One of the things I planned when we headed to Devon and Cornwall in our borrowed campervan for a spot of reminiscing earlier this year, was to go for a walk in Dartmoor National Park to climb a couple of tors. This was one of my favourite things to do outdoors when I was a kid, and it was certainly something I wanted to include in my memory filled road trip.
I had my eye on two or three possible hikes that we could choose from, each reasonably short, just five or six miles, taking in two or maybe even three tors without too much difficult terrain. There were lots of places on my hit list for the short time we were away, so there wasn’t time for anything more substantial. But as it happened the weather dictated our decisions and we spent the Saturday exploring galleries and museums instead, moving our tor bagging to the Sunday with what looked like an hour or two at the most between the heavy rain.
Thankfully, though, the thing with visiting, walking to, climbing up Dartmoor’s tors is just how easy to get to some of them are. Yes there are some tough hikes, some long ones, some boggy ground, some difficult navigation, there’s no doubt about that. But if you only have a short amount of time to spare, you can still get in a walk with decent satisfaction levels with this particular National Park. And so we roughly plotted a simple circular route to bag five tors in three miles from one of the largest car parks in the area.
We parked the van at Pork Hill Car Park, which is on the B3357 just into the National Park from the Tavistock end. There are no facilities here, but you’re not far from Tavistock or Princetown if you need to stop before or after. There’s a 360 degree viewpoint here too, so it’s worth a stop even if you’ve not got time to walk.
The five tors we bagged in our short walk were Cox Tor, Roos Tor, Great Staple Tor, Middle Staple Tor and Little Staple Tor. T here were also some hut circles, tin workings and a tinner’s hut on our route – walks on Dartmoor are always full of features that make it more interesting than just a normal hill walk. Even just studying the map I instantly remembered why this place holds such fond memories; always something to see, not to mention the fondness with which I remember my outdoors focused childhood.
Cox Tor has a trig pillar on it at 442 metres above sea level (the car park is at 329) so it’s not a terrible climb. And it’s a straight line from the car park to the tor, so dead easy to find. The others are all a similar height, each providing great views across the Darmoor landscape. And even with the dark grey skies the place is so beautiful, I think I might have a problem because my favourite places on earth are all barren and rugged and gnarly!
From Cox Tor we took a mostly direct route along sheep paths to Roos Tor, which has a Logan Stone – a rock which is has become disjoined from the parent-rock and is pivoted on it. I love rocks like this, they appear to be teetering, about to over balance at any point, but actually they are very well set in place. The Dartmoor firing range starts here, so if you’re heading this way be sure to pay attention to the red flag – you can always get to Roos Tor but that’s often it during the week.
Roos Tor is also home to a Boundary Stone with a B marked on it. This is to denote it as the Duke of Bedford’s land, who installed a whole circle of them around the tor – apparently to prevent granite workers from stealing the tor and selling the stone!
The trio of Staple Tors – Great, Middle and Little – follow a simple line from Roos Tor along the ridge back towards the road. I think we had a short hail storm on each of these three tors, taking some time at Great Staple Tor to hide away for a few moments because it got a bit painful stood out in the hail! We were joined by sheep also looking for shelter, although the Dartmoor ponies seemed to take it all in their stride.
I can often be heard harping on about the changeable weather on Dartmoor, and this short walk was certainly a demonstration of just what the weather can do. I learnt to navigate using a map on Dartmoor when I was a kid, and part of that was learning to read the weather in this rather unpredictable and somewhat gnarly landscape. I learnt the importance of sticking to the marked footpath (and therefore how to make sure I was on it using a compass), how quickly the weather can change when you’re out, and how spongey even the marked route can be underfoot. Bearing in mind the previous day had been 70mph wind and sideways rain, which delayed our walk by 24 hours, and it had snowed overnight, I wasn’t expecting it to be Mediterranean up there. The forecast suggested we had a couple of hours without a downpour, but during the course of our three mile walk we experienced three separate hail storms, some snow, and some very heavy rain. Oh, and there was some sunshine and blue sky, too. If you’re ever heading out on Dartmoor, even if it’s just for an hour, please make sure you’re prepared for the weather to do just whatever it feels like.
I genuinely love this kind of hiking; reasonably short and easy to navigate routes with high levels of satisfaction; that is, not to hard on the knees, but completely awesome for the eyes. Walks like this can easily be slotted in to a road trip even on the tightest schedule, the perfect way to get out of the car for an hour.
And of course, this time, the fact that we got soaked mattered even less, because we were travelling in a campervan so we could very easily change out of our wet gear and get the kettle on as soon as we made it back to the car park. Honestly, if this was the only benefit of owning a camper van I would still want one!
I highly recommend hiking on Dartmoor, it’s just such an amazing place to explore and deserves some of your time. If you are looking for more routes and inspiration I can recommend Two Blondes Walking (run by fellow GetOutside Champions) and Visit Dartmoor as excellent places to start.
Take a look at the Dartmoor National Park area and plot your own short tor bagging route using OS Maps. There’s a seven day free trial for new users, or if you want to go all in, buy a 12 month subscription for £23.99. All the details are here (affiliate link).