Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Friday, September 17, 2004 - Our Adventure Begins"

The Baker's Dozen:

Baker's Dozen with Andy Wilkes [second from right]

Lobsta Lady/Bonnie
Talking Turtle/Alexis & Lasvicious Lion/Hugh Carrington
Rusty Puff/Kim
Lazy Letterboxer/Deanne & Letterboxing Ham/Dave
Mark & Sue Pepe

8:26 am

I'm waiting for Sue to come downstairs for breakfast. I have had a restless night - I think the excitement and anticipation of this much-awaited trip has prevented me from a good night's sleep. Enjoying these few hours of quiet now that all of the packing and preparations are complete. These will probably be the last hours of quiet for a full week, but I'm ready to roll; just hope all goes as planned but we'll deal with what comes our way - we're the Baker's Dozen and we're on a mission!

5:oo pm - JFK Airport

The stamping frenzy is finally over after arriving here at the airport after a comfortable van ride where Sue and I shared cheese, crackers, fruit, pepperoni, wine and beer to get us all fed and in a festive mood - as if any of us needed it! Anticipation and excitement is running rampant. What awaits us? Will we manage to make the trek to Cranmere? Will we meet the challenge of finding 100 letterboxes to make us eligible for the Dartmoor 100 club? Only time will tell.

Judy and the Carrington's [Alexis and Hugh] have joined our van-riding group of 10 so we are now complete - The Baker's Dozen - 13 excited letterboxers who are traveling over 3500 miles to Mecca; the place where it all began!

Gifts abound for the group. Geri supplied us all with green tee shirts with Baker's Dozen logo; Deanne & Dave have made personalized luggage tags with the Baker's Dozen logo; Rusty Puff has made the great Baker's Dozen team stamp, which we will use to log into books on Dartmoor - thus saving time and allowing us the maximum efficiency; Bonnie, our official photographer, will place all of her photos on a disk and mail to all of us once we return home; Mark & Sue have given the group small leather zip bags with chain to clip onto our belts for use in London and travel sized toilet paper for those emergencies on the moors; Butterfly has given us all neckerchiefs and fresh basil leaves for courage and luck for the trip; Judy made an Event Stamp and Event Folders so that we can all stamp in and keep as a memento of the trip. She has supplied a few additional Event Folders for those UK boxers that might join us during the trip. Judy also brought cupcakes for all to celebrate the Baker's Dozen concept with logo medallions stuck into the tops of each cupcake - but there are only 12! She's seen fit, in her teasing way, to get me a huge cupcake that is more the size of a mini cake! I guess she must have felt sorry for me being the only male in our cottage at Dartmoor with 4 other women!

Our flight went off very smooth. We hopped the pond in a huge 747 that held 359 passengers and flew at a top speed of 591 miles per hour at 35,ooo feet altitude. The total trip is some 3500 miles and took approximately 7 hours of travel time.

Saturday, September 18, 2004 - "We Arrive!"

Many of us could not sleep on the plane and with the time change, we landed in Heathrow Airport, London on Saturday at 8am and hit the ground running. After we picked up our 2 vans and a car, we were faced with a 4 hour ride to Dartmoor. Our hope was to do a little letterboxing at some of the buildings and pubs that house letterboxes on our way to our accommodations.

Driving on the "wrong side" of the highway in the "wrong" seat proved a little more difficult than I ever imagined. Those turnabouts [traffic circles] were brutal and dangerous! The driver's seat is where our passengers sit in the US and driving on the left side of the road puts Sue on the curbside. Corners and curves were difficult to negotiate and literally put Sue on the curb on several occasions. It was difficult for me to judge how close to the gutter I was - so - Sue, being Sue, came up with a wonderful hand signal to let me know I'm nearing the curb! She made a fist, with her thumb extended and pointed her thumb to my direction. All of the passengers in our van became very familiar with Sue's waving thumb and Bonnie even took a picture!!!

Our van, and car, which got separated from Alexis' van [something we would get used to!] managed to stop for 2 letterboxes on our way in - the first at Moretonhampstead and the second at the Warren House Inn. What beautiful vistas of hills, with patchwork greenery and stone walls, crowned with one of those monolithic tors. This beauty never became commonplace to us during the week and improved the deeper we ventured into the moors. Every corner we turned produced a different view and brought "oohs and ahhs" from the van. The sheep and wild Dartmoor ponies were something to see and watch for as we drove - a sight we would get more accustomed to as the week wore on. As the scenery improved, so did the narrowness of the roads. While two way traffic was permitted, several times the side view mirrors of our van brushed the hedge rows that border each side of the streets. God forbid we encountered a car! Then things really got fun! Thank goodness for the courteous Brit drivers that always waited in the pulloffs for us to pass.

In Moretonhampstead, we stopped for our first letterbox which we found by accident. The inn across the street, known as the White Stag Pub was supposed to have a letterbox behind the bar. When we asked the bartender, he checked and even phoned the owner. The box was gone and the new owner knew nothing about it. As we crossed the street, we saw a little souvenir type store. Sue suggested we ask the man behind the counter if he had a letterbox. I told her that there was no mention of this store in the Catalogue of Clues but she entered the shop and asked the shopkeeper, who then reached behind the counter and pulled out our first Dartmoor letterbox! Sue waved her arms in celebration and we excitedly stamped in and bought our first souvenirs from the store owner. Never had he seen such enthusiastic letterboxers!

On the way to the Warren House Inn, we stopped in a little village called North Bovey. There we took some wonderful shots of a Dartmoor Cross located in a little park that had commemorative engraved rocks for all of the special historical occasions, including most of the Queen's Jubilees.

The girls posed for a typical tourist picture in one of those renowned red phone booths located just off the green. After some posing and picture taking, we went into the Ring of Bells Inn as the Dartmoor Catalog of Clues listed a letterbox in this location. After asking the young lady behind the bar for the letterbox, she instructed us to look to the right of the phone booth - the very same booth where we had just taken pictures.

Rubaduc crawled on hands and knees, in search of the box, while Sue looked inside the phone booth and Deanne and Butterfly walked around, honing in on the box. When we still couldn't find it, a local man who was moving a tray of flowers asked if he could help us and wondering what we were doing. Thinking that since we were in England and that the public is widely aware of letterboxing, Rubaduc told him we were looking for the letterbox. He smiled wryly and pointed to the mail box that was cemented into the wall! He walked away laughing, think that we were just a crazy group of Yanks who couldn't find a place to mail a letter when it was right above our heads! We laughed, of course for a different reason, as we were looking for a real letterbox! This joke was good for many miles and we talked about this story for several days.

After a leisurely 6 hour trip and some traffic, we arrived at Langstone Manor. Great accommodations in the 2 cottages and 1 apartment in the Manor House. After getting unpacked and settled in, we heard a knock at our cottage and there stood 2 adults and 2 children, who asked if we were the Baker's Dozen from the US. These strangers soon became our good friends: Spannerman/Steve and his wife Ali and their 2 children, Saul and Bethany. They had stopped to visit with us after reading my last minute post to the UK Dartmoor talk list, detailing our schedule and inviting area boxers to stop and visit with us.

After inviting them into our cottage and calling the others, we exchanged with each other and he shared his and the rest of the family's travelers. In the UK, they do not exchange their signature stamps as we do. They register their personal travelers/stamps as they do their letterboxes, which all count as finds. After the stamping and exchanging, they then joined us for a pub meal at The Plume & Feathers in Princetown, where we also stamped into the letterboxes located there. Spannerman made plans to join us for our Cranmere Pool pilgrimage on Tuesday.

Spannerman/Steve, has been letterboxing on the moors for over 12 years and told me that his F count stands at over 5,000! I would see his Dartmoor 5000 patch as we ventured out to Cranmere later that week. This soft spoken man truly looks the part of a British letterboxer. His knowledge of Dartmoor is amazing and I learned so much from this wonderful stranger who quickly became a friend.

After we left the Plume and Feathers and had said goodbye to Spannerman's crew, we headed back to Langstone Manor and our cottages. A man approached Sue in the parking lot and asked if she was part of the Baker's Dozen. His name was Andy Wilkes, a UK letterboxer, who along with Chris and Louise Donovan [the college student from UK who we hosted a mini-gathering for so she could meet US boxers for her college dissertation], would be taking over the Dartmoor Exchange program. Andy has been letterboxing for only 1 and a half years and had been corresponding with Judy prior to our departure. He purposely camped at Langstone Manor for the next few days to be with us and show us the ropes. Andy, too, would soon become a great friend. Like Spannerman, the exchange process began with a frenzy. And, like the Spannerman family, Andy would also become part of our Baker's Dozen family.

After little or no sleep since Thursday night and all of the excitement on our first day here, this exhausted group of boxers turned in for the night, with dreams of hundreds of images of letterboxes crammed into our logbooks.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Sunday, September 19, 2004

"Our First Full Day on the Moors"


It looked very cloudy out but I awaited the day to begin with anticipation . . . our first full day on the moors.

Andy Wilkes, the UK letterboxer who has been emailing Judy for months prior to our trip, is camping at Langstone Manor and will join us for the day. The plan is to hunt several of the tors that are known for scavenging.

Dartmoor letterboxers are not automatically given clues like we allow access to clues on our website. In order to purchase the Catalogue of Clues, the main vehicle by which clues are distributed in the UK, boxers must prove their mettle by showing proof of finding 100 boxes. Without formal clues, the main method, besides Word of Mouth clues, is by visiting several of the tors known for abundant letterboxes, thus known for scavenging.

Scavenging is a little like going to an Easter Egg Hunt. You just walk along and start looking at all of the likely places that a letterbox may be hidden. Many of the UK letterboxes are hidden in 2 pill containers, or pill pots. These are usually thrown away by the pharmacists [chemists] in drug stores as they are the containers in which pills are sold by drug companies. There are 2 major sizes and the smaller size, which holds the stamp and logbook, is placed inside the larger pill pot. Similar to our double bagging technique here, but much more sturdy to help withstand the elements.


A great day of storming the moors! We visited the main scavenging areas of Staple Tor, Feather Tor and Vixen Tor. While our expectations proved higher than our actual count, we still had a great day out. And we didn't do bad for a group of scavenging Yanks!

A view no matter where we turn!

We are still awed by the beauty of the moor, mixed with the abundant animals such as wild ponies, sheep and cattle. When we entered the car park [parking lot] for our scavenging this morning, there were several Dartmoor ponies looking for a handout. Many of us were able to pet them and take some pictures. One pony in particular was rubbing his backside on a rock. Hugh tried to show him the correct way to do this!

Hugh shows the pony how it's done

Dartmoor weather is known to change quickly. Several of our group were talking to a camper back at Langstone Manor when we were waiting for the rest of our group to come down to the vans. This camper, a long time walker on the moors, told us to be very careful on the moors. "The mist can come in quickly." Our thought was that she meant the fog, but Andy Wilkes later clarified that "mist" is a combination of fog and light showers and can all but reduce your view to a hands length ahead of you. Luckily, we never saw or had to deal with the mist on this vacation. But, we did experience many changes of weather on this first day - rain to clouds to sun to rain to sun then winds. But we kept at it, since we had a goal of F100 and the surprise to come on Tuesday night!

First of the day & FF to Rubaduc!

Rubaduc found our first moor box and was also First Finder on this box! Andy and several other letterboxers told us that being a FF on a Dartmoor box is a very prestigious thing. Since there are so many letterboxers on the moors, it is a very large accomplishment to hold that honor. This vacation would find one more FF for our group but more on that later. The Baker's Dozen was very excited! Rubaduc had broken the ice and found our first box - it was onward and upward from here!

Andy Wilkes is becoming a favorite of our group. He was teased so much by Rubaduc and others! We may do some permanent damage to US/British relations by the time Andy heads back home! Andy proved to be a wonderful guide and has helped kick our vacation off to a great start. After a wonderful day out on the moors, we ate at the pub on premises here at Langstone Manor. Our group was real rowdy tonight. Many of the others in the pub seemed to enjoy the banter and repartee from our group. As we walked out for the night, I turned to those remaining customers and apologized if we disturbed anyone and asked if they had any idea that there would be live entertainment here in the pub tonight. They all laughed but who knows what they said when we walked out! I know Andy's face was in a constant state of redness due to the talk and the teasing. At dinner, we presented Andy with one of the signed Randy Hall letterboxing books that I had secretly purchased to give to special people on our vacation and Andy truly fits the "special" bill.

After dinner, the group spent some time stamping into the HH's/Traveling Boxes that people from all over the country had mailed to me to take to Dartmoor. Along with the stamping, we shared stories from our first day out - memories that would stay with us for many a day.

Tomorrow morning will bring the arrival of our next UK letterboxing team - Louise & Chris Donovan. We are most anxious to spend some time with them and see them once again. The only down side to the day will be Andy's departure, later on in the day.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Monday, September 20, 2004 -
"We Storm the Moors"

Sue's Thumb in Action!

We set out today to find as many letterboxes as possible. It was very rainy and windy - typical England weather. The group decided to run into Princetown and stop in at the main Dartmoor National Park Visitor's Centre as well as several of the buildings and pubs that have letterboxes while the rain was so heavy. Weather reports called for clearing after lunch - which did finally happen.

A Sphinx-like Tor

About 9am, as we were preparing to leave, Chris and Louise Donovan pulled in! Great timing. After some introductions, the group set out. The entourage stopped in Princetown and then headed to the commemorative series "Yanks on the Moor" planted by Louise and Chris. This special series was in honor of the American letterboxers who had hopped the pond this year and had welcomed Louise and Chris in the US: Music Woman and Bluebird's trip several weeks ago, as well as for the Baker's Dozen. Located in Sousson's Forest, the 3 boxes were "Yanks on the Moor," "English Girl in NY" and "Hant's Hog." The Hog box was specially seeded by Chris, we found out later, with a HH that Louise and Chris had picked up in the US, "Hermie the Wormie" that they wanted us to return to the US and take to the upcoming Monster Mash, which was placed by our CT friend, Pine Cone! [At this point, I'm not even sure where the Worm is but I'm sure he'll wiggle up somewhere!]

One of the many trail hazards we encountered!

One of our immediate reactions letterboxing yesterday was the huge amount of poop on the moor!! I have never seen so many shapes and sizes . . . sheep, rabbit, pony, cow . . . it ran the gamut! Yesterday, we all gingerly stepped around anything we saw. Today, we hardly noticed it and stepped right through all but the largest patties! A standing ritual on our return to the cottages after a day out was to pound our hiking boots on the stone patio outside our cottages to remove the day's accumulation of manure!

After the "Yanks on the Moor" series, we investigated a small stone circle nearby and paused for a quick lunch. No dilly dallying! We had an F100 to get! We proceeded to Yar Tor to find several commemorative boxes.

Sue coming over ridge, after her FF

Baker's Dozen plus Andy plus Louise and Chris then headed across the road to Condon Tor and Yar Tor, where the Baker's Dozen showed our 3 Brit guides how to box!!! With a total of 16 of us, our scavenging efforts proved very fruitful. There was a time during this scavenging when all I did was walk from found box, stamp in, to the next - over and over again! It was such a great day. Hugh became our secret weapon - I called him our "letterboxing magnet." It was amazing to watch him. He got to be like Babe Ruth - pointing from afar where a letterbox would be. I swear he must have planted them all due to the ease at which he found them! One time, 6 of us checked around a tor and Hugh came by and asked if we checked the tor. Frustrated, we answered in the positive. Wasn't our collective faces red when Hugh once again pulled a letterbox out of somewhere!

Sue had a great time and was so proud that she found a FF letterbox today! The second FF in as many days, with Rubaduc finding our first yesterday.

A Poster Perfect Tor

The only down side to this wonderful day was that we said goodbye to our new friend, Andy Wilkes. His humor and great attitude helped us tremendously. I think he might even have a crush on Rubaduc! We were all so indebted to Andy, who helped make our time here on the moor so special. Plans are presently in the works for him to visit us here in the states at some point in the future for a "spot of boxing."

That night, after the ceremonial poop removal and showers, we headed next door once again, to Langstone Manor's pub for a great meal and more wild times and laughs! If we didn't get thrown out of England the past 2 nights, we never will!

Reliving the Day's Events: Kim, Christopher, Judy & Alexis

I had an opportunity to talk to Chris at length that night in the pub and also back at the cottage. He so gets it! Chris expressed a desire and need to sit down at some point and interview Godfrey Swinscow, affectionately known as "God", who is the premiere letterboxer in the country as well as one of the few who have made the most contributions to this pastime. With a rumored F count of over 10,000, God is one of the few letterboxers left with a true historical record of the Moor and the very beginnings of letterboxing in the UK. Godfrey's present duties, besides cataloging every letterbox on the moor, is to serve as membership chairman of the Dartmoor 100 Club. Chris' intent, like my own Interview Series in the US, is that this important part of letterboxing history be preserved and recorded for future generations.

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

After dinner, we headed back to the cottages and once again shared in the stamping frenzy that became the norm around our cottage. Louise and Chris stamped into all of the hitchhikers we had brought, just as Andy had the night before. When we thought all the stamping was done, Louise presented me with an event stamp - but not just a normal event stamp!

Mark carved stamp on left for Louise; Louise carved stamp for Mark on right

When Lou and Chris visited the US to do research for Louise's dissertation on letterboxing, I hosted a mini-gather for them in the evening and carved an event stamp. A few of those at the event teased me, asking where the other half of the suitcase was, which bore Louise's initials on one of the patches! Here, I thought I was being artistic. Well, even before the teasing began, Chris said he had a thought - to have Louise carve the other half of the suitcase and an appropriate landmark. On the right is the stamp that Louise carved. I had given the event stamp I carved to Louise so she worked on the other half. I now have her half of the stamp, that when stamped side by side, created a complete image. We even talked about expanding on this concept every time we meet. I was extremely touched and pleased to receive this great stamp from Louise.

Another Dartmoor Cross

After only 2 full days here, we all felt like we had been on the moor forever. The vacation was proceeding very slowly and the Baker's Dozen was having the time of their lives - boxing all day and pubs at night. Doesn't get any better than that!

We all went to bed Monday night with thoughts of Tuesday. Spannerman was going to lead us to Cranmere Pool in the morning, along with the Donovans. Plus, I had collected $10 from everyone and told them there was a special surprise on Tuesday night. While others went to bed excited about our journey to Cranmere Pool and what the surprise might be, Sue and I went to bed with anticipation of Cranmere, excited for the others and knowing some of what was to come!

Thursday, November 25, 2004

A Few Photos from our Trip

Dave & Deanne

Mark & Sue


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Tuesday Day - September 21, 2004
"A Day to Remember!"

Baker's Dozen, basking in the glow of 150 years of Cranmere Pool history

Today our goal was twofold. First was to get the Cranmere Pool letterbox and second was the 9 boxes we need to reach our F100! Hugh promised to find 5 more than we need so that Geri and Bonnie can catch up on the few that they missed over the past several days.

The Cranmere Pool Letterbox on it's 150th

We would attempt Cranmere Pool on it's 150 year anniversary and Sue and my 30th wedding anniversary! Chris and Louise told us last night that while Louise was researching her dissertation, they went to the Plymouth Library, where all of the old Cranmere Pool logbooks are held, dating back to the early 1900's. Although the first 2 logbooks have either been misplaced or in someone's cellar somewhere, they said the remaining logbooks have been preserved exactly as they were out in the box . . . many pages have pieces of grass and such enveloped in the pages! Chris and Louise noticed that Edward, Duke of Windsor, had signed into the Cranmere Pool logbook shortly before he abdicated the throne as king for his divorced American girlfriend.

When we got to the parking area, Spannerman opened the back of his car to reveal a dozen or so walking sticks. He and his family had gone out into the woods the afternoon before and had cut walking sticks for our group of 13 plus Louise and Chris to use on the way to Cranmere. Many of us were very glad that we had them with us.

The Cranmere Pool letterbox was such a thrill to do. There were 19 of us: Baker's Dozen, Louise and Chris Donovan, and Spannerman/Steve, his wife Ali and their two children, Saul and Bethany and 2 of their dogs. The children were kept out of school for the day to go letterboxing with the Yanks to Cranmere, which was the childrens first time on Cranmere also.

Allie had justified the children missing school by saying they would learn a lot from the Americans so their education wouldn't totally be curtailed for the day. As we walked, Sue gave them a short US history lesson to make up for their missing the day from school - but skipped over that Tea Party thing!

It was a mostly cloudy, windy, raw day as our group headed off to Cranmere. The land, which was a pool at one time, is now wet and boggy, which required jumping over wet, swampy areas. The emotions once we spotted the box were amazing. To contemplate the huge amount of people over the past 150 years who had walked this same route was mind boggling. This was mecca . . . the box that began it all!

Our group approaches the Cranmere Pool Letterbox. You can just see the top of it to the right of the middle group of people at the top of the picture.

I struggled with my emotions as we approached the concrete box with the steel door that housed this historical letterbox. The group had told me as we walked to the box that they wanted me to be the one to open the box. After a photo session of couples or individuals with the letterbox memorial, I had the distinct honor of opening this special treasure on it's 150th anniversary year after having planned this trip for a full year. This was our last full day on Dartmoor and my feelings were intense and I was most humbled to hold this historical box.

Mark does the honors while Bethany looks on

The reminder on the inside of the door of the Cranmere letterbox

After everyone stamped in and we took some more pictures, we found several other area letterboxes, headed back to the vehicles and had lunch. The feeling of accomplishment and excitement was very evident during the lunch. Even though our humble lunch consisted of tuna sandwiches and peanut butter and jelly and fruit, we ate with as much gusto and celebration as if it were lobster!

The Fanstone Family: Saul, Spannerman/Steve, Bethany and Ali
Their kindness and friendship will not be forgotten

When we returned our walking sticks to Spannerman's car, he offered me the stick I had been using to keep as a gift. Rubaduc had offered to purchase it for me, but Steve wouldn't hear of it. I even tried to offer some money for Saul and Bethany's vacation account - there was no way money was changing hands! This walking stick means so much to me - handmade by Steve, with a ram's horn handle and stained a rich dark maple. This stick will always be a much-treasured possession and a wonderful reminder of the friendships that were forged in this beautiful wild land with the unforgettable tors.

We couldn't rest on our laurels too long! We had 9 more boxes to go to reach our 100 so we had predetermined to stop at Pew Tor, one of the best scavenging areas. We thought that box-rich area, along with Hugh, our secret weapon, would garner the needed letterboxes to complete our goal. As we drove from Cranmere to Pew Tor, I told Hugh to rest his eyes so he would be fresh to turn loose on Pew Tor!

We arrived at Pew Tor with the sun shining and the 19 of us headed out. Pew Tor has a small stream that we had to cross and one of the dogs was afraid to cross the shallow, but fast-moving water. I picked him up and handed him to Ali, who was waiting on the other side. I can still hear the dog's contented grunts as I handed him off to his mistress - at least his paws didn't get wet then!

Here a box, there a box, everywhere a letterbox!

Then, pandemonium struck! It hit like a furry! Hands were waving from every part of Pew Tor. We had difficulty keeping track of the boxes. 20 letterboxes later, we left as our 7pm surprise was fast approaching. We said goodbye to the Fanstones, as they had other plans, and headed to Langstone Manor, for the boot stomping ceremony and showers. There was excitement in the air and surprises yet to come!

Friday, November 19, 2004

Tuesday Evening - September 21, 2004
An Evening Where Dreams Came True

The Railway Inn - where our dreams came to fruition

At 6:30 pm, after showers and some spiffing up, we headed out for the Railway Inn. Little did the group know what lie ahead.

We stop on our way to the Railway Inn to show Louise & Chris a quick letterbox

Many months before our departure, I had arranged with Sylvia and Tony Moore, who edit and publish The Dartmoor Catalogue of Clues, to meet with us and present us our Dartmoor 100 Club patches and membership cards. While I was unsure of our chances in reaching that number, they were going to give us honorary memberships.

In a more recent email just before our departure, Sylvia suggested that we meet at the Railway Inn, located in Princetown, which was a popular pub for letterboxers and which had a large back room for private functions as well as many letterboxes. It was then, in that email, that Sylvia asked if we would mind if they included Godfrey Swinscow in the festivites. Godfrey is known in UK letterboxing circles as God [I think as a both shortened version of his full name and also for the important contributions and status at which he is held in UK letterboxing.] When I emailed Sylvia back, asking if Godfrey was THE God of whom I had heard, she delighted in letting me know that he was one in the same! Godfrey is president of the Dartmoor 100 Club and would be handing our our honorary patches and cards! This was too good to be true and Sue and I delighted over the few weeks before our trip just imagining our groups reaction once they discovered this awesome surprise that had been arranged for them.

It was comical to both Sue and I, since we were in the know, to see how dedicated everyone was in getting the registration numbers for each box we found in Dartmoor. Normally, to be included in the Dartmoor 100 Club, you must present proof of the stamps, along with the registration numbers for each of the 100 boxes found before you receive your Dartmoor 100 patch. [The Dartmoor Catalogue of Clues registers boxes for a period of 5 years, at which time, the placers must re-register or the clues will be dropped from the catalogue. While the boxes may exist on the moor, if re-registration is not affected, they drop off of the clue book.] Many of Baker's Dozen had spoken to me during the week, asking what process was involved and would I consider sending 1 letter in for the complete group with our membership fee.

Christopher/CSCM spent a portion of an evening catching everyone up on the correct registration numbers for each of our finds. Sue and I just stole knowing glances at each other; thinking that this was unnecessary but not knowing of a method in which to save them this work without giving away the secret of Tuesday night.

We arrive in the back room of the Railway Inn

When we arrived at the Railway Inn, we checked into the pub and were told that we could use the back room, [Sylvia and Tony Moore had pre-arranged this but our group just looked upon it as a combination of luck and fate.] We then proceeded, with the waitress's permission, to move the tables in a large "U" shaped configuration, so that we could all see one another. When ordering meals in a pub in the UK, the waitress does not come to your table - you must go up to the bar, order your dinner and the waitress then delivers it to your table. As the ordering process began, Judy came into our room and told me that the Moore's were seated at the bar and were looking for me. This was done somewhat clandestine and I don't think many noticed or heard.

Judy, Chris and Louise Donovan, Dave discuss letterboxing theory

I then went into the bar, we introduced each other and they said they would join us after dinner. Tony said that Godfrey was running a little late and would be by shortly. They then told me that Godfrey's wife, Anne Swinscow, would also be joining us. Anne wrote 3 books on UK letterboxing in the early 1980's that are still read today and I had months before included a brief history of Dartmoor letterboxing from one of her books on our website. Expecting that she might not be there, I had brought my 2 Swinscow books for Godfrey to sign - but now I would have the real author's signature.

Butterfly toasts this magical evening

After Sue joined us at the bar, I introduced her to the Moore's, who presented us with an anniversary card and we ordered our meals and headed back to our room.

Mark explains the "surprise"

Once back in the back room, I told the group our reason for being here and that everyone would receive their Dartmoor 100 membership cards and patches that night and they would be presented by Godfrey and his wife, Anne. Early in the week, I found several occassions to praise the accomplishments of Godfrey, so our group knew of him by then. The group was extremely surprised and excited. I also explained that we were to have received honorary membership but since we had reached and well exceeded our 100 finds, we would be receiving the traditional lifetime membership. Sue and I were also excited to learn that Louise and Chris Donovan, like the Baker's Dozen, had also surpassed the magical 100 mark that afternoon!

We enjoy the pub fare and the letterboxing talk

During dinner, I passed around an event stamp that I had carved of Winston Churchill. My reasoning for Churchill, I explained to the group, was that he was a great British statesman and tonight we would be meeting the 2 top UK letterboxing statesmen, as well as Sylvia and Anne.

Anne and Godfrey Swinscow

Godfrey and Anne Swinscow arrived shortly thereafter, introduced by Sylvia Moore. We had just gotten our meals and they asked if they could join us for a meal! That was like Legerdemaine asking me if I would mind receiving another letterboxing clue to place on our website!! They ordered from the bar while we hurriedly changed our "U" shaped table configuration to a square, placing them at the forefront and adding another table for Tony and Sylvia next to our table.

Isn't that 5000 patch a beauty?

Beginning with a brief history of the Dartmoor 100 Club and the origination of its patches, Godfrey entertained and entranced us for a long while - regaling us with his personal letterboxing story, the history of Cranmere Pool and tales from the moor. Many of us asked questions which he was all to happy to answer.

Godfrey told us that his first visit to Cranmere Pool was in 1934 at the age of 10 when, after school, he decided to visit Cranmere Pool. After traveling 12 miles each way and finding the letterbox, he stamped the impression of this historical box onto his hand and shirt sleeve as proof of his visit. When he got home, his mother washed his shirt and made him wash his hands - thus leaving him with no permanent impression of the stamp! The next year, he went back and this time, he told me, he had a proper logbook and recorded it in the more traditional method.

Someone asked if the impression we had made of the Cranmere Pool letterbox that morning was the original stamp. Godfrey told us that the current one in its protective concrete and steel enclosure is third generation. He also went on to explain the tradition of leaving a postcard in the Cranmere Pool letterbox. It seems that there is a tradition that if you leave a postcard, with the image of Cranmere Pool stamped on it, insert your name and address on the postcard and leave postage, that the next visitor is required to mail that postcard at the nearest post office after getting back from Cranmere. God said that postcards had been sent to addresses all around the world, including Russia, Thailand and Australia. Alexis, knowing of this tradition, had left a postcard at Cranmere that morning with enough money to cover postage. After we returned home, she emailed our group with a scanned image of the postcard that they had received at their home in New York on September 27 - a mere 6 days after leaving it.

Anne Swinscow autographs Mark's books

Godfrey went on to tell us that there are 3500 registered letterboxes located on Dartmoor at any given time, spread out at any of the 120 total tors located on the moor. He said originally many of the stamps were hand-carved, but the trend had reversed itself and now the majority of those found are commercially made. While designs may be hand drawn or designed by a letterboxer, they were manufactured by 1 of the several commercial stamp houses that cater to this type of trade. Anne told us that while she was not a letterboxer, she personally designed all of the stamps that Godfrey placed. When I asked how she decided to write a book on letterboxing when she wasn't a boxer, she told us that she did it mostly out of boredom - Godfrey was always out letterboxing and she was home. She decided to take advantage of that time and write a book.

Anne, his wife, also entered the discussion with a humorous aside or comment during the night. This regal lady sat with a smile on her face as she observed all that was occurring. It was such an unexpected surprise to have Anne with us along with Godfrey. Godfrey, who is presently 80 years old, is one if not the oldest living letterboxers in the UK.

The group in the back room at the Railway Inn

Godfrey told us that letterboxing with animals on the moor was a very common thing as it provided exercise for both master and pet. The most unusual letterboxing animal that he had heard of was a woman who letterboxed with her chicken! It was known all over the moor and this chicken was accepted at all of the moor pubs while it's master ate and had a pint. She would visit a pub after a day out letterboxing and remove a large tupperware container, containing food and an egg cup. She would then proceed to fill the egg cup with grain for the chicken, while she proceeded to have her meal. Godfrey said it was the most unusual thing he ever saw. On the moor, if the chicken fell behind, it's mistress would yell out it's name and it would flap it's wings and catch up! God said that after this chicken died, she tried to train other chickens to letterbox with her but to no avail. Seems like a letterboxing chicken only comes around once in a lifetime!

The last story Godfrey told us about was that 25 years ago, as letterboxing blossomed and more and more boxers became aware of the hobby, the Dartmoor National Park Service contacted him and said that they wanted all of the letterboxes removed except 2: Cranmere Pool and Ducks Pool, both preserved and contained in permanent cement structures. The reason for this was due to similar concerns as with our National Park Service - pollution, spoiling or disrupting the ecology, etc. After almost a year of lobbying and explaining, the UK letterboxers pacified and convinced the authorities that letterboxing could continue as a safe pursuit and together developed the Code of Conduct for letterboxers. Since this code, letterboxing has peacefully coexisted with nature and the Dartmoor National Park Service, thanks to the dedicated efforts of Godfrey, Sylvia and Tony Moore and others.

Sylvia and Tony Moore

Tony and Sylvia sat next to Sue and I and filled us in on many of the other questions we had. This wonderful night was a result of the Moore's commitment to letterboxing and their interest in meeting us. Tony told me that he had some 35,000 letterboxing finds.

Anne and Godfrey present Mark with his 100 patch

After we filled out our membership cards, Godfrey called our names individually and Anne handed us our patch and membership card. Each of us posed for a picture that Bonnie took that night. Unfortunately, she was having trouble with indoor shots and the only picture of that event was one of me [How fortuitous!]

Then it was my turn to make a presentation. Before we left home, I had made arrangements with Randy Hall/Mapsurfer to sign and stamp his personal traveler on 3 of his books that I purchased for the group. I had already presented 1 to Andy Wilkes earlier in the week. I then presented the remaining two - one to Godfrey and Anne Swinscow and the other to Tony and Sylvia Moore's, with the Baker's Dozen's appreciation for creating a magical night that many of us would never forget. [Anne, with a twinkle in her eyes, turned to me later in the evening and said Randy's book was a much nicer looking book than hers. Not to be outdone, I explained that her book dated back to the early 80's and that printing had come a long way since then. She seemed pleased with the answer but still was fascinated in turning the pages and examining the book the rest of the evening.]

Can you think of a better way to spend your 30th wedding anniversary?

It was truly a day and night none of us will ever forget and the culmination of a magical, exciting and wonderful 4 days in Dartmoor - visiting Cranmere Pool and being presented our Dartmoor 100 patches by Anne and Godfrey Swinscow, with Sylvia and Tony Moore looking on like beaming parents. We left the moor the following day as we headed towards London for the second phase of our trip but something told me the moor would never be far from our hearts as we were all infected with the beauty of the land and it's people.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Wednesday - September 22, 2004
"We Bid Farewell to the Wonderful Moor"

After packing our 3 vehicles with our gear, The Baker's Dozen left our cottages at lengthen Manor Holiday Park.

Those &*%$@! Hedgerows!

Our first stop of the day was the gift shop of the Dartmoor Prison. Chris had asked Hugh if he would be interested in a quick look at the Prison, since Hugh is a corrections officer in NY. While they went off, the rest of us entered the gift shop and asked for their letterboxes. We were able to stamp into 9 more boxes, bringing our final Dartmoor total to 191. We hope to come back in several years to get our Dartmoor 300 patch, since we are so close to the 200 already. This experience has been one that the Baker's Dozen will long remember. Some of the Dozen have already prefaced their remarks with "when we come back next time . . . " They have been putting pressure on Sue to let us return in 2 years, but she feels that 3 years will be more realistic. Next trip I think we will remain in Dartmoor for the entire week, without a 3 day stay in London.


Our next stop for the day was the picture postcard village of Widdecomb on the Moor. With it's central green dominated by a beautiful old church, this hamlet seems to be placed back in time hundreds of years. It also must be a very large tourist stop, as the parking areas were filled with all of the latest and greatest touring buses. We decided to take an hour here to do some souvenir shopping that we had put off all week in favor of letterboxing and pubs! Several of the group stopped at a little cart that sold homemade icecream topped off with a dollop of clotted cream, a Devon well known favorite.

This rainbow was our last glimpse of the Moor

Back in the vehicles again, we headed towards Stonehenge, which would be our next destination. As we left the moor, the clouds and showers moved in - almost a mirror of our feelings for it seemed the further away for Dartmoor we drove, the more heartsick we became. The moor had entered our hearts and leaving was not an easy thing. Our group never got tired of the beautiful pastoral scenes that we would encounter around every bend in those narrow roads. The wonderful new friends that we had made while letterboxing here, who filled our days with memories - Louise and Chris Donovan; Andy Wilkes; Steve/Spannerman, Ali, Bethany and Saul Fanstone; Tony & Silvia Moore and Anne & Godfrey Swinscow. The sheep, with their many colors denoting ownership by specific farmers; the wild Dartmoor ponies that were not quite that wild; and the pubs, which became our gathering place in the evenings to enjoy a pint or two of a local beer, while reliving the finds and adventures of the day. This was truly a magical place.

Last minute directions to London

Once we arrived at the Stonehenge parking lot, Louise and Chris said goodbye. The group posed for a final set of pictures with the Donovans, several of us consulted a map to find the best way into London and Chris and Louise were off but with a promise to visit us soon in the US again on their next trip to Boston. In such a short time, they have become like family to Sue and I and probably others in the group. Secretly [no longer now!] I had told Sue that I would love to fix Louise up with our youngest son, Steve . . . . but talk about a long distance relationship!

Chris and I share the same passion for letterboxing, as well as the interest in the important task of documenting the oral history of this pastime before more of these first generation letterboxers pass on. We were both amazed that no one had yet sat down with Godfrey Swinscow to record the history and his wonderful anectdotes of letterboxing that are stored only in his head. I asked God that night in Princetown if anyone had ever recorded his knowledge of the moor along with his hundreds of stories. He told me that there was an American woman who had written him several years before for that very purpose but God hadn't heard anything from her in years.


After our visit to Stonehenge and a quick lunch at the picnic tables by the parking lot, we headed to London. The closer to London we got, the more hectic the traffic became! The only saving grace was that the roads now were standard widths and we didn't have to deal with hedgerows and stone walls on both sides of a narrow, one car width lane!

We arrived at our London hotel, Country Inns & Suites in the Kensington section of London. Quite ironic since we had traveled over 3500 miles from Kensington, CT to Kensington, UK. After the check-in process, which could not have gotten any wilder since the lobby area was quite small and there were 13 of us, travel weary and laden with luggage! The bellman did his best transporting the luggage to the proper floors but it took part of an evening to sort out whose luggage was where! Many said their rooms were very small but Sue & I didn't utter a word - for some reason, we had lucked out with a very nice room which proved to be an asset for the group later on. Later we discovered that as tour directors, we were upgraded to a larger room - this would come in handy later on this week!

After quickly unpacking our clothes, several of us decided to turn in the vehicles that evening so as to avoid the morning rush and the new congestion fee that was in effect here. In order to help alleviate some of the traffic in London proper, the government had instituted in the spring a $10 per day charge for any vehicle driving within the heart of the city during the prime hours of 7am to 6pm. Alexis, Dave and I left the hotel with our trusty navigators: Hugh, Rubaduc and Sue. We entered the maelstom of traffic - as bad as New York City but everyone was on the wrong side of the road! One way street, beeping cars, crossing pedestrians - it was like a cab driver's nightmare and here we were, in the thick of things, already suffering from culture shock! Talk about extremes! The quiet of the moor to the hustle and bustle of one of the busiest cities in the world.

Two and a half hours later we dropped the cars off at the rental location - which was only a little over 2 miles away from our hotel! The traffic of commuters and getting lost, coupled with the maze of one way streets and darkness turned what we thought would be a twenty minute jaunt int a two and a half hour ordeal. The six of us took our first tube [subway] ride back to the hotel, where we went out for a quick, late evening meal and a well-deserved night's sleep.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Big Ben

We started the day off early and visited the Tower of London, The British Museum - including the fantastic Mummy exhibition and the Rosetta Stone, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Parliament building, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace and several of the city's many parks with a multitude of flowers still in bloom.

An English garden