This Devon walk takes in two pretty villages

View along a sunny Devon bridlepath.

The bridlepath towards Sticklepath. - Credit: Simone Stanbrook-Byrne

SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE enjoys walking around two Devon villages and welcoming inns on the northern edge of Dartmoor, around the River Taw 

It’s winter in Devon and this is going to be muddy. But, for a Dartmoor walk, this route has many winter advantages: there are no long stretches of open moorland to navigate, it visits Sticklepath with all its amenities and a break from mud halfway round, and there is a range of refreshment options to warm you up.  

You will find nuggets of history, good views (a clear day is essential) and plenty to entice you back when the weather is more clement. Check the forecast, wrap up well, grab your stoutest boots and enjoy it. Winter will feel better for getting outside. 

Route 

1. 

Leave the car park and turn right along the road, away from the village. In 150m, just before the cattle grid, take the track going diagonally left off the road, initially walking between boulders, towards a wooden kissing gate 100m away. Pass through and follow the clear path away from the gate, passing some sheds, to reach a yellow-arrowed gate.  

Beyond this, walk through the field beside the curvy right-hand hedge until it arrives at another arrowed gate. The path leads through the next small field, generally following the right-hand hedge again. At the end of the field continue ahead amongst trees. The path descends and soon has a stream running to the left. 

Most Read

The path wiggles through trees to reach a wooden-stepped stile – mind how you fall down the steep far side. Continue on the clear path through the woodland; you will probably hear the A30 ahead. Stay with the path, passing an occasional gate, until you reach the lane. Turn right. 

2. 

Follow the road as it bends past a few cottages and, after about 200m, look out for the footpath gate on the right. An old fingerpost, squashed out of alignment by the newer fencing, denotes the path to Tongue End, though its direction is misleading.  

Head straight across the field, bearing very slightly right past the oak tree in the middle (not the tree over to the right), to reach a metal farm-and-footpath combo-gate on the far side of the field – you are heading towards a building up on the hillside a couple of fields away.  

Go through the gate and across the next two fields, always aiming for this building. When you get there you discover it’s erroneously labelled as ‘Tounge’ End Pumping Station – I have a dyslexic friend who’s a sign writer in the north of England; it seems he’s not the only one! 

3. 

Cross the nearby stile and turn left, following the road for 120m. At Tenacity Cottage, wonder at the story behind the name, then turn right along the stony bridlepath towards Skaigh and Sticklepath. After initially rising, the bridlepath levels out and views open to the right, up towards the heights of Cosdon Hill and Belstone Tor. Almost half-a-mile after joining the bridleway a track goes right; ignore this and keep straight on, also enjoying views to the left, across the countryside north of the moor. 

The track passes a thatched house, The Moors, and starts to descend. Ignore another right turn in just over 300m and keep ahead on the bridleway which, as it draws closer to Sticklepath begins to feel like one of the old ways, with its moss-upholstered stone walls and trees; think yourself back in time.  

The bridleway reaches a couple of private houses on the left and swings sharp right away from them, heading rockily downhill beneath trees. In 200m you pass a seatless bench and the steep downward path deposits you in Sticklepath, at the junction of a side road with the main road through the village. Follow the main road into Sticklepath, availing yourself of any amenities.  

4. 

The village boasts some interesting history: the Trafalgar Way passes through, the route followed when news of victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, as well as of the death of Lord Nelson, was carried from Falmouth to London – look out for the information plaque opposite The Devonshire Inn as well as the old village stocks a little further on, once used to deter miscreants. 

Follow the road until it crosses the old packhorse bridge, which was widened in 1935 to accommodate modern traffic. Immediately after the bridge turn right on the signed path beside the River Taw. This path is part of the recently designated, 108-mile Dartmoor Way, and also the Tarka Trail, the latter commemorating Henry Williamson’s enduring story, Tarka the Otter.  

5. 

Follow the path, river to the right, ignoring the footbridge you reach almost immediately. You soon arrive at a three-way fingerpost, follow the right-hand option, staying with Tarka and the Dartmoor Way. The path passes a busy weir on the outskirts of Sticklepath and continues, through an occasional gate and never far from the meandering river. 

About three-quarters-of-a-mile from the road the route passes a more substantial weir with a small adjacent building. A little way beyond this the path crosses the river on a footbridge, its rails carved with a quote from Tarka the Otter: “…the River Taw grew, flowing under steep hills that towered high above…it wandered away from the moor…” 

Turn left at the end of the bridge, walking through the trees of Belstone Cleave in an area that can be busy with visitors in summer – many paths traverse this access land. The way is rough underfoot but stick with it, following the river to the next footbridge, 200m further along.  

6. 

Recross the river and immediately turn right, at a post denoting the Mary Michael Pilgrims’ Way, another long-distance path between Cornwall and Avebury which, it is hoped, will eventually extend to Norfolk.  

Stay on the clear path, River Taw to your right again, for more than half-a-mile, hopping (or wading) over occasional tributary streams. Although you can’t see it for the trees, the massive Cosdon Hill is rising to the left. Eventually the path climbs left, away from the river, before swinging back round again. Trees are festooned with foliose lichen, a sign of clean air.  

7. 

Keep going until you see on the hillside ahead the outlying houses of Belstone - make a note of where it is to use as your bearing for the final stretch of the walk. As you approach the village the path is some way from the river but it can still be heard, down to the right; use it as your guide, though it’s not always your companion. 

The path meets a crossing stony path. Go right, in the direction of Belstone (you can’t see it at this point). You reach the river again in about 100m, bear left to cross it on the footbridge, then bear right to follow the clear path away from the river. It climbs to a crossing track about 30m from the bridge; turn left, uphill, and stay on this track as it bends and climbs. 

As you rise there will be views along Belstone Cleave and to the lower slopes of Cosdon Hill. The track passes a bench, dedicated to the memory of Walter Wilfred Westlake, a man who was ahead of his time with all those www before the internet was ever thought of. It was presented by the Commoners of Belstone to mark his services to the parish: for 33 years he was portreeve, 25 years parish councillor and nine years as rural district councillor. An impressive record of public duty. 

8. 

As the rising track peters out, head straight across the grass to the Tors Inn.  Partake. 

Once refreshed, walk along the road from the inn towards the phone box and postbox outside the old Telegraph Office – as you reach the end of the inn building there’s a left turn if you wish to visit the historic church.  

At the grassy triangle in front of the Telegraph Office turn right and follow the road. Look out for the old pound over on the right, near the building that now houses the Tea Rooms, and another set of village stocks. Continue on the road to Belstone Cross where a road fingerpost indicates the way back to the car park. Follow the road as it bends left, then right, and you’re soon back at the start point. 

Windswept tree on Belstone Tor, Dartmoor.

Belstone Tor offers open moorland walking for those who wish to have a yomp across the heights above the village. - Credit: Neville Stanikk/VisitDevon

While you’re here...five things to do while you’re in the area 

1. A Community Café takes place every Thursday in Belstone Village Hall from 10am to 12 noon. Everyone is welcome to enjoy a cuppa and cake, with all profits going towards maintaining the village hall. What better way to start a walk? 

2. Andrew’s Corner, on the edge of Belstone, is one of the most appealing gardens I’ve visited through the NGS (Yellow Book) scheme – they also open for other charities. The family has been opening this garden to the public, on certain dates during the year, for more than half a century. From the bottom of the garden there are dramatic views up Cosdon Hill. A dedicated website gives full details. 

3. Bowden Hostas in Sticklepath has won an incredible 125 RHS gold medals as well as 26 golds at the Chelsea Flower Show. If you’re passing at a time when their beautiful gardens are open to the public, they are well-worth a visit; I had no idea there were so many varieties of hosta and agapanthus and they also have an arresting stumpery. 

4. Finch Foundry in Sticklepath is owned by the National Trust and is a monument to what was the Finch family empire. The company employed up to 25 men including blacksmiths, carpenters, wheelwrights and farriers. 

5. Belstone Tor offers open moorland walking for those who wish to grab the OS map and have a yomp across the heights above the village. It’s steep, airy walking so you will need clear weather. 

Compass Points  

Directions to start: Belstone is just off the A30, 3½ miles from Okehampton 

Parking and Start Point: Car park on the edge of Belstone, opposite village hall. Grid ref: SX621938. Nearby postcode: EX20 1RB 

Map: OS Explorer OL28, Dartmoor 1:25 000 

Terrain: Woodland and field paths, tracks, very rough footpaths. Expect mud and be well-booted 

Distance: 4¾ miles 

Dog friendliness: Animals grazing; most stiles accessible 

Exertion: Moderate; not much ascent but very rough paths in places 

Public transport: Occasional buses run to Sticklepath and Belstone 

Refreshments: Check ahead, opening times vary through the year. The Tors Inn, Belstone, EX20 1QZ (01837 840689); Old School Tea Rooms, Belstone, EX20 1RA (01837 840498); Taw River Inn, Sticklepath, EX20 2NW (01837 840377); Village Stores & Tea Rooms, Sticklepath, EX20 2NW (01837 840359)