For me, walking on Dartmoor is the opposite of trail hiking. There’s no way marking and precious few clear paths. Within reason you can walk wherever you want and there’s no prohibition on wild camping in most places. The hills are of a modest height, so it is possible to wander to your heart’s content without feeling restricted by terrain or access. As a result, my plans tend to change on the fly, depending on how my whims take me.
The one negative is having to fit your meandering into the firing schedule on the army ranges. Because of day firing exercises on the Merrivale and Willsworthy Ranges, I had to stay on the eastern side of the northern moor. However, this didn’t prevent an excellent walk right into the heart of the Northern Moor.
For the first time, I decided to drive to Dartmoor and leave the car at Belstone car park for a few days. I have to say, I hate leaving the car in a public car park, in case something happens, although I’m not sure who would want to steal an eleven year old Saab. Being out of tourist season, I felt it would be fairly safe.
After a change of clothes and securing the car, I was off through Belstone village and then onto the track to Taw Marsh. I knew from photos and other walkers that it is possible to camp at the ford on Taw Marsh, I just hoped that no-one else had the same idea. The weather was overcast with some hill fog, but the forecast was better for the following day.
Track to Taw Marsh
The track to Taw Marsh was straightforward. Within half an hour, I arrived at the ford. I was delighted to see quite extensive flat areas, ideal for camping and that no-one else was there. Less attractive was the dead sheep rotting in the ford (a good reason for always filtering water as you never know what might be upstream!).
Camp at Taw Marsh
It didn’t take long to flip up the Scarp. As I was adjusting the guys, a dog walker passed by, commenting approvingly on the aerodynamic shape of the tent. After gathering some water (upstream of the dead sheep), I repaired to the tent and boiled some water for a brew. With immaculate timing, the mist descended further and it started to drizzle.
The view before it disappeared
The drizzle died down in the late evening. It was dark for a while, but when the full moon rose, it lit up the clouds. I had a sound night’s sleep, waking just before dawn. When I poked my head out of the door, the sky was almost completely clear.
Morning at Taw Marsh
However, within an hour of sunrise, clouds started to gather and Cosdon Hill became wreathed in mist. I wondered whether the forecasters had got it wrong. Fortunately, this was only a transition to a mainly sunny day, with the occasional cloud cover. Not surprisingly for April, the wind was quite keen.
View west across Taw Marsh
After packing, I headed up the slopes of Cosdon Hill and then towards Little Hound Tor. I dithered around a little, exploring part of the valley of Small Brook before skirting along Metheral Hill and then up to Hound Tor.
View from Hound Tor to Watern Tor and Fernworthy Forest
From Hound Tor, it was an easy walk to Wild Tor, with its impressive granite stacks. I climbed to the top of the highest tor. On the way down, I made the unfortunate discovery of some human excrement and toilet paper. Ugh! Moving swiftly on, I descended into the mini gorge of Walla Brook. I made my first note of an excellent place to camp for another trip.
Granite “plates” on Watern Tor
The granite on Watern Tor looks like stacks of giant plates. Towards the east, there is a fantastic view of the desolate Gidleigh Common and the North Teign River. From here my plan was to get to Teignhead Farm for lunch. Before then, I had to cross Manga Hill. My previous experience of Manga Hill was that it was a tough yomp over tussocky bog. However, I followed a wall southward which had a reasonable track along side. Crossing over a stile, there was another track leading to Teignhead Farm, which made the going a lot easier.
I reached the farm in glorious sunshine. The easterly aspect gave me a little shelter from the cold wind. I sat down on a convenient boulder to have a spot of lunch. So far, I’d seen absolutely no-one. That track record was spoilt as I spotted a couple of people coming out of Fernworthy Forest, but instead of coming my way, they headed sought towards the Grey Wethers.
Teignhead Farm from Fernworthy Forest
After a leisurely lunch, it clouded over briefly, so I packed and headed over the clapper bridge towards Fernworthy Forest. Although not marked on the OS map, I assumed that there would be a path following the boundary of the forest southwards. Although I was correct, it was quite boggy in places.
South Teign Head
My original plan was to camp near Water Hill on the remains of a derelict farm. However, I’m never one to pass up a good place to camp. As I crested the hill to the east of the Grey Wethers, the delightful dell of South Teign Head greeted my eyes. Such an Arcadia deserved an exploration to assess the possibilities. On the northern side, there was a shelf of almost flat ground which looked inviting.
Camping in Arcadia
It was wonderfully secluded, sheltered from the wind and a real sun trap. I couldn’t pass it by, so I pitched the tent and spent a wonderful afternoon in the sun. It doesn’t get much better than this.