Adventure Local; Dartmoor
Welcome to Adventure Local, a series of Apidura guides designed to help you get the most out of riding in various destinations around the world. In this edition we’re exploring Dartmoor in England – the country’s wild southwestern corner – with founder of dartmoorbikepacking.net Alex Long.
Nestled between Exeter and Plymouth in the southwestern tip of England, Dartmoor National Park is arguably one of the UK’s last remaining wildernesses. Its 1,000 square kilometres of moorland, forests, river valleys and peaks offer endless opportunity for exploration, and provide an enticing mix of challenging yet accessible cycling terrain. The park’s usage by the British military to conduct training exercises is a testament to its remoteness, and as local adventure rider Alex Long says, there’s delight and surprise around every corner for cyclists willing to search it out.
Finding a Bike
“There are local rental outlets in pretty much every town,” explains Alex, “and Haldon Forest Hub has a cycle hire shop on site who also offer bike servicing and repairs. Pretty much all the moorland towns boast a cycle shop or cycle friendly hardware shop, plus a wealth of welcoming cafés where muddy cyclists are not just tolerated but encouraged.
For Alex, Dartmoor is a place that demands as much from a bike as you’re prepared to give, but when exploring the moors, nothing beats a fat bike. “These crazy machines will float over ground that conventional mountain bikes simply sink into. Having said that, the well-publicised hard surface routes around Princetown can be technical enough in places to give ‘normal’ mountain bikes the edge. It really is about choosing the right bike for the conditions – I wouldn’t choose a fat bike for a road ride, nor would I attempt to ride the narrow wheels of a gravel bike on anything other than road or good hardpack.”
There are numerous local cycling events in the area, especially sportives such as the classic 106km Dartmoor Devil. “For more tips on rides and events, drop in to the friendly local shops for tips” says Alex.
While the area is perfect for exploring by bike, there’s much more to do besides cycling. “Dartmoor is also famous for its walking, rare natural ecosystems, and as the setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles” explains Alex.
Goodbye: See ya
Thank you: Cheers
Yes / No: Yes / No
Where to Ride
“If you are road orientated” says Alex, “there is a network of roads and lanes with surprises around almost every corner. In addition to the lanes there are also well marked and maintained Sustrans cycle routes such as the Granite Way and Drake’s Trail, plus many more.”
When riding off road, it’s important to remember that Dartmoor’s ecosystem is fragile – containing habitats of national and even international importance – so always stick to the permitted routes. Also, large tracts of the park are used by the British military for live fire exercises, so be mindful at all times. “There is an excellent map published by Harvey that highlights almost all the permitted routes off road,” says Alex. “The reverse also offers advice on road based routes too. The Ministry of Defence publishes firing times for the three well marked firing ranges online, and on top of this, there are red flags (during the day) or red lights (at night) displayed when the military are active.”
If you are planning on bikepacking into Dartmoor’s wilds, always go well prepared, as the weather can change from fun to life-threatening in minutes, and mobile phone signal can be poor. “A relatively minor injury can be fatal in remote environments and Dartmoor has claimed more than its fair share of victims over the years” warns Alex. “The other thing to be mindful of is that Dartmoor is largely peat bog. It has the bizarre quality of getting wetter under tyre the higher up you venture. Especially after rainy periods, many non-hard surface routes will be very soft.
“That being said, I’ve never met anyone off the beaten track who wasn’t suitably skilled and respectful of this wild and awesome place. Unlike other areas of the country, walkers and horse riders are always friendly and never mirror the reported attitudes of some of their peers ‘up country’.”
If you are planning on camping, the National Park website has an excellent interactive map showing areas that are permitted. Dartmoor is the only remote area in England where wild camping is legal. There are some rules which must be followed but they are all based around common sense: camp more than 100m from any road, leave no trace, and respect nature and the local byelaws. “I love camping out on the moor” says Alex. “It is a truly still place which has wide views and big skies. The sunsets and landscapes can be humbling and make for fantastic photo opportunities.”
Alex’s final piece of advice? “Come prepared and allow yourself plenty of time – the off road can be sapping and the hills can be savage.”
Dartmoor Hours of Sun
Where to Hang Out
As you’d expect from a place so appealing to two-wheeled travelers, Dartmoor is packed with cyclist-friendly hangouts. From Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown which doubles as a bunk house and cycle hire venue, to the remote Princes Hall in the centre of the park that offers respite for even the muddiest of cyclists in their bar.
There’s also a charming and popular pub named The Cleave situated right on the edge of Lustleigh Cleave – an area of technical mountain bike trails that regularly features highly in the UK’s top singletrack lists.
Thanks to Alex Long of @dartmoorbikepacking for being the wisdom behind the wheels of Adventure Local; Dartmoor. Follow Dartmoorbikepacking on Instagram now.