As you know, I live on the coast in Devon, but a few miles inland from us lies wild and wonderful Dartmoor, sometimes known as ‘England’s last wilderness’. This granite moorland with it’s craggy tors, patches of remarkably soggy ground and a lack of footpaths can be a bit off-putting unless you can handle a map and compass… as well as being downright spooky!
So all the more strange then to see youngsters (and adults!) burrowing among the rocks, engrossed in a search… but for what? In these days of Facebook, Twitter and texts, how does Dartmoor still attract today’s youth.
Guest blogger, Sue Viccars, editor of the Dartmoor Magazine and a professional outdoor writer (how’s that for interesting job descriptions?!) explains all…
“People have been using Dartmoor as a place of leisure since the early 19th-century Romantic Movement. This was when parts of the country such as the Lake District and Exmoor – previously thought inhospitable – suddenly became popular through the work of writers such as Wordsworth and Coleridge.
“On Dartmoor, local guides opened up the moor to visitors, in particular James Perrott of Chagford, who in 1854 came up with a novel ‘tourist attraction’ by building a cairn at Cranmere Pool, a peaty moorland hollow far from civilisation. The idea was for anyone who made it out to this remote part of the North Moor to leave their card at the spot for the interest of later visitors.
“Little did he realise what he had started! After 1907, visitors began leaving stamped addressed postcards in the box, recording the date of their visit, which were subsequently collected and put in the post by the next person to make it out there. This practice continued right up to the 1970s when it was replaced by a stamp system, And so, modern Letterboxing was born – the practice of following clues to find concealed ‘letterboxes’ all over the moor and collecting the stamps contained inside.
“The idea of Letterboxing has since spread to other parts of the world, and the number of letterboxes on Dartmoor has ballooned so that the number out at any one time has to be controlled. Biannual Letterbox Meets, at which clues for new letterbox routes are sold in aid of charity, attract hundreds, it not thousands, of people keen to get out and explore.
“In this way, thousands of people have been introduced to the delights of the moor through Letterboxing. It’s also a great way of persuading children to leave behind their computer screens and go on a moorland ‘treasure hunt’!”
To find out more about Sue’s wonderful quarterly magazine, click here: www.dartmoormagazine.co.uk