South Devon: Spring Walks and Wild Swims
Spring is an exciting time to be in the woods. The flora and fauna are re-awakening after a long winter and the woodland is filled with the singing of birds and buzzing of insects.
Most people think of Dartmoor as just a vast expanse of moorland, but it also has some of the most beautiful woodland in the country.
Head out for a day’s adventuring with the family to explore the fantastic woodland world. Pack your swimmers and be ready for the best wild swimming in the UK.
The beech trees in these woods are so enormously spectacular, they are truly breath-taking. Combine that with their location at the bottom of the valley, right by the River Dart, and you’ve got a great day out. Sharrah Pool is along this route if you keep going far enough, but there are many opportunities for a dip all the way along the river. The rugged footpath rises and falls as it heads upstream towards magnificent ancient beech woodland.
Find more info from the National Trust here.
At any time of year, this walk is spectacular, but Spring time has to be the best. Park at Fingle Inn just outside Drewsteignton. Climb up the steep Hunter’s Path from the river to Castle Drogo, through towering beech woodlands up to the gorse and heather moorland at the top, the views down the valley and across to the High Moor are simply spectacular.
Stop at Castle Drogo for a quick cup of tea and then drop back down to the river to the Salmon Leaps, a great swimming spot with a diving platform and whirling jacuzzis. The walk back along the river to the Fingle Inn, the riverside pub that does a great pint and a plate of cheesy chips to reward you for your efforts.
Find more information here.
Wooston Hill Fort
Just outside Moretonhampstead, Wooston Hill Fort was built sometime in the 1st-2nd Century BC. Until recently, this amazing spot was privately owned and used as a shooting range. The Woodland Trust and National Trust now own the woods and are restoring them to their former glory. Heavy horses are used by the woodland management team and can often be seen at work….
Built on a promontory high above the valley below, the fort has incredible views. There’s obviously not much left of the original fort these days, but the amazing views right up the valley to the High Moor beyond are very much still worth taking the time to sit and enjoy…. perhaps with a picnic or flask of coffee?
If you’re up near Haytor on Dartmoor, in May, it is impossible to miss the carpet of bluebells on the hillside near Bonehill Rocks. Ok, there may not be many trees BUT being in such an exposed spot, this huge area is covered bluebells so its definitely worth the trip. It’s a remarkable sight and the wonderful smell of the flowers as you walk through is particularly evocative.
Yarner woods are a particularly important breeding spot for the pied flycatcher. These tiny birds come every year from Africa to this ancient beech woodland in early Spring and fill the woods with their song.
It’s well worth the early start to hear them at their finest.
There are many well managed trails through the woods:
- The Woods & Trees trail (either 1.5km or 4.5km depending on the length of legs in your party) meanders through the beautiful Atlantic oak woods
- The 5km Lichen trail passes the internationally important ‘witches whiskers’ lichen.
The Woodland Trust and Natural England provide trail maps. There is also a guide to help spot the tracks and signs of the local wildlife. You can download the guides and trail routes here. If you forget or your printer’s broken, the routes are available from the bird hide by Yarner carpark.
There aren’t really clear paths here and it’s easy to get lost. But so long as you remember it’s always downhill to the river, once you reach the water it’s easy to find your way back to civilisation. Just make sure you have plenty of time and you don’t have a pressing deadline – it’s very easy to get distracted and find yourself rambling from one beautiful spot to another. There is so much to explore here.
The woodland is beautiful. There’s no noise, just birdsong and the sound of the river running by. If you can find your way to ‘Heaven’s Gate’ – a sunny glade near the top of the valley with a giant oak tree in the middle, it’s well worth a visit around May time as it’s a sea of bluebells. This is a particularly magical spot on Dartmoor.