I was asked by EcoMind Travel to plan a weekend walk on Dartmoor for their guests who were spending Friday finding out about Transition Town Totnes. I love a challenge like that: to come up with a route that incorporates the most interesting of Dartmoor scenery possible and also has a pleasant and affordable place to stay in the middle. This two-day (20 mile) walk on 18th & 19th July travels up the eastern side of the moor, starting in the Dart valley, later the East Dart valley and then out onto the high moor, past a reservoir and ending at the Shovel Down ceremonial site and Scorhill stone circle. The mid-walk stopping point is lovely Bellever Youth Hostel.
We start at Newbridge on the River Dart, where a medieval packhorse bridge crosses the river. We walk briefly alongside the river and then uphill to join an old carriage drive that runs along the top of the Dart valley. It was constructed in the 1880s by Dr. Blackall who lived nearby and wanted his visitors to enjoy views of the valley without having to walk (which was not very practical for Victorian ladies in their crinolines). The views from here down into the wooded gorge and the sounds of the rushing water – “the call of the Dart” – are spectacular. After climbing Sharp Tor, we head north over Yar Tor where we pass a Bronze Age burial site known as the Money Pit (for reasons that will be explained when we get there) and a more recent memorial cross (just one hundred years old rather than 4,000). On Corndon Down with its massive prehistoric burial cairns we can look out for miles over the heart of Dartmoor and see the remains of extensive prehistoric field systems, then walk on an old church way down into the “ancient tenements” of Sherwell and Babeny, some of the longest continuously inhabited settlements on the moor. Around 1200, the population of England was growing and people began to move and farm once again on Dartmoor. The valleys of the East and West Dart were the first settled, and we can still see the longhouses and surrounding fields that date from this time.
We walk through Sherwell and Babeny to the East Dart river and either follow it northwards as far as historic Bellever Bridge, one of Dartmoor’s granite clapper bridges, or if conditions permit, we cross the river on stepping stones and walk via Laughter Tor and Bellever Tor to the youth hostel in the hamlet of Bellever.
The second day takes us beyond the lower reaches of the Dart and out onto the high moorland. We start by following the East Dart a little further to the famous clapper bridge at Postbridge, then walk northwards onto Assycombe Hill and around the edge of Fernworthy forest. Here we will see Hurston Ridge stone row, one of the best preserved stone rows on Dartmoor. At one end is a burial site, at the other a standing stone. No-one knows how they were used 4,000 years ago, but it seems likely the double row of stones in some way marked the passage from this life to life after death. We descend to the picturesque Fernworthy reservoir which was built in 1942 and flooded a valley that was full of hut circles, a farm and a clapper bridge. In very dry summers, these structures once again become visible as the water level drops.
We cross the South Teign river below the dam, visit a very well preserved Bronze Age grave and climb up onto Thornworthy Tor for stunning views and impressive granite formations. From here we walk over to the Shovel Down ceremonial site: a large collection of Bronze Age monuments, starting with the Longstone. This massive stone has stood, leaning gently, for more than 3,500 years. It marks the end of a stone row and has also, more recently, been used as a boundary stone. You can see letters carved into three sides marking the parishes of Gidleigh, Chagford and the Duchy of Cornwall. Following the stone row northwards from here, we come across a four-fold stone circle at the end of another stone row which runs off down the hill.
Following this downward slope, we reach the North Teign river, crossed here by a lovely old clapper bridge. All around are the signs of the tin miners’ activities and a short distance downstream is the Tolmen stone, a massive boulder with a large hole in the middle. It’s said that if you climb through, it will cure you of rheumatism – although I suspect anyone with rheumatism would be in no condition to manage such an acrobatic feat! Up the hill from the stream we encounter Scorhill stone circle, one of the most atmospheric places in northern Dartmoor. Of the 12 stone circles on Dartmoor, Scorhill has the most and the largest stones. Unlike others, it has not been reconstructed and one can still see how farmers in the past have attempted to make gateposts out of some of the fallen stones. Horse riders claim that the energy within this circle is such that their horses will not go through it, and many people visit it to celebrate special occasions such as pagan weddings, or simply to enjoy the vast wide space it sits in.
The final stretch of the walk takes us off the open moor and onto a quiet lane to the tiny and delightful village of Gidleigh where taxis will meet us to return us to New Bridge. If there’s time we can stroll down the lane to visit the lovely little church and look through a gate at the ruined medieval castle that sits in someone’s garden.
If you want to join this trip or other similar ones in the future, please email EcoMind Travel for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Inga Page
Guide in Dartmoor Walks & Rides This Way