Dartmoor is one of the UK’s most evocative natural landscapes. A vast wilderness right in the heart of Devon, this national park is characterised by craggy granite tors, heather-strewn moorlands, deep wooded valleys and coursing rivers. The famous, semi-wild Dartmoor ponies are a much-loved sight and can be spotted roaming freely across the moors. Covering some 368 square miles, with walks, history, scenery, attractions and wildlife in abundance, Dartmoor is one of the most iconic sites in the South West - an entirely magical place to go on holiday.
Read on to find out why we think Dartmoor is so special and discover a few local secrets to help you make the most of your stay.
About the National Park:
Lovers of outdoor pursuits need look no further as the Dartmoor National Park is a natural playground waiting to be discovered; from the leisurely to the adrenalin-fuelled, there is a plethora of exciting activities on offer. The River Dart provides excellent rapids for canoeing and kayaking, the many tors scattering the countryside offer rewarding views for daring climbers, and the wide expanses of open moorland attract walkers and cyclists seeking fresh air, freedom and a sense of escapism. You can even take part in llama walking too!
Historians will delight in the wealth of ancient monuments found dotted among the tors and valleys, including castles, burial chambers, stone circles, medieval churches, stately mansions and heritage centres. Dartmoor has inspired a sense of awe for millennia with its legends that linger over these sites. The park also has the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the UK, so there is plenty for the modern antiquarian to discover.
Being a protected national park, Dartmoor is home to an abundance of nature reserves and sites of Special Scientific Interest. However you choose to explore, you’re sure to experience the wonderful array of wildlife that inhabits the park, from endangered animals to hardy livestock. The most famous residents are the beautiful Dartmoor ponies. Having lived on the moors for centuries, they are well-equipped to handle the tough winter weather and rough terrain. There is no more iconic sight than a herd of ponies grazing together, with stunning Dartmoor as their backdrop.
There are also various breeds of cattle on Dartmoor, the most renowned being the Highland cows who are a sight to see, with their amazing shaggy coats and large horns. Best admired from a distance, these majestic creatures graze on the grass throughout the year and new-born calves and yearlings can often be observed following their mothers. Lambing season is between March and July if you want to see some cute Dartmoor lambs and If you’re lucky, you may glimpse a polecat – a weasel type of mammal – bounding its way between foliage and rocks.
Dartmoor is also a great place for a spot of bird watching with a captivating range of rare breeds including the ring ouzel and the cuckoo. Birds of prey can often be spotted overhead, including the incredible buzzard.
There is a myriad of picturesque villages in Dartmoor to explore with their winding country lanes and thatched cottages such as Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Chagford and Buckfast. Shop for local delicacies at bustling farmers’ markets or visit one of the friendly towns including Ashburton, Bovey Tracey and Tavistock where you will find craft stores, independent shops, antique emporiums and art galleries to browse. Every village and town boasts unique character and charm – perhaps you might like to join in with local festivities like Morris dancing and snail racing!
For animal lovers, a day out to the Miniature Pony Centre is sure to be a hit where you can surround yourself by miniature ponies and tiny foals, stroking and cuddling them to your heart's content. Dartmoor Zoo is another great attraction, set in 30 acres and home to cheetahs, bears, wolves and endangered species. Alternatively, Pennywell Farm and Wildlife Centre offers a family-orientated insight into the workings of a Devon farm with hands-on activities and rides to enjoy.
Learn more about the region’s fascinating past at Okehampton Castle, the largest castle in Devon, or take in breathtaking views from the turrets of the striking Castle Drogo. You can wander around the impressive interior and gardens of Buckfast Abbey, a working monastery that houses a community of Benedictine Monks (be sure to sample their delicious homegrown honey), or discover the treasures hidden within Buckland Abbey which possesses over 700 years of intriguing history.
For those who enjoy a tipple, add a trip to Dartmoor Brewery to your itinerary where you can delight in a tour and tasting of their award-winning beers. And for those who appreciate arts and crafts, a journey to Powdermills Pottery Centre will fill your shopping bags with a wonderful selection of local artisan ware including unique wood-fired pottery, hand-spun woollen goods and seasonal produce.
Inspiring writers, poets and artists for centuries, it’s no wonder visitors flock to Dartmoor for restorative breaks and creative inspiration. A few days spent here losing yourself in the quiet of the moors, tors and ancient woodland will remind you how good it feels to get away from it all.
Whether it’s a traditional thatched cottage nestled in the wilds of Dartmoor that you crave or perhaps a stylish hotel where you can wake up to a cooked breakfast and exceptional views, we have handpicked the very best self-catering accommodation in Dartmoor that is sure to leave you positively energised and relaxed.
The food and drink:
After a day canoeing, climbing or walking, nothing can beat a hearty homecooked meal made from delicious and fresh local produce found in one of the many pubs, restaurants and cafes dotted across Dartmoor. Enjoy meat, fresh from the moors around Princetown; fish, fresh from the trout farm at Tavistock and fruit and vegetables picked early in the morning in verdant fields around the villages. Weekly farmers' markets and annual food festivals across the moor are another great way to sample tasty local treats.
The Two Bridges restaurant, which has been awarded an AA double rosette, is a luxurious lunchtime spot for a cream tea, while the Riverford Field Kitchen serves up a range of organic cuisine using ingredients from their garden. The Horn of Plenty is a popular destination for beautifully presented dishes, including seafood salad and Creedy Carver duck with pickled blackberries.
When you fancy a pint of local ale beside a roaring fire, visit one of Dartmoor’s welcoming pubs such as the Bridford Inn, a 17th century pub with an impressive selection of West Country ciders, a sunny beer garden and regular live music. We also recommend the exceptionally cosy The Who’d Have Thought It Inn near Yelverton which offers a seasonal menu complimented by a regularly changing variety of real ales and ciders.
Dartmoor is steeped in rich history with evidence of Neolithic remains, and the largest collection of Bronze Age structures in the UK. Menhirs, stone circles, clapper bridges, Dartmoor crosses and ruined villages are scattered across the moor, shaping the landscape which we see today. Medieval longhouses still stand, rail lines and factories weather the elements, a reminder of the prosperous tin mining age, and reservoirs represent the stamp of the industrial Victorian era. There are over 1,200 scheduled sites on Dartmoor to discover!
Grimspound is one of Dartmoor’s most iconic sites, a settlement dating to the Middle Bronze Age around 1,500 BC. Consisting of a vast stone enclosure which contains a group of small hut circles, you can just make out where the doorways would have once been. Other noteworthy archaeological sites in Dartmoor include Spinster’s Rock, one of the most ancient monuments in the National Park, the Merrivale Bronze Age ceremonial complex and the Holne Moor reave system, one of the best-preserved Bronze Age field boundaries in the area.
With over 450 miles of public rights of way including The Dartmoor Way, a circuit that passes by attractive towns and villages, and the Two Moors Way linking Dartmoor and Exmoor, walkers and cyclists have lots to discover here. One of the best ways to appreciate the breathtaking views is from the top of one of Dartmoor’s 160 tors. These dramatic rock formations were formed some 280 million years ago as the result of an eruption of granite. Some of the most popular tors in Dartmoor include Haytor and High Willhays Tor which rises to 621 metres and is the highest point in Dartmoor, the South West, and the UK south of the Brecon Beacons in Wales.
For walks, wildlife and stunning scenery, a trip to Lydford Gorge is a must. The deepest gorge in the South West, there are many hidden treats to find including Whitelady Waterfall which is 30 metres high and the eerily named Devil’s Cauldron pothole. There are short walks lasting around 45 minutes or the whole circular route can be completed in two hours, finishing at a National Trust centre for a spot of lunch afterwards.
Enjoy a contrast to the Dartmoor moors with a visit to Burrator Reservoir with its tranquil water and surrounding peaceful woodland. Surprisingly, Dartmoor has relatively few lakes, making Burrator a rare find and, as an added bonus, there is a waterfall to the left of the reservoir as you approach.
Finally, discover the remote village of Postbridge with its picturesque Clapper Bridge that dates back to the 13th century. Found right in the heart of the National Park, there is a wonderful village atmosphere here and the Post Office serves the most delicious cream teas and ice cream! Be sure to take a wander around Bellever Forest which features numerous archaeological sites and a range of wildlife including Dartmoor Ponies.
Inspired to take a holiday in Dartmoor? Browse our fantastic range of accommodation in Dartmoor to discover your perfect getaway.