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The Dartmoor Way Walking Holiday

Section 5 - Mary Tavy to Princetown – The Dartmoor Way

Distance :  15 miles  -  Grade Generally Easy walking to Sampford Spinney finishing with Moderate grade walking onto the high ground to Princetown with exposed moorland sections that would be severe in bad weather - what these grades mean

Summary:    Valley side sheep pastures to historic Tavistock before climbing on heathland and back lanes to return to the moor and Tors. Then a fascinating route along the disused moorland railway with options to scale Tors, visit lost quarries and divert to see Dartmoor’s premier ancient stones and stone rows at Merrivale.  Superb views throughout the Moorland sections.

River Tavy below Dartmoor National Park on the West Devon Way UKLeaving Mary Tavy on the Dartmoor Way you continue your trek down the Eastern Edge of the moor this morning above the infant River Tavy. Along this section are views of Cox Tor and White Tor with the pleasant village of Peter Tavy and its Moorland Church hugging the end of the highest sheep pastures at the base of the Moor.

You cross the River Tavy at the 16th Century parapets of Harford Bridge and reach Tavistock using the old road – thankfully now only used by the farmer so ideal for walking on -  a final steep descent brings Tavistock and Devon’s finest market town – a welcome chance to explore a larger location with its Pannier Markets, restaurants, cafe’s and gentle riverside location. 

Abbey Bridge Tavistock Dartmoor Way route in Devon EnglandOvernight stops in Tavistock for those arriving from Lydford or Brent Tor.

From Tavistock at the bottom of the Valley you now climb on The Dartmoor Way to the highest moorland  Village at Princetown –luckily a mix of moorland lanes and the disused railway line make this less effort than it sounds. After re-entering Dartmoor National park at St David’s Gate  the world of the central Moors Tors just opens up now as you stride over a bizarre Moorland Golf Course complete with Gorse bunkers. 

Pass below the impressive Pew Tor (easy divert to climb it if you want) before you drop quickly to the hidden hamlet of Sampford Spiney. This was the resting place for the Monks crossing the Moor en route for Tavistock Abbey and the tiny Moorland Church of St Mary still reminds us of the locations spiritual significance.  

Inga Tor Dartmoor National Park South Western England UK Devon

A 16th Century cross stands in the centre of the village close to the impressive Manor House which was won in a bet by Sir Francis Drake (of Spanish Armada fame), who spent part of his honeymoon here. This really is the last hamlet before the high moor so its a surprise to find Dartmoor’s  Alpaca Farm here and the residents always seem to be particularly interested in nosing over the walls to see the occasional walker heading by.

A steep twisting old drove road brings you to cross the infant River Walkham which thunders past from the moor before a long climb out of the woodland onto Crips Tor Moor.  

Crossing a short section of open moor you reach the trackway of the former Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway and this will be your guide for the rest of the day.

Kings Tor Dartmoor National Park South West England

Built in 1823 this feat of engineering was the project of Thomas Tyrwhitt the founder of Princetown who felt it his calling to civilise the wildest part of the moor by building a town (Princetown) and linking it by rail to exploit the area of its granite.  Irony is of course that rather than “Civilising the place”,  Princetown ended up housing the most infamous prison and criminals in the UK – but more of this later.  

The track itself ran 25 miles using Horse drawn trucks and later steam trains from the Plym Estuary near Plymouth across some of the loneliest moorland on Dartmoor  Before setting off along it however you should quickly scale Ingra Tor – a classic Dartmoor peak with a strange hammer like Tor formation and views as far west as Bodmin Moor and the South Cornwall Coast. The old trackway steadily climbs up the moor every stop bringing sight of more Tors and more distance to the views. Pass under crumbling granite bridges and over bubbling leats and waterways until you reach the fascinating quarries at Swelltor which provided stone for London Bridge and Nelsons Column.

Merrivale Stone Circles on the Dartmoor Way below Kings Tor Princetown UK

You can divert here to follow the cuttings past crystal clear quarry pools, where rusting chains hang high on the sheer quarry walls or wander through the crumbling remains of the blacksmiths forge and loading platforms.  Huge beautifully dressed Corbels of granite 8ft high and 1ft wide lie ready for use but abandoned by the trail left forever by stonemasons departing when the quarries closed in 1903. Those keen to bag as may Tors as they can, should make a short detour here to climb Kings Tor for the highest views in the area from its twisted Cheesewring type rock sculptures .

Foggintor Quarry part of The Dartmoor Way route in Devon South West England

However those interested in Archaeology and Ancient Stones have a better treat in store with a short diversion to see the remains at Merrivale – Dartmoor’s premier site of Antiquities – in a compact section of  wild Moorland you can walk undisturbed with a complete absence of the usual tourist shops and trappings through Dartmoor’s most famous Stone Rows, Menhirs (Standing Stones) Stone Circles, Kists and burial chambers.

CLICK HERE for more information on Merrivale and including it in your Dartmoor Way tour

Moorland Railway near Princetown centre of Dartmoor National Park

Back to the railway route  and you pass beside  Foggintor Quarries an amazing place of sheer rock walls and deep peaty pools with its crumbling buildings , there was even a school here for the quarrymen’s children.  That such man made destruction can look so appealing a century after being abandoned  is a mystery in itself.

Ahead now lies 2 miles of open moorland into Princetown with new views now you have climbed the ridge, looking south to the photogenic trio of Tors at Sharpitor, Black Tor and Leeden Tor linked by the dark green blanket of distant Burrator Forest. For the first time all you can see in every direction is Moor and Tor. Welcome finally to the centre of mighty Dartmoor and under the wide open skies and endless horizon you will feel true isolation and freedom.

Overnight stops in Princetown - (other than at Dartmoor Prison !)



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