Dartmoor National Park
Explore the rocky tors, green valleys and eat and drink at cosy thatched pubs
Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor is famous for its dramatic open landscape and giant granite tors (huge oddly shaped rocks). Welcome to the wild west of England, a landscape shaped over millions of years by the desert sun, wind, rain, oceans, ice and humans.
Explore the moors with your tour guide; Delve into secluded valleys and see ancient woodlands, broken by streams of clear waters. Walk the moorlands and watch grazing wild Dartmoor ponies. The landscape is alive and dynamic - Put your feet up after a good hike and enjoy local Devonshire cream tea in front of a roaring fire in the winter. In the summer, sit outside with a refreshing beer in the sunshine. A guided walk or hike in the park is a must to enjoy this incredible landscape fully.
We prefer not to use Dartmoor as a one night stop en-route to Cornwall. We feel that you need at least two nights and three is better. Our suggested itinerary is England's South Coast guided tour. Tour with a driver-guide to Dartmoor and spend time exploring this ancient and fascinating landscape of pre-historic monuments, tors, and bright green valleys.
The wild west of England
A brief history of Dartmoor
Dartmoor's unusual landscape is a result of extreme upheaval 280 million years ago. The earth's axis twisted, which created a tremendous amount of heat deep underground, melting solid rock into the granite. Tin and copper slid into the cracks, and slowly the granite lifted the earth above into a mountain range.
Time now steps in to perform its roll in shaping the vast granite mountain. Over millions of years of climatic change, from deserts, oceans, ice and wind take its toll, sculpting the summit and leaving behind massive tors perched on a vast dome of granite.
The first humans
Hunter-gatherers arrive around 12,000 years ago, made clearings and hunted wild animals, such as deer and wild boar. There is evidence brown bears roamed Dartmoor at this time. During the Bronze age (3,000-600 BC) farmers cleared the hills and divided farms with stone walls. Much like Stonehenge and Avebury, local people honoured the dead by building stone circles and rows, which you can still see today. People made jewellery and bronze tools from the tin that washed into the streams.
Climate change again, Britain becomes much wetter and therefore less fertile, people move to the edge of Dartmoor and construct hill forts to protect themselves from outsiders. The Romans tended to avoid the region, and next came the Anglo Saxons, and then the Vikings. Lastly, the Normans attack (1066) and conquered England and parts of Wales.
The population expanded during the middle ages, and farmers across the county used Dartmoor's high ground for grazing cattle in the summer months. Large numbers of herdsmen brought their cattle from the valleys to the moors in spring. The annual event became known as the 'Red Tide', due to chestnut red fur of the cows. The mining of metals continued alongside farming.
The Black Death
After the black death came more climate change, this time bring better weather and things eventually improved. Sheep farming became profitable and England's famous wool industry thrived. Dartmoor is ideal sheep grazing country, and therefore the economy improved.
Visitors in the past would have regarded Dartmoor as a miserable place, barren and wet. That changed when Victorian artist showcased the romantic beauty of the moors. Writers, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the haunting beauty of Dartmoor as a backdrop for his mystery 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. Visitors from the cities started to arrive by train to experience the landscape. An interest developed into the ancient settlements, antiquarians studied the sites, and the moor's conservation became an important issue.
The conservation that began many years ago culminated into National Park Status today. Wildlife and tourism flourish side by side, but, you need to get out there and explore on a guided tour of Dartmoor National Park.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the creator of the character Sherlock Holmes. Doyle studied medicine and botany in Edinburgh, and he was proud of his observation abilities, mirrored in his super detective Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes fans regard 'The Hound of the Baskervilles', (set in Dartmoor) as his best. The isolated bronze age village of Grimspound features in the stories, which you can see on a guided hike of Dartmoor.
It seems that Dartmoor ponies have been here a long time, there is evidence of their presence stretching back 3,500 years. There are around 1500 wild ponies on the moors. The ponies have the genetics to survive the harsh environment of the moors with thick coats and compact feet for sure-footedness. They have detailed knowledge of water sources, areas for shelter and know where the most nutritious grass is during each season. They are lovely to see when galloping wildly across the hills.
There are many things to do on Dartmoor. Hiking is the obvious choice, and this is wonderful walking country. Wild swimming in rivers is exceptionally refreshing, and so much fun when allowing the river to push you downstream. Horse riding across the countryside is available, and activity centres offer zip-lining, canoeing and general forest and waterborne fun in a safe environment. There are many Fly Fishing rivers in the region too.
Castle Drogo is the last castle built in England. Its position is rather dramatic, overlooking the Teign Gorge. Julius Drewe, a self-made millionaire, commissioned the castle at the beginning of the 20th-century. The success of Drewe's business, the once famous chain known as Home and Colonial stores, meant he could retire at the age of 33. He laid the first foundation stone of the fortress when he was 55 years old. Edward Lutyens was the architect that Drewe approached to create his dream home, dying only one year after its completion. The house is a fascinating place to visit, and ideal to visit on a rainy day in Dartmoor.
One of Britain's most famous prisons sits in the middle of the moors. Attempting to escape across the moors is exceedingly dangerous, even life-threatening. The government held Napoleonic and American (1812 war) POW's here. The museum gives you an insight into one of Britain's most notorious places of incarceration.
Touring and accommodation
Dartmoor is a region with hundreds of attractive towns and villages virtually untouched by modern times. Touring the area is much like travelling back in time. See wild ponies, stone and thatched houses and ancient churches. There is very little modern development that is appealing to the visitor.
There is a wide choice of accommodation in the around London. Manor House Hotels, Guest Houses and Britain's Finest Hotels. Our suggested Dartmoor retreat is Bovey Castle Hotel. The hotel has a spa, two restaurants and large family accommodation. Our customisable itinerary, England's South Coast Tour features Dartmoor National Park and is ideal for families or couples.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands. Merging Wales with England makes for a dynamic experience of mountains, stately homes and cosy country pubs.
Tour England's Wild West
Hike the Windswept Tors and See the Native Ponies
- See Wild Dartmoor Ponies
- Hike The Rocky Tors
- Go Wild Swimming
- Enjoy a Devonshire Cream Tea
- Go Raptor Spotting
Dartmoor National Park Trail
The Rocky Tors
Native Dartmoor Ponies
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