Discover a fantastic circular walk from Haytor Vale to Hound Tor encompassing some of the most famous tors on Dartmoor, a prehistoric settlement, disused quarries, historic tramway, and a babbling brook. All this, plus some stunning scenery and wild ponies.
As new visitors to Dartmoor National Park we wanted an exciting, varied walk which all the family could enjoy. Haytor is probably one of the most popular tors in Dartmoor and seemed the ideal place to start our Dartmoor adventure.
Dartmoor is one of the UK’s fifteen National Parks and covers 268 square miles of open moorland in South Devon, in southwestern England. We stayed in a converted barn in the nearby village of Coombe, near Buckfastleigh.
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- Distance: 8.5 km (4.5 miles)
- Type of walk: Circular
- Terrain: steep, uneven moorland tracks
Contents: click to jump to a section
Haytor Visitor Centre
Our circular walk from Haytor Vale to Hound Tor starts at the Haytor Visitor Centre in Dartmoor.
The Visitor Centre is on the eastern edge of the Dartmoor National Park, near Bovey Tracey in Devon. It is within easy walk of the iconic Haytor Rocks, one of the most popular beauty spots in Dartmoor.
There’s a free car park at the Visitor Centre, plus toilets and a gift shop (with some rather cute plush otters). I didn’t really need an otter but thought a trail map would be useful, so bought one of these instead. The ranger pointed us in the right direction, and we set off for our first walk on Dartmoor.
The first stretch of the walk took us from the Visitor Centre towards some rock piles on the horizon (not Haytor!) A gate in the boundary fence takes you into Haytor Quarries.
Haytor Quarry is the largest of the five disused, granite quarries on Dartmoor. It’s hard to imagine what this industrial site would have previously looked like, as it is now a serene, picturesque area with a pretty lake, lily pads, purple heather, and hollyhocks. The only reminders of its heritage are some rusty, old machinery used in the excavation works.
Haytor Granite Tramway
Passing around the quarry we exited via a gate onto Haytor Granite Tramway. Built in 1820, the tramway used to transport granite from the quarry down to Stover Canal, then later to Teignmouth.
The tramway was unusual as it was made from local granite, rather than metal. You can still see the parallel granite setts embedded in the moorland.
Smallacombe Rocks to Becka Valley
Leaving Haytor Tramway, we walked on towards Smallacombe Rocks, a large rocky outcrop. Of course, we had to stop and climb it.
As new visitors to Dartmoor, climbing our first Tor was exhilarating. You can see for miles around and the views were spectacular. However, it was extremely windy, so it’s worth taking something warm. Apparently, there’s also a small prehistoric settlement near here, but we didn’t see it.
Coming down from the Tor we followed a narrow trail down into the Becka Valley.
Grea Tor and Greator Rocks
Hiking up the other side of the valley was a bit tougher on the legs. However, we could see the mighty Hound Tor in the distance which kept us pushing on. At this point, we took a slight detour via Greator Rocks, which looked rather fun to climb.
It was about now that we saw our first Dartmoor ponies. Although they are actually owned, the ponies graze freely across the moors. This is essential for maintaining the moor’s landscape.
They are beautiful creatures, but you shouldn’t approach them as they are unpredictable.
Other wildlife we saw during the day were sheep, cows, butterflies and dragonflies. One of the boys spotted a giant horntail (sawfly), which looks like a wasp, but is far friendlier.
Hound Tor deserted medieval village
From here it was an easy walk to the Hound Tor Prehistoric Settlement, which looked like the ideal place for a picnic.
At the base of Hound Tor, you can see the remains of a deserted prehistoric settlement. It included a cluster of 13th century longhouses and farmsteads. Only the granite rocks remain, but you can clearly see the footprint of the ancient buildings. The farmers used to share their houses with the animals, which would live in a separate partition.
There is evidence of settlers living on Dartmoor for over 4000 years and many remains, from as early as the Bronze Age.
After lunch, we climbed the rocks of our end destination, Hound Tor. Along with Haytor Rocks, Hound Tor is one of the most popular tors in Dartmoor.
As you’d imagine, there’s lots of folklore and mystery surrounding the Hound Tor rocks. Legend claims that the rocks were originally a pack of hounds, turned to stone by a witch. Some believe the rocks were the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan’s Doyle’s novel, Hound of the Baskervilles, about a giant ghostly hound that haunted Dartmoor.
It’s fairly easy to climb to the summit at 414 m (1,358 ft), from where you’ll get far-reaching views across the moors.
Our return journey to Haytor, took us along a short stretch of road, where we bumped into a flock of very stubborn black sheep. They were hogging the road and not really prepared to move for anyone.
Eventually we joined a narrow track that took us through some very overgrown ferns and the most butterflies I’ve seen in a long while. I had to remember to keep my mouth shut. This was a very different landscape to the open moorland and rocky outcrops we’d seen all morning.
A gate led us though to the Becka Brook. We crossed the Clapper Bridge and appeared in an idyllic clearing. The water was clear and shallow, and someone had kindly left a rope swing. After a few minutes of deliberation, the clothes were off (kids only), and they were swinging. What fun!
Finally, after a lot of walking, we arrived at Haytor. As Dartmoor’s largest tor, it’s a popular tourist spot and we saw a lot more people here than we’d seen all day. I assume many just park and walk directly to Haytor.
We started with the smaller, western outcrop “Lowman”, before crossing to the other rocks. There are steps cut in the side of the rocks and an iron handrail, but it’s still a big stretch for kids.
As you’d expect, the views from the summits are fantastic. We also had a great feeling of being on top of the world.
Overall, it was a fantastic hike and superb introduction to Dartmoor. The landscape was spectacular, there was lots to see and for the most part we were alone!
The Old Inn at Widdecombe-on-the-Moor
Feeling very pleased with ourselves, we headed for refreshments at the Old Inn in Widdecombe-in-the-Moor. This was the perfect ending to our trip. A delightfully quaint Dartmoor village with one of the best pubs we’ve been in for a long time.
The beer was very welcome, and the boys loved the hens that were pecking round our feet.
Click here for more about a visit to Widdecombe-in-the-Moor
Two short walks at Hay Tor
A stroll from the Visitor Centre to Haytor Rocks (out and back)
If you don’t want a long hike, you can still walk directly to Haytor Rocks from the car park and back. This is about 400 metres each way.
The Tor, Tramway and Quarry Walk (circular)
Alternatively, you could do the first part of our walk, to see the tramway, quarry, and tor. Follow the same route as we did, but when you get to the tramway, return to Haytor. This is a circular walk, so you could also do it in the other direction and start at Haytor. It is about 4km (2.5 miles) and takes about an hour.
Getting to Hay Tor Visitor Centre
Accommodation in Dartmoor
If you wish to stay in Dartmoor, the nearest hotels to Haytor are The Moorland Hotel or The Ilsington Country House Hotel. Alternatively you could stay at the Two Bridges Hotel, which is nearer to Princetown.
For more budget accommodation, there are several excellent guest houses and self-catering accommodation options. We stayed in nearby Buckfastleigh, a market town on the edge of Dartmoor National Park.
Have you done any hiking near Haytor? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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