Exploring the beautiful lakes and reservoirs of Dartmoor
PUBLISHED: 17:31 15 April 2019
Dartmoor’s not all tors and craggy landscapes, you know. There are some beautiful lakes and reservoirs to explore too, as CHRISSY HARRIS discovers
The first thing that hits you when you step out of the car near Tottiford Reservoir is the complete silence.
Traffic noise, radio chatter, kids singing and a slight disagreement about exactly when we should have turned right just melted away into nothing the moment we arrived at this magical place, just outside Bovey Tracey.
I'd been meaning to come here for ages because a) Tottiford is a brilliant, Devon-sounding word and b) it was time to widen our Dartmoor net.
We have done a few tors and walked a few miles across open moorland in the past, but now it was time to take on the lakes and reservoirs.
There are several dotted all over Dartmoor, including Burrator, Fernworthy, Meldon and Tottiford (linked with Kennick and Trenchford reservoirs).
Each one has its own unique features, wildlife and history. The reservoirs were created over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries to supply drinking water to the rapidly growing towns in the lowlands.
Some are still working today and all are maintained by the South West Lakes Trust, a charity set up to care for and promote these special landscapes.
“I've got a soft spot for Fernworthy reservoir,” says Neil Reeves, the trust's head of countryside and recreation. “It's very much on top of the world there – where the sky meets the water, I always think.”
Neil has been working for the South West Lakes Trust for more than 15 years and says Dartmoor's reservoirs are becoming increasingly popular with visitors.
“It's that human link to water,” he says. “It draws us close because it's an intrinsic part of our lives. The most important thing to remember is that all our water in the South West comes from Dartmoor, Exmoor and Bodmin, areas of high ground. These reservoirs provide a lifeline.”
Constructed in 1861, Tottiford is Dartmoor's oldest reservoir. Surrounded by forest and farmland and connected to Trenchford and Kennick reservoirs through a series of footpaths, it's a great place to loop around and explore.
And it's so peaceful. During our visit, we found ourselves whispering to each other because we didn't want to disturb the tranquillity.
“The water looks like glass!” says Alice, eight, shortly before lobbing a stone in. Oh well. It was quiet.
Over at Burrator, near Yelverton, things tend to be more lively. Families, runners, fly fisherman, cyclists and ice-cream sellers all flock here to enjoy the waterside views and take advantage of the recently improved facilities, including a visitor centre.
Sue Rowe is a regular.
“It's just such a beautiful place,” she says. “I only live ten minutes up the road and I come here about three or four times a week.
“The views are stunning. I love going through the woods. You can sit there watching deer and I recently made friends with a little robin. He kept coming right up to me.”
Sue says Burrator is a popular spot these days and can get busy, especially at weekends. But when that happens, she takes herself up and away.
“The good thing about Burrator is that you've got the tors in the background,” she says. “I like walking up Sheeps Tor and looking down on the water. It's beautiful up there.”
Improved footpaths and picnic areas, toilets and even bird hides have been added over the years as Dartmoor's reservoir visitor numbers have grown.
The South West Lakes Trust, which works in partnership with South West Water, is boosting the infrastructure to allow more people to enjoy these vitally important areas of Dartmoor.
“There's a lot more public engagement,” says Neil Reeves, adding that this is partly because the lakes and reservoirs provide such an easy day out for all the family.
“They are fairly accessible places,” he says. “You can have a nice walk around: Fernworthy is about an hour and a half, Venford, about 45 minutes. It's not too far.”
Back at Tottiford, we've done a quick figure-of-eight, eaten our picnic, seen loads of interesting birds and will just make it back home in time for the rugby, apparently.
That's the kind of Dartmoor walk everyone enjoys.
Five things you should know about Dartmoor's lakes and reservoirs
1) Submerged villages: Parts of an historic estate, known locally as the 'drowned village' lurk beneath the surface of Burrator. During last year's heatwave, you could spot the ruins of a wall, bridge and farmhouse.
2) Seal of approval: If you're lucky, you might be able to spot an Atlantic grey seal at Lopwell Dam, a large weir near Tavistock. The area forms part of the Tamar-Tavy Estuary site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
3) Thirst quenching: Fernworthy is a drinking water supply that feeds the area of Torquay, Totnes and Brixham. The water from Fernworthy is gravity fed into Trenchford Reservoir, where it is drawn off to be treated.
4) Small but beautiful: Venford Reservoir near Ashburton is one of the smallest but popular with walkers. Down the valley from the dam here, you can find a 'hidden' waterfall.
5) Get on the Roadford: Created in 1989, Roadford lake near Lifton is one of the biggest and busiest stretches of inland waters in the South West. It supplies water to North Devon.