Dart Gorge Circular Walk, Holne, Dartmoor National Park

Dart Gorge Circular Walk, Holne, Dartmoor National Park

This is a spectacular walk. We'd recommend trying it in Spring or Autumn to make the most of the Dart Gorge's natural beauty. It's rated hard owing to its length and some of the awkward footing along the bottom of the gorge. It took fit adults about six hours with lengthy stops for photography. Clearly, it's not equivalent to a hard scramble in Snowdonia or The Highlands.

We'd recommend using the Ordnance Survey Explorer OL28 'Dartmoor' map on this route. Owing to its length, it's best to study the route for this one beforehand. The walk enables you to explore the extent of the Dart Valley Nature Reserve. You'll encounter upland moor, granite tor, woodland and river habitats.

Start at the car park just east of Venford Reservoir near Bench Tor. Head north west to the corner of the railings that fence off the reservoir dam and its buildings. You drop down to an old, narrow road that is now grown over. This disused road sweeps around the spur of land that's topped by Bench Tor. A short way down this road, you'll see a track dropping through ferns to Venford Brook. This track follows the east, or right, bank of the brook until it flows in to the River Dart at the bottom of the Dart Gorge. The track runs east along the side of the River Dart. Sometimes it skirts the water. At others it climbs above the river bank. It's relatively easy going until you get to the Mel Pool area below Bench Tor and Mel Tor. You now enter a stretch of wild woodland in which you have to pick your way through trees and along slippery granite slabs and over boulders to Sharrah Pool. This section between Mel Pool and Sharrah Pool is difficult so plan a little extra time to walk through it. There's no obvious single track or path. You'll pick up narrow tracks and cross slabs of granite that can be very slippery so take care. Also, in some parts, there are steep drops and awkward climbs. The noise of the river here is intoxicating.

Sharrah Pool is a popular spot with wild swimmers. From there, a good path and then forestry track run through the National Trust's Holne Woods to New Bridge. From New Bridge, follow the Two Moors Way as it hugs the bend in the river at Deeper Marsh/Spitchwick Common. In summer, this place is heaving with families enjoying a picnic and wild swim.

The Two Moors Way cuts back on itself and passes Leigh Tor on its way to Dr Blackall's Drive. The views up the Dart Gorge to Bench Tor are special. Follow the good path to Mel Tor and then Sharp Tor.

Next, drop down to Dartmeet. An ancient track runs down the land the to the left of the modern road. Try to see the Coffin Stone as you go.

At Dartmeet, you need to cross the West Dart River.* There are small stepping stones spanning the water but these are impassable after a spell of wet weather. If you cannot cross here, there are taller stepping stones at Huccaby Steps. When the river is in spate and it's too dangerous to cross on stepping stones, use Hexworthy Bridge. Paths lead from both sets of stepping stones to the Combestone Tor area and Venford Reservoir. It's a bit of a detour from Hexworthy Bridge. Follow the path to Venford Reservoir. Cross the dam wall and you are back where you started.

Again, this is a demanding walk. It's a long way. There are plenty of uphill sections and, as mentioned, the stretch between Mel Tor and Sharrah Pool is difficult.

*Don't try to cross the stepping stones when the water is high. Follow the path marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer OL28 'Dartmoor' map that loops around the river by Huccaby. There are warning signs by the stepping stones stating that you should not cross when the water is high.