The River Bovey woodlands and the old Newton Abbot-to-Moretonhampstead railway line.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr 30min
Ascent/gradient 196ft (60m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Woodland and field paths, 4 stiles
Landscape Wooded river valley and parkland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 110 Torquay & Dawlish
Start/finish SX 814782
Dog friendliness Dogs should be kept under control at all times
Parking Car park on the B3344 at lower end of Fore Street, Bovey Tracey, with tourist information office
Public toilets At car park
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1 Cross the road and turn right, following the signs for 'Town centre shops'. Just before you come to the the bridge turn left along a concrete walkway into Mill Marsh Park, past the children's playground and through the arboretum. This level footpath leads past the sports field to meet the busy A382 at Hole Bridge via a kissing gate. Cross the road carefully.
2 Go through the kissing gate and turn right to enter the National Trust's Parke Estate on the trackbed of the, now dismantled, Newton Abbot-to-Moretonhampstead railway line. Follow the path over the Bovey.
3 Turn immediately left down wooden steps and over a stile to follow the river (left). Cross a stile at the end of the field and carry on through a wooded strip, down wooden steps and over a footbridge and stile into the next field.
4 Signs here point left for Parke and right for 'Railway Walk' but you should go straight on following the 'Riverside Walk' through the field into woodland, then on a raised wooden walkway to the river. The path winds on, then runs along between woods with fields on the right, then over a footbridge to meet the river at a weir. Follow the bank, ignoring a broad track right. Two kissing gates lead out of National Trust land and past a footbridge on the left. A few paces later the footpath turns right to cross the railway track. Turn left and straight on to a lane via a kissing gate.
5 Turn left (signed 'Manaton') and pass between the old railway bridge piers. Walk across Wilsford Bridge, ignoring signs to Lustleigh right. Continue up the lane past Forder gatehouses, then steeply uphill until the lane bends sharp right.
6 Turn left over a stile to re-enter the Parke Estate. The wooded path is narrow, with views left over the Bovey Valley. Go through a beech wood and kissing gate to enter a large field. Keep to the right edge, dropping gradually downhill, to leave via a kissing gate and down a narrow wooded path parallel to the road.
7 The path ends at a kissing gate; turn sharp left to walk across the parkland and the drive to Parke car park. Walk downhill to cross the lower drive, then left to walk below the house, ending at a five-bar gate. Turn right ('Riverside Walk') to cross the river at Parke Bridge, then straight on to join the old railway track.
8 Turn right and follow the track until it crosses the Bovey, to meet the A382. Cross the road to enter Mill Marsh Park and retrace your steps to your car.
The road signs as you approach Bovey Tracey proudly proclaim the town as being the 'Gateway to the Moor', and although this may be debatable (the town is 3 miles/4.8km from the open moor, and gives no impression of Dartmoor proper) it is certainly true that the character of the landscape changes markedly as you leave the town. To the west the road climbs steadily up towards the tourist honeypot of Hay Tor, and the northern route travels past picturesque Lustleigh through the wooded Wray valley to reach Moretonhampstead and the open moorland beyond. The town's other claim to fame is that it is home to the headquarters of the Dartmoor National Park Authority, based at Parke, a splendid house set in spacious parkland just to the west of the town. The River Bovey runs through the National Trust's Parke Estate, and the area provides an excellent range of walking opportunities.
The 12-mile (19.3km) Newton Abbot-to-Moretonhampstead railway line was opened in 1866, and finally closed for passenger traffic in 1959. A group of enthusiasts tried to keep it open as a preserved steam line, but were unsuccessful. Attempts are being made at the time of writing to open the line as a walking and cycling route. It was closed for goods traffic to Moretonhampstead in 1964, and to Bovey Tracey in 1970. The line is still laid as track as far as Heathfield, 2 miles (3.2km) south of Bovey Tracey, and is opened to the public on special occasions.
The building housing the National Park's offices at Parke was built around 1826 on the site of a derelict Tudor house, and left to the National Trust by Major Hole in 1974. In 1999 the eleven National Parks of England and Wales celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legislation that established them. The Dartmoor National Park, covering 368 sq miles (953 sq km), was number four (in October 1951), following the Peak District, the Lake District and Snowdonia. Walkers should appreciate the purposes behind the National Parks movement - 'the conservation of the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area, and the promotion of the understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities by the public'. The office at Parke is open for enquiries during normal office hours and is a useful port of call before planning any walks on Dartmoor.
Bovey Tracey has a number of pubs and cafés. Try The Terrace Café at The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, which serves a good range of food and drink and has a lovely rooftop seating area, or - just down the road - Brookside, a licensed café and tea garden.
Visit the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, which can be found just by the bridge over the Bovey by the car park. Open every day (except winter bank holidays) from 10am-5:30pm, this is a wonderful place to go and browse for presents in the craft shop, where you can see a huge range of items produced by local craftspeople. There is also a gallery upstairs, where the Guild puts on special themed exhibitions.
Look out for the charismatic dipper as you stroll along the riverbank. This usually solitary little bird can often be seen bobbing about the rocks in the river. It has a white throat and breast and chestnut underparts, and a characteristic peculiar to the species - it can walk and swim underwater in fast-flowing streams, searching for food. The force of the water on its slanted back as it walks along the streambed, with its head down, holds it on the bottom.