Dartmoor is England’s richest National Park for evidence of humankind’s influences on the landscape within which they live. Its legacy of prehistoric and more recent remains make Dartmoor of huge interest to archaeologists.
The National Park also contains some of the highest rates of public accessibility within an English protected landscape designation with somewhere in the region of 53% of the National Park providing some form of public access. The open access provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 having formally identified 7,000 hectares of open access land during the last decade.
Designated in 1961, Dartmoor National Park covers an area of 954 sq km of mainly high, boggy plateaux divided by the River Dart. The main land cover is one of open moorland and heath which accounts for around half of the National Park.
Instantly recognisable topographical features include the dramatic granite stone outcrops called tors described as being “large blocks of bare granite often split into remarkable shapes” and clitters, “heaps of tumbledown granite slabs, boulders and smaller stones”.
The softer river valleys, with their ancient clapper bridges, provide a welcome contrast to the stark magnificence of the moorland expanses.
In terms of biological interest Dartmoor is of international importance for its blanket bogs, upland heaths, upland oakwoods and cave systems. Other significant habitats include valley mires, Rhos pasture and grassmoor.
An historical landscape, Dartmoor includes the highest concentration of prehistoric stone rows in Britain as well as over 10,000 hectares of surviving Bronze Age field systems. Bronze and Iron Age hut circles and hillforts are visible in several places. Tin mining remains can be seen about the Moor, the last working mine closed in 1939.
Castle Drogo, near Drewsteignton, is England’s newest castle, completed in 1930. 350 native Dartmoor ponies can still be found living on Dartmoor’s commons, the breed’s survival under the watchful guidance of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust. A further 800 ponies of mixed origin also graze the commons along with cattle and sheep.
Several settlements are located around the edge of the National Park including Ashburton, Buckfastleigh, Bovey Tracey, Ivybridge, Okehampton and Tavistock. North Bovey, Drewsteignton, Lustleigh and Throwleigh are attractive villages, with thatched cottages and medieval stone farmhouses. There are several streets of traditional slate-hung houses at Ashburton, and Moretonhampstead has an unusual row of 17th century Almshouses.
Recent research has confirmed Dartmoor as being the single, largest unbroken area of relative tranquillity in southern England. A quality noted for its marked distinction given development pressures within its setting which include encroachment by major trunk roads, towns and the Park’s close proximity to Plymouth.
Dartmoor offers a wealth of open countryside for those looking to immerse themselves in wide, open country. Surveys in 2003 estimated in the region of 3.3 million tourist days enjoyed within the National Park. Beyond tourism facilities, the Park offers 734 km of public rights of way in all; 357 km of footpaths, 356 km of bridleways and 19km of byways. For those wishing to experience the landscapes of both Dartmoor and Exmoor the 163km Two Moors Way joins the two National Parks. The 35,000 hectares of common land also offer foot and horse riding access. The 8 reservoirs within the Park offer fishing with some rivers accessible for both fishing and canoeing.
Dartmoor National Park Authority, Parke, Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ13 9JQ.
Tel: 01626 832093 (High Moorland Visitor Centre for visitor queries 01822 890414)
(16 November 2012) Dartmoor is famous for being steeped in myths and legends, from murderous giant hounds to mischievous pixies, but one little-known legend concerns the mysterious, ‘lost’ manor house of Widecombe-in-the-Moor.