Strenuous, 37 km / 23 miles, 914 m total ascent
This walk does not enter any of the Military Firing Ranges.
Route Special Concerns:
Although much of this walk is on well-travelled paths, a map and compass is still a necessity as high, remove open moorland is crossed and navigation can be tricky in low visibility. Between Crossways and Erme Pits, you have to cross three streams/rivers; after heavy rain these can swell. Same goes for Plym Ford and even Beckamoor Ford. The traditional end point is at Tavistock Abbey, but very little of this structure remains. The annual walking event, organised and ran by Tavistock & District Outdoor Education Forum, usually ends at Tavistock Community College, somewhat nearby.
This route is definitely not wheelchair or pushchair friendly.
This walk does not enter any of the Military Firing Ranges.
The starting point is at Buckfast Abbey (St. Mary’s), a beautiful building that has to be one of the most remarkable and recognisable in Devon. There are no toilets between the Abbey and Princetown. In Princetown there are several eateries that provide fuel for the remainder of the journey. In Tavistock there are, again, plentiful options. You will bag a lot of Dartefacts on this walk – let’s see your tally jump up the leaderboard!
- Leave Buckfast Abbey and walk along the road westward to Fritz’s Grave Crossroads. Bear right and immediately left and continue up to Hockmoor Cross, where there is a boundary stone for Buckfastleigh. Cross the road and drop down to Brook Mill. Sadly, this descent is short and it’s not long before you are faced with the gruelling climb up to Cross Furzes; a monotonous section with little to see.
- Cross Furzes is, for the purposes of Dartmoor 365 (and the fingerpost), actually the crossroads to the north-west of here, so if you are bagging squares you will need to make a short diversion to locate the guide stone. Otherwise, pass the parking area on your right and descend to the delightful Dean Burn Clapper. Look out for the dates inscribed on this bridge.
- Pass through a gate and take the right fork up the western side of Lambs Down. A few more gates will be reached on this public bridlepath and you will eventually find yourself on the moor at Water Oak Corner. Ignore any side tracks and continue almost due west; soon Avon Dam Reservoir will come into view. Carefully cross Brockhill Ford and stay on this track. Some sections have recently been improved with gravel. Cross Western Wella Brook on a new clapper bridge which is adjacent to Huntingdon Cross.
- Continue along this grassy path, carefully negotiating some wet ground in places. It is only a short distance to the beautiful clapper bridge nicknamed, by Dartefacts, as ‘Petre’s Clapper‘ in the absence of any other name. Unfortunately, that steep hill (wall) in front of you must be tackled. Take a breath at the top, and if you’re interested head over to a prominent structure known as the ‘Explosive Magazine’.
- Reach Crossways, passing a Two Moors Way marker stone, and reach the tramway at another. Cross the tramway and head west-north-west below Red Lake Cottage. Notice a boundary stone on the left, marking Harford and Ugborough Parishes and Moors. Ford Red Lake (stream) near its foot. The longest known stone row in the world passes through here, but it’s difficult to discern.
- Take the well-defined, wide grassy path to Dry Lake, crossing that and onwards to Wollake. This crossing in particular demands great care and precision. Next cross the River Erme at Erme Pits – a series of striking tinners’ mounds. You can choose any way through the Pits to get to Broad Rock, but if you’re unsure then go around to the south on a track, ignoring a tempting left track.
- You will know you have reached Broad Rock because the view opens up ahead of western Dartmoor tors. The Rock itself is a flat boulder, inscribed ‘BB’ for Blachford Bounds. This is the northernmost part of that estate which is based in Cornwood.
- Now, the public footpath marked on OS Maps DOES NOT exist on the ground; it is too far south-west. In the mist this could be potentially misleading. Once you find the track you will struggle to lose it as it curves around the hill (Great Gnats’ Head) to Plym Ford. Once across the ford keep right and follow this good path. As it bends left look out for the lonely Nun’s Cross Farm and head for that. A beeline is possible part way along the track, or you can remain on it and turn right once you reach the Eylesbarrow paved bridleway. Either way, you need to arrive at Nun’s Cross.
- You’re now over halfway through the walk (whoopee!), but this stretch into Princetown, via South Hessary Tor, is perhaps one that you’d like to forget; it is painful on the feet!
- Once in Princetown cross the roundabout and head over to the visitor centre car park. Turn left onto Station Road, note the new distillery on the left, and look out for a fingerpost on the right. Turn right and join a road beside some houses. Pass through a gate and, keeping the wall to your right, ascend to North Hessary Tor. If you keep the mast in sight you will be fine (!).
- North Hessary Tor is the highest part on the route, an astounding viewpoint. It’s no wonder that the Ordnance Survey christened its summit with a triangulation pillar. Head north-west towards Hollow Tor, the tip of which is visible. This is another fine tor and a great one for lunch.
- Descend westward towards a conspicuous group of trees, first passing through the foundations of Red Cottages. Cross Pila Brook and reach the trees. From a distance, it looks like an oasis, but it is actually a car park. It was also once the site of, amazingly, Foggintor School!
- You are welcome to cross the small leat to your left on any of the bridges to come to the splendid Merrivale stone rows. Once at the eastern terminuses of the rows turn right and reach the road that heads into Merrivale. There is little here but a wonderful pub and the huge quarry excavation below the Staple Tors.
- Follow the road as it winds uphill and don’t turn left until you reach the SECOND public footpath waymarker. (This is so easy to miss so use your GPS to confirm.) Cross Beckamoor Ford and walk below the Grimstone and Sortridge Leat. Just before reaching Windy Post, cross the leat on a sturdy, wide clapper bridge and follow the right-hand side of a branch of the leat towards Moortown.
- Join the road into Moortown which is a gentle stroll. A slight rise will bring you onto Whitchurch Down, which you must cross. Spot the pool of water to your right, a possible ‘sacred’ pool. The moor here is very flat and is criss-crossed by roads. Ahead (west) lies Pixies’ Cross, which you are welcome to visit. Otherwise, keep left and join the road heading north-west between the holes of Tavistock Golf Course.
- At Whitchurch Down Cross, turn left and walk around the club house down Down Road and into town. You have completed the Abbot’s Way Walk, and if you are doing the event you will need to make it to the college to check in, receive your badges and certificates and enjoy a pasty!
At home, don’t forget to tick-off those Dartmoor 365 items and Dartefacts!