Explore Dartmoor: Dodge the crowds and enjoy these secret spots
If you’re looking for a day trip, a weekend break, or staycation idea then Dartmoor is an ENORMOUS playground to explore! Most visitors congregate around the same few spots, which leaves the rest of this vast, beautiful area perfect for escaping the crowds and exploring!
Here are some of my favourite spots:
**Fingle Gorge and the Salmon Leaps**
Fingle Gorge is breathtakingly beautiful at any time of year, but in the summer, you have the added bonus of being able to enjoy the whirl-pool ‘jacuzzi’s’ and slides at the salmon leaps. The water in the pools is strong enough to whip your feet out from under you, but above the pools is a large sunny pool, and downstream, below the pools you’ve got a long, meandering stretch of river to explore……… all the way up to the Fingle Inn pub! If you visit in October, you may be lucky enough to see the salmon actually jumping up the pools to make their way up stream.
Houndtor is another visitor hotspot, but if you park at the carpark, walk through Houndtor and over the other side heading towards Haytor, there are the remains of a medieval village in the lea of a magical tor. It’s a magical spot, perfect for scrambling and exploring.
**Moretonhampstead Cycle Path**
Last year, the old railway line between Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracy was finally opened and is now a new off-road cycle path. The path runs along the Wray Valley through beautiful woodlands – it’s looking especially good at this time of year! Perfect for family bike-rides with novice cyclists. There are also good refreshment pitstops at the start, middle and end of the route.
Foggintor Quarry is pretty big…. but you won’t spot it until you’re right on top of it! Walking along the old railway track out of Princetown, Foggintor is off to the right. It’s a stunning lake, a favourite hangout for Dartmoor ponies and quite an eerie spot but perfect for a picnic!
**Hunter’s Tor to Heaven’s Gate**
Another one of my favourite Dartmoor walks to explore – decent footwear and a picnic required!. Hunter’s Tor is a rugged pile of rocks that mark the start of Lustleigh Cleave, a steep river valley covered in ancient woodland. The walk takes you along the top of the ridge line from Hunter’s Tor to Heaven’s gate. The scenery is spectacular, with views down the valley and over to Haytor. Once at the gate, drop down to the river and make your way up steam along the valley bottom, through Foxworthy hamlet back up to the head of the valley. From here you’re conveniently close to the Ring of Bells Inn, North Bovey. Having walked all that way you’ve definitely earned a pint and a plate of cheesy chips!
If you head down to the river from Holne, you’ll see a giant granite boulder in the river. The river forms rapids and a deep pool around it, perfect for swimming and even a bit of messing around on bodyboards. As the day wears on the rock heats up in the sun and there is no better place for sunbathing, and warming up after being in the water.
**River Dart Waterfall**
OK, so compared to a spectacular towering waterfall, it’s not massive….. or spectacular, but walking due north out of Postbridge, up on the high moor, there is a lovely spot. Here, find a waterfall where the River Dart drops down exposed granite rocks. It’s a real sun-trap, protected from the wind and with deep plunge pools and even a ‘slide’… The perfect spot for a dip.
**Weaselling & Climbing**
Weaselling is the term given to wriggling, crawling and scrambling through tunnels and tiny gaps between the rocks on the Tors. The granite tors are perfect for learning to climb, and you can combine the two with someone like Georgia & Baz at Crag 2 Mountain. Definitely not just for the kids and it’s a really fun way to spend a day up on the moor.
**Follow the River Dart from Dartmeet to Newbridge**
OK, so Dartmeet carpark is a top visitor spot. But, if you walk 100m down river, you’ll leave the crowds behind and start to wonder if you’re the only people there. The walk along the river is rough, rugged and very beautiful. Not for the faint hearted and there is some scrambling (good footwear is essential). You just follow the river Dart downstream for about 5miles till you get to Newbridge. The nature of the terrain means this walk takes us around 4-5 hours with the children. It’s Dartmoor at its best – walking through ancient woodlands along the rocky river banks, plenty of birdlife for keen spotters, and refreshing pools to dip in along the way. Without doubt, my favourite walk in the UK.
But, having said all that, the best thing about Dartmoor is you don’t actually have to head for anywhere to explore! You can just park up and set off anywhere you like. Just walking and exploring to see where you end up – it’s bound to be somewhere interesting! (Although I would advise steering clear of the shooting ranges when they’re in use.) Painting, den-building, tor-bagging, bivvy-bagging, geo-caching, river-walking, birding, kit-flying, photographing…….. the moor is just there for everyone to explore and enjoy.
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