Section 3 - Bovey Tracey to Chagford
Distance: 18.5 miles - You can split the walk at Moretonhampstead if you want shorter days - see the options tab
Grade: Easy walking at the start and finish of the day along river valleys – moderate elsewhere with two more strenuous climbs up Hounds Tor Ridge to Butterdon Down and to Castle Drogo - what these grades mean.
Summary: A mixture of everything from river valleys and woodland path, then sheep farmed uplands climbing to gorse and bracken to cross Butterdon Down, before descending into the mighty forests of the Teign Gorge.
The Dartmoor Way leaves Bovey today following the river valley boundary of the Parke estate along an old Railway track known as the Wray Valley Trail. The walk is through a glorious mixed woodland path alive with squirrels, rabbits and birdsong which breaks in and out of clearings above the raging river Bovey, passing under the remains of disused arches and bridges before crossing the river at the tranquil Drakenford packhorse bridge.
The slopes to the moors loom high in front of you now as you enter the Woodland Trusts Nature Reserve at Pullbrook Woods through huge pines. Suddenly you break out onto the open moor with Trendlebere Down stretching above you, before descending into more remote sections of rugged forest in an isolated side valley running below Hound Tor.
At Becks Brook you reach a hidden lush glade and cross the crystal-clear waters by a tiny old packhorse bridge before a strenuous ascent of Hound Tor Ridge on forest tracks. Dartmoor and Black Hill views improve by the minute, opening up across the chasm like valley which is now far below you.
Reach the summit of Hound Tor Ridge and arrive in the enchanting medieval hamlet of thatched cottages at Water, where you can divert for refreshments at the Kestor Inn. The next section drops on some pleasing little paths through the East Dartmoor Nature Reserves woodlands, every 2 or 3 miles another little clutch of thatched cottages breaking up the trail. Watch for the house with a grass roof – you may be lucky and catch the owner mowing it! Crossing the river Bovey again next to an old clapper bridge you climb to the ridge trail at Barnecourt and the best views yet on the Dartmoor Way, dramatic moorland filling your horizon completely from North to South - this section really starts to bring home what a circle of Dartmoor is going to entail!
After taking an old drovers track across Dickford Water you finish with an idyllic river crossing on stepping stones to reach North Bovey. Unlike the much larger Bovey Travey, this is one of Devon’s finest small moorland hamlets. With only ten or so stone and thatched medieval dwellings set around a rough village green, with its old cross and water pump, the scene completed by a fine pub and the impressive church framed below the high moor. Take away the few cars parked around the green and you could be arriving 500 years ago.
Crossing the next ridge through what are now sheep filled uplands you descend again to a small stream valley to connect with an old track into the larger town of Mortenhampstead with its moorland tea shops, alms houses and famous dancing tree!
Those walking a more relaxed route will stay overnight at North Bovey or Mortonhampstead at this point – follow the links below to read more.
Leaving Mortonhampstead, The Dartmoor Way enters its most varied and dramatic section yet. Look out for wild deer – the last time we walked it we came across deer crashing through the path in front of us four times before Chagford! It is a steady climb from Mortenhampstead onto the immediate moor along river meadows initially, before entering the woods at Coombe Court. The woods and droves are superb here, an untended jumble of moss boulders and granite walled banks from the middle ages, all lost in blankets of moss, lichen and vines.
It is a trail that appears to have stood still in time, and the lack of human interference for the last few centuries has left an astonishing and lush ecosystem very similar to the more famous Wistemans Wood in middle Dartmoor. The final sunken path takes a steep climb to Butterdon Down, another wild spot but this time with true Dartmoor Gorse, bracken and brush.
Skirting the edges of the Down you reach a large and lonely ancient standing stone, with views of mid Devon beyond the moor suddenly opening up before you, stretching right away in endless rich green glades and valleys until you see the National Park at Exmoor on the distant horizon at the North Coast itself. Close by to your left are the impressive Iron age ditches and ramparts of the Cranbook Castle Earthworks a 10 minute detour for those who want to further explore the site of this huge earthwork set it its superb defensive position on the lip of the gorge
Now the fun begins as you drop off the moor and into the dense woodland of the Teign Gorge.
At first you don’t appreciate the enormity of the descent and the ravine (you are dropping 600 feet through the forest to the valley floor). Then suddenly the Gorge itself opens up below you – a completely forested chasm like ravine disappears below you and extends in each direction below your feet, whilst high on the other side clings the Sharp Tor outcrop and the dramatic ramparts of Castle Drogo.
The descent twists and turns steeply through forest and viewpoint until emerging at a spot you could hardly dream about if you tried. Fingle Bridge itself is a single file granite packhorse bridge with deep recesses where those on foot would leap to allow the fully laden horses to pass. Spanning the gushing and bubbling River Teign at the foot of the gorge, its only companion in the sea of dense forest is the tiny oasis of the Anglers Rest Inn, all stone fireplaces and huge beams, clinging to the riverside below the summits. For centuries this has been a travellers rest stop and bridging point for the river. The Fingle Bridge Inn is the current version of the tea shack that was originally sited here for those heading to work in the nearby mills.
You can now choose to take either the Fishermans Path following the river through the forests at the foot of the gorge, or ascend to the high level Hunters Path, which allows superb views and the chance to visit Sharp Tor and the impressive National Trust’s Castle Drogo. The official route is the Hunters Path but if you are tired or want to see the Gorge close up its fine to stick with the Fishermans.
Those with enough energy to make the Hunters Path will get superb views over the wooded gorge, particularly from Sharp Tor which leers out of the woodland clinging to the edge of the precipice. You finish the walk passing right below the huge stone walls of Castle Drogo before switch backing down to the river at the West end of the Gorge.
For those "Fisherman" following the river through the forests at the foot of the Gorge it’s a stunning few mile of twists, turns, waterfalls and rapids in waters crystal clear apart from the faint brown tinge of the moorland peat. Pause and look straight to the bottom to watch the trout and salmon lie in wait for food to wash past whilst the Heron, Kingfishers, Woodpeckers and dippers keep busy along the riverbanks.
As you look up, the Tors and castle loom out every so often from the forest to remind you of their presence. The Dartmoor Way passes by the old pumping houses for the castle on a trail of dams, weirs and wobbly suspension footbridges that span the writhing and gushing waters as you climb the occasional rock staircase on your way to the end of the gorge.
The rocks you pass at Pixies Parlour were named after a rather embarrassing incident. It was here that an overexcited farmhand once managed to catch one of the gorges famous pixies in the dark and furthermore he got the evidence back to his employer, writhing in a sack ....only to discover in the lamplight that he had actually trapped the farmers sons pet rabbit.
Pixies aside, just as suddenly as it appeared, the vertical sides of the Gorge vanish and you break out far below the ramparts of Castle Drogo into a new land of rich and green river pasture. A thoroughly peaceful picture after the thrashing gorge, where wildflower meadows are interspersed with patches of natural woodland giving a relaxing and level approach to the moorland capital of Chagford which beckons the walker in from above the river’s slow bends.