Mountain of the month May 2019: Dartmoor wild camp

Something a little different for mountain of the month in May. What Dartmoor lacks in mountains it makes up for in ancient by-laws that permit wild camping.

For someone as outdoorsy as I may appear to be I had never been wild camping before. I’d wanted to go for a few years but the time or location or weather or company had never quite fallen into place. Gradually a plan came together for a weekend in Dartmoor over May bank holiday.


The wild camp location was inspired by the lovely book Wild Swimming Walks which contains plenty of swimming locations around Dartmoor. We checked that our planned ‘campsite’ was within the boundaries of the areas where wild camping is permitted on Dartmoor (see here). After a three hour walk in we arrived in the early evening; every person we had passed was a potential fellow camper and we were delighted to find that despite its apparent prime location we had the area to ourselves. There was just enough sunshine still around for a quick dip in the lake. The water was refreshing and a lot warmer than my first wild swim on the year on Arran.

As we pitched the tents and cooked some tea the mist began to gather and roll and by bedtime we were having a true Dartmoor weather experience.

The next day saw us practicing some classic navigation as we tried desperately not to lose the path in the mist. The route down from the moor took us through some beautiful countryside including catching the tail end of bluebell season.

Thankfully once we were off the highest bit of the moor the navigation became a lot easier and before long we were back in the sunshine heading to a more civilised camping spot in Buckfastleigh. Churchill Farm campsite had just the right feel to reintegrate us into normal society. Hot showers and a sit down loo were all the luxuries required after our night out in the wilds. The weekend concluded with a trip on the South Devon Railway to its beer festival at Staverton and then a lovely walk back to the car to complete our wild camping Dartmoor triangle. Kudos to the staff of The Trehill Arms who didn’t bat an eyelid when we walked in stinky and sweaty in muddy lycra to get some lunch!

A sunny end to a fantastic weekend

A note on wild camping:

There has been a lot in the news recently about wild camping; for example whether it should be paid for either in national parks or through companies offering guided wild camps. The bottom line is that it is illegal without the landowners permission except in a few areas of England and Wales such as Dartmoor. Wherever you might want to give it a try do so with absolute respect for the environment and other people who may visit the area after you; this means leaving absolutely no trace of your visit, arriving late and leaving early. To me it also means only staying one night in an area inaccessible by car. This excellent article has more details.

My final tip; in your head it looks like photos from Instagram with brightly lit tents pitched overlooking a draw-dropping view while the sun sets in an explosion of beautiful colours in the background. In reality it is more likely to look like this so make sure you’ve packed your waterproofs and sense of humour!


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