Although a beach lass at heart, I am a big fan of Dartmoor. The contrast of the river tumbling through woodland fit for Hobbits, and the bleak rolling hills where only scrub, cows and ponies survive. However, hiking and biking on the moors are activities that fill me with dread with a toddler and baby in tow. I’ve done my fair share of biking up those killer hills with number one son bumping along on the back wheel, and enjoyed the rewards of the swooping downhills and quaint country pubs that have welcomed us – kids, dogs, mud and all. But with two tots in tow I just can’t face those calf-grinding climbs on two wheels. Or even on foot carrying half my bodyweight in children.
Which is why we ended up on the less demanding terrain of Spitchwick Common on our latest Dartmoor excursion. Known in wild swimming circles as an excellent place to plunge into the River Dart, this turned out to be a location simply made for families who want to lap up the Dartmoor magic without scaling the peaks or dragging reluctant kids too far from the nearest ice cream van. An easy stroll from the Newbridge Marsh car park (a popular spot for kayakers to kit up and launch from), with dogs, babes and a toddler on and off his bike in tow, this was the perfect chunk of Dartmoor to take on for a mid-week amble. Dare I admit it but the experience ticked more boxes than some of the more gruelling hikes I’ve been on here BC (Before Children).
After a heavy rainfall, clambering along slippery boulders at the river’s edge was an adventure for the toddler, yet not too silly an endeavour for carrying the bike, babes and holding small hands when help was needed. It must’ve been easygoing as I even found time to appreciate the sun piercing through fat clouds and glinting off the gushing water. Once you’re under New Bridge the trail to Spitchwick is fairly level, although the knobbly tree roots and wooden bridge can make it exciting terrain for a toddler on a bike. There’s even a good downhill if you dare to watch your offspring fly over the handlebars (this is easily avoided with a more gentle route if you don’t).
As the dripping autumnal canopies gave way to a lush clearing, the beauty of Spitchwick made itself clear. There was space for picnics and ball games, a swimming hole with rope swings and rocks to jump from, and gnarled tree trunks aplenty for climbing and sitting on. Though the river burbled by harmlessly, the torrential rain of the day before had brought the tide surging over the riverbank and a tide line of leaves had left its mark a few metres onto the common where we now walked and played. Short of a wild swim (we’re soft I know, but it was well into autumn and we couldn’t cart wetsuits down as well as the rest of the garb), we settled for a short walk and a picnic in the bursts of sunshine.
Had we had one more pair of hands (or shoulders) we might’ve carried on along the footpath on the far side of the common and taken the four-mile loop via the pub at Poundsgate and back along the lane to the car park. As it was we lapped up the scenery we could get while keeping dogs, kids and babies vaguely under control. Only one fall off a tree stump, one pair of wet pants and one biscuit lost to the dogs constituted a pretty successful outing, we thought.
And while the going was easy on the way, every parent knows that even a short journey back can become a super-human mission in patience and coercion. So it turned out that the distance (just short of a kilometre) between Newbridge car park (with its year-round ice cream van, hurray) and Spitchwick Common is just manageable for one woman carrying a baby, a whinging toddler and a bike in the rain!