Dartmoor. Imposing granite tors and ancient woods, vast landscapes and windswept ponies. Peopled by experienced walkers sporting large backpacks with an expert knowledge of navigation and teams of bedraggled students completing their Ten Tors challenges.
This is a land that favours the intrepid and the brave. At least that’s what most people think.
The reality is that Dartmoor is many things. Yes, it can be challenging and it can be imposing, however there are sides to Dartmoor that make it truly accessible for all, regardless of your fitness levels or mobility. Something that I found out the hard way.
I was raised in a small village on Dartmoor and spent my youth exploring the gorse, heather and bogs of the moorland. I took the rugged landscape for granted and left without a backwards glance for the wider world. However, when I had a family of my own, the pull to give them the outdoors childhood that I had enjoyed saw me returning to settle. I continued to explore with small hands in mine, introducing my children to what Dartmoor had to offer for those with little legs and big imaginations. We clambered tors, explored woods and swam in the cold, clear rivers, rediscovering old haunts and finding new ones together.
Then the unthinkable happened. In 2013, when my children were 5 and 8 years old, I was involved in a car accident on a moorland road close to my home. With serious injuries, my life was changed forever. The following years have taken me on a slow road to recovery; from a wheelchair, to a walking frame, to crutches and now walking independently, albeit with some difficulties.
During this time, I found Dartmoor was suddenly a closed door to me. Places that I had been visiting my whole life were completely inaccessible with a wheelchair. Tors that I had previously climbed with little ones in tow, now seemed like mountains when attempted with crutches. I was dismayed by sitting in car parks watching my children play on the very edges of the moor or having to stay at home whilst they went further afield. If I did not want to lose my connection to Dartmoor for good, I needed to look anew at the moors around me.
So, I began to explore again and what I found was a different side to Dartmoor. I sought out gentle slopes and short walks. I looked at the rugged landscape and searched for the paths that I could take. I tried different routes. Sometimes, I had to abandon them when I hit an obstacle in my path, be it a sharp incline, a rocky scramble or waterlogged ground, but sometimes I succeeded and found a piece of the wild that I could reclaim for myself.
I stopped looking for large challenges and instead grew content with small adventures.
The moors can be unforgiving for those unfamiliar with its terrain, but if you are deterred by it’s imagined harshness, you may never discover it’s gentler side. The advantage of Dartmoor’s vastness is that you do not need to venture far from the path to find it’s wild heart.
Dartmoor has much to offer those of us who find walking a bit more challenging, whether due to mobility or health issues, small children or slowing down with age. The much documented health benefits to spending time in nature are surely magnified when faced with such a landscape as this.
You do not need to climb ten tors, or even one tor. There are small adventures to be had when you look for them.