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The Dartmoor Way Walking Holiday

Section 3  -   Chagford to Okehampton  – The Dartmoor Way

Distance :  11 miles (12.5 if taking the high moor option) -  Grade Moderate Walking with some strenuous sections in Belstone Cleeve and for those choosing to take the higher moorland route into Okehampton. What these grades mean

Summary :  Today you reach the higher moors with options to visit Tors and Stone Circles above Belstone, hidden moorland stream valleys take you up to and from the moor with abandoned mines and forges in the valley sections to explore.

Throwleigh Village Dartmoor National Park Devon UKAfter crossing the 12th Century Packhorse bridge below Chagford the Dartmoor Way starts today with a more testing section of repetitive small climbs and ascents through the Woodland Trust Trail at  the boulder strewn and moss covered Blackaton Woods. Using Stepping stones to navigate over tranquil moorland streams and under fine views back to the dark moorland at Meldon Hill you eventually join one of Devon’s finest ancient bridleways to Throwleigh.  Hemmed in by a huge granite walled trackway you are on a sunken trail that once entered is so untouched it feels like you have wiped out the last Millenium. Close to the trail here don’t miss the Northmore Arms.  Over 400 years old it prides itself on being one of the most traditional pubs in England,  just two small rooms with open fires, tiny windows,  no music and only board games and alcohol for entertainment – its certainly a welcome time warp but  be warned ....don’t start flashing your mobile phone or GPS  in here ! 

Sticklepath Waterwheel National Trust Dartmoor Way Walking Holiday The moorland is now tantalisingly close with superb views towards Cosdon Hill and to complete the medieval picture the trackway emerges in the stunning  village of Throwleigh, a clutch of thatched farmstead dwellings  clinging to the hillside and a towering  church marked with its strange three eared rabbit carvings an emblem of the early moorland Tin Miners. Beyond another steep crossing of a moorland stream the terrain is now increasingly gorse and rock before you emerge onto the moor itself.  At Throwleigh Common you join a section of easy unfenced open road but up here its the wandering sheep that have the right of way and thundering white water becks and bright yellow gorse clumps sit below the expanding heights of the high moor that now tower right next to you.

Further on you enter a patchwork of little smallholdings and field systems approaching South Zeal and there is a brief interlude into mining country as you climb past the spoil heaps, ventilation chimneys and crumbling remains of the mining gear buildings at the Ramsley Copper Mine – headlong rush  of prospectors here  in 1850 left it known as Irish Town.  

A handy viewing platform here allows you views that stretch out as far as Exmoor before you head into the closely linked “Beacon villages” of South Zeal a former Wool Town.  Just beyond this at Sticklepath the route descends to an absorbing spot where you can visit the National Trusts Finch Foundry to see the last working water powered forge hammering away at metal plates. Check out the restored waterwheels whilst you rest at the National Trust Tea Shop or try the real ale at The Taw River Inn.

Footbridge below Belstone on The Tarka Trail and Dartmoor Way Devon UKYou now join the Tarka Trail Walking route towards Okehampton and this leads you up the Belstone Cleave – an untouched valley,  to your first proper section of high moorland.  Whilst it’s another river Gorge this one is high ground, the trail boulder strewn, the river a raging force straight from the moor. 

You cross back and forth on small wooden footbridges carved with quotes from Henry Williamsons classic tail Tarka the Otter as it was here that the otter fought off a band of stoats beside the crashing steam.  Criss crossing the narrow ravine your steady climb becomes peppered with towering rock faces and crumbling Sub Tors that cling to the sides of the bracken and gorse valley.  You emerge with a final steep climb to the isolated but welcoming village of Belstone and this really is High Dartmoor.

Belstone Tors option on The Tarka Trail and Dartmoor Way Walking HolidaysAt Belstone the Moorland surround you on all sides in a weather beaten village that feels like and indeed in the modern world is the last possible spot for human habitation with its old stone stocks on the village green grazed by wild Dartmoor ponies. It’s a fascinating place with its Old Zion Chapel  and the stark 15th Century St Marys Church towering against the moorland and it was here that the novel 'The Ballad of the Belstone Fox' was based.

Take a rest at the infamous Tors Inn still the haunt of those returning from the high peaks above the village with walking tales to tell and you can seek fortification from one of the 35 varieties of Malt Whiskies on offer here.

Scary Tor and Belstone from the Tarka Trail above Okehampton DevonFor those who want to climb higher you can choose an alternative route for the next 3 miles moving on up to the open moor on the Tarka Trail and passing below but with superb views of The Belstone Tors, Scary Tor, abandoned farmsteads and finally a sharp descent into the East Okement River Valley.

Look carefully as you cross Belstone Moor and you can find the enchanting Nine Maidens Stone Circle a beautifully isolated spot below the Tors where the unruly  maidens were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath (Sunday). 

Strangely if you count them there are actually around 17 stones though some of them are part of a Bronze Age Burial Chamber  - some mischief at work no doubt, its said after all that witches still gather on the Harvest Festival of Hunters Moon at which point the dancing maidens come back to life for one night a year.  

Okement River Valley on The Tarka Trail Footpath Devon UK

The rapid descent from the tors is an absolute highlight from wild moorland walking that feels at the top of the world through one of Devon’s most powerful gorge walks with huge waterfalls and racing rapids as the river crashes off the moor to Okehampton.

Whichever route you take,  the High or Low route takes you to the outskirts of Okehampton and the final few miles offer a gentle woodland walk into the old market town arriving via the impressive  18th Century water wheel at Town mills.

Overnight stays in Okehampton on the Dartmoor Way

 

 

 

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