We’re often asked by friends visiting the area for our recommendations of things to do and places to visit on the Moor. This is the guide we’ve put together.
It’s not intended to be exhaustive, just a compendium of some of our favourite spots on the moor to visit as a family. We hope you enjoy it and find it useful.
Dartmoor is an area of granite upland which at 368 square miles forms the largest area of wilderness in Southern Britain. It’s a unique and diverse environment with a mixture of high moorland, rugged granite tors and peat bogs intersected on its flanks with steep sided, often heavily wooded river valleys. Most of the major rivers in Devon rise within the national park – the Plym, Dart, Taw and Teign included.
Much of the moor is above 300m (1000 ft) from sea-level reaching a peak of 620m (2037 ft) at High Willhays on the Northern Moor. Despite it’s apparent remoteness and sparse landscape, it has been settled since prehistoric times, and to this day retains the highest concentration of bronze age remains in the United Kingdom together with countless stone circles and standing stones dating from even earlier periods.
The moor is the subject of a wealth of tales and legends from the story of Uncle Tom Cobley to that of Jan Reynold’s encounter with the devil and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.
Dartmoor was and remains a working landscape – it was actively mined for lead, copper and tin until the early 20th Century, and quarrying continues in some areas. The moor today is mainly common land and is grazed by livestock including beef cattle, sheep and ponies. The north west part of the moor is used by the MoD for military training and live fire exercises – it’s still open access but a system of red warning flags is used to warn the public of when this is the case.
A key part of Dartmoor’s dramatic character is it’s weather, which even in the summer can change by the minute. The moor is the first area of high ground which is encountered by Atlantic weather systems so its unsurprising that we get a lot of weather and it has to be said not all of it is good. It’s also quite unpredictable – we’ve climbed Bellever Tor in shirt sleeves in glorious sunshine in February and had to shelter from hail storms on the open moor in August!
Here on the North of the moor we are more sheltered than on the exposed southern moor, but our advice is still to be prepared for mixed weather. Our advice is to enjoy it regardless – as the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. Lightweight layers, good waterproofs and decent walking boots will mean you can still enjoy the area whatever the weather and are a must if you want to get the most of your visit. Bellever Forest and the Fingle Gorge are some of our favourite spots to visit in rainy weather – the trees provide shelter and there are lots of nice puddles and streams to splash about in.
Dartmoor is a wild environment so it’s important not to venture off waymarked paths on the open moor, particularly in poor visibility, unless you have a map and compass and are confident in using them. In bad weather there are plenty of low level valley and woodland walks which are sheltered and can still be enjoyed whatever the conditions. Care should be taken by the rivers though which are some of the fastest flowing in England.
We are blessed here with some of the clearest night skies in Britain with very little in the way of light pollution – it is a great place to stargaze on clear nights – even in winter it’s worth wrapping up and sitting out with a glass of something warming – if you’re lucky you may even spot a shooting star.
The following are some of our favourite spots on Dartmoor (OS Grid Ref and links to online maps in brackets):
Grimspound & Hookney Tor (SX702809)
Great short walk – particularly in the evenings when Hookney Tor is one of the best places on the moor to watch the sunset. Grimspound was one of the largest Bronze Age settlements on the moor. It’s a massive granite enclosure (which was used to keep animals safe from marauding wolves and bears at night) with the remains of hut dwellings in the middle which are great for children to explore. After exploring the site, walk up to Hookney Tor or Hameldown for some glorious views, and then back down to the road.
Kes Tor and Scorhill Stone Circle (SX660867)
Limited parking near entrance to Batworthy (drive via Chagford). Walk up to Kes Tor and then retrace your steps to the boundary of the Batworthy estate and follow the wall around to the river. Cross the river and follow the track uphill to one of the most impressive stone circles in Britain with stunning views of the wildest part of the moor. From here you can either retrace your steps back to the car or continue onwards to return via the lovely Gidleigh Woods.
Castle Drogo (SX721900)
National Trust property high above the Fingle Gorge, currently under wraps as part of a major restoration project. Famously the last castle built in England by the flamboyant and eccentric Julius Drewe.
Fingle Gorge (SX730897)
Glorious native woodland along a beautiful stretch of the River Teign (the salmon pools are a good swimming spot in summer). On the north side of the river, the Fisherman’s path hugs the riverside and involves some steep rocky steps, whilst the Hunters Path stays high up on the side of the gorge – a circular walk to Fingle Bridge can take in both routes. There is also a good track following the south side of the river. Parking in layby at Mill End on the A382, Castle Drogo or at Fingle Bridge itself. It is also possible to walk to Fingle Bridge from Moretonhampstead via Holcombe and Butterdon Down.
Mardon Down (SX772878)
One of the best walks from Moretonhampstead with epic views of the moor and much of the rest of Devon.
Head down Court St to centre of village, cross the main road near the library and then on through the churchyard. Cross “The Sentry” field then through gate to drop down into the valley the other side. Cross the stile near the stream and follow the path across the field to another gate before following the waymarked path up along the stream to a farm. Go straight on next to farmyard (waymarked to Mardon) before shortly turning up an old lane next to a house and climbing up to the drive at Yarningdale. Turn left along the drive and then left again up the path to Mardon. On reaching the road, turn right and then follow the path over Mardon Down to the Giant’s Grave and then down the other side to the road. Turn left to follow the road back or continue straight on the bridleway the other side to eventually drop down to the Teign Valley.
Bellever Forest and the East Dart (SX656772)
Large area of mixed woodland & forestry plantation close to Postbridge. Beautiful stretch of the East Dart river and great views from Bellever Tor. Lots of bronze age remains. Turn left at Postbridge to follow signs for “main car park” to park near the river (good picnic spot). Follow track up from car park to edge of moor near Laughter Hole house. Continue through gate, go straight on track across moor and then take next turn right to head up to Bellever Tor. Return via woods and youth hostel. Bellever also has lots of relatively easy tracks for family cycling and is the start of the notorious Stepping Stones mountain biking route.
Hound Tor, Jays Grave & Bowermans Nose (SX742788)
Stunning rock formations and lovely views. Popular spot for climbing and bouldering for all abilities, this area of the moor is the source of many local legends.
Princetown to Burrator Reservoir via Kings Tor (SX560737)
Great for either walking or cycling (suitable for mountain bikes only), follow the old railway line (starts past the fire station) out to Kings Tor and on to Burrator. Stunning views – on a clear day you can see Plymouth Sound. For experienced mountain bikers the route out to South Hessary Tor and down the infamous “Widowmaker” descent to Burrator returns via this route in the opposite direction.
Hunter’s Tor and Lustleigh Cleave (SX765815)
Beautiful wooded river valley. Lovely views, great for walking and another classic local mountain biking spot (The Nutcracker descent in particular).
Wistman’s Wood (SX612770)
Ancient oak woodland with strange rock formations. A very atmospheric and beautiful spot. Follow track upriver opposite Two Bridges hotel.
Follow path downriver from Dartmeet into Combestone Wood which is part of the Dart Valley nature reserve. Nearby Dr Blackall’s drive and on the opposite side, Combestone Tor both offer stunning views of the Dart valley. There are some lovely swimming spots along this stretch of the Dart for the adventurous.
Shilley Pool (SX652912)
Lovely little pool for a dip or paddle high on the moor above South Zeal with great views and a natural water slide that is fun for all the family.