Dartmoor letterboxing coincidences - destiny or fate?

The modern letterbox at Cranmere Pool in the middle of Dartmoor.

The modern letterbox at Cranmere Pool in the middle of Dartmoor. - Credit: Nilfanion, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tales from the storyteller with David Phillips:

Letterboxing on Dartmoor gives purpose to my walks.

Family and friends are always asking me why I don’t go walking anywhere else. The answer is simple...no letterboxes! 

Letterboxing was started back in 1854 when James Perrot, a moor walking guide from Chagford, put a glass jar in a peat bank at Cranmere Pool, a remote part of the north moor, and encouraged his customers to leave their business cards in it.

Over time this idea caught on and similar receptacles were left in other remote parts.

Business cards became rubber stamps and glass jars plastic pots...nowadays its possible for every rock, peat bank and tussock to conceal a letterbox and that’s what has drawn me in.

Armed with a map, compass and clues - no GPS tracker for me that’s geocaching and we don’t talk about that - I spend the majority of my spare time hunting them down.

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Some people like to hide them and wait for news that they have been found but for me it’s the thrill of the hunt, the satisfaction that your kit and your skill has led you to uncover another!

I’ve been doing it for many years now and have a collection of many thousands.

With new ones continuously being put out, it doesn’t look like I will be stopping anytime soon!

It was this hobby that helped me learn all about Dartmoor’s many myths and legends.

In my early days there were some charity walks put out featuring these stories and the clues came with a nice booklet to stamp in alongside the tale in question - a fabulous way to learn.

I'm also very aware of synchronicities, those little coincidences in life that are way too big to be just pure coincidence.

It feels almost as though you have been led to them, a signpost, if you like, that you are on the right path and you are in the right place at the right time at that particular moment... destiny or fate? 

So far this year I’ve experienced two pretty major ones that are worthy of sharing with you here that happened whilst letterboxing... 

The first was when we were allowed back on to the moor after the Christmas lockdown.

Prior to that I had been out collecting a set of boxes positioned close to all the little pull-ins and laybys along the main stretch of road between Moretonhampstead and Yelverton.

They were small, cute and Christmassy and fairly easy to find. I’d found about half before Christmas, intending to pick up where I’d left off afterwards... but Boris said no.

I waited patiently and eventually got to continue a few months later but the problem was had they already been taken in? The first one I needed to find was just outside Princetown near Soldier’s Pond.

I arrived there on a particularly warm sunny day and proceeded to search but nothing was forthcoming.

Just before I was about to give up, a gentleman approached me saying he had come to collect his box! What were the chances?

He had come from the direction I was going and had already picked up some of the ones I was after so he kindly allowed me to stamp them in my book.

He swiftly confirmed the one I was searching for was missing, saving me further pacing up and down, and so off I went in search of a few that he hadn’t taken in allowing me to complete the set! 

The second experience was more recent and involves my new business.

Before I got my first customers, there were two other possibles, one was a group from Kent who sadly cried off due to worries over Covid after having already named a date - the other was a woman from Princetown who got in touch via Facebook and wanted to treat her in-laws who were due to visit, but even though she was very keen, her father-in-law became ill and she had to cry off for now.

Trying not to be too disappointed, I took myself off on the day I was due to entertain the party from Kent for a spot of letterboxing instead.

It just so happened to be the day after the summer solstice and I had recently discovered there was a particular box whose stamp was changed every solstice and equinox so this seemed to be an appropriate candidate for a search.

Knowing the area it was located in, it didn’t take me long to find it and I was pleasantly surprised that the box also contained a clue to a bonus box in the vicinity.

While examining this other clue, I heard a voice behind me exclaiming: “That’s good timing!”

It was the owner of the box coming to change the stamp a day late as the weather had been a bit rubbish on the day itself, which meant I got to stamp two for the price of one!

We got chatting about our mutual love of letterboxing and I happened to mention the fact I had recently left my job to set up a new business.

”Oh, my god!” she exclaimed, “you’re Moors Tours! I’m Emma from Princetown, I was going to be your customer!”

You couldn’t make it up!