Dartmoor Devon

Dartmoor National Park is a vast moorland of some two hundred and forty square miles in the County of Devon in South West England. Its highest point is two thousand feet above sea level and it is a wild place where wild Datmoor ponies, sheep and cattle roam freely. It has forests, wetlands, rivers, tors, Neolithic tombs, bronze age stone circles and abandoned medieval farmhouses. The weather here can be treacherous with sunny days suddenly becoming thick with fog. The area gets a lot of rain so without knowing it you can loose your way and end up in a bog. Even at the top of the Tors what look like paths are actual streams that run underneath the peat so your feet sink into the mud. “ As you value your life and your reason, keep away from the moor,” a daunting message given to Sir Henry Baskerville at the beginning of “The Hound of The Baskervilles.” That being said it is a hiking wonderland. I suggest carrying either a GPS or a compass so if the fog comes down you can turn around and get home. The other weather difference is snow in Winter. Devon is also affected by the Gulf Stream so it is generally mild, due to the Moors height it can get snow. I have to say it is one of the most beautiful sights when that happens and I have yet to photograph it.

  • The Two Bridges in Princeton and Bovey Castle just outside of Chagford
  • The Two Bridges Hotel in Princeton is my favourite
  • Princeton has the Dartmoor Prison, built to house French prisoners of War during the Napoleonic War

Staying on the Moor is lovely and I recommend three places. The Three Crowns in Chagford, The Two Bridges in Princeton and Bovey Castle just outside of Chagford. They are all different. The Three Crowns is in the village and has a lot of Arty shops and a lot of pretty buildings. The food is very good and the rooms well appointed. Chagford is well situated for a hike around Fenworthy Reservoir, a beautiful lake with an impressive dam. If you are coming from the States and jet lagging then I recommend getting up early, seeing if the sun is going to shine, and hiking out on the Moor. Follow the ancient walls encounter all the wild life and feel that you really have come to a different land.

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Bovey Castle is a completely different cup of tea. Built by WH Smith as a country home, it is now a five star hotel with a golf course, a spa and two very good restaurants. The rooms are posh, the drawing rooms are sumptuous and the staff are all very polite and very efficient. There are a host of things to do without leaving the property. Of course there is golf, shooting, and learning how to drive a Landrover using all the four wheel drive capabilities. Much more complicated than just lets go, I promise you, and the grounds have a lot of cool off road areas. The spa is as one expects is very good, and with the swimming pool you are really very set for a long weekend.

If horse riding is something you enjoy there are a lot of stables that rent horses with guides, again a very memorable experience, available to all levels of riding.

The Two Bridges Hotel in Princeton is my favourite. Built as an eighteenth Century coaching Inn it stands alone in draw dropping scenery with two bridges over the River Dart, but is close to Princetown and Tavistock. It’s famous for the fact that Vivien Leigh honeymooned here. It was before Gone With The Wind and Sir Lawrence Olivier, but there is a Vivien Leigh room you can stay in if it is available. The rooms are cool with four poster beds and creaking floors. The bar is great fun and at lunch time the place is full of hikers. The thing that I find so exceptional about the place is the food. I generally book in for dinner bed and breakfast. The dinners are four courses, I travel a lot and rarely have I been so constantly impressed by the quality and innovation of the menu. It is all locally sourced and wonderfully fresh. Breakfast is also good with a standard Devon breakfast as well as a load of choices.

Princeton has the Dartmoor Prison, built to house French prisoners of War during the Napoleonic War. The story goes that sometime prisoners escaped but were found at the doors the next morning asking to come back in. Such is the moor. Because of the climate it was a very unhealthy place to be incarcerated, obviously no heating so very damp and very cold. It is still a prison but I think they have poshed it up a bit since those times.

Hiking on the moors can be judged by the Tors, the granite outcrops that adorn every hill. There is a five Tor hike that you can do that involves pitching a tent, great if you are hardy. I prefer to do a three Tor hike that could mean getting wet but means you will hopefully be in your warm hotel bed at night. What is fabulous is the whole exposure to the natural world, flora and fauna that somehow flourish in this climate, the wild ponies that surround you, the sheep with their lambs that dot the scenery, the different types of cattle that roam freely on the vast plain. Crossing Bridges that date back to the Neolithic time across rivers with crystal clear water.

If horse riding is something you enjoy there are a lot of stables that rent horses with guides, again a very memorable experience, available to all levels of riding.

To get here you need a car. If you are flying into Heathrow rent your car there. Take the M4 West to The M5 South to The A30 West. You can see the moor rising on your left hand side and look for a sign post to Chagford, exit the A30 and within minutes you are on the moor. It is a five hour drive, through the counties of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Somerset, but the scenery is well worth it and the speed limit is much greater than the States.

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