A weekend camping in Dartmoor
Dartmoor is a rugged and wild National Park in the county of Devon, with miles of moorland, forests and valleys. Scattered around the moors are the remains of bronze-age stone circles and medieval villages, hidden in among craggy rocks and tors (rocky peaks). Wild ponies roam the desolate landscapes and a huge variety of birds nest within the valleys. There are lots of hiking routes throughout the National Park, attracting walkers throughout the year. Dartmoor has lots of options for accommodation ranging from campsites to Bed and Breakfasts, to luxury hotels.
We chose to camp for the weekend in April 2017, hiring a car to drive down from London. Devon is quite a journey from London, so we'd taken the Friday and Monday off work to allow enough travel time. It was a good thing we did! The journey there took 4.5 hours and the journey home was almost 6! Unfortunately, the motorways to Devon regularly experience traffic jams, breakdowns and accidents. Luckily we had come prepared with a lot of good music and nibbles for the car ride, so it wasn't too bad.
The campsite we stayed in was near to the town of Bovey Tracey and was called Hennock Hideaways; I can't recommend it enough, it was great! The booking was confirmed and paid for online and we were told to just turn up whenever and pitch anywhere we fancied. When we arrived there was a welcome notice on the gate telling us where all the facilities were located and instructing us that someone would drive round in the evening to check us off the register. We set up our tent next to the hedge hoping it would provide some shelter from the winds, and started organising our belongings. As soon as we were greeted by one of the owner's dogs, followed by our neighboring camper's dog, we knew we'd chosen a good campsite.
The campsite was very well-equipped and eco-friendly. They had fire pits you could borrow and a bin for the ash, which they used to fertilise their vegetable patches. There were free-range chickens and an honesty shop where you could buy fresh eggs, bread, some tinned food and other bits and bobs. The toilets were all composting loos with solar-powered lights and there were two showers with a polite request for people to not use too much water. Recycling was strongly encouraged, with different bins for each type of waste. We enjoyed this campsite so much that we spent several hours discussing how to start and run our own one day.
As travelling had taken up most of our first day, we spent that evening chilling in the campsite saying hello to various animals. The next day we went for a hike across the moors and popped into the House of Marbles museum on our way. I was expecting a lot more from the museum to be honest; it was mostly just a collection of pots and crockery with a huge gift shop that sold marbles.
The moors did not disappoint though. They were epic. We followed a path up to a tor, over an exceptionally windy ridge and down to the ruins of a medieval settlement. There were a few Dartmoor ponies near the ruins, but they were avoiding people and ran away every time we tried to edge towards them.
Walking on the moors was quite a challenge due to the relentless wind and lack of shelter. As we were eating lunch it started to rain gently and didn't stop for the rest of the afternoon. An hour later we'd eaten all our snacks to keep us feeling energised and warm, but our energy levels were dropping and we both started to feel a bit cold. We headed back to the car, which we'd left in a tourist car park down in the valley and turned the heating up for the drive back to the campsite. We hadn't walked as far as we often do, but I felt so exhausted by the time we were back at our tent that I needed a lie-down. I always forget how draining it is to walk in windy conditions. The free tea and coffee facilities at the campsite were a great reward after a tiring day.
On the Sunday we decided to go for another hike, but this time wanted to explore Dartmoor's woodlands and valleys. We checked our map to decide on the best walking route and where to park and realised that we could do a circular walk into the Teign Valley from the grounds of Castle Drogo.
We paid to visit the castle first and had a look round. There were some unusual exhibitions on, demonstrating the creativity of the castle's previous owners and architects. It's quite an unusual castle, looking a lot older than it actually is. The building work started in 1911, which is relatively modern for a castle, and it wasn't completed for over ten years. It was a shame that the outside of the castle was covered in scaffolding when we visited, but seemed fitting considering that most of its life it has been undergoing some kind of build or repair.
The gardens around the castle were very well maintained. There are formal walled gardens, with perfectly pruned symmetrical flower beds, a 'secret' garden with a miniature dolls house that I just about managed to fit in, and gardens full of rhododendrons and magnolias. We took a stroll through the pretty plants before heading off on the walk into the valley.
The walking route we took is called the Teign Gorge Classic Circuit. It starts by following the top of the valley along the hunter's path, before descending down towards the river and coming to a lovely open green space by the water. We stopped here for a picnic in the sun and spent some time people-watching, then crossed over the bridge to follow the forester's path along the riverside. The trail eventually arrives at an iron bridge, which we crossed to get back to the side of the gorge with the castle. We then ascended the valley through fields and meadows to get an amazing view over North Dartmoor before arriving back at the castle grounds. We had been following the path until the very end when we saw a shortcut up a steep hill to the castle. It did cut off quite a substantial amount of zigzagging, but was hard work in the heat!
Our final evening was spent drinking beers and playing card games at the campsite. A nice relaxing night before the long, long journey home! All in all, it was a great trip which left us longing to return. Have you ever been to Dartmoor? What was your favourite activity? Leave a comment below to share ideas with others!