A day out on Dartmoor
Dartmoor is a place where the beauty of nature can be seen in all its glory. With its rolling hills, rocky outcrops, pristine forests, and ancient woodlands. It’s easy to see why it has been dubbed “the last great wilderness of England.” A day spent on Dartmoor is a day well spent.
Dartmoor National Park is a large, wild area of moorland in Devon, South West England. It covers 954 km² (368 sq mi) and is the largest open space in the southwest peninsula. The moor contains lofty granite tors – rocky hills or mini mountains formed by the weathering of granite and exposed granite cliffs. The highest point on Dartmoor is High Willhays, at 621 metres (2,037 ft) above sea level.
I took Izzy, my 10-year-old daughter, up to explore a couple of the better-known granite tors – Haytor and Hound Tor. After clambering over the rocks, we checked out Jay’s Grave and then headed to one of the many attractive Dartmoor towns and villages in the centre of Dartmoor national park, Widecombe-in-the-moor, where I enjoyed a cider shandy in one of the smallest pubs in England.
We drove up the windy B3387 from Bovey Tracy onto Dartmoor. On the way, we passed many carefree sheep on the road. They were variously ambling, sunning themselves or with their heads firmly into the banks rooting out the tastiest of the lush greenery. Hats off to the cyclists who negotiate these roads and seemed to be making light work powering up some often very steep roads.
As we rounded a bend, we caught our first reasonably close-up view of Haytor
Haytor Rocks is a group of granite rocks on the eastern edge of Dartmoor. They are made up of two main summits: Low Man at 468 metres (1,535 ft), and High Man at 519 metres (1,701 ft). The rocks are popular with climbers and walkers alike and offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside, which author and columnist Simon Jenkins rated among the top 10 in England for natural beauty.
There are three car parking areas to pull up at, and the choice comes down to how lazy you are feeling, as each one is progressively higher and therefore nearer to the rocks. Although none of the walks were particularly strenuous, we still chose the top car park, which conveniently also had an ice cream van in prime position.
A family of Dartmoor ponies seemed fairly unfazed by the presence of humans and their metallic rides.
Izzy was keen to get up onto the rocks and start scrambling about, so we headed up the slope.
The gorse at the edge of the wide path was in full bloom. Beautiful, bright yellow, pink and purple flowers disguised the unforgiving needles.
Families with kids of all ages were enjoying the rocks, with people clambering up, sitting on top of, or picnicking beneath them. Dogs also took advantage of exploring and running about off the lead.
Climbing to the top of the larger summits has been made significantly easier with the addition of a few strategically placed steps carved into the granite, much to the dismay of Dr Crocker, who in 1851 complained they were “to enable the enervated and pinguedinous scions of humanity of this wonderful nineteenth century to gain the summit”.
Well, these two pinguedinous scions climbed up, and the views from the top were stunning, with a patchwork of fields, forests and moorland stretching out as far as the eye could see. We could even see parts of the south coast in the distance.
We clambered back down and snapped a few more photos on the way
We walked around the base to Low Man, which also has a few steps carved to assist those unused to crampons. Again, from the top we were treated to more breathtaking scenery.
We returned to the car and headed a couple of miles round to Hound Tor. On the way, we dodged more ponies, sheep and the largest brown bull I have ever seen. Without a care in the world, he ambled onto the road in front of us. It didn’t matter what you were driving – he had the right of way.
Made famous by its appearance in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, Hound Tor is a group of granite rocks on the south-western side of Dartmoor. The highest point is 533 metres (1,749 ft); again, there are fantastic views from the top and all around it.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were among the stars who filmed scenes here for the BBC adaptation of the story.
There were fewer people at Hound Tor, and parking in the car park was easy.
The rocks which make up the Tor are much more jagged than at Haytor, and there are a few more challenging climbs for those so inclined. Where Haytor is large, solid, somewhat singular masses of stone, Hound Tor is made up of many smaller (when I say smaller, I mean relatively smaller) boulders and interesting rocky outcrops of all shapes and sizes.
Scampering up the rocks, Izzy found a natural tunnel and shelter formed by what appears to be the careful placement of giant building blocks.
While clambering over the rocks, we became aware of a helicopter flying. We looked up to see it was one of the Devon Air Ambulance helicopters. After circling three times, it landed in a nearby valley to carry out one of its life-saving rescue missions.
Wishing well to all those involved.
Plenty more photo opportunities presented themselves as we looked out over the largely untamed countryside. We spent a good couple of hours here before heading in search of Widecombe-in-the-moor.
On the way back to the car, we met yet more Dartmoor ponies wandering freely, enjoying the Dartmoor life.
We detoured the half a mile to Jay’s Grave, where fresh flowers were placed carefully on the isolated grave as per the legend surrounding the very sad tale of Kitty Jay.
The story goes that in the late 1700s, Kitty Jay was taken to the Poor House in Newton Abbot as an orphaned baby. She lived there happily until her teens. When she was old and strong enough to work in the fields, she was sent to a farm outside Manaton to work as an apprentice.
The work was hard, and there was little reward.
It wasn’t long before the farmer’s son started paying her some unwanted attention, and she soon found herself pregnant.
The farmer threw her out, and unwilling to face the shame and stigma of having an illegitimate child, she killed herself and her unborn baby by hanging herself in one of the barns.
She was buried in an unmarked grave at a crossroads, as befits a suicide.
There are reports of a ghostly figure who would kneel at the grave site with head bowed and their face buried in their hands. Some said the figure was the farmer who bore the guilt of throwing the girl out. Others said it was the farmer’s son who was sent to stand vigil over the grave containing his unborn child’s body.
Legend has it that there were always fresh flowers laid on the grave, although nobody ever knew who left them.
The tradition continues to this day, and there is always a small bunch of flowers on the grave, no matter what time of year you visit.
Widecombe is a beautiful, unspoilt village in the heart of Dartmoor. It is picturesque and typically English, with thatched roofs, a stone church and a village green. It exemplifies much of Dartmoor’s unique heritage and rich history.
In Widecombe, two pubs serve excellent food, and there are several cafes, a village school, a post office and a few shops. It’s the perfect place to stop for lunch or a cream tea.
The church, known as St Pancras’, is worth a visit. It was built in the 14th century and has beautiful stained glass windows. It’s worth checking the opening times as, like many churches, it is only open for limited hours.
The village green is a great spot to sit and people-watch while enjoying an ice cream or a cold drink.
We wandered around the shops and down to the Rugglestone Inn, where I had a pint of cider shandy.
The bar is one of the smallest in England with only a couple of tables and chairs. There is plenty of space outside, and you can sit amongst the free-ranging chickens and ducks, waiting for the bus that will never arrive.
Widecombe-in-the-moor is the location for the annual Widecombe Fair, held on the second Tuesday in September. This centuries-old fair is one of the largest and most popular events on Dartmoor and is part of the cultural heritage. It attracts visitors from far and wide. If you’ve ever heard the whimsical expression “Uncle Tom Cobley and all”, you might not know that it is from the end of the chorus of the song “Widecombe Fair”. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area at that time, it’s definitely worth a visit, and you can immerse yourself in Dartmoor culture.
A day out on Dartmoor is a great way to spend some time in the outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and stunning scenery. There’s plenty to see and do and something to suit everyone. Whether you want to hike up granite tors, look out over some of the most amazing scenery, enjoy a cream tea in a quaint village, or just sit and people-watch, Dartmoor has it all.
Is Dartmoor in Devon or Cornwall?
Dartmoor is in Devon, but it is close to the border with Cornwall. It is about midway between Plymouth and Exeter. It is 368 square miles / 954 square kilometres, making it about the size of London.
Why is Dartmoor famous?
Dartmoor is famous for its granite tors, which are weathered rock formations that are a distinctive feature of the landscape. It is also famous for its ponies, which roam freely over the moors. Dartmoor is a popular tourist destination, with people coming from all over the world to enjoy its unique scenery and wildlife.
Is Dartmoor nice to visit?
Yes, Dartmoor is a beautiful place to visit. It is a great place for walking, hiking and cycling, and there are some stunning views to enjoy. The village of Widecombe-in-the-moor is definitely worth a visit, and the annual Widecombe Fair is a great event to experience Dartmoor culture.
Why are there no trees on Dartmoor?
There are trees on Dartmoor, but not as many as in other parts of the country. This is because the soil is very poor and unsuitable for tree growth. The climate is also harsh, with high winds and heavy rains. The exposed location of Dartmoor means that it is also subject to severe weather conditions.
Is Dartmoor National Park free?
Yes, Dartmoor is free to visit. However, there are charges for some car parks and for camping. You can also buy a Discovery Pass, which gives you free entry to all of the National Parks in England and Wales.
Is Dartmoor National Park worth visiting?
Yes, Dartmoor is definitely worth visiting. It is a beautiful place with plenty to see and do. Whether you want to hike up granite tors, look out over some of the most amazing scenery, enjoy a cream tea in a quaint village, or just sit and people-watch, Dartmoor has it all. There are numerous visitor centres throughout Dartmoor where you can learn more about the moors, the rare wildlife and the history of the area.
Can you drive through Dartmoor National Park?
Yes, you can drive through Dartmoor National Park. However, there are some restrictions on where you can drive and park. You can find more information on the Dartmoor National Park website.
Is Dartmoor the biggest National Park?
No, Dartmoor is not the biggest National Park. It is 368 square miles / 954 square kilometres, making it about the size of London. The Lake District National Park is the biggest National Park in the UK, at 885 square miles / 2,292 square kilometres.
What are the two national parks in Devon?
The two national parks in Devon are Dartmoor and Exmoor. Dartmoor is 368 square miles / 954 square kilometres, making it about the size of London. Exmoor is 267 square miles / 692 square kilometres.
How many National Parks are in Devon?
There are two national parks in Devon – Dartmoor and Exmoor.
Can you legally camp on Dartmoor?
Yes, you can camp on Dartmoor. However, there are some restrictions on where you can camp and how long you can stay. You can find more information on the Dartmoor National Park website.
Is Dartmoor private land?
No, Dartmoor is not private land. It is a National Park and run by the Dartmoor National Park Authority, which means that it is owned by the government and managed for the public good. However, there are some privately-owned areas within the National Park, such as car parks and campsites.
Where in England is Dartmoor?
Dartmoor is in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. It is about midway between Plymouth and Exeter, and about a two-hour drive from London.