The Ultimate Guide to Walking on Dartmoor
Bleak and beautiful: standing on a tor
Looking for a place to go walking in the UK? It’s got to be Dartmoor! There aren’t many places on our crowded little island where you can park your car, walk for half an hour and genuinely feel cut off from civilisation – but Dartmoor is one of them.
Some call it a desolate place, but I think that’s part of its charm. It rains a lot, and the scenery repeats for miles and miles, endless granite hills and marshes. But it’s not like any other place I’ve been to. Call it bleak and beautiful.
To give you some facts, Dartmoor is a national park in South Devon, it’s around 1,000 km2 and sits between Exeter in the east and Plymouth in the west. It was once occupied by people in prehistoric and medieval times: standing stones and granite remains still litter the landscape to this day. Nowadays, the only settlers you’ll see are sheep, cattle and wild horses.
Dartmoor is one of the few places in the UK where you can wild camp. This means you can pitch your tent practically anywhere on the moors and stay for up to two days. Check out this wild camping map to see exactly where you’re allowed to go. Just remember to make sure you’re not visible from the road or residential properties, don’t pitch near archaeological sites, and stay away from farmland and flood plains.
Camping out under the stars is the best way to appreciate the moor’s wild beauty. The less kit you bring, the better!
If wild camping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of small villages dotted around the moors where you can get some kip. Inns, campsites and hotels are plentiful, but if you crave the city, Exeter is only a stone’s throw away (see HotelClub for Exeter hotels). Here is our pick of Dartmoor’s best villages:
If you’re looking for myths and legends, the enigmatic Widecombe-in-the-Moor is the place to be. Rumoured to be haunted, this little village is popular with tourists for its church, gift shops and pubs for refreshments after a long day’s walking.
2. North Bovey
Tucked away in the heart of the moors, North Bovey is the quintessential picturesque English village. Check out its thatched cottages and village green, explore the nearby Miniature Pony Centre or take afternoon tea at the glitzy Bovey Castle, a Grade II-listed building that has been converted into a glamorous spa hotel.
Something of a literary hotspot, Princetown is where Conan Doyle penned parts of Sherlock Holmes The Hound of the Baskervilles. The area is also home to Dartmoor Prison and a campsite with running water for those who don’t fancy roughing it in the wild.
Tips for a smoother trip
My friend trying not to get wet
1. Bring a map and compass
Always bring a compass and a good map with you – and make sure someone knows how to use them! The weather can change suddenly on the moors, and when a mist kicks in it can be very hard to find your way, not to mention dangerous.
2. Keep an eye on military notices
The wildest and best parts of the moors are sometimes used by the army for firing practice. These areas are marked off by red and white posts with warning signs. You’re allowed to walk there when the army aren’t using it, though. Just be sure to check Dartmoor firing times first.
3. Watch out for feather beds
Because of Dartmoor’s granite terrain, you’ll find hollows of rock that have filled up with water with a bright green moss growing on top. These are known as ‘feather beds’ – or ‘quakers’ for the way they wiggle – and although they look like solid ground, don’t step on them or you’ll find yourself knee-deep in water!
4. Plan a flexible route
The Dartmoor landscape is full of great things to see (stunning views, medieval relics, standing stones). But to find them you’ll have to do a bit of exploring. Don’t plot a strict course through the moors; pick a few landmarks and wander freely until you find what you’re looking for.
5. Wear waterproof footwear
Dartmoor gets more rain than anywhere else in Devon, so even in the height of summer it’ll be boggy. Keep your feet dry by investing in some decent walking boots before you go.
Good luck and stay safe!