Dartmoor National Park covers a large area of Devon in the West Country of England. It provides opportunities for geocaching, whitewater kayaking and canoeing in the winter months, rock climbing on the granite tors and outcrops, cycling, and angling for wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon (with permits).
The 'Forest' of Dartmoor refers to a hunting area rather than an area of woodland. This is one of the best areas in the UK for Bronze Age remains and much of the moor seems almost littered with stone circles, stone rows and burial stones.
Dartmoor forest; Dartmoor prison at Princetown, built during the Napoleonic wars; Conan Doyle's book, The Hound of the Baskervilles featuring Sherlock Holmes is set in foggy Dartmoor.
Tin mining has had an important role in Dartmoor's history. The so-called stannary towns had their own assemblies, laws and courts and there was even a stannary gaol.
Rabbit rearing was important once and there are places still carrying the name of Warren.
Later, the china clay industry provided the raw materials for the Potteries area of Staffordshire.
Moorland, rocky tors and quite a lot of wet places called bogs. Tors are hills with granite outcrops.
Flora and fauna
Ferns, feral ponies, Dartmoor cattle. Foxes, buzzards and badgers in reasonable quantity.
Can be very changeable. You can be sun-burnt and get lost in mist on the same day.
Various towns and villages on the edge of the park rightly claim they are the "Gateway to the Moor".
Fees and permits
Access to the National Park is free.
Plan to be on foot to see Dartmoor's best. There are lots of lay-bys where it is safe to leave your car all day. There are plenty of tors to climb and rugged footpaths between them. Energetic children can also manage hours of hiking on Dartmoor as the terrain is suitable. Bring plenty of drinking water and dress for changing weather (layers and water-proofs). A decent set of weather proof hiking boots make for a more comfortable walk on Dartmoor as there's plenty of wet marshy land to cross.
Towns and villages
- 1 Buckfastleigh — a small market town with Buckfast Abbey.
- 2 Moretonhampstead — a market town on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor.
- 3 Buckland in the Moor — a wooded area with an unusual church clock in the village, which has 'My dear mother' in place of the numbers 1-12. Ten commandments are to be found in stone on nearby Buckland Beacon (very eroded).
- 4 Chagford - a village deep in the moor.
- Cornwood — a southern Dartmoor village.
- Drewsteignton — on the north-east of the moor with a great old pub, the Drewe Arms.
- Harford — a tiny village with a picturesque bridge and church near Cornwood.
- Haytor Vale — near some very striking tors.
- 5 Lustleigh
- 6 Lydford — a village (which was a town) north of Tavistock with a spectacular limestone gorge and a castle that was once used as the stannary prison.
- Mary Tavy — a pleasant moorland village north of Tavistock that generally gets less crowded than many areas but the walks are as good.
- Meavy — village green and ancient oak tree.
- Peter Tavy — as Mary Tavy above.
- 7 Princetown — a village on the high moor that grew next to the prison whose land was gifted by the Prince of Wales.
- Shaugh Prior — village with granite church with old china clay pits all around.
- Sheepstor — the tor is very shapely and immediately above the village, which has the tomb of James Brooke, white rajah of Sarawak.
- 8 Widecombe in the Moor — though best known for its song, it's worth seeing for its large church (sometimes known as 'the cathedral of the moor.' Good pubs.
On the edge of the park: good for accommodation.
- 9 Bovey Tracey — to the east of Dartmoor. Prehistoric remains visible all round the roads.
- 10 Okehampton — to the north of Dartmoor by the A30.
- 11 Tavistock — to the west of Dartmoor with the Tamar Valley AONB on to its south and west.
- 1 Brent Tor (north of Tavistock), ☏ . A small hill, but reputedly the first sight of land for a sailor who vowed to put a church on top, and the church is there.
- Burrator reservoir — this is artificial and supplies Plymouth but it seems like a natural lake from many angles - visit combines well with Meavy and Sheepstor.
- 2 Castle Drogo, Drewsteignton, EX6 6PB (near Exeter), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 3 Dartmeet, TQ13 7PT. Scenic junction of the West and East Dart
- Double Waters — particularly beautiful junction of the river Tavy and its tributary, the Walkham.
- 4 Fingle Bridge (on the northeast of the moor). On the river Teign.
- Fog-in-tor Quarry — (near Princetown)
- Lustleigh Cleave —
- Shaugh Bridge — at the junction of the Meavy and Cad rivers, to form the Plym.
- Walk some segments of the Two Moors Way
Letterboxing is very similar to the geo-caching, but has been around a lot longer. Like geo-caching, each post/letter box consists of a small weather-proof box which contains a rubber stamp and may also contain a note pad. The stamp designs are limited only by the imagination of the person who placed them, and come in a very wide range sizes. As you find each box you record your visit by taking an impression of the located stamp. Finding the boxes usually requires a series of clues, ranging from the very easy, to the fiendishly difficult. Most letterboxes are placed on the moor by private individuals, who give their clues to friends and family. Some clues will be made available for the wider community to find. Some boxes are placed by charities/groups wishing to raise a little money. These charity boxes normally form the basis of a circular route, in a particular part of Dartmoor, and usually consist of a set of stamps with a common theme. These are also only available for a short period and the clue sheets are sold for a nominal fee. Most people who do letterboxing on a regular basis will usually have their own stamp which they carry around with them to put in the notepad of the boxes they find.
Letterboxing on Dartmoor has a big following in the local region and beyond. You will find people who go out for an hour or two on their way home from work, as well as people who come down from all over, to spend a week walking to find new and exciting stamps.
The number of boxes is constantly changing as people lose, update or remove stamps.
The Old Police Station in Princetown serves some of the best fish and chips on the moors.
- Warren House Inn (at the very centre of Dartmoor between Moretonhampstead and Princetown on the B3212). 11AM-11PM (summer). A remote inn with great food and outdoor seating overlooking the moors. Sunday roast here is the quintessential moors experience! £7-£15.
- Peter Tavy Inn — 15th century.
- Plume of Feathers, Princetown
- Cornwood Inn
- Mary Tavy Inn — 16th century
- Royal Oak, Meavy — origins in 15th century - a very ancient oak tree on the village green (royal connections?)
- Rugglestone Inn — superb traditional inn at Widecombe.
- Old Inn, Widecombe
- Fingle Bridge Inn — excellent setting near Drewsteignton.
- Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton
- Elephant's Nest, Horndon, Mary Tavy — 16th century — great Moorland location.
- Walkhampton Inn —
- Dartmoor Inn, Lydford —
- Dartmoor Inn, Merrivale — on the Tavistock to Princetown road -
- Moorland View Cottage, North Bovey (near Moretonhampstead), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 4PM, check-out: 11AM. Cottage breaks. Sleeps four. Membership of Bovey Castle country club and spa included. Great local walks, village pub. £160/night.
- Longhouse Farm Cottages are two beautiful self-catering units set in the heart of the beautiful hamlet of Lower Cator, near Widecombe, within walking distance of the open moor, private parking, well behaved pets permitted.
Campsites in Dartmoor are scattered sparsely over the National Park. Rough camping/bivying is allowed but is restricted in many areas. Worth checking the local information centres and the park website for the restrictions.
Otherwise a really good way of finding a tent pitch is to ring up farms. A fair number who aren't denoted as campsites on Ordnance Survey maps nevertheless will offer a pitch for a nominal fee (a few pounds per night). They usually have phone numbers available through a quick web search. They have the added advantage of being quieter and in fantastic locations for backpacking.
- East Okement Farm — a quiet farm just inside North Dartmoor, close to the edge of the military ranges, excellent location for accessing many paths. About £6/night/pitch
Dartmoor can be a deceptively dangerous place. The weather is very changeable and you could get surrounded in mist very quickly, in the summer it can get extremely hot and you may not be able to find shade for several miles . If you're planning on going out for a walk of any length on Dartmoor, it is best to know how to read a map and use a compass, this is vital if you plan to go off the beaten track, it can be almost impossible to navigate some areas and you will end up walking in circles. If you must use a GPS, take plenty of spare batteries.
As with any outdoor activity, it is always best to let somebody know where you're going and how long you expect to be.
Leave the National Park to go to one of Devon's cities: