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The need (or not) for a walking plan – Dartmoor and Scotland

Living as I do within Dartmoor National Park, and writing a regular walk feature for Dartmoor Magazine, I am used to working out routes across pathless moorland. But, with so much of my walking being work-related,  there’s nothing I like better than heading out onto the moor without a plan, and wandering wherever the mood takes me. That’s the joy of open access and common land which is what makes Dartmoor so special – there’s no need to stick to public rights of way, which – although marked on the OS map – often bear no relation to whatever vague path you end up following.

I also head up to the highlands of Scotland a couple of times a year to go hill walking with a bunch of friends from the Glasgow area. It’s such a treat: I get whisked away to Glen Feshie, or Inchnadamph, or Durness, and spend the weekend scaling Munros and Corbetts (and everything in between).

Every couple of years my Scottish friends pay a return visit to Dartmoor, and then the differences in our walking habits become clear. When planning to ascend a Scottish mountain, even those without an established ‘tourist path’ – a study of the relevant OS map will indicate the best way to reach the summit – and so every day out in the Scottish hills tends to start with a plan.

On Dartmoor, however, it is perfectly possible to walk without a plan. I once took the Scots up the East Dart river from Postbridge, as far as the waterfalls, then proposed we head across Broad Down which is a broad, featureless and sometimes boggy plateau. On being asked ‘Is that the plan?’ I replied that I had no plan, which surprised them.

‘Where’s the path?’ and ‘It’s wet!’ accompanied us all the way to Crow Tor, which sits on the 500m contour. And here the old mountain habits kicked in… the tor was promptly scaled, and the obligatory summit photos taken in true Munro-conquering fashion.

You can find a map of Crow Tor and the surrounding area. If you want to know more about open access to the commons and walking freely instead of sticking to the footpaths in Dartmoor, all the information is here, along with everything you need to know about other rights of way.

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