Ancient and mysterious, Dartmoor exerts a pull on visitors who want to experience this unique corner of Britain for themselves. It’s conveniently located in South Devon, sandwiched between Exeter in the north and Plymouth in the south. With some of the world’s most magnificent coastline on both sides and chocolate-box pretty villages dotted throughout, Dartmoor is a popular holiday destination that offers a wide variety of activities for all tastes and abilities. It’s a place where you really can experience four seasons in one day, so we’ve given you a mix of great things to do that are suitable for any type of weather.
Exploring the Moors
Nature lovers will find enjoyment everywhere they turn on Dartmoor. Its famous tors dot the landscape like sentries and there are dozens of walking routes ranging from easy strolls that take an hour to full day challenging treks. Hound Tor, which inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write the Sherlock Holmes mystery, is a must on a clear day. You can pick up OS route guides at any of Dartmoor’s information centres.
Dartmoor ponies have been part of the local landscape for thousands of years. Horseback offers a comfortable vantage point to take in the scenery and get up close to the wild ponies as they freely roam. It’s legal to ride along the network of bridleways, trails and common land so this is a superb destination for a riding holiday. The south east is better for novices while the northern half of the moor gives a demanding yet satisfying option for experienced riders.
Dartmoor has over 150 tors which are popular with climbers from around the UK who come to test their skills by scaling the granite outcrops. Dartmoor Bouldering has comprehensive climbing guides to the area.
Waterfalls, Gorges and Rivers
One of the area’s most popular family attractions in Dartmoor is Canonteign Falls. Here you’ll find England’s highest waterfall, picturesque lakes and a variety of scenic walks taking in the falls and the park’s unspoiled woodland. With a fantastic playground, trampolines and an assault course, it’s perfect for a day out with the kids. From the highest waterfall in England to the deepest gorge in the South West, Lydford Gorge has its own waterfall and is home to numerous bird species. It’s beautiful at any time of year whether you’re enjoying May’s bluebells, relishing autumn’s changing palette, or marvelling at the rushing water in the Devil’s Cauldron after a winter storm.
As well as its plethora of ancient geological treasures, Dartmoor holds unique architectural ones like Castle Drogo. The Grade I listed building is managed by the National Trust to preserve what is believed to be the last castle built in Britain. Much of the Lutyens designed house and the gardens are wheelchair and baby-buggy accessible. It’s also dog and child friendly with activities like geocaching, orienteering and explorer packs for kids. The café serves delicious locally produced food and the shop sells souvenirs and plants from the castle’s nursery. The Castle is part of a larger estate and there’s a steady two hour circular walk along the River Teign that takes in Fingle Gorge.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the glory of Buckfast Abbey. Unlike many of Britain’s impressive abbeys which were ruined at the orders of King Henry VIII, Buckfast continues to be home to a community of Benedictine monks. The sensational gardens include almost 150 varieties of lavender and are a serene and beautiful place to reflect on the wonder of nature. A restaurant and award winning gift shop (selling the Abbey’s signature Buckfast Tonic Wine) help you make the most of your visit. Choral music lovers should check the Abbey’s event calendar.
The ideal antidote to misbehaving kids is a visit to Dartmoor Prison. It was built between 1806 and 1809 and has housed French and American prisoners, the most dangerous and violent prisoners from the Victorian era and conscientious objectors from WWI. The museum’s prison is interesting enough to keep even the naughtiest child in line and it is a dog friendly attraction.
Going back a little further in time, the prehistoric settlement of Grimspound has the remains of two dozen Bronze Age houses; making the abandoned ruin of the medieval village of Hound Tor, just 3 miles away, seem almost modern by comparison.
Dartmoor Zoological Park
Rain or shine, a day at the Dartmoor Zoo is always great fun. There’s everything from an enormous tiger to a tiny stick insect, including cheetahs, lions, wolves, bears, wallabies, owls and snakes. The zoo has an in-house conservation and research team who work with universities to help understand and protect animals in their natural environment and keepers’ talks will provide memorable highlights. It’s very accessible with flat smooth paths and electric scooters available for hire. Dartmoor Zoo can help you celebrate a special occasion with a fantastic package such as a private falconry display or the chance to meet Siberian tigers. With seasonal fun activities throughout the year, it’s always a good time to go to Dartmoor Zoo!
Picture Perfect Villages
Dartmoor’s pretty villages provide the ideal base from which to explore the apparently pixie-inhabited woodlands, and moorland with the roaming mythical (we hope!) hound. Ponsworthy is near Newton Abbot and has a bridge dating back to at least 1666 and a row of charming thatched cottages. Okehampton has a Norman Castle and is the starting point for some excellent guided walks, as well as having arguably some of the best food and ale in Dartmoor at the Red Lion Inn. It also has the benefit of being centrally located so you can easily reach Devon’s beautiful Blue Flag beaches.
Dartmoor has an active calendar of events which are worth making time for. Buy ultra-local produce at farmers’ markets, like those in Buckfastleigh (every Thursday) and Okehampton (third Saturday of the month); time your visit to coincide with race day at Newton Abbott; or be inspired by one of the various festivals and exhibitions which run throughout the year.
Dartmoor’s charms are many and it’s no surprise that visitors often make it an annual pilgrimage, returning on holiday year after year. Whether you’re going to Dartmoor for the first time or are a regular guest, we know you’ll have an unforgettable time.