Moor Letterboxing

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

NORTH YORK MOORS NATIONAL PARK (BOLTBY, England) — Although we have been seeking letterboxes in most of the countries we've visited on this trip, all the boxes we have found before today have been planted by American letterboxers. The style of the boxes, the format of the clues, and the types of locations were very familiar to us. Today we began a completely new experience— searching for British letterboxes, planted by British boxers. It's very much like learning a new hobby.

As with the English language and so much else we Americans have adopted and adapted from the British, we have put our own stamp on letterboxing (pun intended), and our version is quite different from the British original. Here the hobby almost always involves hiking, often long hikes, and orienteering skills are essential. Compass readings are involved for virtually every British letterbox, but only occasionally in the States. And in Britain you'd better have a specialized Ordnance Survey map and be able to read it, or you won't have a clue where to begin.  (Sorry, those puns just keep slipping out.)  Here's an example of a clue for a British box.

"SE 50  89: Keeping Low and High Paradise on your left, walk along the old drovers road to gate into forest. Remaining outside the forest fence go 19p 50º to group of stones on bank beneath fence. Box under flat stone just in front of upright post where short 5th bar begins- not the post with wire attached."

from Ordnance Survey Map
That's one of the letterboxes we found today in North York Moors National Park.  And compared to some, this one was pretty easy to comprehend, though we had a bit of trouble figuring out what the old drovers road was.  The two farms mentioned (Low Paradise and High Paradise) were easy to identify from the Ordnance Survey map for the area.

Other clues involve terms that are completely foreign to us Yanks.  Here are some examples from letterboxes in the North York area.
  • Follow main track till grassy ride leaves track on 260°.
  • Go to the nearest trig pillar.
  • Pass a Tabular Hill walk marker post.
  • Avoiding the hellhole, take your compass bearing from this C Y SNAKES COME PAST.
  • Take the bridle path south of Boltby Scar.
  • From triangulation station walk 200p in southerly direction.
  • Follow track with grouse butts on L over hill.
  • Go along this bridle path to the next signpost close to the gallops.
  • Find gas marker, size 30 GP beside road.
  • Go down bank into grassed excavation on your right.
  • From tree in lowest corner of intake, follow bp to beginning of fp to where the bilberry changes to heather moorland.
The challenge is stimulating, both mentally and physically.  We hiked four miles today in locating four letterboxes.  The wind was very high on the moor, and we were glad we had dressed in multiple layers.  Rain threatened but never materialized, and the chunky sheep who were scrounging for the few blades of grass among the scratchy heather added occasional sound effects.

Box with Stinging Nettle (lower right corner)
The last box of the day provided an introduction to one more unexpected aspect of British letterboxing, the stinging nettle.  Though we're well acquainted with poison ivy and can sense it a mile away, we had no experience with stinging nettle until today.  Fortunately I had just a light brush with this nasty plant on one finger before jerking my hand away.  Unlike poison ivy, it gives immediate notification of its intent.

On the way to the moor, we saw an odd sight in the distance— a large outline figure of a white horse high on a hillside.  We had to investigate, of course, and became acquainted with the Kilburn White Horse, one of a number of "hill figures" in England.  The horse is 318 feet long and 220 feet high and covers almost 2 acres.

Kilburn White Horse on Google Maps
The brainchild of a schoolmaster from the village of Kilburn, the horse was formed in 1857 by the teacher and his pupils, along with some assistance from local villagers.  A collection of funds was made for its construction with the balance in an account still providing maintenance today.  Since the hillside is formed of limestone, the horse was created by removing topsoil and exposing the underlying rock.  This Yorkshire landmark is clearly visible in the satellite view of Google Maps.  In fact, during World War II the horse was covered over to prevent it from becoming a conspicuous navigation landmark for enemy bombers.  Even from land, the horse is visible for long distances, as far as 30 miles away on a clear day.

The roots of English letterboxing go back to Dartmoor National Park in the south of England which has a terrain much like the North York Moors.  Dartmoor is our ultimate destination for our British letterboxing experience, and the NY Moors provided a great introduction to this fascinating hobby as it originated.  We're looking forward to more moor boxing in Dartmoor next week.