A Place Apart - A Delightful Five Mile Ramble Along Devon's Lustleigh Cleave - Walks

This 5-mile ramble along Lustleigh Cleave is perfect - it begins and ends at Lustleigh, one of Dartmoor's prettiest villages words and photos by Robert Hesketh.


Beginning and ending at Lustleigh, one of Dartmoor’s prettiest villages, this exploration of Lustleigh Cleave is perfect for a winter’s day. Combining a woodland and riverside ramble through the deep and sequestered Cleave, it includes the lovely boulder-strewn waterfall at Horsham Steps and the excellent ridge walk from Hunter’s Tor to Harton Chest. The views are superb – a great panorama of eastern Dartmoor from Haytor Rocks, Saddle Tor, Rippon Tor, Hound Tor, and Hameldown around to Moretonhampstead.

A place apart, Lustleigh Cleave shows better than anywhere else in Devon the dramatic effect the Sticklepath Fault had on the landscape, cutting right across the county. Starting from Torbay, this massive Tertiary period wrench fault forms a line through the Bovey Basin, along the eastern edge of Dartmoor (including Lustleigh Cleave) and on to Bideford Bay.

Even muffled by winter snow, the sound of rushing water haunts Lustleigh Cleave as the River Bovey winds its sinuous path south. However, it is neither the river nor the valley which gave the Cleave its name, but the great granite blocks that castellate its sides and lip. Derived from the Old English clif (a cliff or bank), ‘Cleave’ is found in many minor Devon placenames and elsewhere in the Westcountry, including Clevedon in Somerset. 

After a bracing winter walk, the 15th-century Cleave Hotel’s huge fireplace with oak beams and bread oven is a welcome sight. Outstanding among Lustleigh’s cob, stone and thatch buildings, the Cleave was originally the main building of Lustleigh Farm, becoming an inn a century ago. In the hall is a fascinating collection of period village photographs, including Lustleigh May Day and Lustleigh station.

The railway embankment and bridge of the pretty line that connected Lustleigh to Bovey Tracey and Moretonhampstead is to one side of the hotel’s garden. A footpath from the nearby war memorial leads under the railway bridge and past the cricket ground to Wreyland. Wittily described by Cecil Torr in his Small Talk at Wreyland, Wreyland has several exceptional vernacular buildings.

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Lustleigh’s granite church remains the focal point of the village. Decorated for Christmas, it has much of interest, including a beautiful 16th-century screen and medieval monuments. In the churchyard is the schoolhouse (1825), which had the Master’s house on the ground floor and the schoolroom above.

1. From Lustleigh’s Church, turn left. Follow the lane signed for Rudge. Cross the bridge. Keep right when the lane forks. Turn first right at the chapel. Walk uphill and turn left by ‘Oakehurst’ onto the signed path. Follow this uphill past houses and gardens to a group of three stone and thatch houses. Turn left. Turn right at the ‘T’ junction. Only 50m ahead, turn left onto the bridlepath for Lustleigh Cleave.

2. Continue ahead through Heaven’s Gate and follow the path downhill for 50m to path fork. Bear right here (NB do not take the path for Hisley Bridge). At the next junction of paths, follow the bridlepath ahead signed ‘Manaton via Water’. Bear right and uphill when the path forks at a birch marked with a red stripe. Continue uphill for ‘Hammerslake’ at the next fingerpost. Turn left at the following fingerpost, signed ‘Foxworthy Bridge’. Ignore side turnings. After walking 1.5km/1 mile, divert left for 200m on the path for Horsham to see Horsham Steps, a beautiful boulder-strewn waterfall. Beware the slippery moss, which grows thickly on trees and boulders in the clean, moist air of the Cleave.

3. Return to the main path and turn left for Foxworthy. Pass behind the house and through a gate. Just beyond the converted barn take the path right signed ‘Peck Farm’.

4. When the path meets a concrete track turn right, signed ‘Hammerslake’. Bypass Peck Farm, taking the signed public bridlepath through the gate to the right. Carry on to the top of the ridge. Hunter’s Tor, a superb viewpoint, includes the eroded ramparts of the Iron Age fort, which are easily missed unless you look for them.

5. Follow the fine and clearly defined ridge path on to Harton Chest, a massive granite boulder, which can be climbed with care. Looking down nearly 153m into the floor of the Cleave gives a dramatic impression of its size and steepness.

6. Entering woodland (again, littered with boulders), the path descends gently at first and then sharply. At the fingerpost, ignore the sign for Heaven’s Gate and go straight ahead through the gate in front of you.

Turn right onto the metalled lane and first left after 250m. Follow the lane down past Ellimore Farm. At the bottom of the hill, take the signed public footpath left. Walk down through the woods, ignoring the first gated path left. Leave the wood by a gate and cross the brook via a wooden bridge. The large boulder in the centre of Lustleigh Orchard is surmounted by a stone seat, the May Queen’s throne. Lustleigh’s May Day begins with a parade through the village, followed by music and maypole dancing, with games and side shows in the Orchard. Walk straight on through the Orchard to the start.


Distance: 8.5km (5� miles)

Time: 3 hours

Start/parking: Roadside parking in Lustleigh SX785813

Terrain: Well-signed footpaths, bridlepaths and lanes. Some short but steep ascents and descents

Refreshments: Primrose Cottage Tearooms (01647 277365 home-made cakes) and Cleave Hotel (01647 277223 real ales and good menu) in Lustleigh. Both welcome dogs

Public Toilets: Lustleigh

Public Transport: 178 (279 on Sundays): daily service Newton Abbot to Moretonhampstead route via Bovey Tracey (daily)

Maps: OS Landranger 191, OS Outdoor Leisure 28 or Harvey’s Dartmoor

For more walks see North Dartmoor Pub Walks, Robert Hesketh, Bossiney Books, 2006. ISBN 0-1-899383-83-2

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