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A Short Walk on Dartmoor

May 23, 2011

If you really want to get to know a walk, you really need to do it over the seasons of the year.

Back in the winter, we did the short walk from New Bridge to Leigh Tor on Dartmoor (see blog for 10th December).

It was a day of hard frost as we skidded across Spitchwick Lawn. The ground was rock hard and steam rose over the freezing river Dart.

Sunday was different; a clear though windy Spring day, the fresh green of the leaves on the oaks and birches of Park Wood and Holne Chase. We had expected the bluebells to be over, given their early appearance in the rest of Devon, but there were some fine displays, both across Spitchwick Lawn and on the wooded slopes of Leigh Tor.

Walking up the steep path alongside Park Wood reminded me of the many months I spent living there in a tent back in 1985. It was a protest camp, aimed at deterring the Ministry of Agriculture badger trappers who were hell-bent on killing the famous Domesday brocks of Spitchwick Manor.

I very often found myself living alone in the wood for weeks at a time, prowling the moorland and forests all around, at all times of the day and night, seeing not just lots of badgers, but foxes and otters too.

On then to Leigh Tor, a lovely viewpoint for this part of Dartmoor, and a good place for a tea-break. Then down the slopes of Hannaford and back to the Dart.

I walk very little on Dartmoor these days.

I find it a sad place.

Britain’s most exploited National Park.

And many of its guardians seem to have lost their stomach for the fight. It feels sometimes that the will to fight went with the sad death of Sylvia Sayer, the Shield of the Moor. No Dartmoor campaigner was a skilled as Sylvia, though a few of us tried our best.

I do urge you to seek out her little book “Wild Country”.

Did I say National Park? Well, a halfway house National Park. Only when Dartmoor is wild and free, when it has shoved off the shackles of the Dartmoor Establishment, thrown out the military, and established access to the forbidden areas. Curbed the power of Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall, will Dartmoor be a proper National Park.

I did enjoy yesterday’s little ramble, with all its joys of a Dartmoor Spring. I give the walk below and commend it to you all.

More walks and information on my website: www.johnbainbridgewriter.com

The Walk:

The walk starts at New Bridge, on the Ashburton to Princetown Road. Grid Reference: SX 711709. The walk is just 3.5 miles, with 480 feet of climb. As always you do the walk at your own risk.

1. From New Bridge car park, without crossing the road, walk to the bridge and follow the footpath leading under the first arch. After a narrow section on a winding and enclosed path you emerge on to the wide lawn of Deeper Marsh. Continue to follow the river as it takes a wide loop and then comes back nearer the road.

2. At the road turn right and walk parallel to the river for a hundred yards, until a thick wood comes down to near road level on the left. (If you reach a pair of stone lodges you have gone 50 yards too far!)

3. Turn sharp. Climbing steeply is a track following the edge of the wood uphill. Follow this, staying on the outside of the enclosed woodland (Park Wood) until the trees are left behind and hedge-bounded fields take their place. Ignore all turnings and stay on the moorland side of these enclosures. After a half mile Leigh Tor is reached on the side of the slope below the fields.

4.  After visiting Leigh Tor continue to follow the track close to the hedge,  heading in your original direction, until the main Ashburton and Princetown is reached.  Cross the road and, after fifty yards across moorland, a minor lane is reached. Follow this downhill for 300 yards, until the lane plunges between fields and become enclosed.

5. Leave the lane at this point and head right on the edge of the open moorland, keeping the enclosure wall to your left. Follow this down (Take care; there is a steep slope at the end) until you are back down at river level. A broad track is reached. Turn left and follow this back to New Bridge.

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