What is Dartmoor and where is it?
Located in the southwest of England, Dartmoor National Park spans 954 square kilometres in southwest England and is renowned for its rugged landscapes and rich history. Home to ancient granite tors, expansive moorlands, and winding rivers, this National Park offers diverse terrain for outdoor enthusiasts. The park features an array of walking and cycling trails, with highlights including the iconic Dartmoor Way and the challenging Ten Tors expedition.
When you’re done reading this, be sure to check out our second favourite hiking destination.
Our pick of the best walks on the Moors
North to South crossing (our top recommendation)
A north to south crossing of Dartmoor is a serious undertaking, especially if you want to complete the journey in a full day, which I attempted. I recommend starting in Belstone, near Okehampton as there is a place you can stay overnight to prepare your kit and get a good rest/breakfast before the day ahead – the Tors Inn. The accommodation is adequate, and the cooked breakfast is cracking!
My endpoint for the crossing was Ivybridge on the far side of the moors, where you can pick up public transport that will take you back to Belstone.
Princetown Railway and King Tor
The Princetown Railway mountain biking routes offer a choice of long or short family-friendly routes following the former railway and minor roads. The short route is 6 miles/10 km and circles Kings Tor whereas the longer route of 19 miles / 30 km heads south along the former rail track towards Burrator Reservoir, set amidst stunning scenery, and returns along the same route.
Spoiler alert: this route is a long gravel path, which may be a bit monotonous for some. When you reach King’s Tor, choose between sticking to the railway track or opting for a short, easy uphill walk on the grass. What I noticed on my first climb of King’s Tor is its impressive size, larger than expected from a lower perspective and more than enough to get my heart and lungs into that warm and fuzzy state.
Roll of the top of King’s Tor, loop back, and then decide whether to stay on the railway path towards Princetown or take the grassier, but not necessarily easier, route leading to an unexpected find – Foggintor Quarry. Trust me when I say you HAVE to visit this relic of Dartmoor’s history; being both beautiful and in seclusion, it’s one of the highlights you can’t help but pause and admire.
One point to note: although the route is simple, getting to the locations can be problematic as you rely on public transport which is often cancelled.
Before we move on, there’s a lingering question (the same one my now 19-year-old daughter asks every time we head up onto the moors) – will we see a Dartmoor Pony? Sorry to say, it’s not guaranteed so here’s a photo to put a smile on your pony-loving face…
Warren House Inn from Widecombe
The historic Warren House Inn is both the start and end of this route. I’ve been told, the Inn’s open fire has been burning continuously burning fire since 1845, but I’m doubtful. The sheer cost of fuel makes this unlikely… yeah, I’m a sceptic!
This trail is suitable for walkers of most abilities or cyclists. Its adaptable variations cater to different preferences, adjusting difficulty based on mood, age, fitness, and weather conditions. Although buses are available for accessibility, there’s currently no accommodation for bikes.
Primarily off-road, the trail follows unsurfaced bridleways, giving you a good mix of rough terrain and occasional mud or standing water. The main route is around 5 miles (8km) distance, which I covered in 2 hours (I was moving pretty fast). For some, this might seem like a long time for a short distance, but the route can be slow going in places as there is often deep, cloying mud and lying water.
Belstone Ridge and Cosdon Hill
Cosdon Hill, a sprawling moorland near the northern border of Dartmoor National Park, offers various walks to its summit and beacon, starting from the village of Belstone. Despite the hill’s size, the ascent is manageable and suitable for families with young children.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, please take time to pause in Belstone. It’s spectacularly old inhabitation with truly beautiful buildings and amazing views.
Head east along the northern flank of Cosdon Hill, avoiding the boggy southeastern route to the summit. After about a kilometre, grass paths lead to Cosdon Beacon, marked by a distinctive pile of rocks and a trig point, offering expansive views like this…
Continue south to the Little Hound Tor area, visiting White Moor Stone Circle and White Moor Stone. Follow the grass path northwest to a ford below White Hill. From here, choose between staying on the western flank via Queenie Meads and Lady Brook or crossing the River Taw Ford for a scenic route along Taw Plain back to Belstone, noting its potential impassability after wet weather.
Begin at the car park near Belstone’s main entrance by Brenamoor Common. Pass through the village, reaching Belstone Great Green, with the village church and pub to your right. Cosdon Hill lies ahead, and Belstone Cleave descends to the left. Cross the footbridge over the River Taw and ascend to the moorland, diverging from the Tarka Trail.
Once atop Cosdon Hill, you can either retrace your steps or explore the varied routes for a different perspective on the stunning surroundings.
The Dartmoor Way
The Dartmoor Way, a well-marked 108-mile (173km) circular route encircling the moors, traverses quiet footpaths, bridleways, and lesser-used byways, meandering through charming towns and villages. These settlements provide diverse options for food and accommodation and there are plenty of places for wild camping.
This scenic route unfolds across wooded valleys, glistening streams cascading from the moor, and historic drove-roads and bridleways frequented by generations of farmers and travelers. It has an appeal that endures through all seasons, from the vibrant hues of Spring to the splendours of high Summer and the rich colours of Autumn, culminating in the stark beauty of Winter.
The High Moor Link extends from Tavistock to Buckfast, facilitating smaller circles around the Northern or Southern Moors. Intersecting with the Two-Moors Way long-distance footpath, the Dartmoor Way presents various route possibilities.
Whether for a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a comprehensive 10-day holiday, the Dartmoor Way beckons with its array of possibilities for a refreshing break.
The full Lydford Gorge walk spans approximately three miles, requiring up to two hours to complete. Caution is advised, as the terrain features treacherous sections with steep inclines and narrow, occasionally slippery paths. Essential walking boots are recommended. For a more accessible stroll with breathtaking gorge views, opt for the winding upper path.
Choosing the upper path leads to a fork, where you can descend gently to the riverside or take a quicker route via 220 steep steps. Both paths converge at the bottom of the gorge, where the River Lyd crashes and flows in a spectacular manner.
Following the riverside path in the gorge unveils small waterfalls, leading to the White Lady waterfall, named after a local legend of a ghostly lady occasionally spotted in a long white gown.
The rushing streams create a captivating spectacle, with thundering water cascading into pools and swirling like an avalanche. The noise is so intense that conversations become a challenge over the torrent.
Wooden walkways in parts of the gorge route elevate you to higher viewpoints, offering a unique perspective of the swirling water from above.
Explore the most dramatic section of the River Lyd on this challenging circular trail. It’s an exhilarating trail through ancient woodland and the rocky gorge to the towering Whitelady Waterfall and the roaring Devil’s Cauldron.
Two Moors Way
Stretching just over 100 miles/160km from Ivybridge in the south to Lynmouth in the north, this renowned path connects Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks. Showcasing diverse scenery, the trail encompasses a stretch of moorland wilderness, the picturesque River Dart Valley, unspoiled central Devon, and Exmoor’s deep wooded valleys with panoramic moorland views.
Walking the route is generally easy, featuring one or two challenging sections. It is well-marked, except for the open moorland parts that demand navigational skills. Public transport is accessible in towns and villages along the route, facilitating flexible hikes with bus connections at Ivybridge, Bennett’s Cross, Chagford, Drewsteignton, Morchard Road, Morchard Bishop, Witheridge, and Lynmouth. Morchard Road is part of the Tarka Railway Line between Exeter and Barnstaple.
Facilities are available in Ivybridge, Widecombe, Chagford, Simonsbath, and Lynmouth. The terrain is mostly easy, with a few challenging stretches, and a portion of open moorland walking requiring navigational skills.