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The Dartmoor Way – The Backpacker’s Guide

The Dartmoor Way Walking Route

Contents

I hiked this fairly new circular trail in April 2023 over 4 nights/5 days and wild camped each night – and I loved it! (Although I could have done with less tarmac tbh.) One of the best things about it was the amount of variety for a trail of this length, and it’s not difficult terrain which means if you’re reasonably fit you can do it over a few days. And if you’re not? Well, there are plenty of old pubs to rest weary legs along with way! Or you could of course hike it in the 10-12 mile sections between towns and villages – it’s genuinely a trail suitable for most walkers.

Read on to find out what to expect, along with everything you need to know to help you plan your own hike.

What Is The Dartmoor Way?

The Dartmoor Way Walking Route is a beautiful and varied 108 mile lowland trail around the perimeter of Dartmoor National Park

(FYI here’s the Official Dartmoor Way Walking Route Map – nb there’s also a Dartmoor Way Cycle route. There’s a National Park overview map that you might find useful too.)

Far-reaching views of the hills beside a wooden gate (with the Dartmoor Way waymarker) and stone wall on a sunny April day.
Big views

Dartmoor is a wild moorland landscape in the southwest of England. It’s characterised by bleak, rocky granite tors and enigmatic prehistoric stones (and sites like Merrivale), alongside the living landscape of upland farmland and grazing (sheep, cattle and ponies.). There are sparkling rivers and ancient woodland, old drovers’ tracks and sunken lanes, with evidence of human activity everywhere, from leats to quarrying and mining.

A roughly straight row of low granite stones heads up a hillside on The Dartmoor Way
A low stone row near Bittaford on Day 1

The beauty of the Dartmoor Way trail is that you get to experience all of this as well as quintessential Dartmoor villages and beautiful old market towns along the way. One of the most notable features of the hike though is the number of riverside walks and crossings there are. Fast-flowing water seems to tumble off the moors in rocky veins every which way you turn, sometimes far below. They often wind their way through mossy, primordial woodlands, that in April and May are carpeted with ransomes and bluebells, and filled with the sound of woodpeckers.

A Few Highlights

A fast flowing river falls over boulders in a mossy wood after heavy rain on my second day on the Dartmoor Way
The River Bovey at Neadon Cleave near Manaton

I absolutely loved the bouldery woodlands beside the East Okement River, south of Okehampton, and the River Walkham, south of Tavistock. But the most atmospheric woodland (this time!) was the steep-sided Neadon Cleave near Manaton on the east side of the moor. The sound of the River Bovey after heavy rain, the low canopy of twisted trees, the moss, the birdsong, and the smell of the soft earth under your feet…another world. But woodlands are just one of the many highlights…

The Dartmoor Way heads across open moorland
The views are superb from Lee Moor (my last day), where you can see right out across to Plymouth Sound and gasp at the scale of the China Clay workings

There are spectacular far-reaching views across the moors (I had the best wild camp on Great Combe Tor), as well as tracks like the one high above the River Teign from Fingle Bridge to Castle Drogo (the last castle to be built in England) that take your breath away. And of course, there are the towns and villages that link each stage of the walk. Particular favourites are Tavistock, Ashburton, North Bovey (thatched cottage heaven) and South Zeal, but for a wild and raw moorland settlement, you can’t beat Belstone or Peter Tavey.

The Dartmoor Way goes through Ashburton - this view of the town looks along an old street of 3-storey buildings, including a ramshackle-looking pub
The market town of Ashburton

High Moor Link

As well as the 108-mile circular route around the edge of the moor there’s an optional 23.5 mile section that goes right across the high moor between Buckfastleigh and Tavistock. This link means you can make the route a longer figure-of-8 hike or easily divide it into 2 shorter circular walks.

I didn’t walk the High Moor Link this time round but I can guarantee you’ll have wonderful views from places like Sharp Tor, and the fabulous landscape around Dartmeet where the confluence of the East and West Dart rivers become the River Dart.

You’ll pass through Princetown too, the highest village on Dartmoor, famous for its prison and eerie, swirling fog – enjoy haha! (Incidentally, this article Explore More: Do A Navigation Course On Dartmoor includes a review of Fox Tor bunkhouse in Princetown – a handy place to stay if you’re not wild camping.)

(Incidentally, the Two Moors Way 117 mile trail across Dartmoor and Exmoor national parks also follows the High Moor Link for a short distance – it’s another fantastic hike that I highly recommend.)

A Few Boring Bits

There are two things I could have done without on this hike: all the tarmac and Okehampton!

Let’s get Okehampton out of the way first: I’ve never liked it! It’s always been one of those run-down towns that you drive through when you’re on your way out of Cornwall. And there’s certainly not much for the hiker to linger over – not even a cafe on a Sunday morning!

A puddly country lane on the Dartmoor Way. Rain clouds cover the sun above the hills on the horizon
One of the more attractive country lanes

And the tarmac? Yeah, there’s too much of it for my liking. It’s not just the country lanes that link towns and villages, but the cycle routes you join too. The route felt contrived at times – like it was designed purely to get you into a town or village every 10 miles or so just so that you can find accommodation. ln fact, this is pretty obvious when you look at the route map in detail.

If you’re not a purist about it though (and you’re wild camping) you could bypass places like Okehamptom and Bovey Tracey altogether!  But I’ll leave that for you to decide.

What I will say is that despite the tarmac there’s plenty of gorgeous walking every day, so don’t let it turn you off.

Where Does The Dartmoor Way Start And Finish?

The trail officially starts in Ivybridge in the south and heads in an anticlockwise direction around the moor back to Ivybridge

I'm sitting beside a large Dartmoor National Park sign in front of a railway fence, smiling at the camera and raring to go!
I started my hike on the edge of the moor near the railway station in Ivybridge

But, as it’s a circular route it’s easy to start at any of the larger towns on the route like Ashburton, Okehampton or Tavistock. If you want to add the High Moor Link to your hike you’ll find it much easier to start/finish in Tavistock/Buckfastleigh. See the Travel section below for more info.

How Long Does It Take To Hike The Dartmoor Way?

I was away for 4 nights/5 days of long-distance walking, but if, like me, you’re happy to ‘stealth camp’ you can do it over as many days as you like. Alternatively, you can walk it in straightforward 10-12 mile sections (see below) and enjoy a more leisurely hike.

My Daily Miles

  • Day 1: Ivybridge to Buckfastleigh, 17 miles
  • Day 2: Buckfastleigh to Fernworthy Bridge, 20.5 miles
  • Day 3: Fernworthy Bridge to South Zeal, 18 miles
  • Day 4: South Zeal to Peter Tavy, 23.5 miles
  • Day 5: Peter Tavy to Ivybridge, 31.5 miles (includes about 1.5 miles wandering around Tavistock)
A view across open countryside with a hill on the horizon and a church nestled in the middle distance
Crossing the Devon countryside

The ‘Official’ 10 – 12 Mile Walking Stages

The official stages of the hike are broken down into roughly 10 – 12 mile sections. Each section starts and finishes in easily accessible towns and villages, which makes it easy to find accommodation if you’re not into camping.

Can I Section I Hike It?

Absolutely! The official stages make this fairly straightforward, but you’ll need to check out public transport between sections.

You might also like

The Two Moors Way,, a fantastic hike from Wembury to Lynmouth

Is The Dartmoor Way Well Signposted?

The trail is a lowland route and for the most part it’s pretty well signposted, but there are anomalies!

A circular purple waymark is attached to the top of this wooden public bridleway fingerpost
Look for the purple waymarks

The official trail sign is a small, circular purple emblem that’s mostly stuck to lamposts and signposts along the way – but they’re easy to miss. They’re not always at eye level (sometimes well above, or even below knee level), and because they’re small they can be covered by overgrown hedgerows. In fact, they can be entirely lacking – don’t rely on finding them at junctions for example!

Another thing I noticed is that in some places there’ll be a Dartmoor Way sign alongside a standard public footpath sign, and then the Dartmoor Way signs disappear. It becomes evident that you’re meant to continue to follow the public footpath signs until the Dartmoor Way deviates when you (might!) get another purple sign.

Don’t be put off by any of this though, just take a map and check your progress every so often.

Do I Need To Use A Map And Compass?

Yes – there are no waymarks across open moorland!

The route mostly follows paths and tracks across the moor but there are so many of them that which one to take can be confusing. Add in mist and fog and you could very easily become disoriented.

A rough track across the open moor
An easy trac kacross the open moor

I used my map every day (on and off the moor) as well as my compass on the open moorland sections (to make sure I took the correct paths).

Navigation and Guides

    • OS 1:25,000 Map: OL28 Dartmoor (published 2021 – however, small sections of the trail on the west side of the moor aren’t on this map)
    • I use a Silva compass (currently the ‘Ranger’ model)
    • OS Maps app (good for planning – the trail is clearly marked)
    • The Dartmoor Way website for GPX files
  • A new Cicerone Guide written by Sue Viccars will be published in May 2023

Safety On The Trail

Solo Hiking

I felt really safe hiking solo on this trail. There were good stretches where I didn’t see a soul (which I find really peaceful) and most people I chatted to along the way seemed to be locals out for a stroll or dog walk. (I saw a couple wild camping near the River Okement and groups of teenagers training for Ten Tors around the Okehampton area, but that was it in terms of backpackers.)

Avoid other people when you set up camp by camping away from towns and villages (and always pitch late and leave early) and be aware there are sections of the trail where mobile signal is patchy. Find out more about keeping safe on a solo in my guide to wild camping.

Weather

The weather on Dartmoor is notorious for being wet, foggy and changeable – throughout the year. When the fog descends or you gain height and the wind picks up you’ll notice a distinct drop in temperature. Make sure you pack plenty of warm clothing along with your waterproofs and always take a survival bag in case you get caught out. Don’t be fooled into thinking that because this is a low-level walk you don’t need to worry about it. Parts of the route cross the open moor and if you drift off the route in the fog you’ll need every layer you’ve got.

A foggy view of Haytor Rocks (a large rocky outcrop) with people below for a sense of scale
I had typical Dartmoor weather at Haytor Rocks

It’s also worth bearing in mind that rivers can go into spate after heavy rain, so be especially mindful of that when you choose somewhere to pitch up for the night. (The route crosses rivers via footbridges, so there’ll be no need for wading!)

I'm in the distance on a huge granite slab bridge crossing a wide, shallow river in heavy rain.
Crossing a river on a granite bridge

Traffic On The Dartmoor Way

The trail passes through a village every 10 – 12 miles so you’ll be pounding the pavement every day (it sure as hell felt like that on day 2! (Buckfasleigh to Fernworthy Bridge)). The tarmac sections are mostly on narrow lanes with lovely countryside views (beware of farm traffic), but occasionally there are busy roads to cross or walk alongside (on pedestrian footpaths). If you have a fluorescent rucksack cover I recommend leaving it on whether it’s raining or not. And keep your head torch close to hand if you’re walking late in the day.

It’s customary (and safest) to walk on the righthand side of the road towards oncoming traffic (giving you time to step out of the way). The exception is on a righthand bend when you should cross to the left-hand side to get the furthest view ahead – cross back to the right-hand side when you’ve rounded the bend.

Firing Ranges

The trail skirts the northern edges of the moor on MOD land where there’s a live firing range. The trail itself doesn’t cross the firing range but be aware of where it is and when it’s closed to the public (red flags will be flying) just in case you come off the trail (or intend to head onto the moor for a wild camp).

Wild Camping On The Dartmoor Way

A low, green backpacking tent is pitched on the leafy ground of a small wood beside a small river
Wild camp no. 1 on the Dartmoor Way!

 My Guide To Wild Camping

Dartmoor Backpack Camping Map

Before you head off on The Dartmoor Way check the Dartmoor National Park wild camping map for places you can legally wild camp. Note that these are negotiated backpack camping areas since the Darwall case against the National Park Authority (now going to appeal) and may change at any time. The only place I legally wild-camped on this trail was Great Combe Tor (an open access area) above Peter Tavy. The rest of my trip was the usual ‘stealth camping’, which is generally the only way of wild camping on any trail like this (unless you can find the landowner to ask for permission).

Dartmoor Firing Range

The Dartmoor Way skirts around the edge of the moor so the MOD Firing Range will only affect you if you’re planning to nip off the trail to camp

The Ministry of Defence owns large parts of northern Dartmoor and publishes live firing times when there’s no public access: stay well clear if you see red flags flying

A Few Wild/Backpack Camping Tips

  1. Use an OS 1:25,000 map or satellite image to search for potential spots
  2. Look for level, dry ground and some shelter (not always easy to find on the open moor)
  3. Stay for one night
  4. Pitch late and leave early
  5. Don’t light fires
  6. Don’t disturb anything (be aware of ground-nesting bird season for example) and take everything away with you
  7. Keep away from hamlets and villages where there may be early-morning dog walkers
  8. Look at the ground: you might see bike tracks, horse and dog tracks, as well as footprints, etc -all of these signs will give you an idea of who uses the trail and how busy it is
  9. Avoid livestock
  10. Don’t climb walls or fences (you risk damaging habitat or destroying field boundaries)

Find more tips here.

Toilets

There are so many small towns and villages on this trail that public toilets are never far away – use them!

If you need a wild loo break though, take a trowel and dig a 6″ cat hole well off the path and away from water sources. When you’ve finished it’s important to cover it with soil as this ensures it decomposes quickly and doesn’t attract animals. Pack out toilet paper and sanitary products in a dog poo bag and dispose of them in the nearest bin.

Campsites On The Dartmoor Way

I only saw one on the trail itself:

The Dartmoor Way: A single tree stands on rocky ground with low cloud and mist obscuring the hills behind
Atmospheric views on my last day

Travel

Public Transport

Start in Ivybridge

This is the most straightforward place to start The Dartmoor Way as there’s a mainline railway station right on the trail

Start in Ashburton or Buckfastleigh

Take a train to the mainline station in Newton Abbot and then catch a Stagecoach bus to the trail at Ashburton or Buckfastleigh (service no. 88, currently running hourly).

Start in Tavistock

Catch a train to the mainline station at Plymouth and then the Stagecoach bus to Tavistock (service no. 1, currently every 20 minutes). (Plymouth bus station is about a 10-minute walk from the railway station.)

Start in Okehampton

Take a train from Exeter St Davids (on the mainline) to Okehampton station and pick up the trail there.

Useful links

Links to the stations will give you details of parking, etc.

The Dartmoor Way: A view across rough ground with a hill on the horizon and a sheep and lamb in the foreground
Sheep are everywhere on the moor, but you might be lucky and see wild ponies too

Resupply, Cafes And Pubs

Groceries

Tried and tested on this trip:

  • Buckfastleigh: well-stocked Co-op (town centre, on-trail)
  • Moretonhampstead: well-stocked Co-op (on-trail)
  • Tavistock: large Co-op (at the end of the main street in the town)

Previously tried and tested

  • Yelverton: well-stocked Co-op (on-trail) (last visited in September 2022, and it was still thriving as I passed by on this trip)

Other large towns with supermarkets:

  • Ashburton: Co-op (passed on the trail)

Most of the towns mentioned above have lots of independent shops too, including bakeries and newsagents, even petrol stations (where you could pick up a few supplies).

Other larger towns include Ivybridge (there’s a Co-op close to the start of the trail), Bovey Tracey, and Okehampton which should have mini supermarkets nearby, but there were none on the trail itself.

Cafes

I tried surprisingly few on this trip – must try harder!

  • Buckfastleigh: No. 44 – open at 9am as I went past. Great coffee and really friendly staff (I spent time chatting with a lady about some fantastic-looking hiking she’d done in the Polish mountains!) – walkers and cyclists welcome
  • Tavistock: Costa – the usual fare in a pleasant atmosphere. I prefer to find chain stores like this when I need to charge my phone as I know it won’t be an issue. They have good opening hours and I can just get it done and be on my way. (2 sockets are available in the Tavistock store and the staff will help you find them.)

Pubs

  • Lydford: Castle Inn. I love this place – and it’s right on the trail. (Obviously not the first time I’ve been haha!). If you’re looking for somewhere oozing with centuries of atmosphere this is it. Excellent and filling cream tea for around £7 (ignore instructions for ‘cream first’…whaaaat?!?!) (served all day) and a decent Devon cider (always necessary on a good hike!)

Previously tried and tested

  • Peter Tavy: Peter Tavy Inn is another centuries-old pub that I’ve visited a few times over the years. It’s right on the trail and I recommend popping in if you’ve got time.

My Costs In 2023

Travel Costs

  • Train: Open return (off-peak) from Truro to Ivybridge (with a Devon and Cornwall railcard): £16.85
  • National Express Coach: Plymouth to Truro: £7.60 (I missed my train connection home and rather than wander the streets of Plymouth in the early hours, I sat in the coach station and caught the 4 am coach home!)
  • TOTAL: £24.45

Get the best price train tickets

Maps And Guides

  • OS 1:25,000 Dartmoor OL28 (published 2021 – note there are small sections of the trail that are off the western edge of this map)
  • TOTAL: £9.99

Cafes And Pubs

  • Outward journey: £3.50
  • On the trail: £20.35
  • TOTAL: £23.85

Resupply/Groceries

  • TOTAL: £30.68

Incidentals

  • Phone charging cable (bought in Tavistock): £15.00
  • TOTAL: £15.00

TOTAL COST: £103.97

My Gear List For The Dartmoor Way In April

I’m not going to lie – I was worried I’d freeze to death on Dartmoor in April. My solution to this frightening prospect was to swap out my water bladder for a hot water bottle. And, to make doubly sure, I took my lightweight bivvy bag too.

Don’t judge me: I’m still alive and didn’t wake up shivering – not once!

Rucksack

Shelter 

  • Wild Country Zephyros 1 tent
  • Wild Country tent footprint

Sleeping (packed in an Osprey Ultralight Drysack)

  • Thermorest Neoair XLite sleeping mat (women’s)
  • Sea To Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner
  • 20-year-old Coleman Thermolite sleeping bag
  • Crux lightweight bivvy bag (more like a waterproof sleeping bag cover tbf)

Cooking

  • MSR Pocket Rocket Deluxe Stove
  • 110g MSR gas canister (full)
  • Trangia cooking pot with lid and handle
  • Titanium mug
  • Titanium spork
  • Victorinox Swiss army knife
Looking out of my tent (set up beside a river) across my cooking stove, which is boiling up some water for a cup of hot chocolate (mug in the foreground!)
Lightweight camp cooking (should’ve  taken a larger can of gas though – I forgot about boiling water for my hot water bottle haha!)

Water

  • 750ml bottles x 2

First Aid (packed in a zip-lock bag)

  • 6 blister plasters
  • 2 ordinary plasters
  • Strip of wound closures
  • 1 large self-adhesive dressing
  • 1 medium self-adhesive dressing
  • 1 safety pin
  • Emergency foil blanket (used as insulation under my sleeping mat)
  • Strip of Ibuprofen
  • Strip of antihistamine
  • Tick remover

What’s In Your Outdoor First Aid Kit?

Toiletries etc (packed in a zip-lock bag)

  • Personal medication
  • Toilet paper/x4 dog poo bags
  • Plastic trowel
  • Microfibre towel (doubled as a blanket)
  • Toothbrush
  • Travel toothpaste
  • Small tin Vaseline
  • Small piece of soap
  • Small microfibre flannel cut from an old towel
  • 2 hair ties
  • Hairbrush

Clothes (Wearing)

  • Salomon X Reveal 2 GTX trail shoes (wore them for the first time and they were perfect)
  • Walking socks
  • Underwear
  • M&S long-sleeve thermal top
  • Mountain Equipment long-sleeve t-shirt
  • Craghoppers leggings
  • Pair of tights
  • Mountain Hardwear lightweight half-zip fleece
  • Mountain Equipment Gore-Tex jacket
  • Berghaus Gore-Tex overtrousers (much patched!)

Clothes (Packed in an old Sea to Summit Dry Bag)

  • Rab padded gilet
  • Rab ‘meco’ short-sleeve t-shirt
  • Thick, Berghaus full-zip fleece
  • Mountain Equipment leggings
  • Pair of M&S merino tights (sleep)
  • Old North Face long-sleeve top (sleep/last day)
  • 3 pairs of walking socks
  • Underwear

(Wore everything.)

Gear Reviews of some of the hiking gear I use

Electronics/Camera (packed in an Osprey Ultralight Drysack)

  • Metal-cased Anker battery bank with cable and fast charger
  • Sony Experia phone/camera
  • Bluetooth remote
  • Selfie stick (use it as a tripod)

Navigation

  • OS paper Map (and app for the gpx route)
  • Clear map case
  • Compass

Other

  • Petzl headtorch in Noctilght case (turns the torch into a lantern)
  • MSR walking poles
  • Trekking umbrella (90g)
  • Debit cards, train tickets, and £40 cash
  • A5 notebook and 2 pencils
  • Reading glasses
  • Personal alarm
  • traditional hot water bottle

Spares (packed in an old Sea to Summit dry bag)

  • Webbing strap (for tent compression/spare/tourniquet!)
  • Plastic peg
  • Plastic food bag clip
  • Shoelaces
  • Bin bag for tent
  • Various food bags for packing

Extra: Food And Water

I carried about 1.5 – 2  litres of water in 2 plastic bottles (it’s easy to buy or filter along the way), plus food and snacks. These included 5 portions of porridge, 5 instant hot chocolates, 5 coffee bags, dried fruit and nuts, 3 protein bars and 5 packs of dried instant pasta/noodle soups. I bought lunch along the way (usually a ‘meal deal’ and/or bread rolls and cheese).

***

A red and cream vintage ice cream can is parked in front of the Victorian guildhall building
Beautiful Tavistock

I hope you’ve found the guide to planning your hike on The Dartmoor Way useful, but if there’s anything else you’d like to know just drop your question in the comments. I’ll do my best to help.

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Thanks for reading and happy hiking!

Stephie x

Trail Journal Coming Soon!

Look out for my Dartmoor Way trail journal, coming soon. I’ll tell you the story of my hike (it was a bit fraught at times!) along with more details of what you’ll see along the way. In the meantime why not read Merrivale: Discover One Of Dartmoor’s Best Prehistoric Settlements or discover what a navigation course on Dartmoor can do for you! And, if you’re planning a backpacking trip anytime soon, this in-depth guide will help you out:

Graphic: Plan A Hike Like A Pro, step-by-step in-depth guide
Plan like a pro – wherever you’re planning to hike this guide will help you work out which trail is for you, how long it’ll take, your budget, gear – and so much more!

Happy hiking

Stephie x

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