Dartmoor National Park is made up of 360 square miles of pure beauty. I spent a weekend exploring the moors recently, and have missed the rugged landscapes, wooded valleys and semi-wild ponies everyday since I left. It’s a place that feels free. You feel as though you could walk for ever. It’s the kind of place you can imagine Jane Eyre or Bathsheba Everdene stomping across the moor with boots laced and trailing skirts hitched, clearing their head from patriarchal restraints.
Footpaths weave across the moors taking you from tops of tors, through woodland, and deep into the valleys. Winter foliage stands vibrant against the grey skies. Shades of gold and copper illuminate the landscape, and as you descend to the river, the route glows with shades of green.
Riverside walkways lead you to moss covered boulders nestled amongst gnarled trees. There’s a real sense of magic here, and the low boughs you duck under make it feel like a world that’s just been discovered. If fairies were to exist, you can be sure that this is where you’d find them!
The weather in Dartmoor is renown for being indecisive. Our final walk of the day saw us leave the car park with grey skies and a threat of rain, we ascended the tors in bright, crisp sunshine, and descended in thick, damp fog, losing the car in the process! Pack for all eventualities, it’s safe to assume you’ll experience all seasons in one day.
What to do on Dartmoor:
Explore – There are so many places to walk on Dartmoor, pull up in one of the roadside lay-bys and walk to the top of the nearest tor. For something more structured, grab your compass and map and check out Visit Dartmoor’s great circular walks. Keep an eye out for Hound Tor and it’s abandoned village, it’s said to be the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles!
Get creative – Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery is currently showing an incredible collection of work inspired by Dartmoor. So why not channel your inner artist and take your sketch book to the top of one of the 160 tors and draw the view. If you’ve got little ones in tow, set the family a 2 minute time limit and see what you can come up with.
Visit Buckland Abbey – A former monastery turned home that once belonged to Sir Francis Drake, Buckland Abbey offers incredible architecture and over 8 centuries of stories. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Discover Lydford Gorge – Descend into the deepest river gorge in the south west and marvel at a 30m waterfall.
Where to stay on Dartmoor:
Go camping – Dartmoor is one of the few places in Britain where wild camping is still permitted. As long as you’re away from the road and inconspicuous to passersby, pop up your tent and sleep beneath the stars. If you don’t fancy completely roughing it, there are lots of campsites on the moor ranging from rustic to glamorous!
Moorland Garden Hotel – Tucked away on the moor is the Moorland Garden Hotel. A relaxing little hotel set within a large garden. Lying in your fourposter bed and listening to nothing but the sound of birds outside, it’s hard to believe the city of Plymouth is just a few miles down the road. Relax in the Dartmoor Bar, or enjoy a well deserved feast in the AA Rosette-awarded Wildflower Restaurant.
Bovey Castle Hotel – If a little taste of luxury is what you’re after, then spend the night in a nineteenth century manor house, built by the heir of the WHSmith empire. Dine in the award winning restaurant, and unwind in the spa after a long day walking the moor.
How to get to Dartmoor:
By car: If you’re coming from the north, head down the M5 to Exeter, then follow the A30 towards Whiddon Down. For those coming up from Cornwall, hop on the A30 towards Okehampton and head towards Dartmoor on the A386.
By train: Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Ivybridge and Plymouth will all get you really close to Dartmoor.
By plane: Many Flybe flights land at Exeter, from there your just a short ride away from Dartmoor.