Dartmoor became a National Park in 1951 and is a short drive away, offering an incredible wealth of interest. It is a wilderness that has awe inspiring walks, history and prehistory. Despite being Britain’s most southerly wilderness, Dartmoor is very accessible. There are lovely market towns around it and delightful ones within it.
• Tavistock is an ancient stannary town that dates back to before medieval times. It is known for its historical buildings, pannier market, individual shops and thriving farmer’s markets.
• Okehampton is known as the gateway to the moor and offers access to the military loop road that leads right onto northern Dartmoor; ideal for those that want to experience the moor from a car.
• Ashburton, on the east side of the moor is another ancient stannary town with individual shops and plenty of pubs and cafes.
• Princetown is right in the middle of the moor and was built around the famous prison constructed to accommodate Napoleonic prisoners of war in 1809. The town has many historical buildings and links to the Duchy of Cornwall. It also has Dartmoor National Park’s High Moorland Visitor Centre which has exhibitions, displays and a wealth of information about Dartmoor.
• Widecombe in the Moor - charming moorland village with thatched buildings, tea rooms and much to see. Famous for the old Widecombe Fair.
• Postbridge - perfect for exploring an ancient medieval clapper bridge which is right next to the road.
• Powder Mills Pottery - explore the remains of the old gunpowder mills that used to produce gunpowder for the quarries and mines on Dartmoor, then enjoy a cream tea in the pottery.
• Chagford is a popular, charming village with a wealth of interesting shops and eateries.
Dartmoor encompasses a massive granite upland that was greatly populated in the Bronze Age (around 3000 - 750BC). Our Bronze Age ancestors built their homes, fields and farms here as well as ceremonial monuments such as stone rows, circles and cairns. A change in the climate meant that these uplands were later abandoned. Farming and living on the moor became marginal which meant that so much of what the Bronze Age people built can still be seen today. There are 20,000 individual monuments on Dartmoor, many of which are protected by law.
Mining has influenced the more modern history of Dartmoor. In Medieval times, there was a boom in miners streaming the rivers for tin; their huts and smelting houses are scattered all over the moor. In Victorian times, the mines became more mechanised, with huge waterwheels creating power for pumps and machines. They also tried to industrialise peat cutting, ice manufacture and naphtha production. Again, the ruins of these ventures are easily found.
Dartmoor comprises a massive granite upland that has been shaped predominantly by the Ice Ages. Outcrops of granite called 'tors' appear on most of the hill tops. These are the shattered remains of the exposed granite. Freeze-thaw action over the Ice Ages attacked the joints in the rock to systematically break up the granite into the huge piles of boulders that litter the hillsides. Dartmoor is recognised as a world class location for periglacial tors.
The granite intrusion metamorphosed the surrounding rock which created mineralisation. This means that tin, copper, silver and lead haver been mined in and around Dartmoor since before the Romans.
The unique wildlife and plant like is a result of the climate, acid soil and remoteness. Prevailing south-westerlies bring a lot of rain that falls on Dartmoor; indeed Princetown has over 2m of rain annually, which is the same as some rainforests! The height of the land also means it gets colder and windier that the rest of Devon, especially in winter. The vegetation and animals have adapted to thrive on this ecosystem and provide us with a unique and beautiful habitat.
One must not forget that the Park is home to about 3000 Dartmoor Ponies which can be seen roaming freely.
Today, Dartmoor is a playground for those who love the outdoors. Walkers can reach deep into the heart of the moor and explore true wilderness, or ramble along river valleys before enjoying a cream tea. The moor is great for rock climbing, camping, mountain biking, paragliding and kayaking. There is so much to do, and in such a landscape!