Let's go to Dartmoor
PUBLISHED: 12:14 22 May 2017
With its wild and rugged landscape and miles of unspoilt scenery, Dartmoor is the perfect place get away from it all, either by foot, wheels or four legs. Chrissy Harris looks at the best ways to explore this very special national park...
Running is the best way to see Dartmoor, according to Katie Littlejohns.
The 25-year-old has been hot-footing it across the hills, through streams and up and down tors ever since she was a teenager.
She says it’s the perfect antidote to a long day when you can put on your trainers and set off into the windswept wilderness at a comfortable pace.
“I just love the freedom of running on Dartmoor,” says Katie, who lives on her family-run farm near Okehampton. “After a long day working on the farm, I’ll still go, even if it’s for half an hour. It’s just that sense of being on your own, away from it all. Dartmoor is so peaceful and untouched.”
Katie wanted other people to experience the delights of moorland jogging and recently set up Dartmoor Running Holidays, where people can choose from a series of packages to suit their ages and abilities. There are also guided runs, ranging from one to four hours.
Business has got off to a flying start, with runners from up and down the country coming to enjoy exercising while looking at some pretty spectacular views.
“When you’re running on Dartmoor, you don’t feel like you have to push yourself – you do what you’re comfortable with,” says Katie, adding that her top spots are Yes Tor and around Meldon Reservoir. “If there’s a bit that’s too steep, you can stop and walk. And when I take people out, there’s always cake or flapjack at the end.” Right, get the trainers on.
Cycling is also a wheel-y (sorry) good way to see the moors. Routes such as the 95-mile long Dartmoor Way, Drakes Trail between Tavistock and Plymouth, plus the newly opened Granite Way between Okehampton and Lydford mean it’s never been easier to get on your bike. There are also plenty of cycle hire places dotted around. “There’s quite a variety of bikes on offer now,” says Peter Dadge from Puffing Billy Cycles in South Brent. “Our electric bikes are proving very popular. It makes it a bit more of a level playing field for people.” Peter says his top cycling spots include around Avon Dam and the Western Beacon, a granite outcrop near Ivybridge. “The views there are lovely – very picturesque,” he says. See puffingbillycycles.com
When it comes to taking in your surroundings, there’s a lot to be said for simply putting one foot in front of the other at a civilised pace. There are countless routes you can take, some steep, some not so and all are guaranteed to lift the spirits and clear the mind.
Gillian Adams has set up a website called Divine Dartmoor Walks and says you can get a real sense of the area’s history just by taking a stroll.
“You can’t go too far without finding a Bronze Age settlement, old tin mine buildings, farming newtakes, or stone rows and circles,” she says. “As I walk and take in the views from high tors and low valleys, I imagine I’m following in the footsteps of people long gone, but connected through our shared interest of loving the moors.”
Gillian adds that her top spots are Burrator Reservoir, Meldon Village and Belstone Village – but any part of the moor will do.
She says: “I love walking on Dartmoor because within a short space of time, you’re away from the road and totally immersed in a gorgeous landscape. The air feels fresher, the worries of the week fall away, and a tremendous amount of satisfaction is gained from looking back and seeing how far you’ve walked.”
On horseback, you can be truly at one with nature.
“For me, it’s like being invisible,” says Dee Dee Sibley, owner of Babeny Farm Stables near Poundsgate. “Being on horses is a case of just morphing into the landscape.”
Dee Dee says riding on Dartmoor means people get to see nature up close because animals regard horses simply as part of the moorland scenery.
“You can get much closer,” she says. “You can see badgers, foxes, birds of prey, lapwings, squirrels, you name it.”
Dee Dee takes riders of all abilities out to enjoy Dartmoor on horseback.
“I love the history of the place,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you look, you’ll be facing the same backdrop that people were looking at thousands of years ago. That’s a real privilege.”
To find out more, see babenystables.co.uk
Or why not try:
Hot air ballooning: Launched from the Bovey Castle grounds or nearby locality, see the beauty of Dartmoor National Park from the air. Call 01647 445022
Dartmoor Gliding Society welcomes visitors of all ages and abilities. See dartmoorgliding.co.uk
Need a walking buddy? Take a llama. Dartmoor Llama Walks offers a range of guided alpaca llama treks, so no need to worry about carrying your lunch.
Coming up on Dartmoor:
4 June: Join a guided bike ride led by Sustrans volunteers. Starting in Ivybridge or South Brent, the route follows scenic lanes with stunning views. See visitdartmoor.co.uk
9 to 11 June: The Contemporary Craft Festival takes place in Bovey Tracey, bringing together 200 makers of contemporary craft. See craftsatboveytracey.co.uk
11 June: Take your four-legged friend on the Great British Dog Walk at Canonteign Falls. Money raised will go to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. See hearingdogs.org.uk
21 July to 22 July: The Chagstock Music Festival promises “the most fun you can have with 5,000 people with a great rock band in a field in Devon in the entire world”. See chagstock.info
12 August: head out into the night on the moor to watch the annual Perseids meteor shower. See clearbrookwildchild.co.uk