Are you looking for a challenging hike that will test both your navigation skills and your hill walking fitness? If so, you need to try some of the Dartmoor hiking routes that criss-cross this beautiful and very wild place. A National Park, Dartmoor is nestled in the south-west of England and is an ideal destination for hikers. Covering about 300 mi.², the distance from north to south is about 26 miles.
The hills peppering the moorland are known as tors. Whilst not the highest heights in the United Kingdom they are numerous and a large number of pretty steep. As with any of Britain’s national parks, Dartmoor can be a dangerous place if you’re unprepared. If you’re a novice hiker consider reading my hillwalking essentials guides before you attempt this route.
Now that we’ve covered the preamble, let’s get this hike on the road.
As a regular visitor, you already know that I use Dartmoor as a training ground. The terrain is hard going, and the weather can be summed up in one simple phrase: ‘four seasons in one’. Temperatures can drop from balmy to biting cold in a matter of minutes.
Dartmoor hiking routes can test both your skills and endurance.
Not long ago I decided to hike north to south in one day, a total of 26 miles. The route and results are below (a .gpx file is available at the bottom of this post).
Note: before setting off on this hike ensure you have all the supplies you need. If you run into issues, there is an opportunity to replenish some essentials by visiting the Ice Warrior Expedition shop in Princetown. For this hike I took a map, compass and Garmin etrex 10 GPS.
Dartmoor Hiking: Belstone to Hangingstone Hill
Time: 2 hours 30 mins.
The starting point for this route is Belstone, near Okehampton, on the northern edge of Dartmoor. Some hikers like to start in Okehampton, and the choice is yours. What I will say is that Tors Inn on the edge of Belstone serves great food and, being a short walk from the moors, is a great location from which to begin your journey.
Assuming you’re starting at the Tors Inn, to get onto Dartmoor turn right out of the front door and head along the track. After about 200 metres you’ll pass by a small cluster of houses on your right. Keep going until you reach a metal gate with a stile.
Cross the stile and you’ll find yourself on the moors.
For the next 5.5 miles follow the track. There are a couple of steep climbs on this route and these can be made easier if you cross-grain. This means to travel along the gradient lines on your map, slowly climbing as you walk.
It’s easy to confuse Hangingstone Hill with some of the lesser tors and peaks that surround it. A good reference point is the military range hut to the right of the tor.
A word of warning: this leg of the route takes you across Army live firing ranges. Red flags will indicate that firing is taking place.
Hangingstone Hill to Rough Tor
Time: 1 hour 45 mins
Given you’re now on high ground you be forgiven for thinking there’s no chance of walking into a bog. But this is Dartmoor, a place of extremes and the unexpected. Joking aside, the bogs here are treacherous places to cross. To avoid them follow the path marked on the map. It’s a bit of a dogleg, but better than risking your life.
You’ll come across a number of streams as you hike towards Rough Tor. Be careful if you’re hiking during, or after, heavy rainfall. The waterways swell and crossing them can be tricky, possibly risky.
Resist the temptation to hike as the cross flies. The terrain is hard going, littered with ankle-twisting tussocks of famous Dartmoor grass.
Rough Tor to Princetown
Time: 1 hour 50 mins
Next waypoint on this journey is historic Princetown. On first entering the outskirts of the town, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little nervous. Princetown is home to a dark and imposing prison built to hold prisoners from the Napoloenic Wars. The building looms large and can be seen for miles around.
But fear not. The prison is due to close down and the town is now a vibrant hub for outdoor activities of all kinds. Stand in the centre for just ten minutes and you’ll see clusters of cyclists, runners and hikers bouncing through on their journeys.
A point of interest for Sherlock Holmes fans: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ in the Duchy Hotel (which is now the Dartmoor National Park Visitor centre).
If you’re planning to break this hike down into a number of legs, then Princetown a great place to stop off. The Plume and Feathers pub offers a bunkhouse, B&B or, at the rear of the building, a campsite.
Princetown to Nun’s Cross
Time: 50 mins
By the time you leave Princetown you’ll have covered over 17 miles. Maybe more if you’ve had to add doglegs to your route. The section of the route leading to Nun’s Cross takes you along a wide, gravelled track. This will be a welcome relief for your tired legs.
Along the way you’ll pass imposing, yet minor, Tors. Expect to meet many friendly dogs on this leg of your hike across Dartmoor as the track is popular with locals and tourists alike (and nearly all of them have dogs).
One particular, and very determined, hound to a liking to scent of breakfast wafting from my rucksack. Only the intervention of the owner stopped the dog from following me!
At this point you’ll notice the heights giving way to flatter, lower land leading to the coastline. It’s all downhill from here… well, not quite.
Nun’s Cross to Red Lake China Clay Pit
Time: 1 hour 20 mins
And this is where I finished. Two more checkpoints were missed as I ran out of daylight and time. Travel a few more miles to Piles Hill (I have no idea how this place got its name), then down into Ivybridge.
In total, I covered about 22 miles in one day. Many fellow hikers have acknowledged this as a hard route, and it is. Dartmoor doesn’t have the dizzyingly high peaks of the Lake District, or Ben Nevis. But it has many smaller peaks that have to be navigated.
Soon I’ll head back to Dartmoor and complete this route in one. Probably not in the winter, but the update will be added here.
Please note that although the town has a station, Ivybridge is not well served. Long gaps exist between the trains coming through this quaint town. If you dropped your car off in the north of the moors expect a journey of at least two hours by train to get back there.
Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre has all the information you’ll ever need. As I endeavour to give the very best of me to you and my blog, here are a few common questions about Dartmoor:
Can you camp anywhere on Dartmoor?
Dartmoor is a wild camping location. It is acceptable to put up a tent and stay overnight, but only in certain locations. Details here.
Also, there are a number of general rules you should follow when camping, including:
Do not camp on the military ranges.
Do not camp on archaeological sites.
Take your rubbish with you.
Erect your tent just before dark, try to move off as soon as possible after daybreak.
How long does it take to cross Dartmoor?
If you’re fast and the conditions are in your favour, about a day. Most people I know like to spread their trip over a couple of days.
How many miles is Dartmoor north to south?
26.2 (or 30 if you have to throw in doglegs that avoid the worst of winter flooding)
Dartmoor Hiking: Are You Up For the Challenge?
Of all the Dartmoor hiking routes you can choose, this is one of the longest you can travel. At over 26 miles long, and crossing many hills and valleys, the hike is guaranteed to leave you feeling more than just a little tired at the end. I hope this post has been useful, see you soon.