We explore the most exciting activities in one of the most exciting playgrounds in the South West
If you thought rugged, challenging landscapes were confined to Scotland and north Wales, think again. Many of the 368 square miles of Dartmoor National Park are thrillingly wild and exposed granite tors towering over rugged moorland. In good weather the views are as mind-blowing as the sense of space. In poor weather those same moors can be intimidatingly desolate, the bogs bigger and the paths more obscure. This unforgiving nature makes Dartmoor a prime training ground for the army, and with 27,000 acres of live firing ranges it pays to check the firing programme before you go, in case your route is blocked by red flags. Dartmoor National Park is the only place in England to openly welcome wild camping, and watching the sunrise over a craggy, granite outcrop is one of the real delights of Britain outdoors. How well you slept will depend on how familiar you are with the legend of Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles!
Road cycle here
The 95-mile Dartmoor Way Cycle Route showcases the quiet lanes and roads of the National Park. It’s a long day’s ride, and an ideal two-day bike touring route, with refreshments available at villages and towns along the way. If time is tight, try the 27-mile High Moorland link that crosses the heart of Dartmoor from Tavistock to Buckfastleigh – but be prepared to tackle some contours.
Mountain bike here: Off-road riders are spoiled for choice on Dartmoor, with over 350kms of bridleways and byways within the National Park to explore. If you prefer an organised route, try the 20km loop from Princetown to Burrator Reservoir for a great mix of open moorland and forestry.
Dartmoor’s granite tors offer climbing and bouldering opportunities across the moor. In theory, some require the landowner’s permission to climb, but in practice it’s typically only groups that need to ask.
The moor really is, er, your oyster to explore in running shoes, and if you’d prefer to trail run without constant reference to your map, try a guided weekend with Wild Running’s Ceri Rees, a good friend of Outdoor Fitness. See wildrunning.co.uk
If you’re not sure of your navigation, it’s wisest to stick to the 448 miles of footpath that cross the national park (the Two Moors Way near Widdecombe in the Moor is one of our favourite routes anywhere in the country). If you’re confident with your map reading, take advantage of your right to roam across the 47,400 acres of open access land, an area that’s even bigger when Forestry Commission and National Trust estates are taken into account. The annual Dartmoor Walking Festival, which this year runs from 27th August to 4th September, includes scores of guided walks.
In the words of the National Park Authority: “Backpacking and sleeping wild on Dartmoor is tremendous under clear skies.” There are, however, a few provisos – stay in one spot for no more than two nights, use only lightweight tents (not family tents), pitch at least 100m from a road so that you are not visible from the roadside, and don’t erect your tent
on farmland, moorland enclosed by walls, flood plains or archaeological sites.
Visit Dartmoor, the official site for visitors to the national park, has details of accommodation providers, events, and useful information. See, visitdartmoor.co.uk For other info on the National Park see, dartmoor.gov.uk