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Featured: Walking and Riding Safely on Dartmoor

- By Jen How of Visit Dartmoor

For many people the thought of a holiday in the great outdoors, surrounded by stunning views and vast open spaces is something they look forward to all year, so a few simple safety measures whilst walking or riding on Dartmoor will mean that your trip is memorable for all the right reasons!

Please take good care to check the weather for Dartmoor National Park at http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast, and if you are planning to be out on the North Moor, also check for military firing times https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme

Plan your route carefully, allowing plenty of daylight hours to complete it, and let someone know what time you expect to be back. Please remember that Dartmoor has a lot of wet boggy areas, and that Dartmoor's rivers can rise quickly and become impossible to cross after heavy rain. Mist can roll in extremely quickly, when walking or riding you must know at all times exactly where you are, and if the weather deteriorates, do not hesitate to turn back.

Proper footwear is essential to cope with the Dartmoor terrain, so wear walking boots, not trainers as they do not support your ankle and may cause you to slip. Pack a waterproof coat, hat, over-trousers and gloves in a comfortable rucksack where you can easily access them if the weather turns nasty.

All the usual rules of being out and about in the wilderness apply of course; it almost goes without saying that vital equipment like a map and a compass are things that everyone who sets off on foot or on horseback should carry with them. And please, make sure you are proficient at using them! Do not rely on a "Sat-Nav" on Dartmoor.

Whether riding or walking, it’s important to take some food, a warm drink, high energy snacks, a whistle, torch and first aid kit. You may not need to use them, but they are absolute must-haves, and please carry your mobile phone at all times.

Riding horses on Dartmoor

We would always advise you to go out with a local rider who knows Dartmoor and the riding routes well. Venturing out onto large exposed moorland areas with unexpected/unpredictable changes in terrain and weather can catch many riders out.

For riding especially, wear Hi-Viz clothing –  you will want to be easily seen if you need to be rescued, so that low flying aircraft like Devon Air Ambulance will be able to spot you.

When you hit boggy ground, it’s worth remembering that often the muddiest patch is the safest as that is often the place where livestock cross.

Carry a hoofpick, penknife, money for the pub or ice-cream van, and a camera to capture the views. In summer also pop fly repellent and a sponge into your saddle bag.

Always look behind you as you ride away, so that you can recognise the way back.  Even when you are riding with someone who knows the area and has experience the first few times out, if it looks like a risk, either be careful, or turn away – there is no shame in giving up if it looks too difficult and you feel uncomfortable. 

Always recce a new route on foot first before riding, some paths and marked bridleways are either tricky or downright dangerous on horseback.

Ideally, don't take a dog along with you when out riding on Dartmoor, they can be hard to control from the back of a horse and will disturb ground nesting birds during the nesting season. 

If you do have your dog with you, whether you are walking or riding, it is vital that you have absolute control at all times, there are sheep, cattle and ponies everywhere on Dartmoor, and farmers have the legal right to destroy a dog seen chasing or worrying livestock.

Have fun!

So there we have it, plenty of common sense, the right equipment and careful planning beforehand should mean that your adventure is safely completed, leaving you with stories to tell and memories to cherish.

For further information and a superb range of places to stay, eat, drink and visit (including dog-friendly, child friendly and even horse friendly locations) visit http://www.visitdartmoor.co.uk/ - Official Tourism Partner to Dartmoor National Park Authority.

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