“The essence of enjoying Dartmoor is having time to stand and stare.”
John Hayward – 1988.
The Dartmoor National Park came into being in 1951, at that time it consisted of 365 square miles of land which was then increased in 1994 to 368 square miles of land. Coincidentally the fact that prior to 1994 the Dartmoor National Park consisted of 365 square miles of land tied in very nicely with there being 365 days in most years. In theory this meant that if one was so inclined they could visit one square mile each day and in the course of a normal year that person would have covered the whole national park – hold that thought if you can.
In 1988 John Hayward published a book called; ‘101 Dartmoor Letterboxes (but not how to find them)‘ which gave hints as to how to find the hidden treasure. That same year he published another book entitled; ‘An Hour’s Stroll on Dartmoor‘. This particular book featured guided 15 walks around Dartmoor and noted many of the interesting features to be found on them. The book included many pen and ink sketches of these objects along with explanations as to their history. In 1989 John produced another book, this time it was called; ‘Your Dartmoor Century – 100 Things to Discover‘, again this publication features 100 quintessential aspects of Dartmoor along with clues as to where to find them. The whole ethos of these books was to encourage folk to get out and explore the landscape of the National Park along with its numerous features.
Now if you’re still holding the above thought here is the reason why, in 1991 John Hayward published what was to be his finest work – ‘Dartmoor 365’. In this book each of the 365 square miles of the park was separately listed with what he deemed were the most interesting features to be found in them. These included landscape features, plants, birds, buildings along with a host of other interesting objects. It was then left to the reader to explore these square miles at their own pace and preference whilst giving a purpose to each walk. The book also presented a challenge with the main goal being to visit and explore all of the 365 square miles of the National Park. John certainly accomplished this task which enabled him to write the book with his visits being achieved between 1989 and 1990. In my view the other nice thing he did was to purposely not direct his readers to the ‘honey spot’s of Dartmoor such as Widecombe, Princetown, Dartmeet etc. Instead he found other things of interest just outside these locations. Just to make sure all eventualities were covered John added a 356th square to allow for Leap Years this being the Dartmoor National Park Authorities headquarters at Parke House.
So how did all this work? Quite simply really, on page 9 of the book is an outline of what was then the National Park boundary along with some of the principle locations. Over this was a matrix of 365 squares which were numbered 1 to 23 laterally and A to X vertically. This allowed the reader to easily identify each square for reference. There were just two squares included that were outside the park’s boundary; the Museum of Dartmoor Life and the Finch Foundry. The museum was included as John deemed that; “no exploration of the Moor would be complete without a visit to it,” and the foundry because it was located a mere 100 yards outside of the boundary.
Below you can see the original Dartmoor 365 matrix in which the idea was to colour in each square as it was visited. Personally I did not want to deface my copy of the book so I never actually had a visual record of my visits, however I did have either a photograph or letterbox stamp as proof. Recently I acquired a copy of Keith Ryan’s Excel spreadsheet which is a digital version of the matrix as you can see below:
On the spreadsheet the blue squares are ones that I have visited and written a webpage on, the green squares are ones that I have simply visited and the red squares are ones that I have yet to visit. I would estimate that it has so far taken me some 20 odd years to get this far. It was interesting for me to see that I have spent very little time visiting the moorland fringes and for some odd reason never managed to get to grid square I5 (Cataloo Steps)?
Once again moving onto the digital age there is now a popular Facebook group called ‘Dartmoor 365’ whereby members can post photographs and comments of their visits to the various grid squares. This group does seem to have given a resurgence to the popularity of John Hayward’s book. It is not very often that a modern Dartmoor book increases in value, in 1991 I paid £8.95 for my copy, today the prices on Amazon ranges from a sensible £9.96 to a ridiculous £27.78. A link to the group’s page can be found opposite.
Just a couple of words of caution, if you are using the book to find specific things be aware that the given six figure grid references will take you to a wide area especially when looking for smaller features. Additionally it must be remembered that Dartmoor is a continually evolving entity and something that John Hayward saw some 15 years ago may not necessarily still be there or accessible. Finally it can at times be confusing as to exactly which grid square a certain feature lies in especially when using the latest Ordnance Survey maps.
For anyone with an interest in learning about Dartmoor then Dartmoor 365 is an excellent place to start. With John Hayward’s narrative and at times wry sense of humour such explorations will be informative and enjoyable. As a challenge Dartmoor 365 can prove to be addictive whilst at the same time rewarding. One final thought maybe it could be time for someone to produce a modern version, namely Dartmoor 368 which would encompass the three extra grid squares added in 1994?
Hayward, J. 1991. Dartmoor 365. Curlew Publications