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Dartmoor train line is back after 50 years – here’s what to do and see along the route | Rail travel

Many are the legends of misplaced walkers tricked by swirling mists, pixies or ghosts on the northern fringe of Dartmoor, one among Devon’s extra remoted corners. In the 18th century, when stage coaches rattled over tough tracks, it was a harsh and harmful place to travel. There is nonetheless a way of remoteness – this is the place the Atlantic winds arrive unhindered, and it is without delay bleak and bracing, dramatic and drear. But when you haven’t bought wheels, it has been tougher to attain in current occasions than it was for generations previous.

That is set to change on 20 November, when the Dartmoor Line will reopen nearly 50 years after it was axed. Now native customers and employees, in addition to walkers and climbers, cyclists and campers, will probably be ready to travel from anyplace in the UK, by way of Exeter, and attain the high of Dartmoor simply and with out driving. The £40.5 million line, the first to be reinstated as a part of the Department for Transport’s “Restoring your Railway” initiative, is a major nationwide second in addition to nice information for the tourism-reliant south-west.

Okehampton station
The new line to Okehampton station (pictured), described by one campaigner as an “oasis in a rail desert”. Photograph: Antony Christie

Stations at Ivybridge and Totnes have opened up the east and south moor. The new line to Okehampton – described by one campaigner as an “oasis in a rail desert” – may very well be a boon for the north moor in addition to components of Cornwall. It will even take some visitors off the typically jammed A30.

Locals campaigned for the reopening for greater than 20 years, working alongside councillors, railway specialists and Great Western Railway, even working three particular “protest” trains from Okehampton to Paddington, Stratford-upon-Avon and Weymouth to power the authorities’s hand.

When it opened in October 1871, the 15.5-mile line from Exeter was the preliminary stage in a sequence of two main railway extensions that continued west to Launceston in Cornwall and, in 1890, down to Tavistock and Plymouth by way of the Tamar valley. Though not scheduled to shut as a part of the preliminary Beeching cuts of the Sixties, the final common train ran back in 1972. A Sunday service operated in the summer time months from the late Nineties however the line was largely for transporting – mockingly sufficient – railway ballast from Meldon Quarry.

West Devonians are nonetheless calling for a restoration of the full route down to Plymouth, their case strengthened in 2014 when a storm destroyed the GWR tracks at Dawlish. For now, although, we’ll have to make do with the new line, which can make the journey from Exeter to Okehampton in 40 minutes with a single cease at the tiny bishopric of Crediton along the method. Trains will run each two hours (hourly from 2022).

The Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton
The Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Often neglected, Okehampton is a likable sufficient market city that’s residence to the Museum of Dartmoor Life, retelling the area’s historical past from the Mesolithic to post-industrial occasions, and a superb YHA hostel that occupies an outdated railway items shed. Over the winter, its Victorian station will probably be refurbished, the cafe restored, and there are plans for a Dartmoor national park customer centre subsequent yr.

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With the city centre simply 20 minutes’ stroll from the northern border of Dartmoor nationwide park, Okehampton is pitching itself as the “gateway to the moor” and is doubtless to be a well-liked base for these setting off on walks. Just west of the city is Meldon Viaduct, a well-liked place to begin ascents of High Willhays and Yes Tor, the highest factors on Dartmoor.

Twelve miles southeast lies Chagford, a full of life former stannary (tin-mining) city inside the nationwide park. Arts and crafts studios, vegan cafes and jazz nights make it a form of Totnes of the high of the moor, and there are many cottages and inns providing B&B. It’s a good, however nice, stroll and the 178 bus runs as soon as each day (besides Sundays) between Okehampton and Chagford. There are beautiful woods and riverside footpaths round the city.

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Each area of Dartmoor has its personal character. The north and northwestern moors typically really feel extra open and uncovered, and whereas there is loads of good strolling, the uplands will be Baskerville-level boggy. The presence of the MoD and its firing ranges could be a ache if conflict video games coincide together with your deliberate go to – however they’re not that frequent and often navy exercise is restricted to one among three areas (firing and different navy workouts are flagged up upfront online.

A significant upside is that Dartmoor is the solely space in England that at present explicitly permits wild tenting. For home vacationers eager to scale back their carbon footprint, a train ticket and a tent are all they want to escape to the wilds of the far north.

The greatest choices for walks and rides from the new line

Wild camping on Dartmoor, the only area in England that explicitly permits it
Wild tenting on Dartmoor, the solely space in England that explicitly permits it Photograph: John Ryan/Alamy

Circular stroll from Okehampton
From Okehampton comply with the highway to the Battle Camp – simply inside the moor – to do a well-liked round five- or six-mile stroll round West Mill Tor, Rowtor, Scarey Tor and Tors End, returning by way of the quaint Tors Inn at Belstone.

Granite Way
The primarily traffic-free 11-mile Granite Way cycle route runs between the station and Lydford. You can hire bikes and e-bikes at Granite Way Cycles on Klondyke Road.

Two summits
The 10-mile climb from both Okehampton or Meldon Viaduct up to the two highest factors on Dartmoor – High Willhays and Yes Tor – is straightforward sufficient as long as it’s not lashing down. The identify of High Willhays, recorded as “High Willies” and “High Willows” in some outdated paperwork, may de derived from Welsh “gwylfa” for “watching place” – suggesting it might need been a lookout for beacon fires. Its summit is not of the dramatic, pointed variety however at 621 metres above sea stage, it is typically wind-lashed and moist.

Okehampton to Buckfastleigh

The steam-operated South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh station.
The steam-operated South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh station. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA


It’s a serious-sounding 26 miles between these two small cities, however the terrain is various and not often robust going, and there are glorious locations to camp en route, together with beside the Grimspound stone hut circles or in the woodlands and gorse patches on the japanese slope of Hameldown. This final is an imposing humpback hill with high quality views in all instructions. Buckfastleigh is served by the touristy South Devon Railway, which hyperlinks up with Totnes for mainline trains.

Cross Dartmoor
The 37-mile West Devon Way between Okehampton and Plymouth is a superb choice for many who come by bus or train: every of the eight levels begins and stops at a bus cease.

Two Moors Way
Passing smack-bang between Okehampton and Crediton, the (*50*) entails a 10-mile “walk in” or a taxi. The 102-mile coast-to-coast footpath, from Lynton in north Devon to Wembury close to Plymouth, spans Exmoor and Dartmoor; extremely runners can full the journey in a single day. Sustrans’ 99-mile Coast to Coast route, between Ilfracombe and Plymouth, is the equal for cyclists.

Loop the loop
The 95-mile Dartmoor Way, which passes via Okehampton, loops spherical the park on lanes and minor roads, superb for biking and e-bikes. It can be utilized for day journeys or for a full five-to-seven day vacation. A parallel 108-mile route is utilized by walkers.

Note on navigating
Large areas of Dartmoor are featureless, mists are frequent and sudden, and there are morasses throughout. The double-sided Ordnance Survey OL28 map covers nearly the entirety of the nationwide park at 1: 25,000 scale, superb for walkers

BMC XT40, a single 1:40,000 scale map displaying the entire of Dartmoor, is appropriate for common planning or straightforward, brief walks on well-used paths.

Tickets from Exeter to Okehampton value £8 return, for data and tickets go to Dartmoorline.com

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