Take in spectacular views of Hay Tor and North Devon on a choice of a circular or figure of eight walk on the edge of Dartmoor.
Starts/Finishes: GR: SX770878
Terrain: Moderate – Grassland and moorland, can be muddy after heavy rain
Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Distance: Approx. 2 miles but shorter routes available
Parking: Free gravel car parking
After Doccombe on the B3212 to Moretonhampstead, take the lane to the right signposted Mardon Down and Clifford Bridge. Cross the cattle grid, follow the sign to Smallridge and after half a mile further you will find parking opposite the solitary standing stone on the right of the road.
Your options start here. You can opt for a relaxed 40 minute circular walk on either side or, do as we did this month and combine the two into a lengthier figure of eight.
If you have parked on the gravel section on the right hand side of the road, then head straight on up from there, hugging the left hand side of the clear open moorland. You will walk across low grassland, with bracken and small shrubs to your left, and will soon get to a point where views of the whole of North Devon will open up. This is a gradual incline but easily managed in almost all conditions, if at times a bit muddy. Normal comfortable walking shoes will suffice, though if it is belting it down, wellies are good too.
This walk is all about the panoramic views. On clear days you can just make out the GCHQ dish at Bude to the north, or Torbay to the south, from the various high points along the way.
After approximately 15 minutes of gentle walking up the left hand side of the down you will cross a wide clear pathway, to pick up the walking path again on the other side. Here you will be getting your first glimpse of the Hay Tor twin peaks directly in front of you, while on your left horizon the Belvedere tower will catch the late afternoon sun above Haldon Forest.
This pathway will sweep around to the right, and after about ten minutes the path will fork. Take the right fork taking you to the highest point on the down where you’ll be amazed at the magnificent 360° view. If you ever wondered where in the world you are, now you will know!
At this point you can end your smaller circular walk and head back to the car park. For those looking for a bit more exercise and fancy tackling the full figure of eight, make your way across the road and take the right fork up a hillside densely covered in bracken. Depending on the height of the bracken you will soon see the mongoose-like shapes of an ancient stone circle appear on your right. You can detour into the circle and marvel at its stunning location and vistas which would have formed the perfect backdrop to the Bronze Age rituals that took place.
This circular walk will peak a little further on up, where you will actually be standing in one of Dartmoor’s largest stone circles, but the only evidence is the size of the circular clearing in the splashed yellow gorse and occasional perimeter stone. Most have been cleared over the ages.
More of the moor itself is on show. On your western horizon the great tawny flank of hillside going up towards Grimspound dominates, rising above the edges of Moretonhampstead just visible down below. Be warned, up here the wind can get brisk so it is a good idea to come prepared for four seasons in a day!
If it is windy you’ll be a bit relieved when the path forks – take the left fork and start heading down the hill and out of the wind and carry on down about three quarters of the way to the point where the bracken ends and the large grassy slope emerges on your left.
Walk on the edge of the bracken all around the top of the grassy slope. You will pass a number of other tracks and pathways coming down off the summit but ignore all until the very last path that comes in on the left just before you reach the road.
This path will take you back onto the hillside and provide a lovely final stretch bringing you back to the single stone and your car. Make your way just ten minutes down the road to Moretonhampstead for a number of quality tea and coffee shops, or if you have a bit of time and are after a real Devon pub, then wind through the lanes to the Drewe Arms in Drewsteignton.