Dartmoor National Park is often solely characterised as wild, vast moorland, but its reality is much more diverse. In addition to its nature reserves, the area also contains thousands of archaeological settlements, remote woodlands, picturesque villages, endangered and rare birds and wildlife and stunning waterfalls.
Located in southwest England in the county of Devon, Dartmoor’s 368 square miles of national park offer visitors stunning scenes, natural beauty and many interesting activities. Though much of the landscape is remote and wide in Dartmoor, the park is less than an hour’s drive from the cities of Exeter and Plymouth.
Made famous as the setting for the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles
, Dartmoor is a popular place for walking, camping, and exploring the countryside. Open moorland offer great opportunities for walks and horse riding. Highlights for the nature lover include Becky Falls, a 72-foot waterfall located in the woods; Bovey Tracey, a village with a nearby woodland reserve; and Lydford Gorge, a lovely woodland ravine with a waterfall. Wild camping is also allowed on Dartmoor. The weather can be very unpredictable, so those spending significant time outdoors in the park should prepare for sudden changes in weather conditions.
Additional outdoor activities available in the region include canoeing on the River Dart, on- and off-road cycling, climbing, horse riding, hang gliding, and letterboxing. Fishing is also allowed on many Dartmoor rivers, which are known for their catches of wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon.
Regional attractions are varied enough to suit a range of interests. There is a vast offering of archaeological sites across the park and evidence of both Neolithic and Bronze-Age remains has been found. Grimspound, the site of Bronze Age huts that were built nearly 4,000 years ago, sits near the centre of the park. Additionally, Okehampton, a town in the northern area of the park, hosts a 14th-century castle and the Museum of Dartmoor Life. Castle Drogo is a unique ‘mock-castle’ built in 1910-30 near Drewsteignton in the north of the park. A number of tors – or piles of rocks – grace the landscape and some, such as Hound Tor, include medieval remains.
No matter what activities you get involved in, you’ll come into contact with the huge diversity of Dartmoor wildlife. A number of geographical factors make Dartmoor well suited for diverse habitats and wildlife. Dartmoor Ponies can be seen wandering the moors, as they have done since the Bronze Age. Birds of prey, butterflies, otters, grey squirrels and deer are a few other species commonly spotted in the region.
The main information centre for Dartmoor is found near Princetown, the highest town in the park. Other villages in the park offer rows of thatched cottages along small lanes (Lustleigh), historic market town appeal (Tavistock or Okehampton) or picturesque churches (Widecombe-in-the-Moor). Dartmoor accommodation can be easily found in the villages or countrysides and you can stay in a village B&B or pub, hotel, youth hostel, working farm, self-catering cottage or camp under the stars on the moors.