Walks in Devon: Buckland Monachorum and Dartmoor's western fringes
PUBLISHED: 11:50 24 July 2018 | UPDATED: 11:53 24 July 2018
A beautiful walk on Dartmoor's western fringes with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE
Dartmoor. A place of alluring mystery and variety, where skylarks hang beneath a clear blue sky yet sudden mists obscure familiar landmarks. To set off on a compass-led yomp can seem a bit daunting for some, but this lovely walk on the very edge of the moor offers all the appeal without the challenges.
Buckland Monachorum is an appealing village, its name harking back to the time when the Cistercian monks of the nearby abbey owned the land. After the dissolution of the monasteries the estate eventually passed into the ownership of Sir Francis Drake’s family and is now in the hands of the National Trust.
Pick a clear day to make the most of the views and grab substantial boots (or spare socks) – I was glad of my wellies. Package the walk with a visit to Buckland Abbey or The Garden House and you have the makings of a well-lived day out.
1) From the road outside the church an obvious fingerpost points along a leafy footpath around the periphery of the churchyard. Take this, passing historic Lady Modiford Hall on the left. The path soon bends right and beyond the churchyard reaches a stone-stepped stile and three-way fingerpost.
Follow the onward option, bearing slightly left along a yellow-arrowed gravel path. This rises to meet a crossing track; keep straight ahead, climbing gently between hedges. The path rises to a dog-tricky stile – they will need to be agile or liftable. Cross and continue through the field, hedge to your right.
At the top of the field an easier stile leads to an area beside a couple of stone barns. Pause to relish the views behind where successive hills lead the eye into Cornwall: the twin masts on Caradon Hill are visible as is the single ‘toothpick’ spike on the summit of Kit Hill, in reality the chimney of the Great Consols Mine, built in 1858. Bossington Bear, the walks mascot, enjoyed this bit. Pass the barns on your right then keep ahead as the arrow directs, along a rising path which is fenced from the field. There are views to the right over the outskirts of Buckland Monachorum and the delightfully-named village of Crapstone.
2) As the field on your right ends the path goes through a gateway. The track swings left but you ignore this and keep ahead over a stile to continue in the same direction as before. Cross the small field then pass through a double-metal-gate combo.
Keep going through the next field, hedge to the right, and at the end cross the stile and follow the grassy track beyond, heading up towards the woodland of North Plantation. Stay on the track, ignoring any gates off, until you meet two gates ahead where you need the small, arrowed gate on the right. This leads onto a narrower path, still heading towards the trees.
The path emerges into woodland. Keep ahead to a gate in about 50m, then continue as before, now with a tree-topped wall on the left. Glimpses of the moor appear ahead. The path reaches a well-placed bench in memory of four ponies and a dog: Whizz, Lucky, Misty, Velvet and V. A good snack-stop with distant moorland views and the woodland as backdrop, where, bizarrely, I found two golf balls tucked under the trees.
3) From the bench, walk to the quiet, moorland road nearby. A yellow arrow points straight ahead but here the walk turns left, following the road for almost 500m. Rather than walking on the surfaced road you may prefer to follow the path about 20m to the right of the road, but keep the road in sight. This is now the West Devon Way (WDW).
The road reaches a left turn for Uppaton and nearby is a low, wooden WDW marker. From here ignore the footpath going 90 degrees right. The easy option is to follow the line of the road to a parking area in about 250m, turning right at the car park to follow the tree-topped boundary on your left, but the nicer option from the Uppaton turn is to follow the WDW on an indistinct path obliquely right from the road, at an angle of about 45 degrees.
This passes through bracken and scrubby trees with views to the right and still brings you to the tree-topped boundary. Turn right along it, keeping the boundary to your left. We met a host of ponies and leggy foals here, loafing around, enjoying their Sunday afternoon.
4) Follow the boundary to its corner, then turn left – another WDW post is nearby. Follow the line of the boundary to your left, it wobbles in and out but is a good reference point.
The path leads beneath some lovely moss-upholstered trees, the views to the right becoming increasingly expansive; look for church-topped Brentor.
Follow the path for about ½ mile until you reach a crossing track, with another parking area over to the left. There are various tracks here and signs nearby denoting ‘private road’, but you just keep going in the same direction as before, still following the left-hand boundary. As the track veers off right downhill, leave it and keep ahead beneath trees, still beside the boundary but no longer on the WDW.
5) In about ¼ mile the path reaches a field gate in front. Turn right here, downhill beside the wall which ends within 100m. Turn left round its corner, now following a stony path beneath trees, a lovely stretch of shady walking, boundary up to the left.
As you continue you will see a broad track down to the right and your path gradually drops to join it in another ¼ mile.
Pause to enjoy the views across and along the valley of the River Walkham then keep ahead for a few metres until, on a fence post by the wall corner, you find a blue-arrowed bridleway.
6) Turn left to join the bridleway, walking uphill away from the big view with a boundary still to your left. This line leads up to a short but stout-hearted holly tree beyond which are a couple of gates.
Continue with the bridleway through the right-hand gate along a hedged track which eventually deposits you on the lane.
Turn right along it, bending left in 100m. When the lane bends right in anther 100m leave it and keep ahead on the signed bridleway. This leafy path heads downhill to a small waterfall. Enjoy it, then turn right through this aqueous area, crossing the stream and one of its tributaries (hence the welly-warning) then continuing on the gently rising track beyond.
7) The path leads to an open area with views across the right-hand gate to the outskirts of Buckland Monachorum. Stay with the path as it bears right and leads to the gravelled area beside ancient Netherton Manor and its garages (please respect their privacy). Head diagonally left across the gravel, round the end of the house and out to the lane.
Cross the lane, bearing obliquely right, and go through a wooden kissing gate. Turn right on the brick-surfaced path and follow it as it bends about and soon comes out amongst houses.
Walk straight ahead on the road to reach a T-junction where a noisy stream can be heard babbling beneath the road. Turn left, uphill, passing some interestingly-designed modern homes. You reach the main road through the village; turn right, passing the school, and you are soon back at the church and inn.
Parking: On-road in Buckland Monachorum. Grid ref: SX489683. Nearby postcode: PL20 7NA
Directions to start: Buckland Monachorum is in south-west Devon, close to the Cornish border; 2.5 miles west of Yelverton and 10 miles north of Plymouth
Start Point: Outside St Andrews Church, Buckland Monachorum
Public transport: Occasional buses, see travelinesw.com
Map: OS Explorer OL28, Dartmoor 1:25 000
Terrain: Field and moorland paths and tracks; minimal quiet lanes. Some wet and muddy areas and a stream to cross so good boots/wellies essential (even in summer)
Distance: 4 miles (6.3km)
Dog friendliness: Some stiles may be awkward and animals will be grazing. The inn allows dogs in main bar and garden
Exertion: Easy to moderate
Toilets: None en route
Refreshments: The Drake Manor Inn, Buckland Monachorum, PL20 7NA, 01822 853892
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne and James Clancy have produced a selection of West Country guides including: Favourite Walks in Devon, Circular Walks in the South Hams, Circular Walks in East Devon, Circular Walks in Central Devon, Circular Walks in North Devon/Exmoor, A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Devon, Town Walks in Devon. culmvalleypublishing.co.uk / 01392 881513