Discovering hidden Dartmoor

Discovering hidden Dartmoor

Autumn must be one of the most beautiful times of year to visit Dartmoor, with its ever-changing weather, rolling hills and trees blazing in colours of gold and bronze. Covering 954 square miles, there’s no shortage of places to explore by car, foot, bike or horseback. This is the place for romantic dreamers, where myth and reality lie side by side.

We were looking for somewhere hidden away, so we were lucky to spend the weekend at Thornworthy Barn, a gorgeous adults-only Boutique Retreat near Chagford which sits literally at the end of the road surrounded by the moors. As such, we wanted to make the most of its breathtakingly wild location to get a couple of good walks tucked under the belt – all without needing to hop in the car.

Thornworthy itself is set on the eastern side of Chagford Common, a high, Gorse-strewn part of the moor with gusty winds and tremendous views, from little villages tucked safely amongst the hills to the frankly intimidating yet incredibly beautiful wild moorland, unspoilt by inhabitation or roads, rolling away into the distance.

A word of warning: Dartmoor is wild, picturesque, and as astonishing as you can imagine. It is also treacherous and dangerous, and where you can get easily lost, where sinking bogs abound, and fog can descend in minutes. Make sure you dress accordingly – wear or pack layers, including a sturdy waterproof. Walking boots or wellies are a must. Robert, the owner of Thornworthy Barn and a moor aficionado, lent us walking sticks so we could test for boggy ground in front of us (we’d had a lot of rain). He also gave us some excellent advice – keep looking back, so you can see where you have come from so its easy to follow it back should you need to. Make sure you have a good, detailed map or guidebook too and either your phone or a GPS system just in case.

So, on a miraculously sunny late morning following torrential rain, we headed out, first climbing up onto the Common, passing gnarled trees, bent through facing years of extreme weather, and bursts of Gorse bushes, golden and buttery in the welcome sunshine. Our first landmark was Frenchbeer Rock (also known as Frenchbeer Tor), a relatively small rocky granite outcrop with lovely views across to Fernworthy Forest, the village of Chagford and across to Easdon Tor.

From here, we followed the wide track up towards Middle Tor. Because it had been raining most of the night and that morning, there was a lot of surface water and pools, reflecting the cobalt blue sky above. We were glad of our waterproof boots! Sheep, and the occasional pony grazed nearby, briefly looking up as we walked past. Other than them and crows wheeling above us, we were completely alone, and it was totally blissful.

Middle Tor is a much larger rocky edifice, with a funny, circular hole worn into the stone with its own little pool. Higher than Frenchbeer, the views are stupendous with views over the rolling fields of east Devon and the surrounding moors. We stopped here for a moment, to revel in the peace and quiet and to have the place all to ourselves.

We then climbed onwards and up towards Kestor Rock (or Kes Tor). Swathed in mystery, this incredible spot has been a draw for people for centuries, surrounded as it is by ritual monuments and old stone houses. Many believe that the area was inhabited by Druids and that Kestor was used for ceremonies and rituals involving human sacrifice. Looming tall and ominous on the horizon at 437 meters (1434 ft), it’s not difficult to imagine the goings on of yesteryear, but we found only grazing ponies and more rock basins filled with rainwater. Intrigued, we climbed to the top to gaze at the view, but the increasing wind was so strong, we had to scurry back down again after just a few minutes.

Loathe to head back just yet, we decided to head down to the North Teign River, following the edge of the woods at Batworthy. All the way downhill, it’s a lovely stretch but requires care amongst the rivulets, boggy bits and marshy landscape.

There is a main footpath and it’s best to stick to it even though at points you may have to jump and leap over pools! The river itself, dark with peat and fast-flowing, had just burst its banks and was spectacular to watch. A few more people were about, and we all gazed in wonder at this spectacular force of nature.


We then headed back up to Kestor Rock, then retraced our steps back towards Thornworthy, just as the mists began to descend and a fine drizzle heralded a brisk Autumnal evening. Within an hour, we were back at our retreat and we had the wood burner lit with a glass of whiskey in hand. It doesn’t get much better than that.  

Feeling inspired? Take a look at Thornworthy Barn here and our other luxury self catering cottages in Dartmoor here.


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