Dartmoor National Park is possibly one of the most popular national parks in the UK, stretching across 368 square miles (954 sq km). For walkers, cyclists, nature lovers and birdwatchers and castle and industrial mining history enthusiasts Dartmoor is a firm favourite. Archaeological remains and ancient prehistoric circles abound on this mostly rugged moorland landscape, with still some wooded valleys and a host of charming Devon Villages dotted about, particularly in the outskirts of the National Park.
At the time of the dinosaurs, Dartmoor and the whole of the South West Peninsula were submerged, only later to be pushed back up, with the top soft chalk surface of sea creature shells soon being eroded away to reveal the granite surface you see today. Dartmoor is a moorland of Tors, various of which are extremely dramatic such as Hound Tor or Brent Tor with church atop in West Dartmoor. Dartmoor then is really a granite lump, as is the Scilly Isles and Bodmin Moor. Dartmoor's choice of marked walkways are perfect for walkers, and cyclists are well served too.
Dartmoor is best explored on foot, and there is a choice of marked paths including the Two Moors Way, the circular Dartmoor Way and for cyclists there's the Devon Coast to Coast Cycle route which minds mostly through the east of this national park. Two B roads - the B3212 and the B3357 cross Dartmoor, with the A38 running along the southern edge of the moor and the A30 following the northern edge of Dartmoor. Visitors to Dartmoor should note that there is a 40 mile an hour (64 kilometre) speed limit throughout the park.
You'll find different themes in each section of Dartmoor. The highest peak in Dartmoor, at 2,039ft is High Willhays to the North, with a scattering of other peaks around it. The southern section of the national park is wild country indeed. You'll find lower peaks in the south, but a more barren landscape. The best of Dartmoor's prehistoric sites are to the west of the national park and to the East you'll discover a more laid back Dartmoor, with more villages with the central centre being Widecombe-in-the-moor.
Visitors to any part of Dartmoor need to sensitive to rapid changes in weather, and generally take care whilst walking on Moorland. Good maps, boots and protective clothing are highly recommended. The sheep, cute looking Dartmoor ponies and the cattle that roam around Dartmoor National Park must not be fed at any time because, as highlighted by the National Park Authority, this encourages them to the roadside where they run the risk of being injured or killed. All Dartmoor roaming livestock are semi-wild, and may well kick you so best to leave out the feeding. It's illegal and an offence to do so!
To the north of Dartmoor, visitors should also note that parts of this area of the park are military firing zones, and are closed to public access when in use, with warnings of Red Flags by day, and Red Lights by night. Full details of dates when the firing ranges in the North of the park are in use can be gauged from the Dartmoor Firing Range weblink to the right. Details are also published in the local press. It's essential to check that you have access to these areas in North Dartmoor before visiting.
What is Dartmoor famous for, it's bogs and tors of course! Bogs featuring quite heavily in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes masterpiece, 'Hound of the Baskervilles'. Many of Dartmoor's tors are beautifully exposed, and most popular with visitors to the park.
They've laid on car parks and bus stops near Tors to feed the popularity, and the National Park Authority says, resulting in the increasing visibility of paths on the moors where many human feet have trod! The Eastern side of Dartmoor is particularly Tor rich, and firm favourites are Bowerman's Nose, Hound Tor and Haytor. Vixen Tor to the West, with it's mythical flesh eating witch, is also rather popular.
Wooded areas are to be found particularly to the North east in the Teign River Valley. Check out also the Valley of the River Bovey for this kind of terrain. A network of rivers can be found in Dartmoor as well, and particularly scenic is the area around Darmeet, especially the beautiful village of Dartmeet itself.
The rivers offer an array of both river walks and waterfalls. White Lady Falls in Lydford Gorge and famous Becky Falls near Manaton are two of the most exquisite and most visited! There are numerous Bronze Age sites across the moorland as well, plus pay a visit to Buckfast Abbey which is still a working monastery. Oakhampton Castle and Castle Drogo are a must visit for English Castle enthusiasts.
The Dartmoor Way is a superb circular walkway, working it's way round the outskirts of the park for 90 miles, and taking the walker through some of Dartmoor's most beautiful villages, and fascinating sites.
It's a marked walkway that can easily be dipped into, if you're looking for less strenuous walking, or there is a separate route especially for cyclists. Okehampton, Ashburton, Bovey Tracey, Manaton, Lydford and Princetown all feature on this Dartmoor circular walkway.
The 90 mile long Dartmoor Way which skits round the outside of Dartmoor National Park is perhaps the most popular. Two Moors Way weaves it's way through the centre of Dartmoor National Park, from Ivybridge up past Widecombe in the Moor, Drewsteignton and then onwards towards Exmoor National Park all the way to beautiful Lynmouth on the North coast of Devon.
The Two Moors Way is long distance walking at it's best, 102 miles of it to be precise and a week is often recommended as the time period to designate to walking it!
Tors are granite blocks and found in the upland heart of Dartmoor where the 65% of Granite in Dartmoor exists. Granite flowed as molten rock from the centre of the earth along the south-west peninsula some 280 million years ago.
As it cooled it shrank, and it's this shrinking that created what you can see today in the Dartmoor uplants, that is vertical and horizontal joints in solid rock. The exposed granite has been eroded over millions of years, and although one of the hardest rocks granite is vulnerable to chemicals in things like rainwater.
Combine with this the weathering of thawing and re-freezing ice and you are left with the striking Tor granite structures and the awe inspiring shapes of Tors such as Bowerman's Nose which is indeed one of the most dramatic and situated just west of Lustleigh near Becky Falls!
The granite rock castle of Hound Tor is nearby as well, making this area a must see and explore if you're interested in these striking natural granite structures.
If you're into all things ghosts, witches, pixies, Dartmoor legends and folklore then look no further than the Dartmoor Legends site (link to the right). A bit 'tongue in cheek', but highly informative if you're on a Dartmoor ghost trail, as all the Dartmoor ghosts are listed here, plus a list of gruesome Dartmoor murders, as well as quirky legends around famous Devon people such as Sir Francis Drake and urr the Gubbins of Lydford and the ghost of Kitty Jay. Fantastic.
Lydford actually does appear to be an extremely haunted Dartmoor spot. Hardly surprising with that old stannary prison, so called Lydford Castle.
This Dartmoor Legends website is useful as well for locating ancient Dartmoor Inns, old ancient Dartmoor pathways like Abbots Way and is most informative on ancient monuments such as Nine Maidens and Spinsters Rock.
For detailed information on Dartmoors many stone crosses which were erected by monks at the abbeys/monasteries located in placed like Buckfastleigh and Tavistock, check out the Dartmoor Crosses web link to the right. This comprehensive Dartmoor Crosses site is the work of two Dartmoor walking enthusiasts, so they should know. Highly recommended to catch some of these ancient markers, erected to assist mostly the monks but also traders across the Moors in frequent times of bad weather.
Tavistock Tourist Information Centre, Town Hall, Bedford Square, Tavistock. Tel: 01822 612938
South Dartmoor Tourist Information Centre, Leonards Road, Ivybridge. Tel: 01752 897035
Postbridge Information Centre, Tel: 01822 88072, open Easter to November, weekends up until New year.
Haytor Information Centre, Tel: 01364 661520, open Easter to Nov, and weekends in winter.
Dartmoor Tourist Association, Central Dartmoor, High Moorland Business Centre, Princetown, Dartmoor, Devon PL20 6QF, Tel: 01822 890567. High Moorland Tourist Information point is the main tourist information centre for Dartmoor.
Dartmoor National Park Authority, East Dartmoor, Parke, Bovey Tracey, near Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 9JQ, Tel: 01626 832093
Okehampton Tourist Information Centre, North Dartmoor, Museum Courtyard, 3 West Street, Okehampton, Devon EX20 1HQ. Tel: 01837 53020
Newbridge Information Centre, Tel: 01364 631303