You may have noticed a change in scenery if you follow me on various social media platforms, yes myself and my Border Collie ‘Dave’ have moved for a while to Devon. Now to me Devon means three things, Dartmoor, coast and cream teas. So far I have indulged quite well in two out of three. This is a gentle walk to get Dave the puppy and myself used to moorland walking.
Welcome to Dartmoor Devon
I’ve visited Dartmoor on several occasions over the years but just like the South Downs National Park, I had never walked very far off-road. So this walk to Avon Dam Reservoir was a key moment in this change of life for me.
The most important things to consider when walking Dartmoor are the topography and climate, the moors will kill you as much as amaze you. Make no mistake. The weather can change in an instant from crystal clear sky to disorienting thick mist and heavy hail.
I’m a sensible walker with decent hiking kit and hopefully plenty of common sense and self-preservation but I certainly am not about to throw myself up the highest Tor or the wettest bog without proper planning, maps and a backup plan.
It therefore made sense to begin with a gentle walk along a tarmac access road with only gentle inclines. Welcome then to Avon Dam Reservoir. Built to supply water to parts of South Devon the dam was completed in 1957.
The weather on the day of my walk was fine, with little in the way of recent rain, again the Dartmoor topography and climate means gentle streams become quite literally raging rapids in only hours.
Shipley Bridge Car Park, Dartmoor
Looking on a map and searching the numerous internet sites about walking Dartmoor I quickly found that I needed to drive to a spot called Shipley Bridge just north of South Brent, itself west of the large town of Totnes.
You cannot rely on mobile phone data in Dartmoor, many areas have no signal at all and the weather can disrupt communications when you do have data. So don’t rely on mobile mapping, such as Google Maps or even OS Map apps. Make sure you have a paper map and know how to read it.
From South Brent I drove the tiny Devonian lanes to Shipley Bridge and found a rather busy but free car park. On sunny days Dartmoor attracts visitors from all over the UK, EU and beyond.
There are free toilets at the Shipley Bridge car parking area, with running water and soap, always good to have. I parked up the car, kitted up and got Dave the Border Collie out on the lead. With open access land and livestock it is always wise to have dogs on a lead until you know the area, the law and the population!
Avon Dam Access Road
From the Shipley Bridge car park I followed a tarmac access road that lead eventually to the dam and reservoir. Within seconds of locking the car I was standing alongside a fast flowing river, mist rising from the white water as huge rocks twisted, tumbled and turned the flow.
Ferns and trees grew out of every crevice and crack in the granite bedrock. The air was damp and fresh, my ears filled with nothing but thundering water rushing ever downwards.
Dave my Border Collie was alert, the sounds and smells stimulating his senses as well as mine. As with any new location there is a certain excitement about what lies beyond the immediate area. After filming the water cascading down the rapids and taking numerous photos I set off along the tarmac road in search of the dam.
All along the route to the dam ferns grew profusely, the air was thick with that fresh smell city dwellers can only ever read about. It was like standing in the middle of a damp forest but with sweeping views. The best of both worlds.
When your air freshener says “forest fresh” this is the smell they mean. It revitalises you, oxygen rich freshness for the body and brain.
Dartmoor – Feeling Small
Anyone who has walked in Dartmoor will understand the feeling of being small; standing alongside towering rocks, at the foot of desolate tors, underneath bewitching brooding skies. I had that feeling as I followed the twisting tarmac upwards into the moor. Everything was looking down on me and my puppy. Birds circled high above on thermals, monolithic lumps of granite might speak of my progress far below if only they could.
This walk is an accessible walk; meaning that people with limited mobility using wheelchairs or powered mobility-scooters can follow the Avon River all the way to the base of the dam, should they wish. It is a trip of over 1.5 miles each way. I find it very positive to see areas such as this being advertised as accessible. Just because you have limited mobility shouldn’t mean areas of the countryside and moorland are off-limits.
The tarmac was wet in places as water run-off from the sponge like moor trickled ever downwards. The sound of running water, sometimes a loud rushing was never far away. A secret waterworld existed alongside the road. Water water everywhere.
I took a well-marked rough path that branched right off of the tarmac road, this would take me up to the edge of the reservoir itself. Had I continued along the tarmac I would have reached the buildings at the base of the dam, in the photo above.
Avon Dam Reservoir
The weather in early August had been relatively dry so the water level in the reservoir, though high, wasn’t high enough to flow over the centre spillway cascade. It didn’t make any difference to the beauty of the area. Though man-made the structure constructed in 1957 now blends well into the landscape it once so rudely destroyed beneath its water.
It was a still day and a few people were sitting by the edge of the water, listening to the silence. For those not wishing to walk miles into the moor this was their piece of wilderness escapism.
I walked beside the lake away from the structure of the dam, the ground wet beneath my boots. This is Dartmoor after all, one giant sponge soaking up water and releasing it everywhere just like the bath variety.
The skies are massive here, every direction offers a photo opportunity, a well-being opportunity. A chance to clear your mind, increase your heart rate and just do nothing. How often do we visit a location that offers vast rewards for doing nothing.
Walking Dartmoor Beyond
This walk was a refresher for myself and an introduction for my Border Collie to Dartmoor. I didn’t venture beyond the dam as my OS Map of Dartmoor hadn’t arrived in the post and walking Dartmoor beyond clearly marked roads without a map is a no-no.
After taking many photos and video I followed my footsteps back towards the car, making a mental note to return soon with map and walking gear and venture towards the source of the River Avon. Dartmoor is a location where wind and rain enhances the enjoyment as much as sunshine and blue sky. As long as you are properly prepared.
Arriving back at the car my love of Dartmoor was rekindled, I had first visited the moor in 1990 and had explored the many lanes on my motorbike at the time. Now some “too many” years later I am about to explore the many tors on foot.
Route: Shipley Bridge to Avon Dam Reservoir and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 3.96 miles (6.37 km)
Shipley Bridge: OS Grid Ref: SX 68076 62887
Avon Dam: OS Grid Ref: SX 67911 65471