First stop: Tavistock, a stannary and market town on the fringe of Dartmoor National Park. From Exeter, it should have been two trains (down to Plymouth, up to Gunnislake) and a bus ride away, leaving us with a short, scenic walk across the moorland to our accommodation. Two trains in, outside Gunnislake station, those plans unravelled.
It went something like this: “Are you going to Tavistock?” Yes. “The bridge is closed; it’s reopening later tonight. There are no buses to Tavistock today.” Thanks for your help (sub-text: balls). Unsure what to do, we crossed back over towards the train station to see where the buses were going and got chatting to some locals, who kindly informed us that although the bridge was closed to vehicles, it remained open to pedestrians.
Gunnislake to Tavistock via the Tamar Valley it was. Off we trotted: down the road, into the village – nipping into the local Post Office for a map of the Tamar Valley, on the advice of a local – towards the bridge. Waved forward by a workman in hi-vis, we edged past the dredger. Farewell Cornwall, hello again Devon.
Related: Snapshots of Dartmoor National Park
Past the whitewashed Toll House – today a toll house only in name – and onto Chimney Rock Trail. We passed South Bedford Mine, a nineteenth century copper mine, and continued up to Chimney Rock, an outcrop which overlooks the River Tamar and Gunnislake. Since the path down to the viewpoint narrows considerably, and is rather steep, we left our bags just off the main path while we checked out the views.
Retracing our footsteps to Bedford United Mine Leat, a man-made watercourse which transported water from the Tavistock Canal to the mines back in the day, we picked up the Mineral Railway Trail. After a mile or so, we peeled off towards Gulworthy and Lumburn. We were only too happy to trade the busy A390 for the peaceful path along the Tavistock Canal.
The Tavistock Canal was built in the early 1800s to facilitate the flow of goods – including copper ore, slate, limestone, coal and timber – between Tavistock and Morwellham Quay on the River Tamar. When the railways arrived in the mid-1800s the canal fell into decline, and by the end of the turn of the century it had ceased operations. Today, it supplies water to a hydro-electric power plant at Morwellham Quay.
Once in Tavistock, we sought out sustenance (in the form of a glorious cream tea) at Donella’s (1-2 Paddons Row). It’s fair to say their warm scones, hefty pots of jam and clotted cream and friendly service set the bar high for subsequent cream teas. (Yorkshire Tea is my favourite brew but Miles West Country Original, which we had at Donella’s, comes a firm second. Luckily, our local Asda stocks it, so we don’t have to wait until we’re next in Devon for another teapot-ful.)
We had a brief wander through the centre, catching the tail end of the market, before heading up, out and onto the moors. En route to Langstone Manor Camping and Caravan Park, we passed a herd of Dartmoor’s eponymous ponies (with foals). We received a warm welcome, a tour of the facilities and some recommendations for walks before being shown to our camping pod.
We made ourselves at home, tucked into some food (Trangia cooking always stirs up fond memories of Guide camp) and decided to head up Pew Tor for sunset. Unfortunately, the clouds had rolled in and there was no orange-y glow over the hills, but it was nice to have the spot virtually to ourselves. Next up: Burrator Reservoir (ft. a human lobster).
- Gunnislake Post Office sells maps of the Tamar Valley, with various family-friendly routes marked on, at 20p apiece. The Tamar Valley isn’t covered by the OL28 Dartmoor map, so it’s a worthwhile investment whether you’re passing through en route to Dartmoor or lingering in the area for a few days.
- If it’s wet or has rained recently, I’d give Chimney Rock a miss: it would be pretty darn slippery and there’s a steep drop down to the valley floor.
- We redeemed a gift experience against our two-night stay in one of Langstone Manor’s camping pods, but I’d happily return as a paying guest. More information on their camping pods, traditional pitches and other accommodation options is available on their website.