50 Walks in Devon

Dartington Hall Estate

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in Devon.

About 50 Walks in Devon

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to Devon features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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Sample walk: Dartington Hall Estate

  • Distance: 6.5 miles (10.4km)
  • Minimum Time: 3hrs
  • Ascent: 164 feet (50m)
  • Gradient: 1
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Paths: Fields, woodland tracks and country lanes
  • Landscape: River meadows, parkland and mixed woodland
  • Suggested Map: AA Leisure Map 2 Torbay & South Dartmoor
  • Start Grid Reference: SX799628
  • Dog Friendliness: Keep on lead; dogs (except guide dogs) not allowed within Dartington Hall grounds
  • Parking: Opposite entrance to Dartington Hall and Gardens
  • Public Toilet: Outside entrance to Dartington Hall and Staverton village
Background reading

You could be forgiven for thinking that Dartington is really nothing more than what you see as you cross the roundabout on the A382 leading south from the A38 to Totnes – just somewhere you pass en route to the South Hams. But there's so much more to Dartington than that, and the story behind 'the vision' of Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, who bought the estate in 1925, is a fascinating one. This walk circles the estate and you should allow time at the end to visit its central buildings.

Dartington Hall was described by Nikolaus Pevsner in his classic book on the buildings of Devon as 'the most spectacular medieval mansion' in Devon. The great hall and main courtyard were built for John Holand, Duke of Exeter, at the end of the 14th century, and although all the buildings have since been carefully restored, to walk through the gateway into the courtyard today, with the superb Great Hall with its hammerbeam roof opposite, is to step back in time. Arthur Champernowne came to own the manor in 1554, and made various alterations, and the estate stayed in the hands of the Champernowne family until 1925. Further restoration work was carried out in Georgian times, but by the time the Elmhirsts came on the scene the Hall was derelict. Visitors can explore the Great Hall, courtyard and gardens, if they are not in use, in return for a donation.

St Mary's Church can be found on the northern edge of the estate just off the Totnes road. You'll pass the site of the original estate church just to the north of the Hall. It was demolished in 1873, leaving only the tower, which can be seen today. The new church, which is wonderfully light and spacious, was built in 1880, following the exact dimensions of the original building, and re-using various items from it, such as the south porch with its lovely star vault, the chancel screen, font, pulpit and roof. A tablet in the outer east wall records the rebuilding and subsequent consecration of the church by Frederick, Bishop of Exeter. The Dartington Hall Trust, a registered charity, was set up in 1932, and evolved from the vision of Leonard Elmhirst and his American wife Dorothy Whitney Straight, who bought the derelict hall and 1,000 acres (405ha) of the estate and set about making their dream a reality. He was interested in farming and forestry, and in increasing rural employment opportunities. She believed passionately in the arts as a way of promoting personal and social improvement. Their joint aim was to provide a foundation where both dreams could be realised, and the Dartington Estate, today a venue for all manner of creative events and initiatives, provides the perfect setting.

  1. From the car park turn left downhill to where the road bends sharp left. Turn left through a gate and walk down the field; keep ahead through a gate to reach the River Dart.
  2. Turn left and follow the river upstream through woodland. The Dart here is broad, tree-lined and slow moving. Continue through riverside meadows, and eventually pass through an open gateway in a high wall on to a wooded track.
  3. Walk along the river edge of the next field (Park Copse left). At the end of that field a gate leads into Staverton Ford Plantation. Bear right to follow a narrow path back towards the river. This path, stepped in places, runs parallel with the Dart, leading into a broad woodland track through North Wood. When you see buildings nearby through the trees on the right, turn right at a crossroads and walk downhill to a metal gate and a lane.
  4. Turn right to cross Staverton Bridge. At the level crossing turn right to pass through Staverton Station Yard into a park-like area between the railway and river. Follow the path across the single-track railway and walk on to meet a lane by Sweet William Cottage.
  5. Turn right and follow the lane to its end. Go straight ahead on a small path to pass into the churchyard of the Church of St Paul de Leon, a 9th-century travelling preacher. Turn left at the lane to pass the public toilets, and left at the junction to the Sea Trout Inn. After your break retrace your steps to the metal gate past Staverton Bridge.
  6. Turn immediately right to rejoin the track. Follow this until it runs downhill and bends left. Turn right towards a gate, then left on a narrow concrete path. The houses of Huxham's Cross can be seen, right. Eventually the concrete path leaves the woodland to run between wire fences to meet a concrete drive at the Old Dartington Craft Education Building. Follow the drive to meet the road.
  7. Turn left to pass Old Parsonage Farm. Keep on the road back to Dartington Hall, passing the gardens and ruins of the original church (right), until you see the car park on the left.
While you're there

Visit Dartington Cider Press Centre, a wonderful place to browse and shop. Open seven days a week, free parking. On the last leg of the walk you'll pass an interesting 1930s building, High Cross House, now in the care of the National Trust (open Wednesday to Sunday).

Where to eat and drink

The thatched and beamed Cott Inn (established in 1320) is signposted from the roundabout in Dartington village and has a pretty garden, accommodation and good food. There are two excellent eateries at Dartington Cider Press Centre – Cranks vegetarian restaurant, and The Venus Café. Within the grounds of Dartington Hall there is The White Hart Bar and the Roundhouse Cafe, the latter by the walk start. The 15th-century Sea Trout Inn at Staverton offers very good food.

What to look out for

The South Devon Railway runs from Buckfastleigh to Totnes. Staverton Station has featured in many television programmes and films, such as The Railway Children. The station at Buckfastleigh has old locomotives and rolling stock on display, a museum and café, riverside walks and a picnic area. Nearby is Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies.

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