Discover challenging and dramatic walking trails shaped by the footsteps of traders, smugglers, saints and pirates. Cornish walking trails will reveal ancient tin mines, clifftop castles, timeless fishing villages and wild moors as you travel through a landscape of huge cliffs and hidden coves that goes back to the depths of time itself. In between the coastal drama, iconic harbours such as St Ives and Padstow give walkers access to some of the UK‘s best restaurants and coastal hotels. A county encircled by the wild Atlantic ocean, there is over 330 miles of spectacular world class coast path here taking you around the farthest corners of England - put simply it feels like walking on the edge of the world.
Stretching from coast to coast across the southwest of England, Devon is a richly diverse county with rugged shores and cliffs in the north, and classic Victorian seaside resorts in the south. In between you'll find tranquil green pastures, wooded gorges and the two dramatic wild moors in the National Parks of Dartmoor and Exmoor. Choose Devon for its walking variety, and you'll find that the popular image of cream teas and thatched cottages is true - but that Devon is so much more once you explore it on two feet. Coast to coast routes like the Two Moors Way will offer a journey through it all from the wild northern shores that inspired the Romantic poets to the maritime ports of the south coast.
Free your soul and clear your mind! Walking on the wild moors of these National Parks is a wonderful antidote to modern living. England's last true wilderness, Dartmoor offers 365 square miles of virtually uninhabited freedom with high moors and twisted dramatic granite tors a land of myths, ghosts and legends. Exmoor, its smaller and more gentle neighour, is 250 Square miles of near perfect and unique beauty, with high uplands swathed in heather and steep, wooded gorges and rushing streams. See Dartmoor ponies and Exmoor stags in these wildlife rich areas, home to 30 species of mammals and over 240 types of bird. The moors offer a unique opportunity for more challenging walking where the only human sound you will hear is the rhythm of your own breath.
Avoid the crowds and discover “Secret Somerset” missed by so many rushing headlong for the far South West. The 'land of the summer people' was named in a time when this area could only be visited in the summer months as the sea receded. Today its a rich, fertile and 'for real' landscape crowned by the fine walking ridges of the Mendip and Quantock Hills both protected areas of outstanding natural beauty. Rising up over King Arthur‘s Vale of Avalon along with the magical Tor at Glastonbury, walkers will find hidden gorges, wooded combes and the best inland panoramas of the South West. Also boasting its own Jurassic Coast Path, providing a gateway into the wilds of Exmoor National Park, Somerset offers walking routes without the crowds for those who want to find..... what the rest miss.
Dorset has a comfortable old world “English” feel to it and its walking routes traverse a rather more green and agricultural land of thatched cottages, cream teas.... and fossils ! Walkers here will find the more gentle rolling farmland, pretty villages and chalk ridges beloved by Thomas Hardy that sweep down to end abruptly at the World Heritage Jurassic Coast. Here, alongside the sea, those after more challenging routes can take a walking holiday through time itself amongst the dramatic chalk stacks, cliffs and arches of the Dorsetshire fossil coast. An area that can be very busy in high season but often suits walkers looking for more gentle and less exposed walking than the far west of the region.
Wales offers some of the best walking and outdoor activities to be had anywhere in the world. The 870-mile Welsh Coast Path was only fully opened in 2012 and is the world's first walk along the entire coast of a nation. The terrain is on an equally grand scale with towering cliffs, vast stretches of unspoilt golden sands, imposing castles, offshore islands and to the north there is the backdrop of Snowdonia National Park with its stunning mountains. Wales in general offers walkers great value for money compared to more popular areas like Cornwall with walking options to suit everyone, from those who want the cosmopolitan restaurants and facilities of towns like Tenby and St Davids, through to isolated and remote forests and coastal hills that sit on the very cusp of the Snowdonian Peaks. Bursting with confidence and pride in its “Welshness”, its Celtic history, language and culture there has never been a better time for walkers to enter Wales.
The South West Coast Path is the UK's longest National Trail and one of the top ten walking routes in the world. It snakes, dips and rises continuously on its way through a staggering 1014km (630 miles) of pristine coastline, 450 miles of which is through nationally protected areas. It's a challenge too; walking the entire South West Coast Path is the equivalent to scaling Mount Everest four times! From towering cliffs to hidden coves, ghostly tin mines to lush subtropical wooded creeks. One minute a dramatic rock theatre hewn out of the cliffs, the next a prehistoric fossilized forest or a 20thC Art Deco Island Hotel. What sets The South West Coast Path apart from other trails is that around almost every corner is yet another surprise as you retrace the footsteps and histories of the tin miners, fisherman, smugglers, wreckers and the customs men who chased them.
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.
Leaving 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.
Overnight 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.
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.
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.
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 .
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
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 !)
Map of all
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