Something Out of the Ordinary: Letterboxing and Geocaching on Dartmoor


More than 150 years ago, James Perrott of Chagford invented ‘letterboxing’. This fun outdoor activity combines problem-solving with treasure hunting, orienteering and, in some instances, art. Geocaching is a similar activity, but with a modern twist. Exact locations are recorded with Global Positioning System (GPS) data. Both are great ways to explore Dartmoor. Below we delve into the history, how to’s and a few tips for letterboxing and geocaching.


A brief history of letterboxing

It all started on Dartmoor’s northern moor. The well-known Dartmoor guide, James Perrott left a large glass jar for collecting visiting cards at Cranmere Pool. Walkers on the moor began leaving letters and postcards at this spot. Many addressed the cards to friends and relatives, some to themselves. The next visitor to the site would leave their own missive and collect the offerings to post on. This is how the name ‘letterboxing’ came about.

As time has gone on, letterboxing has expanded across Dartmoor and to other parts of the UK. In 1998 the American Smithsonian Magazine published an article about the activity. As a result, interest has spread there too.

Today, letterboxing has a slightly different guise. The practise has expanded to include a number of different boxes, each with a different purpose and promise. The tradition of leaving a letter has been replaced with the practice of collecting a stamp or leaving an entry into the letterbox’s logbook.

Box-hunt walks can take in traditional boxes (normal letterboxes, hidden with clues to find them), Mystery boxes (which are extremely hard to find), or even Hitchhiker boxes that move from one location to another courtesy of letterbox walkers.



Geocaching on Dartmoor

Similar to letterboxing, geocaching requires orienteering skills, a treasure-hunting spirit and problem-solving skills.

Dartmoor alone holds 2,500 or so different caches, all hidden across a wide variety of terrains. The activity has spread quickly. This year, it enjoyed its 20th anniversary! GPS Stash Hunting became Geocaching when Matt Stum coined the phrase in May of 2000.

There are many ways to get involved in geocaching. There is no need to register. Simply check out one of the many geocaching websites for Dartmoor, choose a walk, take note of the locations and head off.

Some geocaching and letterboxing activities can stretch over multiple days. In these cases, you’ll need to book Dartmoor accommodation. Letterboxing and geocaching are great ways to have fun outdoor on Dartmoor.

Prepare well before walking on Dartmoor as weather can change quickly and easily leave walkers stranded or lost. Happy hunting!



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