A Dartmoor wild camp by train
Update March 2023: The situation around wild camping on Dartmoor is evolving. Although the High Court ruled in January that there is no legal right to backpack camp on Dartmoor, the National Park Authority have agreed a new permissive system, which allows considerate camping in certain areas. There are a few changes to the Dartmoor wild camping map but you can still comfortably walk to permitted camping areas from both Okehampton and Ivybridge train stations. I’ve given more specific information below.
Travel time from London: 3 hours
Travel time from Bristol: 2.5 hours
Author’s adventure tip: Don’t overpack, you’ll be heaving your rucksack on and off trains as well as up onto Dartmoor. Take the essentials then perhaps one luxury item (mine was a book).
Practicalities: There isn’t a toilet at Ivybridge Station. The nearest one is a twenty-minute walk away at Leonard’s Road PL21 OSL (cash required). There’s no café either so make sure you save something good to eat as a reward for your adventure or leave time to visit the shop at Costly St, PL21 0DB.
Your train adventure
If there’s one predictable thing about this adventure, it’s its unpredictability. Climb onto Harford Moor on a balmy day, and you’ll be treated to unbeatable moorland and sea views. Arrive on a misty one, and you’ll feel completely cut off from the rest of the world. Either is wonderful, both require a map and compass. I visited in early March.
Your wild camping walk
Hop off the train at Ivybridge Station, and you’ll find yourself right on the edge of a wealth of Dartmoor adventure opportunities. Just a ten-minute stroll along the road will take you to the start of not one but two long distance walking routes.
We know how to hike here in Devon.
The popular 102-mile Two Moors Way crosses Dartmoor and Exmoor to connect Devon’s more gentle south to its rugged north. The newer 108-mile Dartmoor Way walking route circumnavigates Dartmoor, and takes you through some of the national park’s beautiful fringe villages and towns.
But if distance isn’t your thing, don’t worry.
You won’t need to complete either of the above to enjoy a satisfying wild camping adventure. Heave on your rucksack, walk three kilometres from the station, and you’ll find yourself just inside one of Dartmoor’s permitted wild camping areas.
But you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Your wild camping walking route
I’ve described an example walk below but you’ll find plenty of options on this fantastic part of Dartmoor. This is also a great route for runners, and Harford Moor has some fantastic bridleways if bike packing is more your thing.
Your walking route on OS Maps: Ivybridge wild camping
This 11 kilometre (7 mile) circular walk takes you on a winding route from and to Ivybridge train station. Follow the disused track of the Redlake Tramway as it snakes around Harford Moor, then loop back to enjoy sea and moorland views from Ugborough Beacon. As you walk, spot tors, cairns, and one of Dartmoor’s famous stone crosses. If you’re visiting in spring or summer, listen out for the trill of skylarks as they rise high above their nests.
Whether you choose to pack your tent or bivvy bag, you won’t be disappointed with this easy to access but satisfyingly wild camping experience. We recommend checking the Dartmoor National Park Authority backpack camping map if you’re tempted further afield by the promise of wilder moor and remote lakes. But stick to the flat area east of the track, and west of Ugborough Beacon, and you’ll find plenty of permissible wild camping options. We’ve broken the walk into ten easy steps to help you find your way.
- Find the Two Moors Way marker stone
As you leave Ivybridge Station, ignore the signs for the park and ride (no parking nonsense for happy train travellers). Instead turn right along the footpath. Cross the road, and continue in the same direction until you see a lane on the right. At the bottom of this lane, spot the Dartmoor National Park sign, and in the wall opposite, the Two Moors Way marker stone.
2. Follow the lane uphill
Walk up the lane over the railway bridge. Turn right onto the stony lane opposite Stowford Farm. Listening out for birdsong, follow this lane uphill until you come to the gate onto Harford Moor. Please read the advice on erosion, and shut the gate behind you.
3. Walk uphill to the railway track
Continuing in a similar direction, follow the bridleway and the Two Moors Way across the grass until you meet the old railway track. Don’t forget to listen out for skylarks.
4. Follow the track round Wetherdon Hill
The track follows the contour lines of Wetherdon Hill here. Enjoy this relatively flat section, and keep your eyes peeled for Hangershell Rock on the right. If you fancy a quick climb, it’s worth taking a detour up to the rock. Especially if this is your first Dartmoor tor.
5. Find Spurrell’s Cross
You’ll need to keep your wits about you to find Spurrell’s Cross. It’s on the right (east) of the track but you can’t see it immediately. The turn off is on a junction but not an obvious one. If you get to a shallow pool, you’ve gone too far. Turn round, walk back about 15 paces then follow the grass path down to the cross. On a windy day, Spurrell’s Cross can be a good spot for a sheltered cuppa.
6. Choose your camp location
Following the controversial and disappointing decision by the High Court regarding wild camping on Dartmoor, and the subsequent agreement between Dartmoor National Park Authority and some Dartmoor landowners, the area described on this walk is no longer available for wild camping. If you continue north on the track towards Three Barrows, you will eventually find yourself back inside the revised Dartmoor wild camping area. You’ll need a map and compass here if you plan to head away from the track.
At this point, you’ll have reached the most northerly point of this walk. Carry on along the track to find your perfect camping spot or explore the area between the track and Ugborough Beacon. The idea is to be as unobtrusive as possible so camp away from the track, and don’t pitch your tent until it’s nearly dark.
7. Climb Ugborough Beacon
From Spurrell’s Cross follow the grass tracks up to Ugborough Beacon. Explore the tumulus (burial mound) and Beacon Rocks then enjoy the splendid views across South Devon, and out to sea.
8. Cross Lud Brook
You might want to use your compass for this section. Otherwise look for a faint track that leads west down from the tumulus to the stream. Cross the stream at the ford area. If you go south here by mistake, don’t worry. These tracks will still take you off the moor, you’ll just have a longer walk on the lane back to the station.
9. Discover the Cuckoo Ball burial chamber
Once you’ve crossed the stream, head downhill and south west until you meet the enclosure fence. Continuing south west, follow the enclosure round. Where the fence changes again, look around for the Cuckoo Ball chambered tomb (it might be obscured by grass in the summer).
10. Head back down to the lane
Heading away from the boundary now, follow the track downhill and south until it bends round to meet another section of the disused railway line. Follow this again until you see a dug-out section on the right. Leave the railway here to head south off the moor. When you get to the trees, turn right (west) then left (south) to find your way down to the lane.
11. Return to Ivybridge station
At the end of the lane, turn right then right again, following signs to the park and ride. Just a short walk along the footpath will take you back to Ivybridge Station.
How to wild camp on Dartmoor
Check your camping area
Backpack or wild camping is a wonderful adventure, and we’re really lucky on Dartmoor to have some fantastic areas to choose from. To make sure you’re in a permitted camping area, check the backpack camping map on the Dartmoor National Park Authority website. On some areas of the North Moor (not near Ivybridge), you also need to check online that the Army aren’t doing live firing exercises on one of their ranges.
Pack warm and dry
Whilst I advocate packing as light as you can, there are some items of kit you really don’t want to leave behind (see my numpty mistake in ‘Author’s Adventure’ below). Aim to stay warm and dry. Line your rucksack with a rubble sack or dry bag, and pack any important kit into separate dry bags. A sleeping mat can make the difference between a cosy night and a chilly one. Pack plenty of food as you’ll burn more calories than you expect, especially in colder weather. A hot meal is always a good idea.
Avoid getting lost
In good visibility you could manage this walk safely as long as you stayed on or very near to the track. In poor visibility or the dark however, some map and compass navigation skills would come in useful. If you choose to follow this route on an app, I would recommend taking another, fully-charged phone for emergencies. Always tell at least one person where you are going to be, and what time you plan to be back. Don’t publish location details online before you set off.
In the event of an emergency, first consider whether or not you can stay safely in your tent until morning. If not, phone 999, and ask for the Police as they coordinate remote rescues.
I love solo adventures but if this is your first wild camp, you might enjoy it more if you take a friend.
Leave no trace
Have fun, and remember to leave no evidence of your presence. Don’t presume that things will biodegrade quickly, take everything (even used loo roll) home with you.
Although I’ve been wild camping on Dartmoor for nearly twenty years now, this was only my second solo venture.
I first explored the possibilities of wild camping by train in early March 2022. I packed as light as possible, choosing my tent instead of my bivvy bag because there was rain and mist forecast. My excitement at arriving at a sunny Ivybridge was slightly dampened when the rain started as I reached the railway track. The visibility was low so I stuck to the track until I reached a camping spot I had previously selected. It was further north than the walk above takes you, and about a kilometre off the track.
A silly mistake
I had pitched my tent, eaten my dinner, and was just looking forward to an early night of cosy reading when I realised I had left my torch at home. No reading for me. Not much of anything really, as the dry bag that contained my torch also contained my phone charger, and my phone battery was already at 50%. All I could do was go to bed. At six thirty.
Darkness is relative
It was an interesting night. The wind got up. The tent flapped. I woke almost every hour. My only view was clouds, grass and a few sheep. I soon realised that even in the mist, dark is a relative term. Although it was dark in the tent, outside was eerily light. It turns out that this half-light was less disconcerting than the deep shadows usually cast by my head torch.
That said, I was relieved to see morning.