About Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor is one of fifteen National Parks in the UK. Located in the county of Devon within the South West region of England, Dartmoor National Park is close to the cities Exeter and Plymouth. From the Park's high ground, you can see the South Devon, East Cornwall and North Cornwall coastlines. You'll also see Exmoor National Park to the north and Bodmin Moor and the Cornish Alps to the south west.

Map of Dartmoor

Dartmoor's a relatively small National Park. Roughly 34 kilometres or 21 miles from Bovey Tracey in the east to Brent Tor in the west and 39 kilometres or 24 miles from South Tawton in the north to Ivybridge in the south, the Park cover 954 square kilometres or 368 square miles. We've walked across a narrow section of Dartmoor in a long summer's day. We've walked lengthways in two.

The Park consists of two high plateaus of moorland separated by a central bowl. The high plateaus and central bowl are fringed by some of the most beautiful wooded valleys in the UK. Valleys such as the Dart Gorge, Lustleigh Cleave and the Teign Gorge are far from the Dartmoor stereotype of bleak. On the high plateaus and in the wooded valleys are numerous granite outcrops called tors. Yes Tor and High Willhays are the highest tors. Situated in the north west of the Park, they are the only two mountains in southern England. Fur Tor is roughly in the centre of the northern plateau and is said to be the most remote spot in southern England.

Numerous rivers rise on the high ground. The River Dart and River Plym, to name a few, flow fast through wooded valleys to the South West coastlines. Reservoirs have also been built to take advantage of the high rainfall. Fernworthy, Meldon and Burrator, for example, occupy quite stunning locations.

The high moors are also fringed by a number of 'gateway towns'. Running clockwise, towns such as Chagford, Moretonhampstead, Bovey Tracey, Ashburton, Buckfastleigh, South Brent, Ivybridge, Tavistock and Okehampton are popular bases from which to explore the Park. Up on the high ground, in the centre of the Park, is Princetown. There are lots of beautiful villages in which to stay as well. Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Buckland-in-the-Moor are most famous. Try Belstone and Drewsteignton in the northern section of the Park, Postbridge in the centre and Lydford to the west.

The granite landscape has been used by humans for millennia to build homes and monuments. The granite also brought with it valuable metals and minerals that have been mined through the centuries. Whilst Dartmoor today is a peaceful place given over, in the main, to leisure and farming, it was once a thriving industrial landscape. Walk or ride the dismantled railway called the Granite Way. Explore old granite quarries at Foggintor and Swelltor. You'll see scars in the moors left from tin mining. It's great to yomp to the remains of Red Lake China Clay Works.

East of Dartmoor, in The English Riviera, is a cave system called Kent's Cavern. There's evidence of early humans living here for hundreds of thousands of years. Whilst there's possible evidence of humans living on Dartmoor 10,000 years ago, most of what you see today dates from 4,000 BC. At that time, the land was heavily wooded. Nomadic people cut down the trees on the highest ground where the woodland was less dense and began to live permanently on the land. Burial chambers appeared and then monuments and homes and fields systems. Owing to the durability of granite and the difficulty of the terrain, today Dartmoor has an extraordinary number of internationally important prehistoric sites. From burial chambers like Spinster's Rock to stone circles such as Scorhill, you could spend years exploring Dartmoor's prehistory.

During the Iron Age period, hillforts like Cranbrook Castle appeared on the edge of the moors. With Christianity came the monastic houses including Buckfast Abbey and Buckland Abbey and stones crosses later appeared on routes across Dartmoor. Fortified Saxon towns such as Lydford contended with Vikings. After the Normans pushed west, castles appeared that are impressive English Heritage properties today. Humans began more efficiently to exploit the land. Tin was mined and stannary towns emerged in which tin was sold. The Black Death came and medieval villages were abandoned. Drake passed into legend, the Civil War touched the edges of the moors and later came prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. In 1951, Dartmoor was designated a National Park. Today, millions of people visit every year.

Access by train to the cities and towns that surround Dartmoor is good. For example, fast trains from London to Exeter take just over two hours. Traffic is quick on the A30 along the northern fringe of the Park and the A38 to the east and south. Traffic is a little slower on the A386 to the west. Major roads within the Park include the A382 which runs between Chagford and Bovey Tracey and the B3212 which runs across the centre of the Park. There are a huge number of narrow lanes. Whilst cycling is becoming increasingly popular, given the relatively small size of the Park, we'd recommend getting to know it on foot.