Section 4 - Chagford to Okehampton
Distance : 12.5 miles - Grade Moderate Walking with some strenuous sections in Belstone Cleeve and on the moorland descent from Belstone - What these grades mean.
Summary : Today you reach the higher moors with options to visit Tors and Stone Circles above Belstone. There are hidden moorland stream valleys take you up to and from the moor with abandoned mines and forges in the valley sections to explore.
After crossing the 12th Century Packhorse bridge below Chagford, the Dartmoor Way starts today with a more testing section of repetitive small climbs and ascents through the Woodland Trust Trail at the boulder strewn and moss covered Blackaton Woods. Using stepping stones to navigate over tranquil moorland streams and with fine views back to the dark moorland at Meldon Hill, you eventually join one of Devon’s finest ancient bridleways to Throwleigh. Hemmed in by a huge granite walled trackway you are on a sunken trail that, once entered, is so untouched it feels like you have wiped out the last millennium. Close to the trail here don’t miss the Northmore Arms. Over 400 years old, it prides itself on being one of the most traditional pubs in England, just two small rooms with open fires, tiny windows, no music and only board games and alcohol for entertainment – it’s certainly a welcome time warp but be warned ....don’t start flashing your mobile phone or GPS in here!
The moorland is now tantalisingly close, with superb views towards Cosdon Hill. To complete the medieval picture, the trackway emerges into the stunning village of Throwleigh, a clutch of thatched farmstead dwellings clinging to the hillside with a towering church marked with its strange three eared rabbit carvings, an emblem of the early moorland Tin Miners. Beyond another steep crossing of a moorland stream the terrain is now increasingly gorse and rock before you emerge onto the moor itself. At Throwleigh Common you join a section of easy unfenced open road, but up here it’s the wandering sheep that have the right of way, and thundering white water becks and bright yellow gorse clumps sit below the expanding heights of the high moor that now tower right next to you.
Further on you enter a patchwork of little smallholdings and field systems approaching South Zeal and there is a brief interlude into mining country as you climb past the spoil heaps, ventilation chimneys and crumbling remains of the mining gear buildings at the Ramsley Copper Mine. A rush of prospectors here in 1850 left it known as Irish Town.
A handy viewing platform here allows you views that stretch out as far as Exmoor, before you head into the closely linked “Beacon villages” of South Zeal, a former wool town. Just beyond this at Sticklepath, the route descends to an absorbing spot where you can visit the National Trusts Finch Foundry to see the last working water powered forge hammering away at metal plates. Check out the restored waterwheels whilst you rest at the National Trust Tea Shop or try the real ale at The Taw River Inn.
You now join the Tarka Trail Walking route towards , and this leads you up the Belstone Cleave – an untouched valley, to your first proper section of high moorland. Whilst it’s another river gorge, this one is high ground, the trail boulder strewn, the river a raging force straight from the moor.
In this narrow valley, look out for the small wooden footbridges carved with quotes from Henry Williamsons classic tail ‘Tarka the Otter’, as it was here that the otter fought off a band of stoats beside the crashing steam. Climbing the narrow ravine your steady climb becomes peppered with towering rock faces and crumbling sub tors that cling to the sides of the bracken and gorse valley. Traverse the steep sided ravine to emerge with a final steep climb to the isolated but welcoming village of Belstone - this really is high Dartmoor.
At Belstone, the Moorland surround you on all sides in a weather-beaten village that feels like the last possible spot for human habitation with its old stone stocks on the village green grazed by wild Dartmoor ponies. It’s a fascinating place with its Old Zion Chapel and the stark 15th century St Marys Church towering against the moorland, and it was here that the novel 'The Ballad of the Belstone Fox' was based.
Take a rest at the infamous Tors Inn, still the haunt of those returning from the high peaks above the village with walking tales to tell - seek fortification from one of the 35 varieties of Malt Whiskies on offer here.
The next 3 miles to Okehmapton take you on up to the open moor on the Tarka Trail with superb views of The Belstone Tors, Scary Tor, abandoned farmsteads and finally a sharp descent into the East Okement River Valley. A diversion to Belstone Tor, on what is a shorter day, gives great views and rocky scrambles so do consider it.
Whether or not you climb, look carefully as you cross Belstone Moor, and you can find the enchanting Nine Maidens Stone Circle. This beautiful, isolated spot below the Tors was where the unruly maidens were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath (Sunday).
Strangely, if you count them, there are around 17 stones, though some of them are part of a Bronze Age Burial Chamber. Some mischief at work no doubt, the story being that witches still gather on the Harvest Festival of Hunters Moon, at which point the dancing maidens come back to life for one night a year.
The rapid descent from the tors is an absolute highlight, enjoy wild moorland walking from what feels like the top of the world through one of Devon’s most powerful gorge walks, with huge waterfalls and racing rapids as the river crashes off the moor to Okehampton.
After a dizzy descent next to the rapids, you meet the Okement River, and the Dartmoor Way gently takes you to the outskirts of Okehampton and a woodland walk into the old market town. You arrive via the impressive 18th century water wheel at Town mills. Okehampton is one of the largest settlements on the route see below for things to do whilst you are here.