Tor blimey! Four Dartmoor walks with pitstops
Impressive granite tors, wild ponies, awesome views and ooh, did someone say cream teas? Here are four reasons to visit the national park in springtime.
We’re off for a stomp on Dartmoor and look! We’ve got a trusty guide in the shape of Jon Barnett of Peaks & Trails. Jon (pictured above) is ex-army and a mountain leader of 15 years so a good man in a storm. He knows Dartmoor’s 386 square miles and impressive granite tors like the back of his hand, and he curates self-guided and guided walks around the county and beyond – including this little lot should you want to book him.
We asked Jon where he would head for if he had just the day to explore the National Park and here’s what he’s rustled up: three easy-moderate family and dog-friendly walks, plus a more challenging one thrown in for you hardcore types.
All the walks are pooch-friendly, but Dartmoor rules mean you’ll need to put them on the lead of no more than 2 metres between 1 March and 31 July.
Got your Kendal mint cake (your map, walking boots and checked the weather forecast)? Let’s go!
WISTMAN’S WOOD, NR PRINCETOWN
Distance and difficulty: Two options here: a moderate five-mile circular route and an easy 2-miles out and back to Crockern Tor.
Good for: Starts and finishes at Two Bridges Hotel, an 18th century coaching inn on the West Dart river in the heart of Dartmoor .
Why we love it: Famous for its twisted and weathered dwarf trees, covered in mosses and lichens, Wistman’s Wood is like entering a scene from The Hobbit. You can walk through the woods to Crockern Tor or go the extra mile to Littaford Tor or if you want to add another notch to your tor list, keep going to the pyramid-shaped Longaford Tor for views out over Dartmoor and the prison.
Pitstop: Stop for a well-earned Devon cream tea back at Two Bridges Hotel. Garden open – weather permitting – 11am until 4pm, Friday to Sunday, then fully open from 17 May. Plus, they have rooms with four-posters if you fancy a sleepover.
Things to see nearby: At 435m, Princetown two miles away is the highest settlement on Dartmoor and home to the notorious Dartmoor Prison completed in 1809 to house French POW’s from the Napoleonic Wars and American POW’s from the War of 1812 between America and the UK. It’s still open for inmates and you can visit the Gothic Dartmoor Prison Museum (dog-friendly) back open from 17 May for grisly tales of past inmates and their escape attempts, including grim knuckle-dusters and restraint methods.
Prefer a paddle and a picnic? Hop back in the car and head four miles east to Dartmeet where you’ll find an original medieval clapper bridge at the point where the East Dart river meets the West Dart river.
BRAT TOR – WIDGERY CROSS, NR LYDFORD
Distance and difficulty: A fairly steep 2-mile stomp up to the cross and back. On a clear day you could go the extra mile to Great Links Tor, 150m higher up to the north, for panoromic views of Dartmoor’s northern edge.
Why we love it: If you love Haytor, you’ll love Widgery Tor as it’s one of the most beautiful, easy to reach tors on Dartmoor. There’s a free car park at the base, and a 40 minute stomp to the top rewards you with fantastic views and a close-up of its 3m tall granite cross – built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
Pitstop: Famed for being Britain’s most unusual pub and for good reason, 10 minutes away on the A386 is The Highwayman Inn. Pretty basic on the outside, it’s like a film set inside, full of quirky decor with a labyrinthine layout. It’s almost like being on a ship – a bonkers must-see.
Things to see nearby: Staying on the A386, it’s back in the car another 10 minutes to Lydford for the National Trust’s Lydford Gorge – the deepest river gorge in the south west with the 30m high White Lady Waterfall. Good tea rooms and toilets too.
HOUND TOR, nr WIDECOMBE IN THE MOOR
Distance and difficulty: From the car park at the base, it’s a bracing half mile stomp up to this huge tor, which is easily accessible enough to walk around on even with kids. For longer 2-mile walk, go up and over and onto the atmospheric remains of a medieval village. If you’re handy with a map, you could make it a half-day traverse through the hedgerows and chocolate box houses to Widecombe and back.
Why we love it: It’s spooooky – Hound Tor is reportedly the site that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Folklore has it that Hound Tor was created when a mighty hunter called Bowerman interrupted a coven of witches with his pack of hounds and the witches responded by turning the hunter and his hounds to stone.
On the other side of Hound Tor, you can still see the rocky remains and earthworks of a deserted medieval village, free to visit and owned by English Heritage.
Pitstop: Head to Widecombe’s 100 year-old Cafe on the Green, for pasties, toasties and scrumptious cream teas – open from 10am Weds – Sunday.
Things to see nearby: The village green at Widecombe in the Moor is charming, with its church, St Pancras, known as the Cathedral of the Moor due its 120ft tower. The annual Widecombe Fair is worth a mooch (postponed until 2022) – a quality event held annually on the second Tuesday in September with rural crafts and local produce.
Blink and you miss it (so you’ll need your map) Jay’s Grave is the final resting place of Kitty Jay who having committed suicide in the late 18th century was not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground so her body was interred on a grassy crossroads in the belief her spirit wouldn’t re-enter the village. The grave still has fresh flowers placed on it every day.
YES TOR AND HIGH WILLHAYS, nr OKEHAMPTON
Distance and difficulty: Moderate to challenging – the two highest tors, two miles up and two miles back. Paths are pretty good and it’s not too steep so suitable for fit kids but not toddlers. (For a longer walk, add Dinger Tor, West Mill Tor and East Mill Tor.)
Why we love it: The bragging rights. There are only two official mountains in southern England and both are located on Dartmoor. Yes Tor (619m) and High Willhays (621m) are neighbours and dominate the moors and surrounding area. And Willhays is pronounced ‘willies’, so hours of amusement right there.
Pitstop: For traditional cream teas in a place that couldn’t look more the part, stop at The Old School Tea Room (above) open Fri – Monday.
Things to see nearby: Still got something left in the tank? Swing by Brent Tor (above) to see the chapel. It’s an easy leg-stretcher just 10 minutes from the car park. Alternatively, the motte and bailey ruins of the 12th century Okehampton Castle are just two miles back down the road.
Want moor, moor, moor?
Fancy doing a guided walk with Peaks & Trails? Maybe your motivation or map skills are a little lacking or perhaps you just want some local intel to bring colour to your hike? Don’t be shy, check out all the brilliant curated walks available on Peaks & Trails and book yourself a guided walk on Dartmoor, around Devon or beyond. Prices start at £30pp, kids under 16 go free.
Find out more about Peaks & Trails on Muddy’s Little Black Book.