Monday, 16 June 2014

Some interesting facts about… The Two Moors Way, the Dartmoor Way, the Tarka Trail, the Two Castles Way, the West Devon Way & the Camel Trail (Footpath Nos. 26, 27, 28. 29. 30 & 31)

We left the general route description last time at Withypool where the Exe Valley Way begins to coincide with the Two Moors Way… so that’s where this instalment will kick off.
The Two Moors Way is a long-distance path that runs from Lynmouth on the coast of North Devon, crossing parts of both Exmoor and Dartmoor, finishing in Ivybridge in South Devon. The total length of the trail is about 103 miles (166 km), and some sections are difficult in poor weather. I won’t be walking the whole length. I’ll start up in Withypool which is a small village in Somerset, near the centre of Exmoor National Park and close to the border with Devon. From there I’ll walk south along the River Barle to the Tarr Steps. The Tarr Steps is a clapper bridge that possibly dates to around 1000 BC. The stone slabs weigh up to 1-2 tons apiece. According to local legend, they were placed by the devil to win a bet. The bridge is 180 feet (55 m) long and has 17 spans. Crossing the Tarr Steps will lead me to the small village of Hawkridge, then turning south west towards the village of Knowstone.
From there it’s a zig-zagged southerly route as far as the village of Witheridge which is situated almost equidistant from Dartmoor and Exmoor. As such Witheridge has earned the nickname the Gateway to the Two Moors Way.
From Witheridge its westward to Morchard Bishop, a village with a population of less than a thousand people which is reputed to be the bustling hub of activity in this area of the world – so a good place to stop for a pint in my book! Another jagged southerly route will eventually find me at Hittisleigh, a small village known as the birthplace of Samuel Bellamy the eighteenth-century pirate.
Then it is onwards to the village of Drewsteignton and then over Sharp Tor and Hunters Tor past Castle Drogo before moving further south towards the small town of Chagford.
Rather than stroll into Chagford I will link up with the Dartmoor Way just north of the town which will lead me counter-intuitively north-west.
The Dartmoor Way is a route around Dartmoor which links hamlets, villages and towns with a variety of scenery including wild upland, sheltered valleys and quiet lanes. As I head northwest I’ll first come to the village of Throwleigh and then a bit farther still the village of Sticklepath. Why am I going to be heading north-west when surely I should be heading south? Well, whilst Sticklepath might be technically on Dartmoor, it is easier to follow the established footpaths skirting the edges of the moors than it is to try and strike out across the moors where there are no established paths – along this section not only are you guided by the Dartmoor Way but also by the Tarka Trail with which it coincides.
Sticklepath is only a short distance from Okehampton, an ancient settlement founded around 980 AD and today a thriving town in West Devon.

Okehampton is also the point at which I pick up the Two Castles Trail. The Trail follows river valleys, ridge roads, open downland and woods away from the northern edges of Dartmoor, linking the imposing Norman castles at Okehampton and Launceston. What’s more the Trail coincides with the West Devon Way between Okehampton and Bridestowe which means I’m bagging another established footpath at the same time. Plus, it represents the point at which I turn sharply southwest again.

The first notable settlement I’ll pass as I clip the northwest corner of Dartmoor will be the village of Bridestowe, then westwards on to the village of Lewdon which is dissected by the A30 and then further west still the village of Lifton, one of the first in the west of Devon to be founded by the Saxons, and of strategic importance to them because of its location on a major route close to the border with Cornwall. A little further west and I will reach the end of the Two Castles Trail at Launceston.
Launceston Castle, which dominates the town, is a Norman castle of motte-and-bailey design, and was built by Robert, Count of Mortain (half-brother of William the Conqueror) ca. 1070 to dominate the surrounding area.  

From Launceston I go off piste properly for the first time and for quite a while.  I’ll head south towards Daws House and South Petherwin, then sharply west towards Polyphant and Altarnum. Unlike the indomitable looming Dartmoor, this time round I’m going to carry on westwards across the open access land of Bodmin Moor – making sure to keep my eyes peeled for any beastie that mat be lurking there – and finding the time to climb to the top of Brown Willy (well it would be rude not to wouldn’t it) before descending to St Breward.
Turning south from St Breward I’ll soon come to my next established footpath, the Camel Trail. As the name suggests the trail follows the Camel River, along a disused and resurfaced railway line that provides a recreational route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The trail is flat, running from Wenford Bridge to Padstow via Bodmin and Wadebridge. It is 17.3 miles (27.8 km) long and used by an estimated 400,000 users each year – so it should be an easy stretch for me to traverse compared all that has come before. I’ll join it near Wenfordbridge and follow it through the Great Shell Wood, southwest down to Hellandbridge, through a great deal of forest to the north-western outskirts of Bodmin itself.
From here I then strangely will follow the river northwest (again as a result of a more clearly marked trail) towards the town of Wadebridge. From there the trail follows the estuary of the River Camel towards Padstow Bay and into the heart of the town and fishing port of Padstow itself.

This is where I will leave this instalment as all that remains is the South West Coastal Path – the final home stretch of the journey!  

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