Dartmoor Walking Guide
Dartmoor National Park is wholly contained within the boundaries of Devon and is dominated by some of the wildest upland moorland in the UK. Granite outcrops or tors are a feature of the landscape and add visual interest. Beautiful rolling countryside surrounds the high moors adding to the scenic contrasts enjoyed by visitors. With a long and varied history there is much evidence of former ages from Neolithic sites to more recent industrial heritage.
Dartmoor was designated one of the National Parks of England and Wales in 1951. It is a predominantly moorland landscape peppered with windswept Tors, which contrast with sylvan wooded valleys. Containing the only land over two thousand feet in Southern England it therefore provides challenges similar to more northerly hills and mountains yet still provides easy valley walking in beautiful surroundings.
Apart from the obvious natural beauty of Dartmoor the area is of great archaeological importance with over 10,000 entries in the County Sites and Monuments Register. In addition there are over 1,000 Scheduled Ancient Monuments some of which form a convenient focus for walks. In more recent centuries man has impacted on the land with mining and even rabbit farming leaving their mark on the landscape.
A large part of Dartmoor is made up of granite. This great igneous core is surrounded by sedimentary rocks including limestones, shales and sandstones all of which help add variety to the scenery. One of the characteristics of Dartmoor are Tors and clitter slopes. Concentrated where the effects of erosion and weathering are their greatest - on summits, valley lips, spurs and steep valley sides - they add a unique feel to the upland areas.
Tors are the remnants of former landscape surfaces. Eventually blocks of granite are levered away by erosion leaving the tor isolated and exposed and littering the ground below with boulders, forming the clitter slopes.About a third of the unenclosed moorland is covered with a layer of peat more than two feet (50 cm) thick. In places it can reach over twenty feet (7 metres) in depth. Besides forming the blanket bogs at the heart of the two plateau, the peat is responsible for the valley mires. Holding immense amounts of water, it can be heavy going across the peat even after long spells of dry weather!
The highest point is High Willhays, which at 2039 feet (621 metres) above sea level makes it the highest point in England and Wales south of the Brecon Beacons. Although of rather amorphous shape, it does provide a worthwhile destination for those seeking higher ground. Close by, Yes Tor, is the only other peak to rise above the two thousand foot contour and is easily combined with a walk to High Willhays. Although these are two major summits in terms of altitude there are many summits that invite conquest. With over half the area of Dartmoor rising to over one thousand feet there is plenty of scope for exploration with the distinctive summits of the Tors providing a magnet for visitors, especially of they are near a road!
As with most National Parks there are plenty of visitors who tend to congregate along the major roads that pass through the area. However once a mile or so away from the roads a sense of isolation and peace is soon achieved and one can enjoy the wild character and wildlife of the area. Care is needed when penetrating deep into the moors and it is worthwhile making a few short exploratory walks so you can get used to the difficulties that might be encountered with weather conditions of particular importance.
One point worthy of mention is that considerable areas of Dartmoor are used as a military training ground including the firing of live ammunition! Some areas are therefore closed to public access either on a temporary or permanent basis and it is worth checking with local tourist information offices about possible closures. These are always announced in advance so you are able to plan ahead.