DESTINATION GUIDE: Dartmoor

When people think of UK granite climbing, Dartmoor is quickly forgotten behind the famous Cornish sea cliffs or the paradise isle of Lundy. It's frequently only visited by climbers as a quick stopover on the way to or from their holiday in Kernow. But there's a lot more to Dartmoor than just The Dewerstone and Suspension Flake.

Mark Bullock on a lonely evening solo of Lynx VS, Great Links Tor  © James Clapham
Mark Bullock on a lonely evening solo of Lynx VS, Great Links Tor
© James Clapham

There is something different about the granite on Dartmoor. It's not just the skin-rippingest, sharpest, roughest stuff around, but it's also quiet and there is an abundance of it. With tors jutting out of practically every hilltop, and sheltered quarries tucked below, there is not only a lot of climbing, but also thousands of boulders strewn on the slopes and in the wooded valleys. There has been huge development by the locals over the last 20 years that has brought the area up to speed and Dartmoor is fast emerging from its status as a climbing backwater.

Although Dartmoor is pretty large (over 900 sq. km.) it is relatively compact and most areas can be driven between easily. The climbing is split into 5 logical areas. These are compact and easy to get around except the tors on the high north moor which are well spread out.

Dartmoor Overview  © Climbers Club
Dartmoor Overview
© Climbers Club

The Haytor Area

Anyone driving to the South west will have crested Haldon Hill on the A38 and seen the panorama of the moor unfold with Haytor (aka Hay Tor) and Low Man's unmistakable double hump on the horizon. This serves as a natural honeypot for the tourist and climber alike, being only a short stomp up the hill from the car park with its resident ice cream van. Good climbing, with fantastic views across the moor out to the Teign estuary and the sea.

Low Man at Haytor is a natural first stop for many a seasoned leader with a superb wall of high-quality well-weathered granite yielding classic challenges from Raven's Gully, Severe, to the photogenic Outward Bound, HVS, and well-known Aviation, E1. The ultimate route here and one of the best at the grade in the country is the stunning Interrogation (which was featured in UKC's Top 5 E3's in the UK? article). No pushover at E3 6a and a stunning, technical 50m pitch culminating in an exposed mantelshelf just when arms are beginning to fade.

Cherry Bedford on Interrogation E3, undoubtedly one of the top E3s in the country  © Justin Timms
Cherry Bedford on Interrogation E3, undoubtedly one of the top E3s in the country
© Justin Timms

John McShea on the rarely climbed and bold Interrogation Superdirect, E5  © Justin Timms
John McShea on the rarely climbed and bold Interrogation Superdirect, E5
© Justin Timms

Hound Tor is well-known with the sensational but stunted Suspension Flake, which was once voted the best VS in the country. To be fair, it isn't...but it's still bloody good! Once only famous for this route and the classic E2 - Aerobic wall, the tor is now home to over 100 superlative routes and problems from easy to downright impossible.

Visiting Ozzie Adam Demmert on Aerobic Wall, E2  © Dave Ferguson
Visiting Ozzie Adam Demmert on Aerobic Wall, E2
© Dave Ferguson

A mile down the road Bonehill Rocks (Bone Hill) aka. the Stanage Plantation of the South West. It is the only busy bouldering site - and justifiably so - with over 150 problems, including recent hard additions up to F8b. It's not hard to see why it is so popular as the quality is high and the walk in under 1 minute!

There are over 20 crags and bouldering venues within this small area with most of them deserted and less than a 15 minute walk. Why not sample the delights of Easdon Rocks, Tunhill Rocks, Bell Tor or Honeybag Tor?

Jez Holding on the stunning Mr Wilson, F6b, Tunhill  © James Clapham
Jez Holding on the stunning Mr Wilson, F6b, Tunhill
© James Clapham

Ollie looking flaky on Suspension Flake. That man needs some anti-dandruff shampoo  © www.georgebudd.co.uk
Ollie looking flaky on Suspension Flake. That man needs some anti-dandruff shampoo
George Budd, Jun 2016
© www.georgebudd.co.uk

The Bovey Valley

Technical and bold routes await in Lustleigh Cleave (Harton Chest) with a high concentration of upper E-grades and recently re-developed bouldering this is a place not to miss. Jason Maddick's recent font 6c addition The Cowboy Butcher stands out amongst over a hundred good quality problems. The routes to go for are Bamboozled, E4; The Hog's Back, E5; Lev, E6 and Javu, the moor's first E7.

Following the Breadcrumb Trail in Bovey Woods  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Following the Breadcrumb Trail in Bovey Woods
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Nov 2016

photo
Perfect autumn day, bouldering at one of Devon's hidden gems
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Nov 2016

In recent years. when most of the remaining gaps on the tors had been filled with ever barer and scarier additions, the local hobbits began tramping in the wooded valleys desperate to find new challenges. Tom Rainbow happened to strike granite buried beneath acres of moss whilst ambling in the woods one day and thus began the most recent wave of development. The wooded hillsides of the Bovey valley have spawned over 1000 problems so far and Dartmoor now sports its own Font-esque paradise albeit with the sharpest granite ever discovered. No coloured arrows direct you around Bovey Woods, rather a sense of bewilderment and wonder at the scale of it all. With top-quality problems from font 4 to 7c+ this is somewhere that is seeing a huge surge in popularity and is getting better for it. Dave Henderson's Devon Sent is a contender for the best problem in the South west (or even further afield?).

If this was in the Peak it would be one of the most sought after lines around, but it isn't...  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
If this was in the Peak it would be one of the most sought after lines around, but it isn't...
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Nov 2016

Russ Blackaller on the technical Sleeper F6a The Orgasmatron  © Nick Baron
Russ Blackaller on the technical Sleeper F6a The Orgasmatron
© Nick Baron

Highball in the woods.  © tomrainbow
Highball in the woods.
© tomrainbow, Mar 2011

The Moor Tors

For those wishing for a longer day out the high moorland offers a vast array of classic away-from-it-all action. There is something special about the high moor. Even if you are only a mile or two from the car it feels remote and adventurous. Irishman's Wall and Great Links Tor stand out after recent developments and are growing in popularity. ??? lies in a splendid situation above the river Dart and boasts several top notch routes including Pat Littlejohn's superb Hostile Witness, E2, or was it HVS Pat? Nothing beats a summer's evening away from it all with the sun on your back followed by a walk back in the sunset as the heather shines and the rock glows bronze in the dying light.

Dave Ferguson, Non-Metallic Silver, E1  © Hannah Wilson
Dave Ferguson, Non-Metallic Silver, E1
© Hannah Wilson

When a stiff winter breeze makes the open moor uninviting a hidden gem awaits in one of the many granite quarries spread across the moor. In Foggintor Quarry Limestone Cowboys, E4 is a stiff challenge and is as good as London wall – it's certainly not polished – and Swan Lake, HS is a truly hidden gem.

Alice Martin, Swan Lake, HS  © James Clapham
Alice Martin, Swan Lake, HS
© James Clapham

Will Hornby, Limestone Cowboys, E4  © James Clapham
Will Hornby, Limestone Cowboys, E4
© James Clapham

Combshead Tor is nestled away in the depths of the south moor and has over 150 boulder problems of the best quality imaginable. Due to the half hour walk you are unlikely to see a soul here, although the tor is starting to gain the reputation it deserves. There are too many classics to list of every style and grade imaginable.

Jez Holding getting committed on the Twin Flakes, F6b, Combshead  © James Clapham
Jez Holding getting committed on the Twin Flakes, F6b, Combshead
© James Clapham

Jez deploying his cat-like landing skills after not committing quite enough!   © James Clapham
Jez deploying his cat-like landing skills after not committing quite enough!
© James Clapham

The recently developed Down Tor nearby has great bouldering mainly in the lower grades, which make it a good place for starting out. This can easily be combined with Combshead to give stunning bouldering, to rival the best in the country, in a great location above Burrator Reservoir.

Dartmoor devotee Jason Maddick at Combshead  © James Clapham
Dartmoor devotee Jason Maddick at Combshead
© James Clapham

Nick Baron topping the fun wafer Route F5+, Down Tor  © James Clapham
Nick Baron topping the fun wafer Route F5+, Down Tor
© James Clapham

The nearby Sheeps Tor is the perfect place to cut your teeth on the granite with a clutch of easily accessible, amenable routes which are all well protected and fun to boot.

The Dewerstone

If this wasn't written up I'd come a cropper with the crag's namesake, Satan himself (Dewer being old Devonian for the devil) Dartmoor's most extensive crag sits proudly in the wooded valley above the river Plym with the 40m Devil's rock taking pride of place. This is packed with mid-grade classics and thanks to the efforts of some locals in the run up to the new guide it is at its cleanest for years. Classics such as Central Groove, HS; Scimitar Direct, E1 and Climber's Club Direct, HVS still see the passage of plenty of feet but now the upper buttresses have had a workover and it's a perfect time to get on some of Patey's great additions. Spider's Web, HVS still packs a punch even now and is a true testament to his abilities. The Dewerstone was always shy of hard routes but with several recent harder additions up to E6 there is something for the travelling hard man (or woman) to get terrified on.

Nick Stephens on the Tom Patey classic - Leviathan, VS  © James Mann
Nick Stephens on the Tom Patey classic - Leviathan, VS
© James Mann

Will Hornby on the FA of La Crème Noire, E5  © James Mann
Will Hornby on the FA of La Crème Noire, E5
© James Mann

Carrie Hill on the uber-classic Central Groove HS  © Ian Parnell
Carrie Hill on the uber-classic Central Groove HS
© Ian Parnell

Kat Spinney seconding one of the finest Hard Severes in the UK: Central Groove  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Kat Spinney seconding one of the finest Hard Severes in the UK: Central Groove
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Overall

With hundreds of quality routes from Diff through E7 and thousands of boulder problems there's more than enough to last a lifetime or at least tempt a visit. There's always a decent pub to retreat to when the weather comes in or you run out of skin - as one well-travelled wag put it: 'Dartmoor is the most underrated bouldering area in the UK'.

So classic multi-pitch cracks and grooves, desperate grit-style highballs and picturesque bouldering for everyone on perfect granite with cream teas and no queues… what are you waiting for?

Sunset from Hound Tor  © Justin T
Sunset from Hound Tor
© Justin T, May 2010

Who needs the Peak?  © Tom Rainbow
Who needs the Peak?
© Tom Rainbow

Who needs Switzerland?  © tomrainbow
Who needs Switzerland?
© tomrainbow, Mar 2015

Dartmoor  © Climbers Club
ABOUT THE GUIDE: The topos and maps from this article are taken from the new definitive Climber's Club Pub Guide to Dartmoor. This eagerly anticipated new definitive guide is packed with tongue-in-cheek Devonian wit, plus some 600 routes and 1200 boulder problems with full photo-topos. These are partnered with stunning action shots showcasing this unique and fantastic area at its finest.

  • Dartmoor by James Clapham (2017)
  • Editor Ian Smith
  • Design, maps and artwork by Don Sargeant
  • Photo diagrams by Mark Davies and Don Sargeant
  • 384 pages of text and photodiagrams


PRICE: £25.00

Rest Day Activities

After you run out of skin or when the weather turns grim there are plenty of options around. Devon is diverse and there's a lot to do for everyone. On the moor itself there are many ruins and ancient settlements worth a look as well as Brent Tor church. Princetown's infamous prison has a visitor centre and is also home to England's highest brewery: The Dartmoor Brewery.

Within a short drive you've got Exeter with the Quay Climbing Centre, Roman ruins and hidden passages under the city. Dart's Farm offers a good way to spend your money on foodie treats and hide from the rain. Plymouth has the Hoe and a rubbish football team, just watch out for your wallet and your hub caps! Dart Rock have climbing walls in Buckfastleigh and Plymouth if rain stops play and you need to get pumped.

Lunch  © Ian Parnell
Lunch
© Ian Parnell

In Dartington you have the huge Riverford Farm Shop, Dartington Crystal and Dartington Hall and gardens if that's your thing. Why not pay the monks in Buckfast Abbey a visit but don't expect them to sell you any Buckfast Tonic Wine (that gets exported to Scotland). Totnes is slightly further away and has a lot of arty shops and cafés. If you make it this far then pop into the Sharpham vineyard and dairy.

Or if is tipping down that badly why not go paddling on the local rivers? The Upper Dart is regularly voted the best stretch of grade IV in the country. The caves at Pridhamsleigh make for an exciting and very dirty wriggle down to an underground lake.


Logistics

When do I go?

Dartmoor lends itself to climbing all year round and depending on the conditions there is usually something to get stuck in to. The wooded valleys are a good escape from the biting wind in winter, yet the same wind is perfect to take the edge off a hot summer's day. The crags on the open moor are best spring to autumn but you'll want a crisp winter's day for that F7c or E5 project. Climbing at the Dewerstone is possible all year round but the heat can be stifling in the summer. Bouldering in the woods is best over the winter as it gets too sweaty and leafy in the summer months.

How do I get there?

Dartmoor is reached easily from the main route into the region; the M5 and A38. Good roads as far as Bovey Tracey and Ashburton change into lanes with grass in't middle and high hedges. These get narrower, winding and steeper as you drive up onto the moor and the crags. Watch out in summer when coaches and holidaymakers do battle around sheep and ponies in the middle of the narrow roads.

Where do I stay?

Bed and breakfast accommodation abounds and there are plenty of options in Bovey Tracey, Ashburton, Princetown and Tavistock. The best campsite for the Haytor area is at Cockingford Farm and is conveniently a short cider-induced stagger back from the Rugglestone. If climbing on the high moor then The Plume of Feathers in Princetown has a bunkhouse and campsite situated an even shorter crawl back from the pub!

What's the scoff like?

You can't visit the region without getting stuck into the local culinary delight, the Devonshire cream tea. (No they weren't invented in Cornwall) Widecombe is bursting with cream tea shops which can indulge you with rich gluttonous treats. Local to the Haytor Area is the Ullacombe Farm shop, a good place to stop for lunch. For more savoury tastes Dartmoor bristles with quality rustic pubs which serve a great selection of local fare and more importantly local tipples. You can't come to the area without visiting the Rugglestone, Warren House Inn or Plume of Feathers to name but a few. Where else can you get cream teas, local game and farm cider on tap?

Where can I buy gear and food?

Taunton Leisure in Exeter is the best local gear shop where you can get anything you've forgotten. There are Go Outdoors stores in both Plymouth and Exeter although these aren't exactly local or climbing focussed so you're best off arriving on the moor with all the gear that you need. There are a couple of climbing walls where you can grab some extra chalk if desperate.


James Clapham (author) and Roofus (dog)  © James Clapham
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Clapham is Dartmoor born & bred, not to mention weaned on Nick White's hilarious/iconic/borderline unusable South Devon & Dartmoor guidebook. James' adventures have overflowed to six continents and a lot of mountains, yet despite all of this he still maintains that Dartmoor granite is "God's own rock". He is currently in rehab, recovering from a cream-tea and cider addiction, but is planning on heading to Scotland - far away from the Shire - to train as a British Mountain Guide this winter (the only career that affords 200+ days nag-free climbing and skiing per year).

Photo Gallery

Outward Bound at Haytor

Outward Bound at Haytor
© Dr Avid

a Dartmoor Panorama from Hound Tor

a Dartmoor Panorama from Hound Tor
© Dan Arkle

You must be firkin' mad!

You must be firkin' mad!
© Sean Kelly

Dave greedily squeezes in a solo of Outward Bound before sunset

Dave greedily squeezes in a solo of Outward Bound before sunset
© Mark Bullock

Slightly misguided training for Troll Wall

Slightly misguided training for Troll Wall
© Mark Davis

Andrew Haley sending The Wave (V6)

Andrew Haley sending The Wave (V6)
© Pajamas Tom

My hands are ffff...reezing!

My hands are ffff...reezing!
© Sean Kelly

Bouldering at Bone Hill Rocks

Bouldering at Bone Hill Rocks
© Sean Kelly

Hangover, Haytor & Dartmoor at it's best.

Hangover, Haytor & Dartmoor at it's best.
© Sean Kelly

Beautiful end to a crap day...

Beautiful end to a crap day...
© Sean Kelly

Stars over Haytor

Stars over Haytor
© James Mann

Haytor midnight

Haytor midnight
© Reeges


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22 Dec, 2016
Really enjoyed that article! Would love to go back and do more there :)
22 Dec, 2016
Really looking forward to getting my hands on a guide so I don't get lost in Bovey Woods again!! Any chance the Quay will have stock after the book launch later tonight? I'm heading home tomorrow...
22 Dec, 2016
So this will be the guide book you've been working on? The south-west keeps looking better as an(other) option for a few weeks away from the hustle and bustle of Aberdream... Andy
22 Dec, 2016
What's happened to Vixen Tor? When I spent some time down there it was a quality little crag, which suffered from an unreasonable owner that prompted a long running dispute over access. I hope that it's still being used for climbing.
22 Dec, 2016
Awesome article James! Well done on making the effort to really promote the new guide. This sort of thing was unfortunately a bit lacking in the build up to the new BMC Lancashire guide. PS If any still wants a copy of Nick White's classic current guide for posterity I've acquired another spare copy in hardly used condition.
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