An easy weekend on Dartmoor
So, you have a free weekend and you want to explore Dartmoor, but you can’t go for a 3-day hike due to having kids, mobility issues, or just don’t fancy the walk. Not to worry, you don’t have to be a long-distance walker to enjoy Dartmoor.
Here’s a few highlights to experience what Dartmoor has to offer without going too far from the car or up hill, and I’ve included the numbers so you can scratch them off the map afterwards!
I have listed options for bagging a Tor, exploring the forests, walking over rivers and around reservoirs, and of course some good spots for a drink and lunch! It might not be the biggest area to cover, but don’t underestimate the driving times and plan your days well to fit it all in. I’ve put a loose itinerary at the end which groups together nearby spots.
Do be careful on the roads, they get narrow, especially the bridges (there’s a minibus that will testify to that – oops), and keep an eye out for the sheep, ponies and cows that make up the local traffic! If you’re new to the Moor then familiarise yourself with the ranger code so you can enjoy the Moor responsibly.
Bag a Tor
If there’s a Tor with a closer car park I haven’t come across it, park up, walk on flat ground for 20 metres and you’ve bagged Combestone Tor (no. 8)! The kids can play on the rocks (supervised of course) whilst you enjoy the amazing views over the Dart Valley and the company of the Dartmoor ponies which are pretty much always there. And why not treat yourself to a drink in the Forest Inn just up the road afterwards.
If Combestone Tor wasn’t quite far enough, then how about a slightly longer walk on a good track from Princetown?
Going South from Princetown, starting from the Plume of Feathers Inn you can walk on the track for 1.3km to South Hessary Tor (no. 51), if you made that OK then carry on the same path for a further 2.5km to the famous Nun’s Cross and Nun's Cross farm. Before turning back and having a well-deserved drink at the Plume of Feathers, or treat yourself to a lunch in the Fox Tor cafe or The Old Police Station cafe.
Another easy walk from Princetown is to head West from the main car park and do a circular walk around King’s Tor on the disused railway track with a detour to get in Foggintor Quarries (no. 6) and see where the rock for Nelson’s Column may have come from. Old maps of the buildings and history of the site can be found online if you’re interested (link below).
A valley walk
An easy walk along a road with toilets and a regular coffee truck at the start is Shipley Bridge to Avon Dam (no. 1). A good jumping off point for some longer walks but it can be enjoyed in its simplest form by walking North from the car park and in under 3km you’ll be at the dam - an impressive feat of engineering, if you have some energy left then get up to the water level for even better views. If you have some energetic people in the group get them to bag Black Tor (no. 5) on the way back.
It is ever so slightly uphill on the way out, but you get rewarded by it being all downhill on the way back. The walk follows the River Avon all the way, so you get to enjoy the river next to you whilst the walking is easy on the road. You’ll pass the Hunters Stone, the ruins of Brentmoor House, one of the biggest ancient settlements of Rider’s Rings and you’ll be parking in the ruins of the old China Clay works.
So much history in this area and many longer walks to be talked about in later posts, if you want to check out the history then other, more knowledgeable people have already written about it so I won’t repeat it, the links are at the bottom of the post.
Dartmoor has some great waterways, both man made and natural - and you might even be lucky enough to spot an otter! Most notable is the River Dart. Two easy places to get a glimpse of it are Dartmeet (where the East and West Dart merge) and Newbridge Marsh, a little bit further down the river when it is just ‘the Dart’. Both places have car parks and toilets available, have a little stroll up and down or just take a picnic and sit and watch the kayakers heading off.
Three of the largest and easiest to access areas of woodland on the Moor are Burrator (no. 3), Fernworthy (no. 5) and Bellever Forest. All have car parks in the heart of them and easy short walks around the woods and reservoirs (apart from Bellever – there’s no reservoir there, but there is a nice stretch of river). You can walk for as little or long as you want but it doesn’t take long to find yourself a quite patch and relax. If you can make it then a walk up to Bellever Tor (no. 2) is well worth the effort, rewarding you with some of the best views you can find on the Moor.
Reservoirs lend themselves to flat circular walks with car parks and some have toilets. I have separated them out in areas of the Moor so you can pick your closest one to where you are.
North: Meldon Reservoir (no. 11)
East: Tottiford & Trenchford, and Kennick Reservoirs. Tottiford and Tenchford are connected with footpaths and have a popular circuit walk, but all three are in the same area
South: Avon Dam (no. 1)
West: Burrator Reservoir (no. 3)
Central(ish): Fernworthy Reservoir (no. 5) and Venford Reservoir (no. 14)
Dartmoor is surrounded by cute towns and villages, and some places with just a pub and a farm shop. But sticking to the theme of this post and you just having 3 days I have only mentioned the main ones that are in the heart of the Moor. I will do a Dartmoor pub and farm shop post in the future.
Widecombe in the Moor has some great gift shops, a National Trust shop & gallery, cafes, and a pub. A perfect stop for lunch after a trip on the Moor, and you can see all of it from the green. Check out the Café on the green and buy yourself one of our maps or some of their other local products.
Princetown is in the heart of the Moor and is home to the infamous Dartmoor prison (visit the museum) and Dartmoor Brewery! Some great places to stay for all preferences - hotels, bunkhouses, van or tent camping. It has a couple of pubs, cafes, shops and an information centre. You can do it an afternoon, but it makes a great base for a weekend of adventures.
Postbridge is a great place to get out and stretch your legs, walk over the Clapper Bridge and visit the newly refurbished information centre to learn all about the history of Dartmoor. You can take a few medium length walks from here but it is a good stop off before going into Bellever forest. There’s a local store and a pub that does a great Sunday roast too.
Okehampton is the largest town on the edge of the Moor and has everything you’d need, it sits on the top edge of the Moor so is ideal if you’re just exploring the Northern part of the Moor. It has supermarkets, a hospital, pubs, restaurants, takeaways, hotels, a museum, gift shops, and you know it’s a rural town when it even has a gun shop! Check out ‘A Little Gift Company’ and the other shops in the Arcade and get yourself one of our maps and browse their two floors of great gifts.
Well hopefully that's given you enough to start planning your 'easy' weekend on Dartmoor. Below is a loose itinerary placing bits together to reduce the amount of driving, and below that is a list of useful and interesting links to learn more about the history of the places I've mentioned and other general information.
Assuming half a day for travel. I've changed it depending where you're approaching from/heading to for your accommodation so you get to stretch your legs after the drive and see a bit of the Moor on day 1.
North - Meldon Reservoir walk
South - Shipley Bridge - Avon Dam walk
East - Fernworthy Reservoir walk
West - Burrator Reservoir walk
Make them quick visits in the morning to give yourself longer for the walk, don't worry they are next to each other - and only a 10 minute drive from Princetown.
AM: Postbridge (visitor centre and Clapper Bridge) and Bellever Forest
PM: Princetown (walk picked from above & village visit ending with a meal in the pub)
The total driving time between all the places is under 30 mins but you get a lot in: rivers, a Tor and a village for afternoon tea before heading home. You can extend your visit at any of the places with a stroll, or cut it down to a picture stop.
Newbridge Marsh - Venford Reservoir - Combestone Tor - Dartmeet - Widecombe in the Moor
Dartmoor National Park. The official National Park website with a wealth of information about the history and conservation of the Moor, tips for visiting, places to go, upcoming events and everything Dartmoor.