18. Dartmoor: Hexworthy to Laughter Man (Circular) – 5.5 miles – OS Explorer OL28
Wild swimming and varied easy going terrain - apart from tricky stepping stones.
If you’re driving to the start via Ashburton, take the turning to Holne and follow the signs to Venford Reservoir and Hexworthy for stunningly views. Just before Hexworthy take the left turn signposted Sherberton and park-up just before a cattle grid.
Walk back the way you came for a few yards taking a path on your left before a house ahead. Follow this to join a lane to the pretty thatched cottages of Hexworthy.
The lane ends at a farmyard and footpath sign by a gate, then another gate into a field and stone stiles through fields after that. All signposted and ending at Hexworthy Bridge. You can get down to the water here if you fancy a paddle.
Over the bridge, follow the lane passing a dour looking church on your right.
The lane meets the B3357 at a T junction. Turn left. The plantation across the road ends at Huccaby Cottage and a few yards beyond there’s a gate onto the moor by a signpost with two choices. Take the left to Huccaby Tor.
This is now moorland proper, open and windswept. Warning: I once took the right option and got mired in a bog bad enough to have my partner threatening divorce. Fortunately, we’re not married.
From Huccaby Tor you can see two tors ahead. The bigger one on the left is Bellever. Head to the one on the right (Laughter Tor). This trajectory will bring you to a gate through a dry stone wall.
Continue heading to Laughter Tor until you come to a track. At this point Laughter Man, a menhir (standing stone) should be visible. Stuck up about 4000 years ago in the Bronze age, it’s wearing well - that’s granite for you.
To take a closer look, turn right along the track a short distance until you come to a path on your left. Close by the menhir are the remains of a stone row. These rows are usually by cairns, suggesting they’re some sort of monument, although there are also theories about astronomical purposes.
Not knowing for sure what these things were erected for is part of their fascination. How prehistoric man managed to get these massive lumps of granite to a particular spot and lift them upright is another part. Look and wonder.
Now head back to the track and turn right. This is an old tin miner’s track and ends at Donnabridge Pound Farm, where you re-join the B3357. Turn left along it for a few yards until you see a footpath sign on your right.
Lower down now and with the Dart below, the sparse moor gives way to lusher ground. Reaching the river, follow the path by it. Stepping-stones appear where the Dart meets the Swincombe.
This meeting of rivers is a beautiful spot to wild swim. It’s also a great place for a picnic.
Tackling the stepping-stones comes next. Most are flat-topped but a couple at the beginning are not, and you may balk at them. I and my nimble partner did. Not to worry, the water’s shallow enough to paddle by.
To put us to shame, a young bloke then appeared with his toddler daughter on his back and a dog under his arm and took the two pointy stones in his stride.
Pity I didn’t ask his name, but he agreed to the picture and I think of him as Gaz (for Gazelle).
Watching him with his daughter, I was full of admiration for his patience and encouragement. Found myself wishing I’d done it more often it with my daughter. She’s grown up to think of grass as the stuff that covers land not worth building - or walking - on. Oh well, I’m trying harder with the grandkids, and in every other respect she’s a gem.
Over the stepping-stones, continue by the Swincombe river, crossing another but smaller and easier set of stepping-stones and on until you join a track. This turns to the lane from Sherberton to Hexworthy.
Follow this uphill to the cattle grid near your car.
Now for pub and Café recommendations. Assuming you head home via the A30, I suggest you stop at Asburton, a wonderful town full of history and great watering holes.
The Raficis on West St. near the Methodist church is currently my favourite café, with outdoor tables in the grounds of the Methodist church on fine days, but there are plenty more excellent ones to choose from.
As for pubs, the Old Exeter Inn just up the road from the Raficis dates back to the 12th century and looks the part.
It's where Walter Raleigh was arrested and carted off to the Tower of London. Looks cosier than the tower and has to be worth a visit. I'll add a review when I've had a chance to partake - unless I get arrested.