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The Dartmoor Crossing

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The Dartmoor Crossing

This horse riding holiday Dartmoor is all about discovering the stories and legends of the Moor. Discover how Stoneage Man lived here, as well as the hardy Tudor and Victorian tinners and silver miners. Dartmoor is rich in history, as well as being a pristine wilderness. In fact, as UK wilderness areas go, Dartmoor has an edge of excitement, an element of the unknown and a reputation for being fantastic riding.

We can provide the right gear, a reliable horse and knowledgeable guide, all you need to bring is a spirit of adventure and Dartmoor becomes a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

I don’t know how many years riding experience we have between us, but it’s a lot! We know the Moor well and have put together a circumnavigation of some of the best bits. Not only will we show you the way, but we’ll tell you the stories and the folk tales which will help to reveal a few of the remarkable secrets of Dartmoor.

The Dartmoor Crossing operates once a month between May and September. Two of the rides (Aug and Sept) are timed to coincide with the Chagford Show or Widecombe Fair.

Group 2

Above Lydford Gorge: looking north towards Exmoor in the far distance.

Horse riding holiday Dartmoor

Day 1 (Sat) Getting to Dartmoor.

The meeting point for this ride is a fantastic little pub tucked away in the Lydford Gorge on the west side of Dartmoor, mid-way between the towns of Okehampton and Tavistock (we’ll send you full details in due course). Aim to be there by 18:00 hrs and we’ll talk the group through the itinerary, what gear you need to ride with, how your bags will travel from place to place and a little bit about what to expect during the coming week. You are then free to enjoy an evening meal served from the restaurant that forms part of the pub. You can safely leave your car at the pub for the week.

Overnight in the pub B&B.

Harvest stooks in Devon

Harvest stooks in Devon

Day 2. Trial ride on Dartmoor. Approx 15 miles (24km)

We’ll collect you from your B&B and drive you to our farm which is a couple of miles NNE of the pub, within the Dartmoor National Park boundary. We’re quite a bit higher here and the mercury is usually a little lower in the glass compared to Lydford. Dartmoor makes its own weather, so it’s best to come prepared and expect four seasons in one day. The horses come supplied with saddlebags, so wet weather gear can easily be carried (or we can lend you something appropriate). Picnic lunches will also be carried in the saddlebags along with a waterbottle.

Today’s ride will circle up onto the Moor following private trails to reach the open moorland. Depending on the weather and forecast we may follow a clockwise or anticlockwise route that will include the disused Meldon Quarry, which was created 150 years ago to supply track ballast for the London and South West Railway. We’ll also pass Black Tor, so named not because it’s the biggest or baddest tor but because in the steep valley below is one of the only three surviving “Wild Woods” of Dartmoor (we’ll see the other 2 later). You’ll see on the modern OS map that Dartmoor is described as “Dartmoor Forest” but when you get here you’ll see that the hills and tors are bald. The felling of the trees (oaks and hazels in the main) began in pre-historic times, and the job was completed in the mining boom that Dartmoor experienced several hundred years ago. Black Tor wood has been an oak wood for at least 5,000 years (the individual trees aren’t that age, but the wood is). Then over Belstone common and Taw Marsh which is a fantastic lunch spot where the horses are turned loose to graze; pass the former WW1 training ranges, skirt Yes Tor and cross the Meldon Dam to return to the farm for tea and cake, and a de-brief of the days ride. This is your opportunity to adjust your tack, change horse if you’re not settled and make sure you’re comfortable and prepared for the coming days.

Packed lunch; overnight in the pub B&B.

Morning mist and rooks in flight

Morning mist and rooks in flight, Dartmoor

Day 3 To Two Bridges.  Approx 20 miles (30km)

Intriguing name! Many centuries ago there were two clapper bridges here, one across the Dart and the other across the Cowsic rivers. Each has long-since been swept away in the winter floods, but there are still bridges here, two of them ironically, both crossing the River Dart.

But to back-track a bit we head in a southerly direction looking down on Meldon Reservoir from high above. A well-concealed wicket gate leads onto the Moor where the firm and spongy turf encourages long canters passing Sourton and Brat Tor. Later in the morning we pass just below Widgery Cross, erected for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. The Army have a big presence on this part of the Moor and we ride close to Willsworthy range to reach Wheal Jewell Reservoir: “wheal” is a Devon/Cornwall word for “mine”. In former years tin mining was big business here and the reservoir water powered the stomping mills. In 1932 the mine closed but the reservoir was retained, fed from the mine’s leat (manmade watercourse). The water still powers a hydro-electric plant providing green energy to 1,700 homes in nearby Mary Tavy.

We join a classic Devon lane (single track, grass in the middle and high banks on either side) to reach White Tor which has a gentle incline and robust turf underfoot that encourages a long canter. On the far side we pick up the Lych Way which is no longer marked on any map, and has a bit of a sinister history. It dates from medieval times when everyone was required to attend church of a Sunday. The nearest church for many of the remote moorland communities was Lydford, hence the track. Tales abound about pallbearers lugging coffins over the moor …. black humour! And one of the names the track is still known by is “Way of The Dead”. The day’s ride is nearly done but there’s one more river crossing that requires your full attention! A medieval stone row guides riders to Broad Hole, so called because this can be a tricky crossing for the unwary. Once across the Cowsic River we turn south to Holming Beam Bottom, past Long Plantation (now locally referred to as Short Plantation as all the trees were flattened in a storm in 2014) to reach Two Bridges and our stop for the night. The horses are stabled nearby and as soon as they’re settled we’ll be shuttled to the hotel for a soak and supper.

Packed lunch. Overnight at the hotel (B&B).

Day 4 to Widecombe. Approx 15 miles (24km)

Shuttle back to the stables after breakfast and whereas yesterday’s direction was all about heading south, today’s heading is all east. We ride towards Bellever and on to Babeny before descending the eastern edge of the moor and reaching the lusher meadows around Widecombe. This is probably Dartmoor’s most famous place-name and the beautiful village is well worth wandering around on foot. The actual Fair takes place on the second Tuesday of September, and although it began as a simple village market, it’s developed over the centuries to a famous annual gathering complete with gymkhana, cattle and sheep show, races and all sorts of demonstrations. It also lays claims to the eponymous “Widecombe Fair” folksong, featuring Tom Cobley and All.

Packed lunch. Overnight in farmhouse B&B.

Group horse riding on Dartmoor, Devon

The Quarter Horse and western tack suit Dartmoor very well.

Day 5. Stationary day

When Widecombe Fair is on we’ll spend a second day here which provides an opportunity to rest the riding muscles and explore the fair. When the Chagford Show is on we’ll spend two nights at Chagford and one night in Widecombe. Check website dates for details. When neither fair is on we’ll spend two nights in Widecombe and use the non-riding day to visit nearby Parke, the HQ for Dartmoor National Park (entrance fee payable locally). All Dartmoor Crossing rides will have a stationery day at the mid-point of the ride.

Packed lunch. Overnight in pub or farmhouse B&B.

Day 6 to Chagford.  Approx 16 miles (25km)

The climb out from Widecombe valley is quite a pull which eventually deposit you on the gently sloping Hameldown which is shaped like a loaf of bread. Once on the top you can look down on the Bronze Age camp of Grimspound and its 24 hut circles. Continuing north we cross the road that joins Two Bridges with Moretonhampstead and on the left you’ll see The Warren House Inn which must be one of the most remote pubs in the entire UK. They say the fire that burns in the hearth has never gone out! Today we’ll have a pub lunch rather than a picnic.

In the afternoon we skirt round the Fernworthy reservoir, which was built during WW2 and is the largest of Dartmoor’s 7 reservoirs; there are no natural lakes or large ponds on the moor, all the ones you see nowadays are manmade. And so to Chagford, a village with an entirely different character compared to the other Dartmoor villages and hamlets you will have ridden through. Chagford is altogether more cosmopolitan and has a thriving community and a good collection of shops and pubs. The annual show has a charming rural character and amongst the many displays, to single out just one, is a mounted falconry display; bird on fist, hunter in hand!

Pub lunch. Overnight in farmhouse B&B.

Moonrise over White Tor

Moonrise over White Tor

Day 7. Return to Meldon. Approx 15 miles (24km)

Today’s ride travels west and set out following a labyrinth of winding Devon lanes that emerge onto the Moor at Chagford Common. Dartmoor actually consists of numerous commons, and today we will ride across several, the next being Throwleigh, followed by South Tawton skirting Cosdon Beacon (locally called Cawsand) past Belstone, which leads on towards Okehampton Common, not that you’re aware of leaving one common and entering the next – the land looks identical! The boundaries however are well known to the livestock which are not permitted to stray to where they have no ‘commoners rights’ to graze.

We ride to the north of High Willhays which is the highest point of Dartmoor (621 m). This marks the northern boundary of the part of the Moor that the Army is permitted to use (so we’ll make sure there’s no live firing or troop manoeuvres going on). And so we return to the stable and say our goodbyes to the horses that have carried us across Dartmoor.

Packed lunch. Overnight at the pub where it all began (B&B).

Day 8. Depart after breakfast.

Minimum number: 2 riders

Max group size: 8 riders

Max rider weight 95 Kg

Included in the price

6 nights farmhouse or pub B&B

1 night hotel B&B

6 x pub or picnic lunches (depends on the weather!)

Saddle horse and tack including saddle bags.

Expert Dartmoor guide

Daily baggage transport from overnight stop to overnight stop

Personal transport to/from the stable on days 2, 3 and 7.

Not included in the price

Evening meals

Not sure about your riding fitness?

You are welcome to visit us for a 2 night stay and a 2 day “fitness tester” where we’ll take you out onto the Moor so that you can test your riding muscles. 2 nights B&B and 2 lunches are included. We’ll do two days riding between 5 and 6 hours each day. These rides can be done anytime to tie in with other rides, please contact us for details.

£475 based on 2 persons sharing.

The Horses

There are a dozen horses on the farm, plus brood mares and young stock, so there’s bound to be the right horse for you. All the horses have grown up on the Moor and know the conditions well; most of them were born on the Moor. The predominate breed in the American Quarter Horse, but there’s some Irish Hunter mixed in as well. All of them are sure-footed and well-mannered. We normally ride Western but can provide English saddles if you prefer. Riders need to be reasonably fit and at least “intermediate standard”. The terrain includes crossing shallow rivers, undulating ground, wet ground and up and down steep inclines: this ride is unsuitable for novice or inexperienced riders. All paces are used and you need to have experience riding outside a ménage. There are some long canters. Our style of riding is akin to ‘Natural Horsemanship’: we like riders to be relaxed and ride with soft hands.

Dawn on the moor

Dawn on the moor