Seven days after completing the first official Dartmoor Derby, I'm still feeling the effects. The ache in my legs from spending umpteen hours in the saddle has now eased, and my creaking back has fallen silent. But one of my symptoms hasn't gone away - a feeling of elation at having spent such a wonderful weekend in the wild. I appreciate that the idea of an endurance horse ride is not everyone's cup of tea, but bear with me - you could be signing up for something similar by the end of it. The Dartmoor Derby is the brainchild of Elaine and Bob Prior, who run Liberty Trails, a riding holiday business. Elaine has boundless energy: imagine a glamorous blonde Tiger in jodhpurs. She was born and bred in this gloriously wild park of Devon and is incredibly proud of the are and the farmers who live here. She wanted to combine her passions - horse riding and the countryside - to create an event that would be an unforgettable experience for the participants, while benefiting the Dartmoor community. The word's toughest horse race was the inspiration. The Mongol Derby is a 10,000km route through the mountains and plains of Mongolia on semi-wild horses. Seeking a UK ride that was just as exciting - but less perilous - Elaine and journalist friend Lucy Higginson (former editor of Horse and House magazine) began to plan a route across the moors. And so the Dartmoor Derby was born. Sara Saddles Up It is late September and I am standing in the reception area of the cosy Arundell Arms Hotel in Lifton, sipping the last of my coffee and meeting my fellow riders. The 45 riders are split [...]
BBC TV and Radio presenter Sara Cox was among the 40 riders to complete the first Dartmoor Derby. “It was completely awesome; I loved it,” said Sara, who posted many photos and videos of the ride on her social media accounts” Following a successful pilot last year, the event returned for its first official running on 23-26 September. Riders, including a team from the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, tackled a 50-mile route in guided groups, supported by ground crews over the three days. […]
“The history and romance of Dartmoor is unbeatable” – Barbara Smith’s account of her adventures with us on Dartmoor
The first morning there was heavy mist across the moors and visibility was limited. What I could see looked exactly like I imagined a scene from Hound of the Baskerville's or Jamaica Inn. Ghostly hedges revealed hidden farmyards, complete with thatched roof cottages and low barns. We had come to Dartmoor National Park in Exeter, England to ride across the famous moors for a couple days before continuing onto Devon and Cornwall. Rosie Campbell, MFH of Bull Run Hunt in Culpeper, Virginia, her husband Chris Allen and son-in-law, Spencer Allen and my husband, Michael and I, had driven down to Bovey Castle from London on Tuesday. It had been cool, with some showers and by 4 Pm we met in the lovely sitting room for a traditional Devon cream tea. Delicious and decadent. We only had it once! Buttery biscuits, topped with berry jam and then the cream, which really looks like butter, is so good. Bovey Castle is a luxurious spa in the heart of Dartmoor and caters to hunting and fishing activites of all sorts. They have partnered with Liberty Trails, the equine brainchild of Elaine and Robert Prior, (www.libertytrails.co.uk) which offers riding holidays across these moors made famous by Sherlock Holmes and more recently, Stephen Spielberg's movie "War Horse". I received an invitation from Liberty Trails to ride in their inaugural Dartmoor Derby in September 2015. Loosely based on the idea of the Mongol Derby, which I did in 2014, they were offering a 3 day "race" across the moors with more luxurious "camping" than the aforementioned Mongol Derby. As I believe I used several of my 9 lives completing the Mongol Derby I declined the race opportunity but asked for [...]
Dartmoor is a wild country full of mists and stories, ghosts and traces of the far distant past. In the heart of Dartmoor is the grave of Kitty Jay. According to legend, she was a young village girl who killed herself sometime in the late 18th century after becoming pregnant. As a suicide she was buried at a crossroads outside the village of Manaton. There are always fresh flowers laid by the headstone and no one knows who puts them there. A film company once set up secret cameras to catch the mysterious flower giver, but a mist came down during the night; when it had lifted again, there were new blooms on the grave. Dartmoor is like this: a wild country full of mists and stories, ghosts and traces of the far distant past (not to mention The Hound of the Baskervilles). There are neolithic stone circles, Bronze Age monuments, noble old buildings, mysterious standing stones and, of course, spectacular views in almost 1000 square kilometres of national park. But ho to see all of this? There are few roads, so travelling by car you’d miss most of the natural beauty, walking would only show you a tiny portion of the whole, and only a masochist would bike up to the top of those imposing granite tors. The obvious answer is to ride. And the place to go for that is Liberty Trails. Elaine Prior, who runs the company, was born and bred on Dartmoor and has a deep love for the countryside. She also has a passion for horses, as well as quite liking her home comforts, having spent years living on the Côte d'Azur. As a result, her guided trails strike [...]
DJ and television presenter Sara Cox is among those who have signed up to take on this year’s 100km Dartmoor Derby. After a successful trial last year, riders from across the world have agreed to take part in the three-day moorland trek, for which riders bring their own horses or hire them through organisers Liberty Trails. Participants can also look forward to “luxury pitstops in top hotels or specially built safari-style camps”. Sara, who also rode in the shorter pilot ride last year, is looking forward to this year’s event, which runs from 23 to 26 September. “I hadn’t predicted how spectacular Dartmoor would be,” she said. “The views and scenery are incredible. And the mid-ride lunches and overnight camps are like something out of Downton Abbey.” H&H hunting editor Polly Portwin also took part in last year’s 50-mile ride, which she described as “sheer heaven”. She added: “There is no doubt about it, the views on Dartmoor are just breathtaking and really must be seen to be believed. “It was a truly remarkable weekend and with options to camp, stay in luxury or mid-range hotels or a combination of the two, the Dartmoor Derby 2016 is definitely worth considering.” A percentage of every ride entrance fee will go to the British Horse Society’s (BHS) Helping Horses programme, an appeal in aid of its welfare work. BHS chief executive Lynn Petersen said: “The British Horse Society is proud to join Liberty Trails as charity partner for its Dartmoor Derby challenge ride. What a wonderful way to explore magnificent Dartmoor. “We are delighted that all the funds we receive from this partnership will go directly towards helping horses in distress across the United Kingdom.” To read the [...]
Go on a Haunting Horseback Safari on the English Moors A horseback riding holiday in England's Dartmoor National Park reveals the area's ancient secrets... We had been riding our horses hard for six hours across Dartmoor National Park, in southwest England, when we came upon a circle of standing stones, one of 18 such enigmas scattered across the park’s 368 square miles. Not much is known about their purpose, but this one was assembled by the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age people a few millennia ago. Other, even older stone tableaus on Dartmoor are tombs that predate Stonehenge, England’s iconic megalithic site, by 2,000 years. And while Dartmoor’s circles, hewed from local granite, aren’t as large as Stonehenge, they are more atmospheric. A busy road runs right past Stonehenge, but Dartmoor’s circles are silhouetted against nothing but silent, fenceless bog and umber hills. I picked up the history from books, but it was only when I walked around the park one spring that I felt the ancient texture of Dartmoor in my bones. The land has been worn by centuries of storms, trodden by sheep and wild ponies. Spring, summer, winter—on Dartmoor, the English weather is even more unreliable than elsewhere in the country. When the mist comes in, or the mizzle as it’s called there, the moor becomes as disorienting as it is haunting. If you see a rare daffodil, in a distant churchyard or beside a road, it’s like seeing a beacon out at sea, the yellow cutting through the mist and lighting up this landscape with its otherwise moody palette of heathery purple and peaty greens. “I’ve been out riding on this moor and not been able to see past [...]
Here's what Sally Shalam had to say about Liberty Trails: Take the ride of your life... After three days in the (comfortable, Western) saddle with Liberty Trails, riders depart bewitched and becalmed by Dartmoor. "It has a special energy", says company owner, Elaine Prior, about the domain she's ridden since childhood. Prior takes proficient riders across rivers, scrambling up banks, and cantering over limitless miles of heather on English hunters and American Quarter Horses. Twice yearly there is even a chance to join cattle drives, when livestock is moved from summer or winter grazing. And you thought you had to go to the USA for such equine excitement. To read the full article, head here.
Dartmoor horse riding holidays: You don't have to cross the Atlantic to have a go at being a cowgirl Weak sunlight glints on the horizon. In the distance, a man on horseback crests a hill, his steed heading towards us at full gallop, silhouetted against the azure-blue sky. From his outline I can just about make out a cowboy hat and spurs. One hand is raised slightly, signalling to us, while the other clutches slack reins, giving the charging horse microscopic signals as it snorts and slows to a canter. I could easily be in the Wild West, but I’m actually on Dartmoor. This expansive area of moorland in south Devon, which covers 954sq km and is protected by National Park status, has long captured the imagination. Its boggy landscape was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Hound of the Baskervilles. More recently, it appeared on screen in Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Warhorse. The myth, though, has always been of a land shrouded in fog and mystery; impenetrable and sometimes spooky terrain that stretches out over an unfathomable distance. Luxury horse riding holiday company Liberty Trails, however, has set out to prove there’s more to the moors. It invites experienced riders to take on Dartmoor’s challenging terrain on spirited horses that know the land like the back of their hooves. Led by guides (all born and bred in Dartmoor), groups of riders join founder Elaine Prior on tailored treks across the moorland. This year, Liberty Trails will run the first ever Dartmoor Derby in September. Loosely based on African riding safaris (Elaine used to live in South Africa) and the infamous Mongol Derby, it will see skilled riders take to the [...]
"I hadn't predicted how spectacular Dartmoor would be. It's quite a challenge to ride miles over such varied terrain... There are bit that really get your blood pumping". This was the verdict of Radio 2's Sara Cox, one of over 20 riders and journalists who tackled the two-day Dartmoor Derby pilot event in late September. Riding on horseback across some 45 miles of glorious moorland in small guided groups, participants from as far afield as Florida journeyed from the Arundell Arms in Lifton to Bovey Castle Hotel. Their interim night was spent under canvas at a luxury Mongolian-style camp by the West Dart river. The Derby will launch fully next year, hosting up to 100 riders in what is anticipated as a biennial event. Riders may bring their own horse, or rent a quality mount through the organisers, and can customise the length of their ride and ratio of luxury camping to hotel accommodation.
Wide, expansive landscapes, rushing rivers, ancient forests… Dartmoor’s terrain is nothing if not varied. Dartmoor has long been the inspiration for many an author, poet and explorer, each entranced in their own way by her natural beauty and deep heritage. And Dartmoor’s variety extends beyond physical landcape, often touching at something much deeper… On hot, sunny days, you’ll find yourself in a luscious, green paradise - warm and welcoming. But when the weather turns, so can her welcome… Mist and heavy clouds shroud the moorland in an air of mystery, a bleak kind of beauty. This is, let’s not forget, the place that inspired Hound of Baskervilles… But it’s in this range of landscape and the emotions they evoke that the true magic of Dartmoor is revealed. As horse owners ourselves, we understand more than anyone the special bond between horse and rider. Having been fortunate enough to grow up riding on Dartmoor, we believe that this part of the world offers something truly magical and unique for both horse and rider. We’d be lying if we said Dartmoor is an ‘easy ride’… The weather alone can be a challenge. Often changeable from one moment to the next, mists can descend in minutes making it difficult to see which way you’re going. Hidden bogs are dangerous to those who aren’t familiar with what to look out for, and prolonged wet spells can make some rivers impassable at the wrong time of year. But all this simply adds to the sense of adventure that comes from riding Dartmoor… No two rides on Dartmoor will ever be the same. And with the right people, clothes and gear in place, memories made here are nothing short of [...]