Wild and sparsely populated, Dartmoor is the rugged, granite-topped heart of Devon. This national park is home to fascinating histories, with ancient long barrows, stone circles and medieval villages strewn about with abandon. Add in atmospheric moorland, lush valleys and the semi-feral endemic Dartmoor ponies, and you might be able to see why I love this landscape so much.
Just shy of 100 miles, the Dartmoor Way is an extraordinary cycle route that takes in the moor’s wonderful perimeter with an optional High Moor route across the middle. The route follows Devon’s pretty lanes, minor roads and large sections of traffic-free cycle paths as well as travelling through some exceptionally pretty villages.
As the Dartmoor Way is a loop, you can begin from wherever is most convenient. Thanks to the High Moor section, you can also do semi-circle routes or a figure of eight. With mainline train stations in Ivybridge, Plymouth and Newton Abbot, it’s not difficult to reach the route by train. Ivybridge is the only station on the trail itself, which is why I’ve chosen it as this Collection’s starting point.
Each Tour starts and ends in a town or village where you can find food and accommodation with relative ease. Dartmoor is also one of the few places in the UK where it’s legal to wild camp however, this doesn’t apply to the entire national park and the official Wild Camping Map should always be consulted first. For the Dartmoor Way, wild camping could be an option in the north-west section and the Ivybridge section.
The route is mainly paved with some rougher surfaces so I’d recommend using a touring, hybrid or gravel bike for this adventure. You can hire bikes at numerous points near the trail, including Plymouth, Ashburton and Okehampton so with some careful planning, hiring can be a good option.
With viaducts and ancient bridges, river valleys and plenty of freely roaming animals to admire, the Dartmoor Way is a fantastic bike ride for those with good fitness. I’ve split the route up over three days but with so many campsites, hotels and B&Bs, you could easily split it into a whole week if you like. With every Tour enjoying its own beauty, you can also choose to stick to the flatter sections and simply do the reverse the following day.
Check out the Dartmoor Wild Camping Map here: dartmoor.gov.uk/about-us/about-us-maps/new-camping-map
This section of the Dartmoor Way sends you along quiet rural lanes, through stunning market towns and over undulating countryside on the edge of the national park.
Start the day in Ivybridge, which has a mainline train station and several town centre supermarkets. From here, you’ll skirt the moor on lanes to historic Buckfastleigh, with its steam train and 1,000-year-old abbey.
The lanes saunter along beneath Haytor Rocks and onto Bovey Tracey where you’ll find plenty of cafes, shops and bakeries to satisfy any hunger. From Bovey, you’ll follow an old railway line through the National Trust’s Parke estate. While the Dartmoor Way is waymarked, here you’ll see markers for the Wray Valley Trail instead.
One of the reasons Bovey is a good snack stop is to prepare you for what lies ahead. Leaving the river, you’ll pedal up Slade Hill which is not for the faint-hearted. The reward is a beautiful ride around a trio of reservoirs. The vegetation here is lovely year-round but spring brings outstanding colours with bluebells and flowering rhododendrons.
Shortly after leaving Kennick Reservoir, you’ll find Blackingstone Rock to the west. An iron ladder is affixed to the side and it offers fantastic views if you’ve got a head for heights and a steady foot. From here, you’re treated to an exciting descent on a narrow, gravelly lane. Linking up to the Wray Valley Trail once more, you can buzz into Moretonhampstead to put your feet up.
You’ll find hotels, B&Bs and campsites here along with pubs and cafes.
This Tour starts off in rather typical Dartmoor fashion; with lots of steep ups and downs. Leave Moretonhampstead with bags packed with snacks and you’ll soon get the blood plumping thanks to the rather immediate hill to Hospit Cross. Riding here is wonderful though if you ignore the thigh burn as the lanes are blissfully quiet and you keep glimpsing patchwork fields over the hedges.
Descending into Chagford, you’ve got the option here to stop and find a slice of cake and a coffee. You might need the energy for there are several steep ascents in the coming section to Throwleigh. Pedalling onto South Zeal and Sticklepath, you get a tiny taste of open moorland.
At Sticklepath you can stop at Finch Foundry, the only working forge in Britain powered by water. Should your cake tank be running low, this is another great place to pause for a bite to eat. As you head towards Okehampton, you’ll catch views north towards Exmoor and rest assured, the hills for today are almost over.
From Okehampton, the Dartmoor Way follows the Granite Way all the way to Lydford, where this Tour ends. Running along a disused railway, this section is flat and crosses the exceptional Meldon and Lake viaducts. Meldon viaduct, in particular, offers exceptional views north to the flat land of North Devon and south to High Willhays and Yes Tor, the highest points in the national park.
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Skirting the very edge of Dartmoor’s most rugged side, this Tour is very river-themed. With the Lyd, Tavy, Meavy, Walkham and Plym chuckling under bridges as you pedal over, it’s easy to think you’re being stalked by one persevering waterway.
Leaving Lydford involves zipping down a steep hill and likely hanging a right into Lydford Gorge. You might want to start adventuring proper but this National Trust managed gorge and waterfall is exceptional and well worth visiting.
The Dartmoor Way pulls you on from Lydford Gorge to good viewpoints of the moor and on to Mary Tavy beyond which a short off-road section whisks you over the River Tavy itself. A mixture of road and off-road sections take you along to Tavistock, a wonderful market town with plenty of places to eat and enjoy the world going by. If you fancy exploring the town more, check out the Pannier Market which has seen traders for over 900 years.
The next ten miles is largely off-road on paved bike trails and soon you’ll come to one of the most notable points; Brunel’s Grenofen Tunnel. At 374 yards (341 m) long, it’s lit and has a tendency to drip in places. This trail is also part of Drakes Trail to Plymouth and is well-managed and easy riding. A little further along you’ll cross Gem Bridge and the River Walkham with lovely birds-eye views of the woods below.
Pedal on past Horrabridge and Yelverton, eventually leaving the trail and getting back onto quiet lanes to the moor’s Cadover Bridge. Crossing the Plym, this bridge is a perfect palace to stop for a dip in the river if you’re brave and, in summer, an ice cream van can usually be found here along with crowds of sunbathers.
The final section of the Dartmoor Way leads you across open moorland where sheep have a habit of snoozing roadside and ponies will be chomping at the grass. Spin through pretty Cornwood and out to Harford before freewheeling into Ivybridge. Here you’ll find cafes, accommodation and the mainline train station for links to Exeter, Bristol and London.
Part of the Dartmoor Way, the High Moorland Link essentially turns this massive circular trail into an ultra-flexible adventure. The classic perimeter route sees some of Dartmoor’s most beautiful little villages and valleys whilst this central link gets to the remote, isolated moor proper. Think Hound of the Baskervilles, think ghosts, think murder mysteries - okay, I’m getting carried away but the desolate expanse of the moorland is exquisite and atmospheric.
You can ride the Dartmoor Way’s High Moorland Link in either direction but I’ve chosen to present it west to east. You can use the Link to complete north or south semicircles of the trail, do a figure-of-eight or a number ‘9’ shape.
Starting in Tavistock, enjoy the views from the viaduct before setting off east with the moor opening out before you. The first great ascent takes you off the more and down to the River Walkham before climbing again above Burrator and past Shariptor’s jumble of granite.
Cycling up to Princetown is challenging but fantastic as the road flows over hills and presents wonderful views. This historic town has delicious cafes and pubs to refuel you before you continue on to Two Bridges.
The landscape from here for several miles is expansive and bleak in a rather majestic way. While open moorland, this road is 40mph and one of the fastest of the entire Dartmoor Way. After the medieval Hexworthy Bridge, steel yourself for the climb to Combestone Tor which will reward you with astounding views south.
Cycle on to Buckfastleigh where the High Moorland Link ends and you can rejoin the main Dartmoor Way going north towards Bovey or south to Ivybridge.