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Hiking in the Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor National Park
I'm fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the UK, The Dartmoor National Park, which means I have easy access to some glorious scenery and walks, plus the wide range of outdoor activities that take place there. If I were feeling really fit I could cycle (on and off road), go camping in the wild, go rock climbing, or horse riding, but my partner and I choose to go hiking; wandering about in some really breathtaking scenery.
Dartmoor National Park
The park is regulated by The Dartmoor National Park Authority who maintain the wild areas, the paths, gates and stiles. They also regulate new building, so any plans must be submitted to them. Having walked in lots of national parks, I think the signage we have here on Dartmoor is second to none, which saves a lot of getting lost time! They also have a really good website and information centres in most of the tourist towns.
It sometimes feels easier to hike around than it does to drive. Some of the little lanes can be quite scary and most of us residents' cars have a few scrapes and dents!
My partner and I like to just hike, we're content to excercise our hearts and lungs a bit and see some really great scenery, but some people love Letterboxing - I guess it appeals to the kind of people who like collecting and cataloguing things.
What is Letterboxing
It's a cross between orienteering and a treasure hunt. Small boxes are hidden all over Dartmoor, some are wooden and some plastic, some are very well hidden and some less so, some involve easy walks, and others require alot of effort. The boxes usually contain a stamp, card or notebook and maybe one or two other trinkets.
It was started on Dartmoor in 1854 by James Perrott from Chagford, a pretty little town well worth a visit. James built a small cairn at Cranmere Pool, North Dartmoor and put a glass jar inside, so that visitors who'd made the hike could leave a calling card.
Letterboxes slowly increased to the sport we have today.
How to Letterbox
Before you begin, it's probably best to contact the Letterbox 100 Club, as they can provide all the rules and advice. They will also supply clues and have twice yearly meets, on the clock-change weekends (March and October for those of you that don't have this odd practice).
EQUIPMENT: An Ordnance Survey Map is always a boon when let loose on Dartmoor! A rubber stamp, an ink pad and some cards or a notebook.
The aim is to follow a trail of clues, find the boxes and leave your calling card, making a record of which box you have found.
There are various rules to stick to, such as not visiting certain areas during the lambing/nesting season, and watching out for firing ranges, but the Letterbox 100 club can help with these.
Visit These Picturesque Places
A favourite walk - Moretonhampstead
As I said, my partner and I aren't into the Letterboxing thing, we just like to wander about. We completed a walk recently that was well worth the climb. We look out over Easdon Tor, and thought it might be fun to amble up there with the dogs. As we'd just spent a week walking over the border in Cornwall (we became grockles for the week) one dog was considerably less keen than the other and needed quite a bit of coaxing and bribery!
We set off from Moretonhampstead, another lovely Moorland Town, well worth spending a few hours exploring. You could drive to North Bovey to begin the walk, in which case take the signed turning opposite the Co-Op in Moretonhampstead, or you could walk it, it's only a mile and a half along pretty lanes. Either way North Bovey is the village you're aiming for.
This is the first village you come to on the walk (actually it's the only one and it's pronounced north buvvy). It's a picture postcard village of thatch roofed, granite cottages surrounding a village green. There's a babbling brook with stepping stones, a very good pub, The Ring of Bells, run by Simon Saunders (Jennifer's brother) and a pretty Church. Unfortunately, the high house prices on Dartmoor and the fact that the village is so picturesque means that many of the cottages are now holiday lets - good for the tourists, but not for village infrastructure.
if you're driving, park in the car park which is well signed. From the car park turn left, past the two burnt out holiday cottages, which burned down this year, and for which my partner and a colleague, both reserve fire crew had a letter of thanks (I am singing their praises because they won't).
Dartmoor National Park
Continue along the lane, past Aller Farm and Aller Mill on the left hand side. After around a mile of gentle climbing you will see a bridlepath signed through a gate on your right. Take this path, which leads you through some mixed woodland. Again this is a gentle climb, but in places the path is a bit boggy, so some good walking boots are a must. Don't mark yourself as a tourist (grockle) by wearing flip-flops or court shoes for this climb.
Once through the woodland you come to a dirt lane running horizontally in front of you, the bridlepath crosses over this to continue straight ahead. You will now be walking through bracken, which when we did was taller than me. The walk begins to get much steeper - just keep on going up!
You eventually meet a green path which will take you to the top of Easdon Tor. There are several rocky outcrops and a triangulation point at the top, and the views over the Moors towards Haytor and Hound Tor are spectacular. Once your breathing calms down a bit you're able to enjoy them more.
On the day we went, the moors were hazed with purple Ling, broken by the gold of late-flowering Gorse. There was a shower sweeping in, and the bruised sky was split by sunbeams sweeping down the Tors like searchlights - truly spectacular.
Moretonhampstead Snow Photo Gallery
- Moretonhampstead Snow Pictures
Dartmoor Hiking - Essential Hiking Equipment
According to the Ordnance Survey Map, there is a permissive path that leads down the other side of the Tor and back to the road, but we couldn't find it, so ended up walking back the same way we came.
It's a walk we'll come back to and explore further, so if we find that path I'll publish it here!
Terri's knees have been playing her up a bit recently, her right lateral collateral ligament to be precise, especially on the downhill bits of walks (see my blog for the gory details). I also suffered for months of knee pain after shovelling snow last winter, and it sometimes recurrs when I'm out hiking.
We were told that walking poles make a difference to the load placed through your knees and decided to give them a try. Wow, what a difference, they're great for stability, and no more knee pain! We both walk with poles now, although when we're out with the dogs we use only one pole obviously.
We bought a simple pair of trekking poles in funky metallic colours. They have a shaped handle grip for comfort and a wrist loop, so you can have free hands when needed without putting your pole down. Ours are collapsible, height adjustible and have a little flange above the ferrule to stop the hiking pole from sinking into Dartmoor mud. In shape, they look a little like a ski pole.
A colleague at work swears by the Nordic Walking poles she has bought for herself (they help to relieve her back pain, so she can exercise more). These are the long poles that make you use your arms more when walking, so not only taking the weight off your knees, but making you exercise more of your body. I'm not sure I could manage these and a dog, but she thinks they're great even when walking her German Shepherd. Each to their own, as they say.
Easdon Tor from Mardon
Essential Hiking Equipment
Grab yourself some hiking essentials, before setting out on the Moors, click here to see some really useful equipment.