Belstone Cleave, on the edge of Dartmoor, is beautiful even when it’s raining or cold. And unlike the moor itself, is sheltered from the worst of the wind. Belstone by bike is a great adventure if you have the time and energy, but you can also drive, leaving your car in the car park just outside the village in summer, on in the village itself in the shoulder seasons. Belstone is about 14 miles from the eco lodges at Wheatland Farm.
The Cleave is a narrow valley through which the Taw river usually gurgles, but sometimes rushes after heavy rains. Like much of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve (which extends to the catchments of the Taw and Torridge rivers), this is ‘Tarka the otter’ country – from the Henry Williamson book. The Taw rises on Dartmoor and is usually a gentle stream here.
You can walk down into the valley from Belstone village and cross the footbridge at the river. Then head east along the cleave on the southern bank. Alternatively, take the higher path, over the flanks of the moor. If you’ve kept high, then head down into the valley along side a gully and stream just before a conspicuous house (on the far side of the valley) with two white triangular eves. When you reach the river turn right. Almost immediately here there’s a large rock in an open patch of ground, and in the stream a pool deep enough for a summer swim (but even in August it will be cold).
Turn right (east) along the bank of the Taw and you will soon find a second footbridge. Cross, and return to Belstone. This is a short walk – maybe a mile or so, but includes rough ground and potentially slippery surfaces. With dogs, take a lead as you may encouter livestock.
Alternately, continue along the riverside and you will eventually come out behind Finch Foundry, the National Trust property in the village of Sticklepath.
Belstone boasts a welcoming pub serving 50 kinds of whiskeys – should you need re-warming after your walk. Dogs are welcome at the bar. The village has a couple of other interesting sights too – the old pound, now a garden, and the village stocks.
Belstone also offers a good ‘first Dartmoor Tor’ – easy enough for a gentle stroll. For that walk, head out from the far side of the village.