The Dartmoor National Park can be an unforgiving place, with ever changing weather conditions, treacherous bogs, uneven ground and all manner of biting insects. Some of Dartmoor is even a live firing range used by the army and if you are visiting these areas you need to call the following hotline number to check on activity during your visit: 0800 4584868
So why go to Dartmoor at all? Well it is one of those few places left in Britain where you can walk for an hour and be in an area that feels completely cut off from civilisation. The landscape of Dartmoor might at first look very baron and dull, but as you delve deeper in to the various valleys and tors you will find a hidden world of beauty.
One of the best ways to experience Dartmoor National Park in full is to go wild camping. This allows you to explore the valleys and tors by day and just sit, relax and watch the moors come to life at night.
As part of our ‘Alps training’ we decided to squeeze a two-day trip in and wild camp on top of a Tor, this would give us a good opportunity to test out some of the new kit we would be taking with us too.
We arrived at the Betty Cottles Inn Campsite late on the Friday evening and just managed to get the tent up before dark. It’s a nice campsite with mature trees and a pond, which consequently also does a top notch breakfast in the morning!
After brekkie we packed up our kit and got the map out to decide which direction we would be heading in. As we were planning to camp wild, we were free to roam and set up camp wherever we liked so just made rough plan to head south! This was a bit of a revelation as most of the time we are set to a time, distance and particular route which is fine but it’s really empowering to be able to change the route as you go.
Heading into Dartmoor the scenery quickly changed. Looking around you see mature, luscious woodlands with a river weaving through it, these are typical of Dartmoor. There is something hypnotising about walking through woodlands like this with the sounds of rushing water, birds and swaying trees and was a great entrance in to the National Park itself.
As you climb higher, the scene changes to open moorland which also brought us a refreshing breeze! We came across a reservoir which was hugely down on water supply judging by the high water mark, and a sign that the driest April on record had taken its toll. This reservoir was the last we would see of civilisation for a while as we headed up to the top of our first Tor and took in the views while having a well earned break. Carrying 6 litres of water, camping equipment and cooking gear had proved heavier than we had thought!
We had planned to walk to another Tor after this one but after looking at the map, we spotted a place called the Black-a-tour-Copse Nature reserve. Part of walking for me and the guys with me is taking in the wildlife that inhabits such places and a nature reserve is there for a reason. So we headed down in to the reserve to be immediately hit by the echoing sounds of Cuckoo’s! I had never seen one in the wild and to suddenly see three flying around in front of us was a great excuse to put our heavy packs down and watch for a while! All manner of things were flying about so we decided to make our way in to the ancient Oak wooded area and stop for dinner to take it in, what better place to stop!
After being completely spoiled by the wildlife of this reserve we loaded up again and headed south back up onto higher ground. This is where we came across our first warning sign about unexploded shells, reminding us we were on the edge of the firing range. Although looking across we could see some hardy sheep on the range!
The Dartmoor National Park is know for a few things and one being the boggy terrain, which we found from here on. The lack of rain had eased things but we did wander in to fairly wet spots, so good waterproof walking gear is needed here all year round. This is part of the fun though and there are lots of bog plants about in the summer months to take in.
After a fairly long trek across the tops of various rocky tors and out-crops we stopped on Brat Tor. This is a great looking Tor with lots of cover which was exactly what we needed to get some protection for our tents overnight. Another thing that the Dartmoor National park is know for is the changeable weather as we would find out later. We picked our camping spot carefully looking for level ground near a group of rocks in a slight dip in the terrain. This offered us the most protection, mainly from the wind if it picked up.
When you have set up your camp there is only one thing left to do, apart from cook some dinner, kick back and take in the views! Finding a nice little spot with flat rock and cover from the wind we cooked up three portions of various concoctions, got comfortable and looked out across to the sun going down. I actually felt so relaxed I could have nodded off! In fact it was a Dartmoor pony who suddenly appeared on the scene with an obsession with licking one of the tents that kept me awake. Butterflies were whizzing past a lot too not to mention the crows keeping an eye out for a scrap of food, but the most amazing and unexpected visitor was a badger! After seeing it the once we sat quietly in the rocks of the Tor and watched him bounding around from rock to rock. It was a brilliant way to finish off the night as the sun finally set and we jumped into our sleeping bags. I didn’t take long to get to sleep!
As mentioned earlier, the weather changed dramatically overnight and the wind howled through every now and then, even waking me up at times. Crawling out of the tent in the morning we were met with a complete white-out, and windy conditions. it was a completely different scene to the day before. After a quick look at the map, we decided to head out of the park to lower levels and follow the Dartmoor path back to the campsite and car. We were met with rain at times but found a great path full of flowers and wildlife which edged it’s way around the park and even ended by going over the Meldon viaduct, a great viewpoint! A nice end to a brilliant two-day trek.
The weather was changeable, the ground hard going at times, but the views and memories far out weigh them and is ‘must-do’ thing in life. If you want to really experience a National Park like Dartmoor, this is one of the best ways to do it. As long as you are properly prepared you will love it!
Note: I didn’t put the exact route on this article as I normally do as the whole point is to make one up. Pick a few points you would like to aim for and change as you see fit, this is how you find the hidden places of National Parks and gives you a new freedom whilst walking.
You can buy the OS map for the Dartmoor National Park on the following link:
Dartmoor (OS Explorer Map)