Memories of wild camping on Dartmoor
Updated: Feb 4
Earlier this month, the right to wild camp on Dartmoor National Park was revoked by a high court at the request of a millionaire hedge fund manager. Because, once again, millionaires are more important than the rights of the wider public...
It looks like Dartmoor might appeal the ruling, but the high court's decision has – quite rightfully – reignited the "Right to Roam" debate across England, where 92% of the country is off-limits to the public. Yes, Dartmoor National Park has reached an agreement with some of the landowners to allow wild camping in return for payment, but this has been described as a "ransom note from landowners" by campaigners. The updated wild camping map shows previous areas where wild camping was allowed are now off-limits.
As we've written about before, connection to nature is important for our mental health, so we were obviously deeply disappointed by the high court's ruling. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world so limiting the public's access to nature is ridiculous. If this also angers you, make sure you're following @Right_2Roam and @EveryonesStars to get involved with any upcoming actions they are organising.
Recognising the challenging moment we're faced with, I wanted to take this moment to share stories from the wonderful times we have had wild camping on Dartmoor...
South Dartmoor // September 2020
Exactly a year after meeting each other at an Expedition Society social in Exeter, Brett and I made a last-minute trip to the moorland just north of Ivybridge. This was a significant trip for us as it was our first time wild camping together – paving the way for many future adventures. We ate a picnic dinner by the Butter Brook Reservoir, said hi to some cows who waded into the stream, and then pitched our tent as the sun was setting.
Still relatively unexperienced at campsite selection, we chose a very exposed section of moorland and, with the wind shaking our tent, I attempted to quiet the fears inside my head so I could fall asleep. In the middle of the night, we got up to take pictures of the stars above the tent – just visible behind the clouds – before retreating back into the warmth of our sleeping bags. Under the new regulations, this area is now off limits for wild camping.
The following morning we were up at sunrise, packed up the tent, and hiked along the River Erme back into Ivybridge, stopping along the way to take lots of photographs.
East Dartmoor // November 2020
A few months later, we enjoyed an autumn trip to Dartmoor, spurred on by a desire to hide from the US election results that would be coming in that night. We set off from Ashburton, on the edge of the National Park, and hiked along the River Dart, following the path as it climbed and fell alongside the river. At one point, we passed a magnificent waterfall where I took the opportunity to shoot some self portraits in my new red dress.
Out of range from cell service, we spent the night wrapped up in many layers of clothing, huddled close in an attempt to stay warm as the temperatures dropped. The next morning, we ate breakfast on Bench Tor as the sun rose. This area is also now off limits to wild camping.
After eating, we hiked to Venford Falls – the main destination for this trip – before hiking back to the edge of the National Park and catching a bus back to Exeter from Buckfastleigh.
North Dartmoor // June 2021
Our last camping trip in England before we set off for California was a night in North Dartmoor – inspired by a hike in the Wild Swimming Walks: Dartmoor and South Devon book. We took the bus from Exeter to Okehampton and followed the East Okement River through the forest and towards the open moorland. After setting up our campsite near Belstone Tor, we ate dinner on the rocks and watched the ponies and cows wander past our campsite. Again, we woke before sunrise to take pictures as the sky filled with colour. I enjoyed swimming in the river on both days, paddling in the cold water of the waterfall pools.
Central Dartmoor // April 2022
Our first camping trip of 2022 was a night on Dartmoor with our friend Paul over the Easter weekend. Because Paul was driving, we opted for a trip that would be difficult to do by public transport – it meant we finally got the opportunity to see the magical Wistman's Woods. As we hiked through the open moor, Mother Nature rewarded us with glorious sunshine, which we thoroughly enjoyed (maybe a bit too much). As the sun shone above us, we navigated through peat bogs before taking a quick dip in the river.
After eating dinner by the shore of Fernworthy Reservoir, we pitched our tents near the edge of the forest. In the middle of the night, I woke up to a nearly full moon illuminating our campsite. And in the morning, we found ourselves enveloped in a blanket of fog, which made for some epic photos of the forest. As the fog lifted on Easter morning, we began the long hike back to Two Bridges.
I have enjoyed reflecting on these memories, remembering the adventures Brett and I have had while sleeping under the stars on Dartmoor. These adventures have brought us closer to nature and closer to one another. There's something magical about waking up on the moor and having the vast landscape to yourself – just you and nature. Everyone should have the opportunity to experience this.
I wish I had something more profound to say about wild camping, but in reality, it's simple: we should all have the right to respectably wild camp – not just on Dartmoor, but across the country – following the "leave no trace" principles. A population more in touch with the natural world will be more likely to protect it.