Our first wild camping trip on Dartmoor was a great success. We hiked up Bench Tor via the River Dart and stayed on the tor overnight. Wild swimming at the enchanting Sharrah Pool was definitely one of my highlights from this trip. I can’t wait to return there for a longer swim next time, perhaps with a BBQ by the river to keep those pesky midges at bay!
Dartmoor is the only place in England where wild camping is legal. There are a few restrictions though. Firstly, you’re not allowed to camp in the same location for more than two consecutive nights. Camping in vehicles is strictly prohibited and not all car parks permit overnight parking. There are restrictions on where you can camp, as some parts of Dartmoor are used by the military for training. You must leave no trace – take your litter home with you!
We started our walk just outside Poundsgate, which is just under 5 miles from Ashburton. The only free overnight car park we could find was halfway up Aish Tor, which resulted in an immediate steep descent down into the woods. Newbridge Car Park is closer to the river, which is a family friendly pay and display car park. However it does get busy during the summer!
We clung close to the banks of the river Dart for the majority of our hike, passing by plenty of tempting swim spots. When we arrived at Sharrah Pool, I couldn’t resist and jumped right in. The cool water was so refreshing after such a sweaty hike. I managed to convince Holly to join me, mostly by splashing her but it did the trick! We swam through Sharrah Pool and up to the nearby waterfall before floating back with the currents. The dogs enjoyed splashing about in the shallows and spoiling the peace and quiet by barking at one another.
I’m so glad we stopped for a dip at Sharrah Pool, as it turns out the hike up to Bench Tor is pretty intense. Thankfully a couple of lambs led us up the inconspicuous, near vertical path, which we vowed not to even attempt walking back down the following day.
We arrived at Bench Tor just before golden hour, which gave us plenty of time to pitch our tents, cook and enjoy our food as the sun dipped behind the horizon. These idyllic moments were soon spoilt by the swarms of midges and bitter cold, which saw us retreating to our tents just as the stars were starting to shine in the sky. I’m glad I packed all my layers, as I definitely needed them and the dogs were grateful for their Barker and Browns dinosaur fleeces too. Woody even borrowed my down jacket and made himself a bed in the tent. At least it wasn’t my sleeping bag, which is what he usually steals!
We slept soundly all night, though it took me a while to drift off. It takes me while to fall asleep when wild camping at first. My imagination gets the better of me whenever I hear a strange noise. I’m pretty sure we could hear someone playing the pipes across the moors, as well as Dartmoor ponies passing by our camp. Woody and Hen slept pretty well, only waking a few times to try their luck at sneaking into my snack supply.
The next day we hiked down to Venford Reservoir to top up our water supplies. I took 3 litres to share between myself and the dogs, which was about the right amount for the three of us. Of course the dogs mostly drank straight from the river when we were actually hiking. Woody and Hen both did incredibly well and were more than happy to carry their belongings in their backpacks. Let me know if you’d like to read more about the hiking equipment they carry in them!
Our hike on the second day was mostly through open moorland. We did have to walk directly on the road in some places, mostly around the outskirts of Holne. The dogs did incredibly well and tucked in to one side whenever vehicles were passing by. When we reached Holne Woods the dogs enjoyed some time off lead, before retracing our steps back to the car. We managed to walk just over 13km over two days, most of which was uphill. I was really impressed with both Woody and Hen, who seem to have remembered their hiking and camping etiquette from last year. I can’t wait to return to Dartmoor for another weekend of outdoor adventures soon!
Where’s your favourite place to wild camp on Dartmoor? Have you visited Bench Tor and Sharrah Pool before?
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