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Ever since I left the Scout Association, I've been wanting to get back into doing some of the things that I enjoyed taking part in as a member several years ago. The things I enjoyed the most were camping and Dartmoor letterboxing. I finally got back into one of those yesterday when I took a trip up to Dartmoor with my partner.

It's bleak, but not as you know it.
Dartmoor - yesterday.

If you've no idea what Dartmoor letterboxing is, then you could do worse than have a look at some of these links for an in-depth description - (*link-1*) (*link-2*). However, if you can't be bothered, here's my version.

It's a fairly simple concept. The moor is a big place. It has lots of rocky areas and those rocks are full of nooks and crannies, thus providing natural hiding places. Hidden within are an unknown quantity of letterboxes, but they don't look like your traditional postbox - they look like this:

Not a rock or a tree, yesterday.
A Dartmoor letterbox - yesterday.

Usually, the contents of a letterbox will be hidden in something like a tupperware container or ammunition box - and sometimes they'll be hidden extremely well. The general public won't see them as they walk by. This is half the fun - not just getting to a potential point that could have a box or two, but the actual hunt. Most I've found so far are usually secreted under stones or rocks. I guess the best way to think of it is as a cross between orienteering, hide'n'seek and a treasure hunt on a huge scale - you just don't know where the treasure is, or how much there is. The box will usually contain a stamp and a notebook to write in.

A rock, yesterday.
A rock on Dartmoor - yesterday.

Once you've found a box, you do the following:

i) Dance a happy ceremonial jig. (This is optional, but I do get rather chuffed when I find one)
ii) Open the letterbox up - and if you brought your own stamp-book with you, take a copy of the stamp.
iii) Put your stamp in the notebook in the box - or if you don't have a stamp, write a note and say,"hello" to the world.
iv) Stop doing the jig. (Writing and doing Riverdance at the same time is ill-advised and leads to scruffy handwriting).
v) Put everything back in the box and put it back where you found it.
vi) Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, drink some coffee/weak-lemon-drink and then march off to find the next one.

Our starting point for the day was Sharpitor. We then went along to some of the neighbouring tors to try our luck. As I found out on a letterboxing forum today, Sharpitor is a bad idea for letterboxing, because it's privately owned - so you might want to avoid that one. Oops. Nonetheless, I still managed to find two, so it wasn't all bad. It was also reassuring that I hadn't forgotten how to use a map and compass - I must have paying attention all those years ago. The walk (about 5 miles) was very enjoyable.

Along the way, we managed to do some photography. I'm always amazed at how things manage to live in apparently inhospitable areas, such as this tree - which looks very weathered indeed and is growing out of a rock.

A tree, yesterday.
A Dartmoor tree - yesterday.

I have no doubt that letterboxing attracts its critics, who will say that this is nothing more than a form of glamorised train-spotting. Maybe they're right, but as I'm getting lots of exercise, taking photos, gaining useful skills such as how to use a map and compass, having a good time and also enjoying the wilderness that's virtually on my doorstep, I'll ignore them. In the meantime, I'm going to go back again and try to get a collection of over 100 stamps. I can then join the 100 Club and get some clues as to where the rest of the 21,000 boxes might be.

If the weather is good, I might even go back tomorrow - you never know.
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