Dartmoor National Park is a very special place indeed. Rugged and beautiful, the landscape is a rich tapestry of granite tors, wild moors, waterfalls, babbling brooks, rolling hills and ancient forests. It is a place where legend meets ancient history and where wildlife flourishes.
What makes Dartmoor truly special, though, is that wild camping is permitted inside the national park. This makes it the only place in England and Wales where the practice is legally allowed. As such, it is the perfect place to escape the trappings of modern life.
Thanks to the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, individuals or small groups can camp for up to two nights without asking landowner permission. So long as you choose a spot sensibly—well away from roads and civilization and in accordance with the wild camping map (link below)—take your rubbish home and do not light fires, the solitude and tranquility is all yours.
And what could be better than hiking deep into remote moorland and spending a night under the stars with a small group of friends, or by yourself? When the last light of day fades, revealing the twinkling galaxy above your grassy pillow, wild campers can experience a sense of solitude, silence and an incredible at-oneness with nature that is completely unrivaled.
This Collection includes three wild camping expeditions—one three-day hike with two nights camping and two two-day hikes with one night camping—that are packed with interest and beauty and choose camping spots that are comfortably within areas that Dartmoor National Park Authority permits.
The hikes take you to many of the most-prized tors within the national park, including: Hound Tor, an awe-inspiring granite outcrop that affords magnificent views over Dartmoor; Bowerman's Nose, the most peculiar of all the outcrops; Hound Tor Medieval Village and Hound Tor Rocks; Haytor Rocks, the most photographed tor in the national park; the mystical stone circles of Grey Wethers and Fernworthy; plus lots more.
If you intend to travel via car to undertake any of these expeditions, you will need to plan ahead as you are not allowed to park on roadsides within the national park boundaries and car parks only offer 24-hour tickets maximum. A good option would be to book a hotel or hostel for a night—either before the expedition, after, or both—that allows you to park with them for the duration of the wild camping trip.
If you plan to arrive via public transport, Exeter St David's train station offers direct links to Bristol, London, Birmingham and further afield. From Exeter, the 173 bus has regular services to Chagford, a market town within the national park that affords good public transport links.
Finally, planning and preparation is essential for wild camping expeditions. This includes having the right equipment and navigational skills and knowing where you can camp. The best resource for checking where wild camping is permitted is the interactive camping map, which you can view via dartmoor.gov.uk/about-us/about-us-maps/new-camping-map.
Avoid camping in the following areas:
Roadside (or within 100 meters of a road)
Within sight of roads or houses
Reservoir catchment areas
Do not light fires
Use a camping stove placed on a stable rock
Be aware of fire risk
Heed fire risk warnings in place
Leave the area as you would like to find it
Take all litter home
Deal with other waste sensibly and with care
Respect the interests of those who own the land or make a living from it
For more information about wild camping in Dartmoor National Park, visit: dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/outdoor-activities/camping.
For the 173 bus timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/173-moretonhampstead-exeter.
For Chagford bus times, visit: bustimes.org/localities/chagford.
For train timetables, visit: thetrainline.com.
This challenging three-day wild camping exhibition explores some of Dartmoor’s most iconic sites and takes you along the trail of Sherlock Holmes.
The Hound of the Baskervilles, written by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1901, took Sherlock Holmes deep into the bleak and misty moorland of Dartmoor in pursuit of a supernatural hound killing heirs to the Baskerville estate.
From the visitor centre, head straight towards Haytor Rocks, which dominates the landscape directly in front of you. The awe-inspiring rocky outcrop affords breathtaking panoramic views across the moorland which, on a clear day, extend all the way to the coast.
Continue northwest past Greator Rocks and onto nearby Hound Tor, which offers the first Sherlock Holmes connection. According to legend, the rocks used to be hunting dogs that were turned to stone by witches; a story that may have inspired Sherlock Holmes' most famous case.
From Hound Tor, head north along the country lane until you reach Jay’s Grave. Supposedly the last resting place of a suicide victim, the eeire spot is the subject of folklore and many ghost stories. Take the bridleway left here, follow it to the next county lane, cross over and take the bridleway in front of you.
From the lane, it is a steep ascent past the RAF memorial and onto Grimspound, the eerie neolithic ruins where Sherlock Holmes spends the night in the novel.
From Grimspound, you visit the impressive outcrops of Hookney Tor and Birch Tor before reaching the final destination, Water Hill. Whilst you do not have to camp in this exact spot, it is a useful landmark and is comfortably inside the wild camping area. So, find a cosy spot and enjoy a night under the stars.
After a challenging first hike, day two is a long and undulating—but gently descending—journey past more of Dartmoor’s most-prized sights.
You begin by hiking west over remote and rugged moorland to East Dart Waterfall. Whilst this might not be the grandest waterfall in the national park, its picturesque location and crystal-clear water makes it a delightful place to stop for a moment.
From the waterfall, it is a leisurely stroll down the East Dart Valley to the village of Postbridge, where you will find two iconic bridges, as well as a shop to resupply and other facilities.
Perhaps the most notable thing to see in Postbridge is the ancient Clapper Bridge, which has been a fixture since the 1300s. The bridge's slabs are over four meters long and two metes wide and the bridge is situated in an extremely beautiful setting.
Take the public footpath south from Postbridge and follow until you reach Bellever Tor. This impressive granite rock formation affords magnificent views over Dartmoor. However, in stark contrast, the menacing mass of Dartmoor Prison can also be seen in the distance.
Continue for a short while, before heading east over Laughter Tor, through woodland and onto Riddon Ridge, where you will stay for the second night.
At a relatively low level compared to the rest of the day’s hike, Riddon Ridge is right in the middle of a large area where wild camping is permitted. So, explore the area and find a comfortable spot for the second night.
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After two long days trekking over wild moors and sleeping under the stars, day three begins with four miles (six-and-a-half kilometers) of leisurely downhill walking through rolling patchwork fields.
As you cross the East Webburn River, you begin a steady ascent over Pudsham Down and Blackslade Down up to the rocky outcrop of Pil Tor, which affords terrific views over Haytor and down to Widecombe to the west.
From Pil Tor, you are, once again, fully immersed in the familiar moorland landscape that most of this hike has comprised of. One mile (one-and-a-half kilometers) later, you arrive at Rippon Tor, a site rich in history that boasts excellent views and a great feeling of solitude.
A short while later, you arrive at the penultimate tor on this route, Saddle Tor, which offers an excellent vantage point of the final—and indeed the first—landmark on this three-day hike, the iconic Haytor Rocks.
Depending on what time you arrive back at Haytor, a truly incredible way to finish such a hike is to watch the sunset from this breathtaking spot. If you feel like a little spot of refreshment, Haytor Vale is only half-a-mile away and has a shop, cafes and a few pubs.
If after all this, you are game for one final night under the stars, the nearest spot is Black Hill, which requires a further mile (one-and-a-half kilometer) walk north east over Haytor Down.
This two-day wild camping expedition explores the remote and wildlife-rich moorland around Fernworthy.
Boasting ultimate solitude, ancient stone cairns, hut circles, clapper bridges, rocky outcrops, and plenty of folklore along the way, this trek through empty moors and serene woods will revitalize those looking to escape the hustle-and-bustle.
Please take note, though, this is a challenging hike over remote moorland and peat marshes where trails can be difficult to follow. As such, this route is for experienced hikers only.
Starting from the village of Postbridge, follow the bridleway north along East Dart River until you reach Hartland Tor. This little-visited rocky outcrop affords fine views over the river below, White Tor and Postbridge.
Continue along the bridleway for another two miles (three kilometers) until you step into Grey Wethers Stone Circles. This magnificent double stone circle is located on a grassy plateau and has an eerie atmosphere that is certain to enthrall.
A short step from Grey Wethers is Sittaford Tor. At 1,765 feet (538 meters) tall, this tor affords spellbinding views that stretch for miles over the rugged landscape. The serene and little-visited tor is a delightful spot to enjoy a slice of Dartmoor solitude.
From Sittaford Tor, you need to take caution as the trail follows the edge of the Okehampton Range, which is used by the military for training exercises. Be sure to check the firing times in advance of hiking by clicking the link below.
Follow the path northwest over Quintin’s Man cairn, Whitehorse Hill and Hangingstone Hill, where you turn the corner and begin to head northeast towards Wild Tor, an impressive granite outcrop that affords extensive views over the rugged moorland.
Continue northeast for one mile (one-and-a-half kilometers) until you reach Hound Tor (not the famous one), where you make a sharp right, then head southeast, past Rival Tor and onto Shovel Down.
The entire stretch from Wild Tor to Shovel Down lies within the designated wild camping area, so if you see the perfect spot for the night, go for it.
For military firing times, visit: gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme.
After a long day exploring wild moors yesterday, the second stage of this expedition is a little easier to navigate and slightly shorter. However, the terrain is still fairly challenging, so hopefully Shovel Down afforded a peaceful night.
From Shovel Down, follow the footpath south into the fairytale setting of Fernworthy Forest. Home to lots of wildlife, the forest is especially good for bird-spotting.
In a clearing in the trees you come to the second stone circle on this two-day hike, Fernworthy Stone Circle. Dating from the Bronze Age, the stones have a truly magical atmosphere and it is a lovely spot to be.
Continue east along the forest track towards Fernworthy Reservoir and loop around its northern and eastern banks. The lake provides important habitats for many rare species of wildlife including marsh fritillary butterfly and the bee hawk moth. You can also see birds such as snipe, heron and grebe all year round.
Follow the footpath around the edge of Fernworthy Forest for almost three miles (five kilometers), then continue southwest towards East Dart River and rejoin the bridleway that you followed for the first part of the journey yesterday back to Postbrige.
If, after refueling and refreshing yourself in Postbridge, you feel like one more night under the stars, follow the road east out of the village then take the footpath up to Water Hill. This will add around three miles (five kilometers) to the route.
Alternatively, you can access Water Hill directly from Fernworthy Reservoir if you continue along Hurston Ridge. This will shave one-and-a-half hours from the second day.
This easy-going wild camping route explores some of Dartmoor’s most iconic sights and takes you to one of the most unusual rocky outcrops in the national park, Bowerman’s Nose.
As both stages of this two-day expedition can be hiked in around three hours, you will have plenty of time to enjoy the tors, views and wildlife this route affords—even if you are hardy enough to attempt it out of high summer.
From the car park head west to Saddle Tor, which boasts splendid views over its famous nearby neighbor, Haytor Rocks, and the surrounding moorland.
Head north from Saddle Tor and take a sharp left after Holwell Tor, over the babbling Becka Brook, and gently ascend for a quick succession of three spectacular sights.
Up first is the imposing mass of Greator Rocks. Whilst a scramble up to the top is a little challenging, it rewards those who do with amazing views over Haytor and Hound Tor.
A stone’s-throw later, you found yourself at Houndtor Medieval Village; a mystical place whee you can truly step back in time. These intriguing ruins comprise a cluster of 13th century stone longhouses on land that was originally farmed in the Bronze Age.
Up next is Hound Tor, a breathtaking granite outcrop that affords magnificent views over Dartmoor and inspired Sherlock Holmes' most famous case, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Head down to the road from Hound Tor and, at the fork, keep right and follow the country lane for around half a mile (one kilometer) and take the bridleway on the right.
Along this stretch of path you see one of the most peculiar and most-photographed granite tors on Dartmoor, Bowerman’s Nose. The distinctly human-looking rocky outcrop is associated with much folklore. You are afforded fantastic views from this point, too.
From Bowerman’s Nose, you continue north east through the village of Manaton, past Horsham Cleave and to Harton Tor, where you will stay for the night. This spot is right in the middle of a large wild camping area, so you have a fair bit of space to find the perfect place.
After a full day of gentle downhill walking yesterday, stage two is a little more challenging. However, there is plenty to see—and lots of time—so take it steady and enjoy the ride.
You begin by hiking north up to Hunter’s Tor, a vantage point that affords incredible views over the landscape. If you are up early enough, you should be able to catch the sunrise from this spot.
From Hunter’s Tor, continue north to Peck Farm and, when you reach the bridleway, double-back on yourself and follow it south. Continue through the hamlet of Foxworthy, past Horsham Cleave to the left until you reach Becky Falls.
Set amid beautiful woodland, Becky Falls cascades down the boulder-filled bed of Becka Brook and is home to lots of wildlife. There are facilities and refreshments available here, too.
From Becky Falls, follow the country lane for around half-a-mile (one kilometer) and take the footpath on your right, where you begin a steep ascent to the summit of Black Hill.
Living up to Dartmoor’s bleak reputation, there are a few Black Hills within the national park. This one bucks the trend, however, as it is set amidst a picturesque grass and woodland landscape. Those who climb to the summit with breathtaking panoramic views over the town of Bovey Tracey, Haytor and beyond.
If you fancy one more night under the stars, then Black Hill is a good option as it is close to the finish and comfortably within the permitted wild camping area.
From Black Hill continue south to finish at what is easily one of the most iconic sights on Dartmoor, Haytor Rocks. If you climb to the top, you can enjoy picture-perfect panoramic views across the moorland and, on a clear day, all the way to the coast. Depending on when you arrive it is a great vantage point for sunrise and sunset.