At the end of April, as a vice-president of the Ramblers, I spoke at the launch of the Dartmoor Way. This is a 108-mile walking route around Dartmoor, complemented by a 95-mile cycle route. The walking route can be completed in ten stages, and there is a High Moor Link, which can be walked in two sections: Buckfast to Hexworthy, and Hexworthy to Tavistock.
The launch took place in Ivybridge. It was 46 years since Ivybridge hosted the opening of a long-distance path—the Two Moors Way in 1976, by the late Ted Pinney, then a Devon County Councillor who did much to promote that route.
The two people who were the inspiration behind the Dartmoor Way, George Coles and Michael Owen, gave a presentation of its history.
The route was devised in 1999 by a number of Dartmoor towns who wanted a walking and cycling route around the northern part of Dartmoor, to attract tourists. The cycling route was waymarked in 2001 but the walking trail was not, although it was put on Ordnance Survey maps, and later removed.
In 2008 George Coles of Devon Area Ramblers complained to the Dartmoor National Park Authority about the state of the path, which was on the OS map but hopelessly overgrown. The park was unable to help and so George formed a steering group to raise funds and get it going again. He teamed up with Michael Owen (who ran the excellent outdoor shop in Ashburton, sadly no more), and they set about devising walking and cycling routes right round Dartmoor. Sustrans oversaw the cycling route with funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and it was relaunched in 2013.
George and Michael carried out a feasibility study for the walking route which showed that the costs would be considerable. Unfortunately, there was little public money available. George had professional fund-raising experience and he approached Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust and other bodies. He then won some lottery support, and received a generous donation from the Totnes Ramblers’ Franklin Legacy fund, and other Ramblers’ groups, as well as the Dartmoor National Park Authority. They found volunteers to help with path clearance and waymarking.
Covid intervened and the project was delayed, but at last they were able to launch it, on 29 April 2022.
This is a huge achievement. The route is different because it goes around the moor and not across it, but with a taste of the moor all the way, and wonderful views. Parts of it can be enjoyed by those with limited mobility. It takes in the towns and villages of Okehampton, Lydford, Tavistock, Ivybridge, Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Moretonhampstead, and Chagford, thereby supporting the local economy. Perhaps some of those towns will consider becoming Walkers are Welcome towns.
This route chimes with our times; it may well encourage those who discovered the outdoors during the pandemic to explore walking and cycling right around Dartmoor. It demonstrates what can be achieved when people work together for a common aim. George, Mike, and the many volunteers overcame big challenges.
I am sure that the Dartmoor Way walking route will be a joy for all, whether they tackle it as a whole, or dip into sections.
I made a short video about the way last year, which can be seen here.