Note: First published in 2017, this article has been updated for spring 2022. Letterboxing is a wonderful outdoor family activity that can be done individually or with friends while exercising social distancing.
Some 160 years ago, visitors to the Dartmoor region of southwest England began to do something rather peculiar. Those hiking on the moors would place a letter or postcard inside a designated box along the trail as a mark that they had visited. Those who would come after them would, in turn, post letters back to those who had left them. Soon, these “letterboxes” were carefully hidden so that they would be difficult to discover.As this habit grew in popularity, the hobby of letterboxing was born.
In the early part of the last century, a logbook was used for visitors to record their presence along a given trail. Then, in 1907, a rubber stamp was placed in a box for further proof that a visit had taken place. By the last decades of the 20th century, the pastime had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and letterboxing became popular across America.
The standard letterbox is a small container carefully hidden in a publicly accessible place — often in parks, nature areas, cemeteries, etc.. Similar to their modern cousins, geocaches, with letterboxes clues to the box’s location are created with various levels of difficulty instead of GPS coordinates. Each letterboxer will have his or her own logbook and rubber stamp – some store bought, but often hand carved. When a letterbox is found, the visitor will sign in to the box logbook with his or her own stamp, and then take the box’s own unique stamp to add to his or her logbook.
Variations of standard letterboxes, including “hitchhikers” or “travelers,” which travel from one letterbox to another (often for months or years), and “virtual” letterboxes, which have online clues and locations.
It is not uncommon for letterboxes to be associated with a particular location and to have short narratives about history and nature. It is also a pastime which can be enjoyed by generations together, and can provide a good reason to get out and experience one’s natural surroundings.
The Mansfield area has long had a number of hidden letterboxes. According to the main online locations for letterboxing information and clues, the following are among active letterboxes within 30 miles of Mansfield; there are dozens more to be found within an easy driving distance. Also note that some of these have more than one letterbox to find.