Preparing for a dog walk on Dartmoor

Preparing for a dog walk on Dartmoor

By Cath Harris 

Devon is known for its green landscapes, sandy beaches and rolling hills – all of these things combined make it the ideal place to explore with your four-legged companion. Dartmoor National Park is 365 square miles of moorland nestled in the centre of the county between Exeter and Plymouth. The landscape is renowned for its granite structures called ‘Tors’ and its topography is so extreme that the British Army have a training ground in the North West quarter.

Many areas are designed for exploring on foot, bike and horseback with common areas attracting a staggering 7.8 million visitors each year with 92% coming from the nearest eight counties. Whilst large areas are open for dog walkers, much of Dartmoor is privately owned by farmers, National Trust and the Dutchy of Cornwall.

Weather preparations

Locally, Dartmoor is known to have its own microclimate – the weather is changeable so make sure you check a local forecast regularly before you depart and pack layers for you, and your dog. I always wear a hat and SPF, no matter the weather, to stop wind-carried UV rays – on really sunny days my pale Vizsla wears a little mineral sunscreen on her snout.
When you reach the top of a tor the wind is often high and so this can cause you and your dog to be unbalanced. It is not advised to climb the granite themselves as they are natural structures to protect for future generations.

Route planning

If you are walking on your own, be sure to plan your route ahead of arrival and tell someone else where you are going. There are large pockets without phone signal so having someone else expecting your safe return is just safe planning.
The North West quarter of Dartmoor is owned by the British Army where there is frequent live firearms training – you can check the training dates here.
When you approach the area, there are red and white beacons evenly spread around the boundary line – if there are flags flying on them, there is live training and you MUST stay away. I’ve seen plenty of huge explosions and guns firing which, from a safe distance, is quite the spectacle.

Kit preparations

Other than the aforementioned layers of clothing for you and your dog, hat and sunscreen; walking boots are very important. The uneven ground of Dartmoor means its rather easy to twist your ankle so ensure your walking boots have ankle support.
Take water for your dog as they will dehydrate quickly in warm weather and there is no guarantee of finding running water for them. Pack treats to incentivise their quick return if necessary.

For beginners

If you’re not familiar with extreme environments then there are many options for exploring the moors without being too exposed to the elements.
For example, there is Bellever Forest, Meldon Viaduct, Hound Tor, Belstone Common, Burrator Reservoir or Castle Drogo where you can create any number of circular walks whilst sticking to clearly labelled paths, and still get the feel of being in the National Park.

For those a little more accomplished

Using an OS map or app there are thousands of variations of walks you can achieve. For example, each year many UK school groups take part in the Ten Tors challenge where over a weekend a small group walks a 55 mile route.
Most accomplished walkers find 6-12 miles on Dartmoor more than ample for a day walk. Build your dog up to walking long distances as tackling a long walk without ample practise can cause musculoskeletal issues.

If I am heading out on a long walk with my Vizla, I feed her cooked liver for breakfast as a nutritious boost before a day on the moors. When we return I put canine electrolytes in her water to ensure she stays nice and hydrated. Your dog will also probably thank you for a decent rest the day after your hike!

My advice is to build a walk that is in serpentine loops, so you can double back if necessary, rather than walking in one direction for a long time. As I mentioned earlier, the climate and landscape of Dartmoor is unique and can mislead even the toughest of walking partners.

Please remember

The horses you come across on the moor are wild whilst the sheep and cows are often owned by local farmers who have grazing rights at certain times of the year. Be careful to keep your dog under close control around them because they are often skittish – unfortunately, every year there are stories of flocks being killed by curious dogs. There are clear speed limits for drivers in the National Park.

Take lots of rest stops – you and your dog will need regular water breaks.

The moorland is wild and this doesn’t excuse leaving dog poop on the ground – please ensure you clean up after your dog and take it with you when you leave.
During April – June adders are active in the moorland grassland. If your dog is offlead there is a small risk of being bitten. Please familiarise yourself with this medical rescue information to minimise long-term damage to your dog.

And my final advice; Leave nothing but paw prints, take nothing but photos.

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