A haven on Dartmoor

by Julie Musk

There’s a strong sense of the past at YHA Dartmoor, which is very much in character with its surroundings. Nestled in a dip reached by two small roads, surrounded by forest and moorland, it’s a small haven. Or so it feels after spending a windy day on the moors, returning to a welcoming wood burner in the comfy lounge. In fact, it’s rather hard to leave!

Originally a rare breeds farm, the collection of buildings was bought by the Forestry Commission, then leased to YHA (the FC still retains an office and one other building here). At the time of opening in 1934, it was one of only 15 youth hostels. Being one of the older hostels, it doesn’t offer en-suite (just a basin in each room). There are two large dorms (male and female) plus smaller 4- to 6-bedded rooms, including at least one with a double bed. Rooms are named after local geological features (Houns Tor, Laughter Tor, etc.). A useful facility is the large boot room and drying room with washing machine, so no worries if you arrive wet and muddy. There’s also a cycle store.

Across the courtyard is a classroom for study groups. There’s also an old byre, with original cattle troughs and hay racks, which used to be used for archery courses, but now YHA Okehampton is the activity centre where everything happens. More recently, the local ‘am dram’ group used it as their changing room prior to trooping down the road to the old clapper bridge where they were giving a performance.

Beside the barn are two small fields for camping, rather uneven and sloping but cosy, with a fire pit and wildlife area; in fact, local ponies and sheep regularly wander in off the moor. You can wild camp anywhere in Dartmoor National Park that isn’t FC land for a maximum of two nights, but if you want some facilities thrown in, then come to YHA Dartmoor.

Andrew is a seasonal assistant here. He says: “Coming from Edale, YHA Dartmoor feels much more accessible – the hostel leads straight onto open moor, into woods, with no need to drive anywhere. You can be on top of several tors in no time, and feel you are in deepest, darkest Dartmoor but not cut off.” I agree. You’re surrounded by the sound of cuckoos, purple hills of bluebells, several clapper bridges within an easy round walk (at Bellever Forest, just down the road, another about a mile up the same road, and one well-visited bridge at Postbridge over the hill). Princetown Prison Museum is a short drive (or undulating cycle) northwest, well worth a visit. Look out too for groups of camouflaged soldiers on exercise in these parts.

If cycling is your thing, you can always beast yourself on the hills. My husband went off to cycle the Dartmoor Demon on his own: 88 miles of tortuous ascents and descents, with the added challenge of a head wind – it’s classed as 10 out of 10 on the sportif challenge scale and not for the faint-hearted. I’ve never seen him so spent as he crawled back into the hostel courtyard, where needless to say I was enjoying a glass (or two) from the hostel’s plentiful bar after a pleasant day walking, the evening sunshine, and relaxing sight and sound of swallows flitting back and forth from their nests in the byre. Each to their own!

Images and text: © Julie Musk 2019

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