More than a few people, when faced with the prospect of riding Dartmoor, will turn their noses up and insist that there is far better riding elsewhere. But they're just not looking hard enough. Sure, Dartmoor's reputation - all Sherlock Holmes, bleak prisons, mysterious hounds, curling mists and sudden death in boggy expanses - is well earned, but there is an abundance of excellent riding to be had too.
For every bleak moor top, there's a wooded dell, festooned with boulders just asking to be ridden over. For every boggy expanse, there's a lithe slice of singletrack waiting to beckon your tires. And yes, the place is rich with folklore, with Piskies (local pixies) wreaking havoc, and mysterious flowers laid on three hundred year old suicide graves sited on crossroads.
So if your tastes turn to the mysterious as well as the mountain bike, you'll find much to enjoy. And even if you don't, there's more than enough here to keep you occupied. Take a spin around Hound Tor and Lustleigh Cleave for truly exceptional - and unique - technical riding experiences. Shiver as you orbit the prison village of Princeton, or explore the meaning of solitude as you cross the moors south of Postbridge. And more - these Tours collate some of the best riding in Dartmoor, and they'll leave you thirsty for further adventures!
Large swathes of the north of the moor are given over to the Ministry of Defence’s firing range. It’s still perfectly possible to ride there, but you do need to check online at gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme to make sure your ride isn’t curtailed by a surly soldier - or by an errant tank.
This is a superlative ride, which demonstrates with astounding finality that Dartmoor's riding can be truly unexpected. Although, OK, there are some bleak and misty moors to ride, too. It's very much a ride of two halves - the first half is the bleak and beautiful moorland you might expect; the second is rather different.
The route starts at Hound Tor - not least because of the burger van frequenting the car park, which is magnificently called 'the Hound of the Basket Meals'. A small road spin takes the route up to Jay's Grave, where it properly heads off road, up onto Hambledown Tor and the neolithic village of Grimspound.
A swift spot of road then leads to bridleway carving along the Two Moors Way and on to Bennett's Cross (The Warren House Inn just south of here is a good half way point snack or lunch stop).
From here, the route retraces its steps a bit, and then heads under King Tor and west of Easdon Tor before skirting North Bovey. But dropping south from here is where the fun really begins.
In the minds of many, Lustleigh Cleave is one of the most entertaining spots to ride in the country. Sinewy, tight, technical singletrack, hilariously thrutchy rock gardens and preposterously pretty environs; this trail has it all. The route takes Nut Crackers in first, and then some of the other trails around the Cleave to truly maximise the experience.
There's an extra little slice of thrutchy awesomeness along the bottom of Black Hill (it's all rideable, honestly - but it may take a little practice), before the inevitable winch back up to Hound Tor and the start.
There are plenty of places you could start if a burger at the end isn't to your taste - there's a carpark just north of the Warren House Inn on the road out of Postbridge, for example, or North Bovey, or any of the myriad carparks on the moors themselves. It's also possible to split the route in two - when you reach the road towards Easton Tor, just head south back to the car rather than north - but you'd be missing out on some truly spectacular riding!
Princetown (it's actually a village) is pretty much at the heart of Dartmoor. But it's not hard to see why the place has persisted; originally established with a view to farming the area, the enormous and conspicuous prison (now category C, for less violent offenders) keeps the village ticking over, and its austere Victorian structure doesn't exactly dispel the spooky air of the place, especially for a certain type of morbid tourist!
That being said though, there's plenty of fun stuff a mere stone's throw away - just don't go lobbing them over the prison walls; they don't take kindly to that sort of thing.
This Tour doesn't actually start in Princetown; that honour is reserved for the delights of Burrator Reservoir, for its beautiful aspect, plentiful parking and one more reason which will become apparent!
Setting off, a quick tarmac spin soon ends with the trail heading below Sheep's Tor. This is a delight - slightly uphill for much of its length, and occasionally steps and rutted, it's a wonderful little trail with some amazing views (although it can get a little boggy where it dips into the woodland further up). The slight hillclimb is worth it for the fantastic descent back down to the road though: heaps of fun!
From there it's another gentle climb on the disused railway to Princeton; as you can imagine, gentle inclines and smooth paths are the order of the day, as well as some great moorland views.
After Princeton itself, the route strikes out across the open moor along Ivybridge Lane - an open, well maintained track with many walkers and cyclists, before heading down the trail to the reservoir.
This is a really fun little trail. Don't be put off by the name: Bone Shaker is an appellation more suited to the bikes of yesteryear than those of today. It's bumpy, sure, but it's not technical, and it's downhill all the way back to the start.
The final descent is the reason that we chose Burrator Reservoir as the starting point, but if you prefer, Princetown is a perfectly good place to start, it just finishes on a slight climb. It's the only real place en route with any refreshment facilities, with pubs, toilets, a shop or two and even a campsite, but perhaps predictably there's no train station (probably not a good thing in a village with a massive prison). It's definitely best accessed by car.
Although most of the route is on good, open tracks, it's probably still a good idea to only ride this one in good weather - or at least make sure you've packed your waterproofs!
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This loop is a great little Tour, exploring some of the lesser known trails in the area. Although there are sections of singletrack, they're pretty reasonable to ride for much of the year, and there's not much climbing for the distance involved.
From Postbridge, the trail heads out (over a ford) and joins the road to Soussons Warren, where it picks up a little trail through the woods, and out past the old Golden Dagger tin mine (tin has been mined in the South West of the UK since pre-Roman times).
The route then passes through another mine ruin (the Birch Tor and Vitifer tin mine) and on to the road for about ten seconds before it darts back over the moor, and around the east side of Challcombe Down and the Medieval ruins of the village.
At the bottom of Soussons Warren once again, the route retraces its steps before cutting back down to another bridleway back to Postbridge and the start.
Postbridge is a very small place, named after the Clapper Bridge which dates from the 13th Century. There is a little shop, though - and there are places to park. An alternative would be to park at the Warren House Inn a little to the north, and join the Tour as it circles Birch Tor.
This ride is a whopper, there's no two ways about it. But it's a do-able whopper nonetheless. It may be long, but it's relatively straightforward on the climbing front for its length. Mind you, you'll feel it in your legs once you're done. But try to ensure you do it when the weather's good – this can be a pretty full-on slog when the weather's bad!
From Tavistock the route travels north west to Peter Tavy, and then strikes out past Stephens' Grave towards Postbridge. As with many rides in this area, the route passes through the Merrivale Range, which is occasionally used by the army for live firing exercises.
After Postbridge, the trail wanders southwards, heads south below Burrator Reservoir and frolics in the woodland west of Horrabridge before heading back towards Tavistock and a well-deserved snack.
The ride starts in Tavistock, but it's just as feasible to begin in Postbridge, Yelverton or any of the other villages the route passes. Sadly, there are no easily accessible train stations, so as with much of the riding in Dartmoor you'll likely be accessing it by car.
You can find information about firing times on the Merrivale Range here: gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme.
This is another Tour which dips its toes into the firing range that encompasses much of the north of Dartmoor. Before you ride, it's always best to check the current firing programme - see below for the link.
Military fun and games aside, this is a great little spin around some of the lesser known parts of the moor, which starts at the Lydford Gorge Tearoom close to the White Lady waterfall (so there's somewhere to go and enjoy the scenery while your legs recover).
The route starts off pretty sharpish with an immediate ascent up to the moor – well, up on the flanks of Gibbet Hill, to be precise (yes, it's called that for exactly the reason you might think). Following a spot of contouring across Kingsett Down, the trail drops down to Chilly wood and up towards the wonderfully named Wapsworthy. You can ponder the provenance of the name as you venture up Bagga Tor and over to the top of Cocks Hill, in the military firing range.
There then follows a good track (most of the time) down to Stephen's Grave (clearly he wasn't worthy) and ducks up and over a couple of extra Combes before hurtling down Combe Tor and through Peter Tavy.
The ride's not over yet, though - from Peter, we get introduced to Mary Tavy and then run the delightful bridlepath around the western flank of Gibbet Hill before reaching the start once again.
If the tea rooms at Lydford Gorge don't appeal, then Mary or Peter Tavy should prove eminently hospitable hosts; each has a pub and places to park; Mary is slightly the larger of the two.
Details of the MOD firing times can be found here: gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme
Okehampton, at the very northern edge of Dartmoor, originally grew on the medieval wool trade, but in the modern era Okehampton is perhaps best known for its large military training facility.
Indeed, this ride (and many others which may strike out onto the moor from Okehampton) runs through the Okehampton firing range. You can follow the link at the bottom for info on firing times, which will give you details of any issues that may occur on the day of your ride. If all's well, this Tour takes in tracks and trails throughout the range. These are mostly well surfaced, and are therefore suitable for riding in most weathers. As is usual with Dartmoor, though, take precautions - the weather can be extremely changeable.
From the town, there's a climb out onto Dartmoor proper to take a jaunt around the track and byways more commonly used by talks and artillery (it's pretty fascinating). There are fords, streams and all sorts, but because of the large nature of some of the other users, the tracks themselves are generally pretty weather-proof.
Then the route heads back towards Okehampton, past Fitz's well before cruelly veering off just before you grab an ice cream along the Granite Way which runs along the Okement Valley. A swift loop above the Meldon Reservoir then follows before the route then heads back into the town through the woods.
Okehampton is easily the best place to start this Tour; parking, shops, supermarkets, pubs galore, restaurants; everything is here. Although there is a train station at Okehampton, it runs on summer weekends only. There are plans to reinstate a daily service, but at the time of writing this has yet to happen!
Information on firing times can be found here: gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme
For such a tiny village, Postbridge does have a fine array of riding from the doorstep - as long as you're keen on open moorland, that is. But of course, open moorland is not all there is to proceedings, though. This ride has a little bit of everything - singletrack, woods, river crossings and hike-a-bike stepping stones across rivers. And ok, yes, admittedly, quite a lot of open moorland.
As the title of the Tour suggests, south of Postbridge there are a number of trails; the route here heads through fun little singletrack-y trails in Bellever Forest and past the wonderfully named Laughter Holes Farm before dropping down to the West Dart River and its stepping stones.
From here, the route follows the Wider Swincombe a short distance before striking off over fields and onto moorland under Skir Hill. At Comestone Tor, it heads back north, down the fabulous little trail to the Dartmeet (where the East Dart and the West Dart rivers intersect to become the - er - Dart River) and eventually winds up heading back through more of Bellever Forest and back to the start.
Postbridge, although tiny, is the best place to start and finish this ride, having as it does parking, a little shop and some relatively easily accessible roads.