As one of Britain's earliest areas to be protected by National Park status, you can trust that there is a lot to discover in Dartmoor. No day needs to be boring with all this on the doorstep.
Walks around Dartmoor
Since Dartmoor is famous for walking, it makes sense to start your discovery of Dartmoor on foot. There are endless miles of walks to suit all abilities whether you want a short stroll through a village or a strenuous slog up a tor. Always dress appropriately for the often exposed conditions and changeable weather. Getting stuck on the moors in inclement weather without waterproofs is no joke!
A walk around the ruins of the medieval village at Hound Tor is short and mainly flat. There is a car park at Swallerton Gate, and the site is signposted. Wind Tor has a nice view and is only 100 metres from the road if you park near Dunstone Down. For more of a challenge, try the 7.5-mile walk that starts (and ends) at the car park near Lydford and goes past Brat Tor, Bleak House, Logan Stone and Great Nodden, taking in fantastic views of Chat Tor and Woodcock Hill. The walk from Okehampton to Bellever crosses the north of Dartmoor in around 14.5 miles. The Dartmoor Way runs for 90 miles around the national park, and the Templer Way follows the route granite mined in Dartmoor took when it was exported to Teignmouth.
There really is a walk for everyone so either ask your cottage owner for ideas around where you are staying, or stop by one of the friendly Dartmoor visitor centres in Postbridge, Newton Abbot or Yelverton.
Another fantastic day of discovery is Lydford Gorge. Managed by the National Trust, the gorge is impressively deep and is beautiful at any time of year, but possibly most in early autumn when the leaves are changing, and the boughs of the apple trees in the orchard are laden with fruit. Walk to Whitelady Waterfall which, like Tunnel Falls and the Devil's Cauldron, are all even more impressive after rain, and count all the different types of trees you can identify. There are two tea rooms and several nice picnic spots, a bird hide and a children's playground. Lydford also has a castle (free entry), so it is worth making a day of it.
Known locally as simply "Bovey", Bovey Tracey bills itself as the Gateway to the Moors. It is a friendly, vibrant market town (market days are the first and third Saturday of the month from 8.30am to 1pm in Union Square) with lovely independent shops, cafes and pubs. The Devon Guild of Craftsmen is in Riverside Mill. The guild has 240 members who display and sell work through the shop, and it is a good place to pick up a unique souvenir or gift. You should also stop by the House of Marbles where they not only make glass marbles, but have a marble run that will (probably) interest even the most jaded teenager, and a decent restaurant as well.
Parke is a short walk from Bovey Tracey. There is an orchard and walled garden, peaceful woodland and a walk over the River Bovey, and an award winning cafe. The cows and Dartmoor ponies are easy to spot, but you may also see weasels, swallows, and a host of other birds and wildlife. Bovey Tracey's visitor's centre is conveniently near the main car park.
Widecombe is another example of the lovely towns and villages dotted around Dartmoor. There is a monthly market held on the fourth Sunday of the month in Church House, selling a variety of locally produced food. It is particularly good for meat and a good place to stock up a barbecue or picnic, and to get your food for the week. The annual fair, held in September, sees an influx of visitors who come to enjoy the festivities, and the village pub, the Old Inn, is a good point to stop-off during your walk or bike ride.
The settlement of Hound Tor is thought to have been deserted sometime during the 1400s, and the ruins are a popular walking destination. You may want to avoid it on a misty or gloomy day, and certainly at night, if you have a delicate disposition as rumours of hauntings have persisted for centuries. The setting was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's book "Hound of the Baskervilles", and even if you don't believe in ghosts, it is hard to deny the eerie atmosphere.
Tucked away near Sparkmoor, Dartmoor Zoo and the family who run it are the subjects of the book (and later, film) "We Bought a Zoo". It is a lovely venue with lions, tigers, jaguars, lynx, otters, wolves, bears, foxes, snakes, tortoises, parrots and owls just to name a few! The smaller size of the venue means you can get relatively close to the animals. The only downside of the zoo is that it is not completely accessible for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility. However, there are electric mobility scooters to hire if you book them in advance.