"Moorland and streams and granite and space......" Top 5 Page for this destination Dartmoor National Park by leics

Dartmoor National Park Travel Guide: 69 reviews and 178 photos

Dartmoor; a wild, desolate and bleak place in the minds of many, the setting for Conan Doyle's 'Hound of the Baskervilles', home to a remote and isolated prison where murderers reside...........

Yet once it was covered with trees, and our prehistoric ancestors first hunted and gathered in the forests, then cleared them and settled into farming communities. They buried their dead in chambered tombs and in circular hilltop cairns and in stone cists. They created ceremonial stone rows, and circles (more here than anywhere else in north-west Europe) and placed standing stones in important places. They built their roundhouses with stone foundations, which still exist, and they divided the land into fields with stone-faced earthen walls (reaves), still there today. But the climate changed, and farming became harder, and the land became covered in peat. And so the people left.......................

But in Medieval times the climate changed again. People drifted back to the moor, coins were minted there, kings and princes were remembered with memorial stones. By the 10th - 11th century much of the middle of Dartmoor was one huge hunting park for royalty, Saxon and Norman alike. Corn ditches (vertical stone-faced wall, with a ditch facing the moorland) were created to keep deer from farmland. Yet by the 14th century the climate was changing again, and the farms with their longhouses were being abandoned (assisted by the Black Death). Not entirely depopulated, however, for the land owned by great abbeys such as Buckfast and Tavistock was both tin-rich and good for sheep, and rabbit warrens were created to breed animals for both fur and meat.

Tin mining goes back at least 800 years on the moor, with the last mine closing just before the Second World War. It, too, has left a visible archaeological legacy.

The moor remains as it always has done, the legacy of the past visible in so many places, its wildnesses unchanged despite its popularity for holidays. It is vast, and dangerous in the wrong weather.

It is environmentally unique in the UK; from the granite uplands to the sloping heaths, it provides numerous habitats for a range of both flora and fauna. The most well-known of these, perhaps, is the Dartmoor pony (now considered a rare breed, as there are only 900 mares left). On the moor since at least prehistoric times, these hardy creatures are not truly wild (they are all owned by farmers) but run free until they are driven down to be sold (sadly, not all are sold as riding horses; many end up as animal food).

I spent a day exploring a tiny part of Dartmoor (Postbridge , Widecombe , Becky Falls )It wasn't nearly enough, of course. It gave me only a tiny flavour of what is to be seen of the past, and the present. There will be time enough to go back and explore further, I hope.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Wonderful national park with much prehistory and history
  • Cons:Do not underestimate the changeability of UK weather
  • In a nutshell:Moorland and streams and granite and space..
  • Last visit to Dartmoor National Park: Oct 2006
  • Intro Updated Mar 10, 2011
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Reviews (3)

Comments (2)

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Jul 20, 2008 at 11:21 AM

    Oh yes, the prison and the hound :-)) I want to walk here, some days from village to village :-)) There are options, even with overnight stays :-) Next year?

  • johngayton's Profile Photo
    Dec 27, 2007 at 3:31 AM

    Hi J! Hope you've had a good Christmas and that the New Year brings all goood things. Thinking about a Dartmoor page myself and your intro here is as good an intro to the moor as any I've read anywhere. Cheers, John.

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