Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

If you’re looking for a quote to capture the cinematic grandeur of Dartmoor, you could do worse than ask Steven Spielberg. “I have never before, in my long, eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse,” he said, of the 2011 film about a Devon farm boy.

That’s right – despite filming in Hawaiian rainforests for Jurassic Park, Sri Lankan tea plantations for Indiana Jones and the pristine beaches of Martha’s Vineyard for Jaws, Dartmoor still tops his list of beautiful places. And with miles of heather-covered moorland, granite tors and steeply wooded river valleys, you can see why this national park has Hollywood appeal.

But it’s not just film-makers and ramblers who are drawn to Dartmoor. It’s also a playground (and classroom) for students. Read on for some of the many different ways you can explore England’s last wilderness...

Dartmoor

  • Hiking

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Hiking
  • Camping

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Camping
  • Mountain biking

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Mountain biking
  • Climbing and bouldering

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Climbing and bouldering
  • Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team
  • Eating

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Eating
  • Horse riding

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Horse riding
  • Photography

    Eight ways to explore Dartmoor

    Photography

1. Hiking

With 47,000 hectares of public access land, Dartmoor has plenty to offer outdoor enthusiasts, and is featured in a new book of walks produced by Plymouth University students, staff and partnersMoor to Sea without the Car includes Dartmoor walks illustrated with paintings, photographs, poetry and maps.

BA (Hons) Marketing student Heather Harding shares her insight into ‘letterboxing’, the 19th-century version of geocaching, which began at Cranmere Pool on north Dartmoor, whilst BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing student Hannah Stamp depicts the bleakness of the Princetown circular route: “The cruel moorland winds blow through, blanketing the hills, the hones, the tors, and the chug of the old abandoned railway.”

The book also gives plenty of safety information, a guide to essential kit (for example, OS map, compass and boots) as well as a difficulty and experience grading for each walk. If you’re not ready for Dartmoor, you can always start with one of the circuits closer to home such as Royal William Yard or from Cremyll to Mount Edgcumbe.

 

2. Wild camping

Finding solitude on Dartmoor can be a welcome break after weeks of socials, seminars and packed lecture halls. Biomedical Science graduate Andy Dent recalls a night he camped on the Two Moors Way.

“The morning seemed to come like the flick of a light switch, my tent instantly illuminated by sunlight.

I was greeted by my first proper view from the ridge. The fog and fading light which had masked its beauty the night before were replaced by clear air and blue skies.”

Andy first visited Dartmoor at the age of 15 with the Scouts, and when he returned to Plymouth to do his degree, he couldn’t wait to get back out there with a friend who’d been on the same Scout trip with him.

“To me Dartmoor is a special place because it can provide a feeling of remoteness without having to travel for miles into the depths of Wales or the Scottish Highlands,” says Andy. “Although often described as ‘bleak’ it has many changing colours and hardy fauna and flora that flourish there.

“If you want to get started on Dartmoor, just go for it, but don’t be complacent about safety. Find someone more experienced to go with or join the Adventure and Expo club. Take plenty of food and a flask of tea to pick yourself up, and have a few ‘escape plans’ so that if it stops being fun you can cut your trip short.”

Camping for one or two nights on Dartmoor is fine as long as you don’t pitch your tent on farmland, enclosed moorland, flood plains or archaeological sites.

Find a map of camping areas at www.dartmoor.gov.uk 

 

3. Mountain biking

“Plymouth and the surrounding area boasts some of the UK’s best riding”, says Tim Blackman of the University’s cycling club. “Just 30 minutes of riding from campus and you’re into Dartmoor, where there’s an endless amount of track waiting to be discovered.” If you don’t have your own bike you can hire one from Rockets and Rascals, run by former Plymouth University student, Steve Toze.

“Plymouth is great for cycling,” says Steve. “You can ride traffic-free along National Cycle Route 27 to Dartmoor.” The multi-user trail is signposted, and there’s a 5km off-road loop en-route known as the Plym Ridge ride.

Find cycling maps: www.sustrans.org.uk/ncn/map/route/dartmoor-way


4. Climbing and bouldering

Professor Iain Stewart, director of the Sustainable Earth Institute at Plymouth University, explains the appeal of Dartmoor’s famous tors (rocky peaks): “Their coarse granite reveals their antiquity – their chunky crystals, like miniature time capsules, root back three hundred million years to a journey that began from plutonic depths several miles down.”

The Dewerstone, Hound Tor and Leigh Tor are popular with climbers, whilst other areas offer thrilling opportunities for bouldering (without ropes or harnesses). Both can be undertaken with Plymouth University’s Adventure and Expo club, and beginners are welcome, says club secretary Jack Porteous: “Anyone can join. We can start people on a climbing wall or they can come out to the Dewerstone. There’s not that much to it really, as long as you have the right attitude.”

5. Join the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team

An exciting way to discover the moor and learn some essential survival skills is to volunteer with the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth (DSRTP), which provides a training course and anyone can go along.

Another way to get involved is by pretending to be a casualty. “Students seem to love that.” says team-member Ken Ringwood. “They go out and hide with somebody and we’ll rescue them. We’ve got two dogs on our team and they’ll find anybody anywhere.” The DSRTP also organises marshalled fund-raising hikes, including an overnight trek known as Midnight Madness. 

 

6. Eating

Close to Burrator Reservoir and just off Cycle Route 27 is the Royal Oak Inn at Meavy, which is recommended by Ken Ringwood, DSRTP member and author of several Dartmoor walks.

This 15th-century inn made it into the 2015 Good Pub Guide. With a flagstone floor, old beams and large open fireplace, it’s the perfect pit-stop for a long bike-ride or hike. It’s also popular with Plymouth University’s Adventure and Expo club.

“We used to go there after a walk and enjoy the pie and pint deal,” says student Jack Porteous. “The Plume of Feathers at Princetown is also good.”

 

7. Horse riding

If you’ve driven through Dartmoor recently you might have noticed some strange blue markings on the ponies. This is a new pilot scheme to protect them from traffic, as the paint is reflective. Dartmoor ponies are semi-feral and have lived on the moor for centuries.

If you want to see them close up, or even ride a Dartmoor-cross, you can book a riding lesson with Cholwell Farm and Riding Stables. “We’re used to taking out students,” says manager Diane Penwill.

“The scenery is stunning, and we’re right on the moor so there are no cars to worry about. People come out here and they just can’t believe how nice it is.”

 

8. Photography

Student activities on Dartmoor needn’t all be about adventure and practical skills. For some, it’s a source of inspiration and creativity, as BA (Hons) Photography student Ellie Coleman recently discovered. As part of her course, she chose to focus on the area around Burrator Reservoir, where there’s a range of landscapes, from wide open spaces to dense woodland.

“For me Dartmoor is special because of its beauty and the fact that it appears virtually untouched by buildings and people,” she says. “There is a strong connection to history and it’s a nice space to get away from people.”

Ellie drove and walked for up to four hours at a time looking for the right locations. “Dartmoor really does impress a sense of seclusion and natural beauty,” she adds.

Student Life magazine: Spring 2016 issue 2