Gravel Culture: Travel Gravel – The Dartmoor130
Gravel Union On
3 May 2021
The Dartmoor 130 Loop circumvents the infamous Dartmoor National Park, known for its wild open moorlands and deep river valleys, with a rich and infamous history and rare wildlife. Whilst Dartmoor may not be mountainous, the unpredictable weather and harsh landscape create a challenging route, even for experienced gravel riders.
The route is 95% rideable on a gravel bike, with mainly off road tracks connected by quiet country lanes and only a small number of short bits of hike-a-bike. Dartmoor is well known for tracks and bridleways that look great on a map but disappear on the ground, but this route avoids these, nicely giving visiting riders the best of Dartmoor gravel.
The route happened by accident as the Covid19 lockdown of 2020 limited us all to “local activities”, so I took the chance to explore Dartmoor by bike. Having a new gravel bike, I wanted to find the tracks that I could ride rather than walk. Luckily, I also had a campervan that made it easy for me to drive to different parts of Dartmoor in search of the best tracks I could find.
Although I had lived on Dartmoor for 10 years, I hadn’t really taken the time to explore it, as my focus had been on running ultra-marathons that took me to different countries and different parts of the UK. Having “retired” from ultras after my January 2020 finish of the Spine Race, I was planning a year of biking. And what a lucky decision that turned out to be. Having done lots of running on Dartmoor, I was painfully aware that I knew where not to ride but not where to ride. Lockdown gave me the chance to find the best tracks, but also to learn more about the history of Dartmoor and the many ghosts and ghouls that lie in wait for unsuspecting visitors….
The route starts and finishes in the village of Lydford, at the entrance to Lydford Castle. St. Michael’s Ley is said to pass through, carrying its dark energy out over Dartmoor and passing other parts of the route. The Way of the Dead (aka The Lych Way), where people in the 1200s who lived on the outer edges of Lydford parish, would carry their dead to be buried in Lydford, also forms part of the route and is one of the numerous occasions on this route where riders will potentially brush past the legendary ghosts and ghouls of Dartmoor. The haunt of pixies, a headless horseman, spectral hounds, Jay’s grave, the “hairy hands” and the famous Hound of the Baskervilles all play a part in this multi-day ride.
The route distance of 130 miles (222kms) carries some of its own mystery as I discovered when I plotted, planned and checked it during lockdown. Having eventually finalised the route, I booked my time off work to go and test ride it. My original planned date of 28th July was delayed due to the military ranges having two days of live firing scheduled, so I moved my start date to avoid the conflict. It was a good job I checked the firing dates, as they generally tend not to fire during July and August. Over the 6-week period that my dates fell within, the only two days of firing were my original start dates. When I delved into this odd occurrence, I found more weirdness than I had expected.
- The route, after many iterations, is exactly 130 miles.
- I booked my time off work 130 days after I first went into lockdown.
- The inaugural day of the ride was 130 days since the first official UK lockdown started.
- Day 1, was 30th July.
- And on a more positive note, there are apparently 130 stone crosses on Dartmoor to keep you safe!
The route maximises use of the numerous disused railways, forest roads and military tracks found in the area in order to make this route suitable for gravel bikes. Having said that, riders should not be too complacent - there are also numerous steep sections of hike-a-bike, steep rocky descents, and chunks of granite that will at times test your skills whilst you pick your line from rock to rock!
Dartmoor is one of the few areas in England where wild camping is allowed, so there are many places to make the most of this luxury. There are also plenty of quiet campsites and pubs that offer more comfortable options for those that prefer them, or when the weather “comes in” and a wild camp is not so inviting. With all the small villages on the route, many with shops and pubs, riders do not need to carry too much food as they are never more than 20 miles or so from their next food stop. The route lends itself to either a fast weekend blast around Dartmoor with just one wild camp, right up to a 3-4 day leisurely ride, taking in the many legendary sites and local Devon hospitality.
Dartmoor is known for its bleak and unpredictable weather, with thick mists that roll across the moors appearing from nowhere, leaving visitors lost, exposed and at the mercy of the elements. As the route takes in many of the highest, more exposed parts, including skirting past Fox Tor Mires, also known as the Grimpen Mire in the famous Hound of the Baskervilles tale, where many a man and beast have been sucked into the peaty depths never to be seen again, take the Dartmoor 130 Loop lightly at your peril.
For those that like the idea of Dartmoor routes you can ride, but don’t want to ride the full 130mile/222kms loop in one trip, there are many other routes on the free online Dartmoor Gravel Bike Guide. These other shorter routes range from 20-30 miles (32- 50kms), can all be completed in a day but still take in many parts of the Dartmoor130 loop.
If you would like to find out more about gravel riding on Dartmoor, please check-out Peter’s blog and follow him on Instagram.