My first solo hike on Dartmoor
Updated: Sep 3, 2021
Date: 4th December, 2020
Location: North Dartmoor (Castle Drogo to Dunsford)
Distance: 12.6 km (7.8 miles)
Elevation gain: 305 m (1000 ft)
Duration: 4 hours
Highlights: Dramatic views across Teign Gorge and towards the moorland from near Castle Drogo, crossing Fingle Bridge and successfully completing my first solo hike on Dartmoor!
Summary: An easy and flat river walk through the Teign Gorge
After weeks of staying within the confines of Exeter, I was ready to go for a non-urban adventure. Lockdown 2.0 had been lifted and I could use public transport again for the first time in a month. My adventure buddy, Brett, was gone - back home to America to spend Christmas with his family - but I wasn't about to let that stop me from exploring Devon. I've done some solo hiking before, but never in winter and never on Dartmoor, so it was with both excitement and a little bit of trepidation that I set off on the first bus towards Drewsteignton that Friday morning.
My two main concerns were the cold and the early sunset. With temperatures predicted to reach only 4 ºC, I knew this was going to be my coldest hike of the year (so far). I was wearing almost every thermal layer I could find, including two pairs of leggings underneath my trousers and six layers on my upper body (yes, this was excessive and I took two of them off very early on in the hike). The second concern was an early sunset at 16:11. I didn't want to get stuck out on Dartmoor in the dark, so I made sure the route I found could easily be completed before the sun began to go down.
The bus arrived at the bottom of the long lane leading towards Castle Drogo and wrapping my scarf around my neck, I set off on my adventure. After trying, and failing, to get an up-close view of the Castle, I headed out onto the trails leading into the Teign Gorge. The paths led towards a dramatic viewpoint, from where I could see snow (!!!) out on the moorland. The vibrant colours of Autumn had mostly faded from view, and the white branches of the bare trees gave the valley a ghostly appearance.
Usually when I walk by myself I listen to podcasts or music to help pass the time. But on this hike, I challenged myself to be present and listen to the sounds of nature around me. I let my mind wander as I walked through the forests hugging the River Teign.
Although there were some beautiful spots along this stretch of the river, it couldn't compare to the mighty River Dart which Brett and I hiked along in early November. Whereas the Dart had cascaded through the forest with picturesque rapids, the Teign flowed subduedly in most areas. The other main difference was the elevation gain, or more accurately, the lack thereof. After descending into the valley, the bridleway stays at a pretty low elevation, making for a considerably flatter river hike than others we have done.
I stopped for lunch in the Dunsford Nature Reserve, where I quickly realised I had forgotten to bring a fork to eat my pasta...well done Veronica. After a few minutes of trying to pour penne into my mouth, I ate some homemade peanut butter cookies and decided to keep moving. This was when the cold really hit me. Up to this point, I had stopped only for brief moments to take pictures. But sitting down, even for just a few minutes, caused my temperature to fall dramatically and my gloved hands felt frozen. It took awhile before my hands were warm enough to use my hiking poles again.
While the day had started off moody and grey, by the time I arrived at Steps Bridge at around 12:30, the sun was out and the sky was (mostly) blue. With a good two hours before my bus back to Exeter, I decided to continue on into Bridford Wood. Here the elevation gain was much more noticeable, but I enjoyed the soft light filtering through the trees and the feeling of being completely alone in nature.
The map showed I could cross the river further along from Steps Bridge and head into Dunsford from there, so that was where I aimed to go. Yet when I arrived, I was surprised to find there was no bridge. Instead, a series of stepping stones led across the river. If I hadn't been by myself and carrying two cameras, I may have tried it. But with some of the stones completely submerged by running water, I decided to keep my feet dry and head back towards Steps Bridge.
From there, the rest of the hike followed a country road for just over a kilometre. After passing some adorable thatched houses, I arrived on the main road of Dunsford (which as far as I can tell is one of the two roads in this tiny village). Having walked around 19 km, I was proud to have reached my destination hours before the last bus of the day. Forgoing the section in Bridford Wood, I would recommend this hike for anyone looking for a flat day hike easily accessible by public transport from Exeter. Although definitely not my favourite hike on Dartmoor so far, I enjoyed getting to spend the morning surrounded by nature and I'm proud for not being afraid of spending time with myself.
Getting to Castle Drogo: Bus 173 from Exeter
Getting to Dunsford: Bus 359 from Exeter (make sure you check bus times on your return so you don't get stuck on Dartmoor overnight!)