Letterboxing on Dartmoor

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 РASK. Devonshire people love to chat Рbut 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.

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