Deepest, Darkest Devon: Postbridge to Bovey Tracey

Postbridge lies on the fringe of Bellever Forest, right in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, and is best known for its medieval clapper bridge. We’d crossed it the previous evening, but as we hadn’t had time to admire it properly a detour first thing in the morning was in order. After eating our fill of cereals, we set off into Postbridge, opting for the dirt tracks instead of the main road.

Along the riverbank, muddy in places, the clapper bridge up ahead and not a soul in sight. Visitors apparently descend on Postbridge by the coach-ful in the height of summer; on Easter Sunday, it was a different (and infinitely better) story. ‘Clapper’ is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘cleaca’, meaning ‘bridging the stepping stones’; the clappers on this bridge are three hefty granite slabs – much easier for Tavistock-bound packhorses to cross than stepping stones.

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Over to Pizwell, picking our way through some rather boggy patches. We wandered through Soussons Down for some much-needed relief from the sun; I’ve never been as badly sunburnt as I was in Dartmoor National Park. Sunburnt in England in April. Who’d have thought it? Not me, that’s for sure: my sunblock was sat in the cupboard at home.

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We emerged into the sunlight, instantly longing to return to the cool, shaded forest. Up ahead: the remains of soon after. Challacombe Medieval Hamlet consists of five traditional longhouses which were once inhabited by miners, warreners and farmers.

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Nestled between Hookney Tor and Hameldown Tor: Grimspound. We hadn’t been able to see it from the Warren House Inn the previous evening as the light was fading – fast – when we left the pub, so we’d rejigged our route to slot it in. Dating from the Late Bronze Age (c. 1450-700 BC), Grimspound comprises twenty-four stone hut circles surrounded by a low stone wall.

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Towards the end of the 1800s, the Dartmoor Exploration Committee carried out excavations on the site, uncovering various structures, such as porches and hearths, and artefacts, including pottery and flint, in the process. Controversially, the archaeologists restored sections of the perimeter wall alongside some of the hut circles.

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After a spot of lunch in a sliver of shade, backs right up against the boundary wall, we headed up and over Hameldown Tor. Destination: Widecombe-in-the-Moor, a quaint village and tourist honeypot which is to Dartmoor what Grasmere is to the Lake District. Top of our agenda: a cream tea. Café on the Green delivered the goods, but a snail could move faster than their queue did.

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Whilst in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, we ventured into St. Pancras Church, known locally as the ‘Cathedral of the Moors’. Locally quarried granite on the outside, whitewash within; sunlight streaming in through the windows.

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With time ticking by, we headed up the hillside to our accommodation for the night. Check-in was quick and easy, and before long we were wandering back down into Widecombe-in-the-Moor in search of food. We’d scouted out the pubs earlier in the afternoon and decided to go to The Rugglestone Inn, which looked to be the nicer of the two. We bagged a table outside and, after much umming and ahing, ordered hearty portions of fish and chips.

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Clear skies that night meant one thing, and one thing only: star-gazing. We waited up, a dusky pink sunset giving way to inky blue, then pitch black, skies. We only had to walk twenty metres or so from our lodgings to see the stars: an inky carpet speckled with thousands of sparkling lights, a breathtaking sight. (I don’t have any photos, as my camera simply wasn’t up to the job.)

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Our last day in Dartmoor National Park was hazy but humid. Only Haytor Rocks stood between us and Bovey Tracey, where we planned to end our walk. One tor after another: Top Tor, Saddle Tor, (view of) Holwell Tor from Haytor Rocks. We clambered up, making use of the metal hand- and footholds which had been screwed into the rock, and took in the views from the top.

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Beneath us, Haytor Quarry and the remains of the Haytor Granite Tramway, which was once used to transport granite from Dartmoor to Teignmouth. Today, the Templar Way follows the route of the old tramway, taking in woodland, fields and bridleways en route to the sea.

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We followed it as far as Bovey Tracey, which is roughly a fifth of the way into the trail. Buses to Exeter only run once every two hours on Sundays and bank holidays, so we popped into The Cromwell Arms for a bowl of chips and a drink while we waited for our bus.

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Tips:

  • Both Postbridge and Haytor have National Park Visitor Centres, which are well-stocked with leaflets on local walks and things to do. Check Dartmoor National Park’s website for details of opening hours.
  • Sheena Tower provides affordable accommodation (and an excellent cooked-to-order breakfast) just outside of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. In April 2019, it cost £32pppn.

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