I’m used to waking up under canvas on hiking trips; on this trip, we branched out into the world of camping pods and B&Bs. I woke snug as a (fried) bug, toasted by the underfloor heating. Outside, blue skies, sunshine and footpaths (twenty-odd miles of them) beckoned.
Up and over Pew Tor, which, legend has it, is home to the piskie king. Faery folk aside, this pile of granite has beautiful views of the surrounding countryside, and would make an ideal picnic spot if you were passing through later in the day.
We looped round Sampford Spiney, heading towards Huckworthy Common. Dartmoor ponies – and two gorgeous foals – up ahead, grazing. Fuzzy fur on the foals; flowing manes on the mares. We lingered awhile, watching the younger ones frolic around.
Tearing ourselves away, safe in the knowledge that there was no shortage of ponies in the area, we set off in the direction of Huckworthy Bridge, where we picked up the footpath to Welltown (Wellhamlet would have been a more accurate name, but I digress).
After the foals, lambs: some curled up; others gambolling across the fields. Spring was in the air, that’s for sure. We skirted Yennadon Down, catching glimpses of Burrator Reservoir through the trees as the road descended towards the dam.
Surrounded by tors, open moorland and plantations, Burrator Reservoir is a haven for wildlife and a popular spot for anglers. Last summer’s heatwave saw water levels drop significantly, exposing parts of the Longstone Manor estate which had been submerged since the reservoir’s expansion in 1929. When we visited, water levels were healthier and there were no centuries-old ruins to be seen.
After picking up lollies from an ice cream van, we crossed Burrator Dam and rounded the southern tip of the reservoir. Then, up through the conifers, over the pillow mounds (artificial rabbit warrens dating back to the medieval era; I knew you were curious), onto Sheeps Tor. We broke out our packed lunch at the top: naans; bananas; trail mix (divvying up the Smarties: oranges for Laurence, green for me).
Fuelled up for the afternoon, we made our way down towards Sheepstor, a sleepy village which served as a filming location for box-office hit War Horse. To the east, tin-mining country: disused mines, shafts and blowing houses dotting the landscape.
Dusty tracks cut across the parched, open moorland. Although we didn’t see any military action while we were in the area, Sheeps Tor, Ringmoor and Cramber Tor are all used by the military for ‘dry training’: tactical battle training which involves blanks and pyrotechnics. (Training with live ammo takes place further north, on the ranges at Okehampton, Merrivale and Willsworthy.)
Leather Tor Bridge: on the home straight, five or so miles standing between us and our camping pod. Up ahead, the crumbling remains of Leathertor Farm. We promptly collapsed in the shade; there’d been none for the last couple of hours, and we were both feeling a little worse for wear. (Note to self: always pack sunblock and a hat in future.)
Devonport Leat (below) snakes its way across the moors and through Stanlake Plantation, feeding water into Burrator Reservoir. Amongst the conifers, more ponies. (These four-legged creatures quickly became one of my favourite things about Dartmoor.) Before we knew it, we’d passed Eggworthy and were walking back through Sampford Spiney once again; we opted for the country lanes over Pew Tor on our way back.
- Grab a copy of the OL28 Dartmoor map before setting off on a walk and, if you’re heading onto the moors, come prepared for any weather conditions Mother Nature might throw at you.
- If you’ve got small children, or are less mobile, there are flat paths around Burrator Reservoir and ample parking nearby.