Wednesday, 27 January 2016


From just above Plymouth in the west to Newton Abbot in the East and stretching as far up as Okehampton is an area known for its bleakness and beauty. These 954 square kilometres of England were one of the first areas to be declared a national park and are truly extraordinary.

Paths smoothed into troughs by centuries of tramping feet lead into the hidden depths of the moor connecting villages, settlements and sacred spots. Roads wind across the moor and ancient clapper bridges safely take travellers across the many streams and rivers.
People have been hunting on Dartmoor for at least 10,000 years which is quite mind blowing. There is so much archaeological evidence of bronze age, iron age and mediaeval settlements and monuments that it is almost impossible to go for a walk on the moors without coming across something interesting and very old. Dartmoor is well known for its stone crosses and standing-stone lines and circles. Some of them are truly magnificent. Others have suffered over the years and are no longer intact.

There are many areas on the moors where you can potter not far from a car park and enjoy the scenery and peace. In other areas the remoteness is palpable. At certain points it is the furthest from a road you can get in England. Obviously this is not on a par with anything in Australia but still quite a wilderness in an overcrowded island.
Much of the land is designated acess land meaning that it can be, and is, enjoyed by many people. Some areas are controlled by the Duchy of Cornwall, others by the Ministry of Defence and the water companies. Smaller areas of land are in the hands of private landowners and stock is still extensively grazed on the land including sheep, horses and cows. The hardiness of the Dartmoor ponies is legendary as they stay out on the moor come wind, rain or snow. Long tracts of moor roads are unfenced and animals are frequently on the roads and need to be negotiated with care when driving.

Dartmoor is moorland with granite tors which punctuate the skyline. Under the granite outcrops are many layers of peat. With the heavy rainfall experienced throughout the year in this area much of the area is bog. This creates unusual swampy areas of upland bogs which are home to many rare plants and animals.

The landscape itself is very unforgiving and walkers have to be well equipped, especially at this time of year. The terrain looks quite simple to tackle with wide open spaces and undulating hills. Walking however can uncover many challenging surprises. Bogs, hassocks, bracken and gorse and giant crevices all make a gentle stroll more of an athletic achievement. There is a good reason why the military have been using Dartmoor as a training area since the 1800’s.
There is never any need for lots of expensive gear just sensible warm materials and basic knowledge of map reading, weather and walking. Most of our gear has been collected over many years and the French superstore, Decathlon, remains one of our favourite places to go for anything vaguely sporty. We always make sure we have several warm layers, waterproof outer layer, warm hat and gloves. In addition we wear proper walking boots (personal preference mine are gore-tex the skipper has leather) food, warm drinks and a means of calling for help should it be necessary.

Dartmoor sometimes feels like it has its own weather system. Snowfall is far more likely here than in the surrounding towns, the rain is often horizontal and visibility can quickly go from as far as the horizon to barely 5 metres.
This is a landscape that has inspired much literature including Conan Doyles The Hound of the Baskervilles, Lorna Doone, many of Agatha Christie's books and Michael Murpurgos War Horse. There are many more myths which surround the moors, stories from the past and legends which haunt the tors and lanes, creeping into our present like a Dartmoor mist.
There are also many pretty villages around the edge of the moor, a menacing looking prison and it is one of the few places in England where wild camping is allowed. There is also letter boxing which is particular to Dartmoor where following clues and map references leads to finding hidden boxes with the reward of a stamp to add to the collection.

We love heading to the moors and it is easy to get to by road from most of Devon. For the cruising sailor without a car there is a choice of a 25 mile round trip by bike or a regular bus service to Tavistock which crosses the moor.


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