county road to Lane End (marked Lane Head on the maps!) – the way is easy. From the moor gate, you will enter on to the moor and go up towards the steep sided hills before you. On reaching the leat (watercourse or canal – not the river!) bear right and continue along its banks. Soon you will come to Tavy Cleave, the steep-sided valley to the left of you, and its majestic jumbled clitters of rocks and crystal clear babbling waters.

Perhaps on the return journey, you will stop at the ‘Elephant’s Nest’ pub for a drink. It was once the home of my mother, and in those days it was called ‘The New Inn’.
The ‘older inn’ must have been ‘The Black Lion’ located opposite the Methodist Chapel, Horndon, at Black Lion Hill. A refreshment spot for the miners of Wheal Jewell.

Mary Tavy is eminently suited to those who either want to visit Dartmoor and its surrounding attractions by car or to use it as a starting point to explore the area at a more leisurely pace. It is ideally situated to begin a backpacking trip or trek across Dartmoor.

It has a beautifully furnished Anglo Catholic church which lies in the old part of the village, well away from the main road. The key to the church is usually held at “Homer” (ask anyone locally for that location) and it can be obtained from there for viewing outside normal service times – or at least used to be!
Some village records.
There is a very recently restored peal of 5 bells (I was Secretary to the fund-raising committee). The beautiful stained-glass windows are by the noted stained glass artist, Kemp, of Soho, London. There is a delightful rood screen (carved by the accomplished Misses Penwell) surmounted by a large crucifix and statues from Oberammergau, Germany, in painted linden wood. The ornate reredos above the altar completes the picture.

sml_whealBetsyThe famous mines of the Wheal Friendship complex within the village are now only really visible to the enthusiasts’ eye, being overgrown or dismantled.
This mine was taken over and managed by that great mining engineer, John Taylor who came from Norfolk in 1854 at the tender age of 19 years.
At one time Wheal Friendship was the most productive deep copper mine in the world. In 1853, because of the influx of miners, the population stood at 1,500+ souls – but there were only 66 houses!
There is hardly any trace of Mary Tavy’s mining industry of the 18th and 19th centuries except for the well preserved engine house (pictured right) which is adjacent to the A386 in the moorland valley as one approaches the village from a northerly direction. This is the site of the lead/silver mine of Wheal Betsy, or, as it was also once named, Prince Arthur Consuls.

sml_Vill_Tavy_Clam sml_Mtroad1
sml_Vill_War_Memorial_01 sml_House-churchyard
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