17. Dartmoor: Dartmeet - Laughter Hole (Circular) - 7.5 miles - OS Explorer OL28
Tricky stepping stones to negotiate (or get your feet wet). 3 mile walk option missing out the menhir.
The thing about Dartmoor is that if you're prepared to walk, prehistoric leftovers are there in their natural surroundings, not stuck in a museum or by the side of a visitors centre. A good example is the standing stone (menhir to give it its Briton Celt name) near Laughter Tor, pictured above. From the bronze age, circa 4000 bce, it's chalk and cheese in terms of atmosphere.
But to begin: Park at Dartmeet and take the footpath that skirts Badger Holt. In the minute it takes to put Badger Holt behind you, the crowds that flock to this lovely spot disappear. Ahead is a gloriously beautiful trail beside the River Dart that includes a copse of stunted gnarled trees hung in verdant lichen in summertime, making it look more Grimm's fairytale than real.
Stay as close to the river as you can until your way is blocked by a stream (after about a mile). You’ll see to your left stepping-stones across the dart. To reach them, follow the stream keeping it to your left until you reach a clapper bridge (another bit of prehistory - these Britons must have had muscles like Arnie). Cross and backtrack to the stones. You'll need to be nimble.
Crossing these, go left and follow the path as it rises to Brimpts Farm and a shire horse riding centre.
After passing the shire horse stables and admiring the nags (they're gorgeous) the track forks. Go right, to join the B3357.
Turn right at the road (or left to return to Dartmeet if you only want the shorter walk) and follow it for a third of a mile until, passing Huccaby Cottage, you come to a footpath sign pointing right.
There are two options, take the left one toward the granite stones of Outer Huccaby Ring. (Just a warning: on a different walk I took the right option and ended up in bog hidden beneath ankle twisting grass topped mounds, with my partner giving me that I’m-thinking-of-murdering-you look.)
After just over a mile. passing through a gate as you go, take a path on your right, keeping Laughter Man (the menhir) to your left. You pass a track to it and should detour to admire it alongside the remains of stone rows. The eighth largest of Dartmoors menhirs, it’s hard to see what there is to laugh about. It's a bleak spot. No wonder they went back to Brittany around the Iron Age (c.400 bce). This is the high moor. Not a place to go in foul weather or without a compass or proper map.
Returning to the track, carry on into the woods ahead, keeping to the path.
After about a fifth of a mile you’ll see a lane and a couple of properties. Go sharp right here along the path that leads to Laughter Hole House.
Here there are more stepping stones to cross. Bigger and further apart than those at Dartmeet, the penultimate one is at an angle rather than flat. You need to be nimble or prepared to paddle.
Surviving that, follow the path/track to Babeny Stables.
Passing the stables, you come to a lane and bridge over the Dart. A hundred yards or so further along, there's a path on your right. Following this will bring you back to the clapper bridge you crossed earlier on. This time ignore it and retrace your steps to Dartmeet car park.
After the perfect Dartmoor walk you must be thirsty. I recommend the nearby Tavistock Inn by the wonky phone box at Poundsgate. Good ales in an unspoilt granite-walled pub. They'll do tea too!