Section 2 - Buckfastleigh to Bovey Tracey
Distance : 16.5 miles - Easy Grade Walking with a moderate/strenuous climb and descent from Hay Tor - What these grades mean.
You can split this section and overnight at Haytor.
Summary : Mainly ancient droves and tracks mixed with river meadows, wooded stream valleys and then a dramatic climb to the Moor and its best known Tors at Haytor, before descending the Granite Tramway on the Templer Way to Bovey Tracey
The Dartmoor Way leaves the centre of Buckfastleigh via an ancient 200 step stone stairway ascending the hill above the town to the eerie remains of its 700 year old church.
It’s a dramatic start to the walk and an immediate introduction to the dark side of Dartmoor. In the churchyard you find the Tomb of Richard Cabell, a hated local squire whose “cruelty knew no bounds”. The locals who bore the brunt of his wickedness claimed he had sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for immortality.
He was felt to be so evil in life, that when he died in 1677 the villages insisted he be buried under a huge stone slab and then entombed in a metal barred building outside the church to ensure his ghost did not escape and torment them further. Their tales of his phantom black hounds howling at night outside the tomb ready to accompany the Squire to hell itself persuaded Conan Doyle to write his Sherlock Holmes classic the Hound of the Baskervilles.
The route runs past the old alter and chancels, now roofless, crumbling and open to the elements. The Squires tomb and the labyrinth of caves below the church have been a centuries old draw to Satanic Worshipers and the darker side, and it was the former who are said to have started a fire under the alter stone in 1992 that destroyed this fine building leaving the sinister shell you wander through today.
Passing the remains of a much older chapel as you depart you take the mystical Fairies Lane, an old green trackway back to the river Dart. On the way you can divert to view the old limekilns and caves below the church which revealed fossilised remains of hippopotamus, hyena, and elephant the whole area here a mass of wild garlic and bluebells at the right time of year.
The walk onto Ashburton is an easy one which breaks you in gently for your Dartmoor Way adventure along an old drove road giving unusual views of the stunning Buckfastleigh Abbey before a steep descent into Ashburton Village. Those taking the high moorland link will return to Buckfastleigh at the end of their trek walking through the Abbey Grounds.
A highly attractive place and the southern gateway to the moor Ashburton has a cluster of interesting cafes, craft shops, second hand bookshops and unique specialist shops centred around its old bridge and Town Hall. The information centre here is on your route and well worth a visit and the town itself is a most pleasant place – so much so that some walkers prefer to start and end the Dartmoor Way here.
From Ashburton you follow a bubbling stream out through attractive river meadows and woodland as the forested foothills of the moor begin to rise steeply around you. After passing the impressive old mills on the River Ashburn you have the first steep ascent on the Dartmoor Way as you leave the valley on an ancient trackway to Widdon Farm. The rewards for your efforts are the first views of Dartmoor itself from Victors Seat (made from an old set of plough wheels).
Now on the horizon is Rippon Tor the rocks so prominent they were used by sailors to navigate their arrival at Dartmouth and Teignmouth far to the south of here. Beyond this the iconic distant rocks of mighty Haytor, Dartmoor’s most famous summit which is your next challenge. Clearly others have enjoyed the view as Victors Seat is the only bench we have ever come across that has a box containing a visitor’s book!
The route now starts to edge onto the moor using a back lane through Bagtor Mill and the deep wooded valley of the river Lemon which is point you turn to push straight up the moor ahead. It is a stiff climb through old mining remains but the views towards Rippon Tor and Saddle Tor just get better and better the higher you go. Eventually you will top at unmistakeable Haytor Rocks with its two huge stone Tors that just beg to be climbed!
This is Dartmoor’s best loved summit and its largest and most impressive Rock Face sitting at the heady heights of 1495ft. The two improbably huge outcrops were formed a mere 280 million years ago - rough steps cut into them allow you to reach the top for incredibly far reaching views off the moor.
To the South, you will spot Torbay and Dorset’s Lyme Bay on the coast whilst in all other directions open rolling moorland stretches away as far as you can see and better than any map, you can trace at least three days walking on The Dartmoor Way from up here.
From the Tors you descend quickly to reach the Haytor Quarries lonely harsh places that provided granite for some of the UK’s finest buildings, London Bridge, the British Museum and the National Gallery. Wander through the remains of the old village that included houses, a pub and even a school for the families of the hundreds of men that toiled here in the 18th Century.
Basking Lizards, Dragonflies, Damselflies and butterflies are now endemic flying around the remains of old hoisting cranes in the attractive deep pools left in the quarries. At Holwell quarry you can still enter the small beehive type shelter built as a blasting shelter for the quarrymen with huge granite slabs for a roof.
The walk now starts its descent from the Moor back to Bovey Tracy but before you leave you can take refreshments in the famous Rock Inn at Haytor Vale. You then follow a remarkable route along the old Granite Railway, part of a two day walking route to the coast known as The Templer Way. James Templer born 1772 as an orphan ran away to sea and returned having made his fortune in India to build the world’s only tramway that ran from Haytor Rocks, not on rails but granite blocks.
Teams of 19 horses dragged flatbed trolleys laden with 3 tonnes worth of stone an incredible 1,300ft down the mountainside towards the Canal at Bovey. The granite blocks which were painstakingly grooved out for the wagon wheels are there to this day and provide a superb trail off the moor as you drop over 1000ft on the Granite Railway Route. You quickly lose all the visitors to Haytor as you descend and instead find peace and wildlife on a now silent tramway that has long since passed into history.
Watch for Peregrine Falcons, hare, Ravens and Kites on the high moor, stoats, woodpeckers and if you are lucky perhaps an adder as you enter the glorious oak, birch and beech trees in Yarner Woods part of the East Dartmoor Nature Reserve. Everywhere butterflies, wild flowers and birdsong accompanies the walker on The Templer Way as you follow the granite blocks and milestones step by step back to your accommodation in the valley at Bovey Tracey.
The day ends easily as you enter the glorious wooded estate at Parke, a wonderfully peaceful and spacious place, managed by the National Trust and the headquarters of Dartmoor National Park. Look for the Orchards and Walled Gardens by the main House and you will also find a fine cafe there! From there you follow the road a short distance into the market town of Bovey arriving at its impressive old Mills guarding the churning River Bovey.