What is it like on Dartmoor at night?

Discover Dartmoor at Night

There’s a full moon. You’ve decided it’s time you finally went for that Dartmoor night walk. Or perhaps you’re even heading out wild camping on Dartmoor.

But it all seems a little bit scary.

Dartmoor at night

Dartmoor at night can be a daunting prospect but it can also be very wonderful. With miles of emptiness, you might feel lonely, you might feel cast-away, you might wish you had brought a friend.

Or you might just feel really exhilarated.

One thing we’re pretty sure you’ll feel is surprised. Not because of things that go bump in the night but because being outside and remote in the dark is completely different to being outside and remote in the daytime.

Here are ten things that might surprise you about Dartmoor at night.

  1. It rarely gets so dark you can’t see (especially with a full moon)
  2. At night you lose the big views but gain shadowy shorter ones
  3. Complete silence is not the norm
  4. Dartmoor smells more Dartmoor-ish in the dark
  5. You may not see a single star
  6. Plymouth gives off an orange glow at night
  7. The lights on the North Hessary Tor mast can be very comforting
  8. It will get a little bit light before sunrise
  9. Sunrise itself might not be a visible experience
  10. It is possible to feel pleasantly enclosed by the darkness

That last one can be a bit of a mind game, especially if you’re on your own.

Dartmoor night walks

If you want to experience Dartmoor at night, you have three safe choices.

  1. Stay close to your car (close enough to see it)
  2. Find yourself a good walking guide
  3. Learn the appropriate navigation skills

What you really shouldn’t consider doing is heading out too far onto the moor without knowing (actually knowing) how to find your way back if the visibility should change.

Which it often does. Quite quickly and quite confusingly.

Dartmoor wild camping

Dartmoor wild camping update

January 2023
The picture for wild camping on Dartmoor has changed following a well-publicised High Court decision.
This is a developing and controversial situation. Thanks to efforts by the Dartmoor Commons Owners’ Association and Dartmoor National Park Authority, there are currently some areas on Dartmoor where you are still permitted to backpack/wild camp. You can read the news release from Dartmoor National Park Authority here. Please find below a summary.
  • You can currently wild camp on a reduced area of Dartmoor
  • You can view the new Dartmoor wild camping map here
  • If you camp within this area, you don’t need to seek the landowner’s permission
  • If you camp within this area, you don’t need to make an individual payment
  • This is a permissive agreement, which means it can be removed
  • Which means it’s more important than ever to make sure you adopt a leave-no-trace approach
  • Large groups, barbecues and campfires on Dartmoor are still prohibited

The Dartmoor wild camping experience

Of course, if you’ve got your tent and sleeping bag with you, a bit of directional challenge isn’t quite such a bad thing. You wouldn’t be the first wild camper to set up camp in an unknown location instead of wandering around trying to find a specific one.

In fact settling in for the night can make perfect sense.

Whether you’re wild camping or night walking, there are all kinds of obstacles on Dartmoor. Unfenced quarries and deep pools to name just two. Avoiding these by staying in the same place until daylight can sometimes be the best thing to do.

Who else is out there?

One of the best things about being on Dartmoor at night is that you’re unlikely to bump into anyone else. With so many routes to choose from, and so few people confident enough to venture out in the dark, one thing you probably won’t be meeting is another human.

But you might spot a fox.

Of all the animals out there, it’s Mr and Mrs Fox who are most likely to hang around if you’re wild camping. They’re after your food so make sure it, and your rubbish are well wrapped up. Never leave any food related items in your tent when you go off for a night walk.

I learned the fox lesson the hard way.

Apart from foxes you might also see Dartmoor ponies, cows and sheep. None of them will be particularly interested in you but you might be surprised by how comforting talking to them can be.

A sheep once gave me directions to a trig point.

This really happened. It was misty, I asked, he nodded his head round to the left, the mist lifted, there it was.

It was either the sheep or my navigation skills.

How to preserve your night vision

As a general rule though, sheep don’t make great night navigation aids.

But they do have eyes that shine in torchlight. The first time you spot this you might be a tad nervous, you might jump, you might let out an expletive. All of these are acceptable but if you want to avoid a dose of sheep-eye nerves, you have two options.

Either get used to the weird glow or turn your torch off.

As I found out when I forgot to take my torch wild camping (not recommended), the dark is a lot less dark without the introduction of artificial light. And the sheep look a lot more friendly. Kind of grey and fuzzy really.

You could try using a red light to preserve your night vision.

To some extent you can see well enough to read a map with a red light. Some people prefer them but I don’t when I’m out on my own at night. Red lights are just a step too close to a horror movie set for my liking. Red shadows look weird. It’s far easier to get used to gentle grey light.

And sheep that don’t have laser eyes.

How to visit Dartmoor at night

If this has persuaded you of the benefits of a night time Dartmoor experience, my first advice would be to be careful. My next would be to start easy, pick a remote car park but stay near to your vehicle.

Once you’ve gained confidence you could try a wild camp (walking in the daylight) but even for that I’d recommend a few basic map and compass skills.

Deciding how is easier than deciding when.

A full moon might give you more confidence than a new one but it might also make the whole experience feel a bit too illuminated. You don’t have to spot stars to enjoy Dartmoor at night. Which is just as well because misty nights are far more common than clear ones.

Misty nights are also warmer.

The cloudiest month on Dartmoor is December, the least cloudy is July.

But that information really isn’t very helpful.

Because even in July you’re likely to experience clear skies less than 56% of the time. In fact, if you look at the cloud cover variations over a year on Dartmoor, they’re really not that big.

In other words, it’s quite cloudy up there. Quite a lot of the time.

But there is hope. Be specific in your weather forecast searches. Dartmoor is a big place, and can have a range of weathers. What’s happening in Princetown (most likely mist) will not necessarily be happening up at High Willhayes (Dartmoor’s highest point).

Don’t forget to check Army firing times.

If you’re planning to have your Dartmoor night experience on the North Moor, you need to check that your chosen locations aren’t in (or anywhere near) a firing range whilst live firing is happening (this can occur in the daytime too). There’ll be a few clues if it is.

Red lights, loud bangs and shouting (perhaps at you!)

But you need to do the sensible thing and check the MOD Dartmoor live firing schedule before you set off. While you’re at it, and if you’re planning to camp you should also check the Dartmoor National Park Authority wild camping map.

Happy night time!

If you want to see Dartmoor at night with the experts. How about supporting one of our local Mountain Rescue volunteer teams? Each year the Ashburton team’s Dartmoor in the Dark event raises funds to help keep this vital service running. Keep your eye out for this and other fundraising dates here.




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