Dartmoor National Park, stretching across southern and central Devon, is a perfect place for a fastpacking, wild camping, multi-day adventure. Although the higher ground usually sees some snow over the later winter months, the weather is often fairly mild through November and December. A Christmas or new year fastpacking adventure, spending the days exploring some of the moor’s best trails and the nights beneath a clear, star-scattered sky, is one of the best ways we can think of to spend some quality time together over the festive period. Wild camping is permitted in many areas of Dartmoor as long as it’s done respectfully, staying only dusk-till-dawn, well away from roads or settlements and without any adverse impact on people, land or wildlife. As the only place in England where wild camping is expressly permitted, this is a privilege that we all need to protect for the future. A wealth of information and guidance for wild campers, including where you can and can’t pitch, can be found on the National Park’s website.
Setting out early from the warmth of the in-laws’ house on the eastern fringes of Dartmoor, we followed the long, winding track up onto open moorland. Our planned route took in a long loop, running all of both days and with a carefully-chosen wild camping spot at half way.
Despite leaving in a damp, grey, semi-darkness, as we reached the stacked granite boulders of Hound Tor we were greeted by a spectacular sunrise, flooding the valley and the rocks with magical red-orange light. We spent nearly half an hour just taking it all in before the sun vanished behind a bank of cloud and the familiar grey tones of the moor returned. On day one we ran past Jay’s Grave before climbing to the long ridge of Hamel Down and admiring the awe-inspiring stone circle at Grimspound. Following a bridleway took us past the Warren House - a good place to stop for refreshments later in the day - before navigating vague sheep paths to the edge of Fernworthy forest. Taking our time and exploring as we went meant we arrived at the deserted ruins of Teignhead Farm, a perfect spot for a wild camp, just as dusk was starting to fall. Plentiful water from the nearby North Teign river and wonderful views to wake up to make this a favourite overnight spot. On the second day we started with a run to the top of Sittaford Tor to take in the views before following brilliantly runnable trails south to Postbridge. Bridleways and quiet Devon lanes took us to Widecombe for lunch at the Rugglestone and then a VERY gentle jog back to Haytor via Pill Tor and Saddle Tor to finish. With the promise of a second clear night and the hope of another glorious sunrise we pitched for a second night with views across the valley and the music of the nearby brook to send us to sleep.
Mild (for December) and sunny on day 1, grey and chilly on day 2 with an overnight frost. Two fine sunrises and a sunset.
Eat, drink, sleep
Over a sunny weekend, wild camping completes the adventure, but if the weather’s bad it could easily turn an enjoyable fastpacking trip into an epic slog. There’s a great choice of excellent pubs for food, drink and accommodation on Dartmoor plus self-catering, ‘official’ campsites with warm showers and B&B options. We highly recommend the Rugglestone Inn for a local cider, Home Farm cafe at Parke, Ullacombe Farm near Haytor and also the cafe at Castle Drogo, overlooking the picturesque Teign Valley.
Happily, the moor’s still dry enough for trail shoes and there’s a fair bit of hard-pack trail and also some quiet road along the route. A good balance of grip and cushioning was required so we went for the men’s Inov-8 Parkclaw 275s - comfortable, fairly grippy and, in bright green, a great colour for photos - and the excellent women’s Bushidos from La Sportiva - perfect for rocky, gravelly trails. For the overnights we took lightweight down sleeping bags and the brilliant Vaude Invenio UL 2-person tent, not the lightest but protective and with plenty of room for us and our packs. We easily fitted everything we needed into Vaude Trailspacer 18 packs - brand new to the market and absolutely brilliant. Look out for our full review of this and other multi-day packs in Trail Running magazine in the spring.
Clothing that’s fast drying and warm for its weight is essential for fastpacking trips and the Outdoor Research Deviator Hoody worked perfectly, both for colder spells of running during the day and then over a midlayer and under a jacket for the evening. This is one of those rare items of kit that really doesn’t have any faults - it’s brilliantly versatile, with stretchy, breathable, thumb-looped sleeves and back panel; windproof and lightly-insulated front; three perfectly-placed pockets and a snug, fitted hood.
There’s a great buzz around all things running on Dartmoor right now. Pure Trail organises a number of excellent races and holds a sociable group run on Wednesday evenings. Dartmoor Running Holidays offers guided weekend adventures, while Runventure, on the western edge of the moor, has dedicated running trails and guides with vast expertise on running and the local area.