Dartmoor National Park covers 368 square miles of granite upland in central and southern Devon. It’s a rugged, wild place with vast swathes of open moorland punctuated by distinctive tors - the exposed knuckles of prehistoric volcanic activity. Off the trails, much of the running is hard going, with tussocky grass, boggy valleys, and an often featureless landscape that can make navigation challenging. It’s a wonderfully peaceful, atmospheric place to be, however, where wild ponies graze amidst stone circles and ruined settlements and the moss-covered remnants of ancient sessile oak woodland, pockets of temperate rainforest by definition, are a magical experience to explore.
Dartmoor isn’t known for its scrambling, but if you know where to look there are some fantastic easy scrambles, perfect for a relaxed clamber on a summer’s day or to add a bit of spice to a winter run. The tors here are well-loved by local boulderers for their shapely granite features offering a range of problems from the classic V1 Shark’s Fin at Hound Tor right up to the Green Room at Bonehill, a 3-star V12. There’s also a wealth of running trails here, particularly on the moor’s gentler eastern fringes.
We headed for Hound Tor, scrambling over the highest rocks and pausing for a moment to take in the fine views of the surrounding moorland, right down to the coast. Dropping down past the medieval village we then scrambled the full length of the fin of Greator Rocks. Descending right into the valley we crossed the traditional granite clapper bridge over the Becka brook (the subject of Jen’s poem Counterflow in the 2018 anthology Waymaking from Vertebrate publishing), finishing with a steep climb to reach Haytor quarry and then the distinctive bulk of Haytor itself.
Dartmoor has its own weather system, often lying cloaked in a blanket of grey cloud when the English Riviera below is basked in sunshine - it all adds to the atmosphere of the place. Sunny days on the moor are well worth waiting for though, when you can see for miles across the rolling hills and pick out each distinctively-shaped tor as it appears on the horizon. We were lucky enough to have uninterrupted blue skies and sunshine, and a spectacular sunset as we finished the day with a wild camp, too.
Eat, drink, sleep
We finished an awesome day out on the moor in the beer garden of the excellent Rugglestone Inn at Widecombe with its resident turkeys, ducks and hens. As dusk fell we walked a couple of miles out onto the moor and found a sheltered spot beneath an outcrop of granite boulders to pitch our backpacking tent. Dartmoor is one of the few places in England that permits wild camping, however it’s only allowed in certain areas and with strict adherence to the park’s guidelines. Full information can be found on the National Park’s website.
Although most of the easy scrambles and clambers on Dartmoor are perfectly doable in a decent pair of running shoes, the trickier moves feel far more secure with sticky rubber soled approach shoes like the Scarpa Mescalito or La Sportiva TX4. These are comfortable and supportive for walking all day but offer great grip and feel when climbing.
The river Dart rises on Dartmoor, beginning as the East and West Dart rivers and merging at Dartmeet before flowing down the Dart valley to reach the English Channel at Dartmouth. There’s some high quality river swimming and kayaking along its length, well worth exploring for those with a love of the water.