Friday, July 27, 2012

I Found a New Adventure: Letterboxing

by Donna L. Watkins

We've discovered a new thing for outdoor adventure. It's called "letterboxing" and is actually thought of as a hobby. I feel it's yet another reason to spend time outdoors and have a new adventure to include when we're going to be "in the area" anyway.  Besides, I simply love simple things to do.  It slows down the pace of life and allows you to see into other realms of beauty.

The way I discovered this was after Randal discovered geocaching as he was looking for some fun things to do with our son while he visited Oklahoma for Father's Day. He decided this year he wanted memories rather than a new tool, so began looking for some adventuresome thing to do. Geocaching requires being outdoors and having a GPS, a perfect fit for father and son since they're both nature lovers and gadget guys.

Letterboxing is quite different from geocaching since it requires no technology or gadget which is definitely more my type of fun. I heard of it when I mentioned to a friend of mine that Randal was studying up on geocaching and asked if she'd heard of it. She responded she had, and that they had done it along with letterboxing also. I had never heard of letterboxing so I checked it out the next day I was going to be on the computer.

Donna's Letterboxing Rubber Stamp
First of all what you need is a rubber stamp and an ink pad, plus a small journal or sketch book of some type. What you do is follow a list of clues to find the location of the "letterbox" which is hidden. Some of the clues are very creative and even written as poetry.

We did one recently that used the sign of the historic location and you had to decipher the code by following instructions to use the first letter of the third sentence, etc. You filled in the blanks with the letters, then there were 5 multiple questions about how many windows on the building, was there handicap access, etc. When you had all your blanks filled in, you could see where the "letterbox" was hidden.

The letterbox is actually a sealed container (generally a plastic food container with a good sealing lid). In it is a small journal where you place your rubber stamp and then you use their rubber stamp to add to your journal. I leave space to write a few notes about that actual letterbox. Our evaluation whether it was challenging, fun or ruined, as was the first one we did. There was an inch of water in the first letterbox expedition we did, so everything was ruined and a bit muddy.

We're obviously still newbies at this hobby but I like to stretch my brain and it makes for a fun reason to traverse woodlands, trails, and even small family cemeteries. I'm always on an adventure when I'm outdoors since I like to look for anything with life to take photos, but this adds to the fun. Besides, who doesn't like a good opportunity to play detective?

Randal Opening Gate of Small Family
Cemetery - Here In Virginia There Are Many
Let me share some history on letterboxing with you from the website:

The year was 1854, and a Victorian guide named James Perrott placed a bottle in the wildest, most inaccessible area on Dartmoor, England, along the banks of Cranmere Pool. In it, he included his calling card so future visitors could contact him and leave their own calling cards. Little did anyone know, this small act would be become the hobby we now know as letterboxing. Those who made it to Cranmere Pool were justifiably proud of their accomplishment and recorded their accomplishment by including their own calling cards in the bottle. Needless to say, not many people picked up James Perrott's calling cards in those early years.

In 1888, a small tin box replaced the original bottle. Visitors left self-addressed postcards and the next person to visit the letterbox would retrieve the postcards and mail them back from their hometown.

By April 1905, another upgrade was in order—particularly a means by which the increasing number of visitors could record their attendance. For the first time, it included a logbook, and a zinc box replaced the tin box.

The first suggestion for a rubber stamp appeared in the logbook on July 22, 1907 by John H. Strother who wrote, ".... would suggest that a rubber stamp, something like the post office stamps for postmarking letters or rubber stamp for putting the address at the top of a piece of notepaper be provided and kept here. If this were done it would be proof that cards posted had really come from Cranmere." The letterbox finally reached the point as we largely know it today as a box containing a logbook and a rubber stamp, although perhaps the slowest growing hobby of all time. After 122 years, fifteen letterboxes dotted Dartmoor.

In 1976, Tom Gant created a guide map pinpointing the fifteen letterboxes in existence, at which point letterboxing began to boom in a big way. The number of letterboxes tripled the next year and in the 1980s grew into the thousands. Letterboxing became a full-fledged hobby in its own right, and letterboxers who wanted to distinguish themselves started to create descriptive names for themselves and personal stamps to mark the letterboxes they found.

Letterboxing stayed a mostly Dartmoor-only tradition until April of 1998 when the Smithsonian magazine published a small article in the United States about this oddly British hobby found on the moors of southwest England. Many people read the article and loved this treasure hunt concept wishing it was a bit closer to home. A few readers, however, found each other through means of the relatively new Internet and decided to take matters into their own hands by hiding letterboxes for each other in the United States.

Through this effort, Letterboxing North America (LbNA) was born. By 2001, over a thousand letterboxes spotted the United States covering all 50 states. Letterboxers traveling to international locations started to plant letterboxes around the globe from Aruba to Zimbabwe.

Read entire article at

The first letterboxing website I found was, so I'm a member there but I've noticed that AtlasQuest has some local letterboxes that are not on the other website, so I guess it's like anything else online ... more interest, more websites.

We look forward to doing this when we travel since it's very easy to look for locations near where you're planning to be. Most of the people I've mentioned it to have no idea what it is, so I hope it might give you an idea for some outdoor activity for yourself, or when you're looking for something fun to do with your children or grandchildren. You can also plant a letterbox yourself. Check out the information on the letterboxing websites.

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