Devon’s best walks: A circular around Peter Tavy in Dartmoor
PUBLISHED: 11:03 29 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:37 06 November 2020
A magical walk on the western edge of the Dartmoor National Park with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE
Sometimes you arrive in a village for a walk and when it's all over it's hard to leave. This is precisely what happened at Peter Tavy, a delightful spot snuggled down in the western fringes of the Dartmoor National Park.
Not only does its lovely friendly pub boast an excellent menu, we also chanced upon the village's annual charity cream tea. How lucky was that?
So, a magical walk was followed by a glorious hour spent drinking tea, consuming cake and hugging dogs in a lovely private garden situated less than a mile from the church. We were made thoroughly welcome by the folks of Peter Tavy. What a treat.
The walk itself is a glorious meld of wild flower banks, dappled water and airy views. Within the National Park and with views to open moorland, the route follows clearly-signed paths along the gentle margins of the moor, so there's no need to navigate with map and compass.
Pick a bright day and relish every step.
1) Leave the churchyard via the lychgate near the large stone cross and turn right, walking away from the cross along a narrow path beside the churchyard. This leads to a lane with a playing field opposite, which boasts some rather adventurous-looking playthings.
Turn right, soon reaching the Peter Tavy Inn. Go in, if you are in need, or onwards, if you are saving the inn for later. The walk continues along the broad track ahead, running to the left of their car park.
Within 50m take the bridleway signed to the right; this is part of the National Cycle Network, route 27, though you are unlikely to be mown down by bikes. In spring and summer the hedgerows are lush with wild flowers and ferns; as you continue glimpses of open moorland will appear along with pastoral views across the cultivated field patchwork on this edge of the moor.
The track passes a red-roofed stone barn and soon ducks under trees. When it emerges again the church tower in Mary Tavy is visible ahead, peeking above the trees; if the hedge on the left is low enough the River Tavy can be seen hurrying along the valley.
Follow the track for almost half a mile, until you reach a three-way fingerpost, showing that you're in the area of Longtimber Tor.
2) From here take the bridleway going left towards Mary Tavy, crossing a wooden footbridge over the River Tavy. This is an idyllic spot, with verdant views along the river and a well-placed bench in memory of Bob Holt set down beside the water.
Beyond the bridge follow the tree-flanked track beneath the sculpturally twisted limbs of a large oak. Over to the left is the well-screened Mary Tavy Hydroelectric Power Station which has been providing green energy since the 1930s; at one time it was England's largest hydroelectric scheme.
Less than 100m from the bridge the track begins to rise gently. Follow it as it bends left, still uphill, with the power station down to the left. In another 150m the track reaches the surfaced lane by the entrance to the power station.
3) Here turn 90 degrees left (not into the power station!) to join the public footpath; a fingerpost shows that you are now joining the West Devon Way whose emblem is iconic Brentor with its tiny lofty church.
Follow the footpath downhill on an earthy path beneath trees. Another little footbridge carries the path across a tributary of the Tavy; keep going along the well-trodden way, river to the left.
The path begins to rise and crosses a stile into a field where a yellow arrow directs you along the right-hand hedge, the field sloping down to the left towards the river. As you climb the views increase: to the open moorland across the valley to the left and behind towards Mary Tavy.
At the end of the field continue through the next, still following the right-hand boundary. The views become massive, sweeping around to the left. In 70m keep straight ahead at a three-way fingerpost, staying on the West Devon Way.
The path begins to drop and passes through a gateway just to the left of the field corner. Continue in the same direction through the next field, still following the right-hand hedge and enjoying the airy views.
At the end of this field go through the gate on the right then climb the yellow-arrowed ladder stile into the next field, continuing downhill beside the right-hand hedge. The path passes between two stone gateposts, although there is no longer a boundary here, before descending to a gate down in the corner. Continue beyond this, now with the boundary to your left.
Within 100m the left boundary ends, keep straight ahead in the same direction across the field towards the trees in the opposite hedge. This line leads between gorse bushes to reach a two-way fingerpost stating "path" near a big beech tree; Peter Tavy church can be seen over your left shoulder from here.
Follow the direction of the onward finger heading towards another ladder stile in the far boundary - the stile is actually very slightly right of the line of the finger. After this keep straight ahead across the field towards buildings in the distance.
In 100m you find a bouldery boundary meeting you on the left. Keep going beside it, passing through stony bits and then bearing slightly left, towards trees in the far hedgerow with the buildings beyond.
4) At the bottom of the field pass through a gate beneath a large oak tree then continue ahead along a track, passing Beggar's Hatch on the left. Follow the track to reach the road.
When the track emerges at the road keep ahead crossing Harford Bridge, a 19th century replacement of a medieval bridge.
Beyond here keep left on the road towards Peter Tavy. In just over 300m you pass a row of houses, then reach a turning right. Ignore this, bending left with the road to reach a footpath going right in 130m.
5) Take this footpath, crossing the field in the direction shown by the fingerpost, heading uphill towards the top corner and an obvious large house beyond the corner.
In the corner stone steps set into the wall offer a slightly awkward crossing into the next field. Negotiate these then walk through the small field beyond, house above you to the right; anyone blessed with a short right leg will find this section more comfortable.
Head through the field, enjoying pleasing views towards Peter Tavy. Before the end of the field look for the stepped stile on the left beneath a splendid chestnut tree which leads down to the road.
Turn right along the leafy road back into the village. Sustenance awaits.
Ordnance Survey maps are available from all good booksellers and outdoor stores or visit our online shop www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/al
Directions to start: Peter Tavy is in West Devon, accessed from the A386, three miles north east of Tavistock
Parking: On-road in Peter Tavy near the church or pub. Grid ref: SX513777. Postcode: PL19 9NN
Start Point: St Peter's Church, Peter Tavy
Public transport: Buses to the village are scarce, see travelinesw.com
Map: OS Explorer OL28, Dartmoor 1:25 000
Terrain: Tracks and field paths; some lane walking
Distance: 3 miles (5km)
Dog friendliness: Some stiles are awkward but negotiable and animals will be grazing. The inn allows dogs
Exertion: Easy to moderate
Toilets: None en route
Refreshments: The fabulous Peter Tavy Inn, PL19 9NN, 01822 810348. The annual village cream tea afternoon usually takes place in May; details of this year's date can be found at blackdownnews.blogspot.com
From Circular Walks in the South Hams, one of a selection of West Country walking guides from Simone Stanbrook-Byrne and James Clancy. Others include: Circular Walks in Central Devon, Circular Walks in East Devon, Circular Walks in North Devon/Exmoor, A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Devon, Favourite Walks in Devon, Town Walks in Devon. culmvalleypublishing.co.uk / 01392 881513