A 100 mile plus journey into Devon’s quieter hinterlands, the Two Moors Way is a wonderful way to see some of the best of the West Country’s scenery.
The idea for a path across Devon was first mooted in the 1970s by Sylvia Sayer (Dartmoor Preservation Association), John Coleman-Cooke (Exmoor Society) and Tom Stephenson (of Ramblers and Pennine Way fame).
The original idea was for a bridleway, but that concept – and much of their suggested route – was ditched in the face of massive landowner resistance. In despair, the Devon Ramblers Association turned to its renowned member, the late Joe Turner, to devise a route using existing rights of way and areas of de facto access.
The Two Moors Way that people enjoy today is testimony to Joe Turner’s vision and real hard work.
In a sense, the Dartmoor and Exmoor sections were easy, with a long tradition of public access. The pastoral lands of mid-Devon were not so easy. Some of the rights of way simply didn’t exist at all on the ground, or were completely blocked.
I remember going out surveying routes with Joe in the early 70s. We found a complete lack of signposting, green lanes blocked completely with hundreds of fallen trees, missing stiles, gates and bridges, baffled farmers who had never set eyes on a rambler before. It seemed a nightmare to me, perhaps 70% of the projected route unwalkable.
But Joe Turner didn’t give up!
In just a couple of years, he had those paths signposted and cleared, stiles and bridges built. Joe’s personal charm and character had won over an initially suspicious farming community, to the extent that farmers were actually suggesting where new link paths might be created. By the time a guidebook was published, written by Helen Rowett, the route was open.
And what a route it is! Starting from Ivybridge, the TMW climbs into the lonely uplands of southern Dartmoor, through very wild moorland, where your only company might be sheep and skylarks. Then down into the valley of the Dart at New Bridge, before climbing out on to the great ridge of Hameldown. More moorland brings the walker to the Teign Gorge, and to Drewsteignton, where Dartmoor is left behind.
The next 32 miles cross the pastoral fields and woodlands of mid-Devon, through some enchanting villages, passing ancient churches and cob cottages, before entering the Exmoor National Park near to West Anstey. Then a walk across high moorlands and deep combes, alongside great rivers such as the Barle and the Exe. The final descent to the finish at Lynmouth is one of the most spectacular walks in southern England.
The Two Moors Way has been a great success story, with walkers coming from all over the world to explore its picturesque miles. The guide book has been a bestseller for over thirty years, and the Two Moors Way brings millions of pounds a year into the local economy, keeping open many a pub, shop and bed and breakfast establishment.
And as you walk the Two Moors Way, remember the late Joe Turner, whose commitment and hard work – along with those of his wife Pat – made this walk possible, giving such great joy to the tens of thousands who have followed in his footsteps.
Joe’s name will forever be associated with this remarkable, quiet and lovely long distance trail.
(I do suggest that if you walk the Two Moors Way, you use the Official Guide by Helen Rowett. None of the other guides are anywhere near as good).
Sadly, Helen Rowett died in October 2012, well into her nineties. Her official guide to the Two Moors Way is really the guidebook to get. The Two Moors Way is a wonderful memorial to this lady. The Path itself a memorial to Joe Turner.