The earliest use of the term “letterbox” on Ascension Island dates back to 1673 when Father Navorette reported after a visit that there was a “cache or letterbox” where passing ships left messages for those going in the opposite direction. Unfortunately the good cleric failed to record where he has seen this letterbox but it is generally agreed that it was unlikely to have been in the area of the Island nowadays called Letterbox given its inaccessibility from the sea. It is more likely to have been located somewhere on the more accessible northern or western coasts.
Nothing further is heard of letterboxes on Ascension again until 1913 when a green tin box was found, this time at Letterbox (south-eastern part of the island and inland). Notes were left in the box in the hope that later walkers would collect them and take them to Georgetown Post Office. This box was still in use in 1942 when it was relocated so that the area could then be used for bombing practice.
The current series of boxes began being set-up in 1979 by Sean Newbery, the BBC Resident Engineer and keen walker. The first two modern day walks were Sister’s Peak and Letterbox. At this stage in addition to affording walkers the opportunity to leave messages (book provided) for later walkers, a rubber stamp (as Newbery recalled from walks in Devon, England) was located in the boxes so that walkers could record their visit and (perhaps in a more cynical and unbelieving world) prove to their friends that they had indeed walked as they claimed. The letterboxes tend to be located at or toward the end of each walk.
Currently marked walks
There are currently a large number of great walks on Ascension; many (over 30) of these are letterbox walks. These walks are a great way to see different parts of the island, and getting a stamp at the end of it is also fun, especially for children. Some of the walks though are pretty hard, especially in the heat, so it’s worth reading up about them beforehand. The Green Mountain ones are well documented (pamphlet available) and can be completed by anyone of reasonable fitness. There is a book – Ascension Island Walking Guide: Letterbox Walks by Neil McFall – which details over 20 of the non Green Mountain ones ( marked with a “x” on attached picture 2). The book is, alas, out of print and all attempts I made to locate one online, on Ascension and indeed on St Helena failed. A slightly different selection of walks are shown in picture 3 – courtesy Ascension Island Museum. The Museum and Obsidian Hotel (arch lever file on bookshelf) have details of the walks for those interested.
Do leave a message in the visitors books which, when full, are deposited in the island’s Museum (which now manages the walks) where a number are currently on display. Who knows, in fifty years someone may refer to a message the RamblingWombat left at a letterbox on Ascension Island.
Popular walks and the ones I did
The most popular walk on the island is that to the Dew Pond at the top of Green Mountain.
To give you a taste of each walk and a little of the history of each I have prepared a separate review on each. Depicted below is the letterbox located on the Elliot’s Pass walk.
Ensure that you take lots of water with you and appropriately protect yourself against the hot tropical sun. Apart from the Green Mountain walks there is little or no shade on these walks.
The walks I did were well marked and very easy to follow.
Note on stamps
In practice, given the humidity on Green Mountain especially, collecting the stamps can be a messy business – ink runs and covers more than the intended page. While I collected a stamp at each of the walks above ink ran and my hands ended up a multitude of colours. If you don’t collect stamps as you do the walks the Museum in Georgetown (only open for a few hours on Mondays and Saturdays – see separate review) can come to your rescue. The museum holds stamps for all the letterbox walks and can give you those you require. No charge and it operates on an honesty system! The stamps in the attached picture 1 were obtained in the museum – originals not of sufficient quality for publication.