Last Updated on 10th January 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Ancient and shrouded in mystery, Dartmoor is home to many a myth and local legend. Located in Devon, it’s a real gem of South West England. As well as a rich history and good food scene, the National park has plenty of must-see attractions and activities to suit nearly every interest. Here are the 20 very best things to do in Dartmoor National Park (as well as some useful and practical advice for visiting the National Park):
Wander around Haytor Quarry
‘Haytor is a honeypot’– I still hear my Year 8 Geography teacher’s voice ringing in my ears when I close my eyes. And that’s because she wasn’t wrong! Just a few miles from the quaint town of Bovey Tracey, on the edge of the Moor, you’ll find Haytor.
One of the most famous of all Dartmoor Tors, each year it attracts thousands of visitors from far and wide. And to the base of the granite outcrop lies a hidden lake, secluded and all that remains of the abandoned Haytor Quarry. Head here to enjoy a tranquil moment and observe all of the wildlife that now calls this little lake ‘home’…
Admire Bowerman’s Nose
On Hayne Down, if you look closely enough, you’ll see the faint shape of a man, carved out of the granite. Although of course, it was time and the last Ice Age that left this creepy mark on the landscape, local legend has it that this is all that remains of Bowerman. In the Dartmoor myth, Bowerman was a fearless hunter who ran across the moors with his pack of dogs. One day, he disrupted a coven of witches (who were abundant on Dartmoor at that time) while they were performing a spell.
In their anger, the witches transformed both Bowerman and his hounds into rocks. The larger rock is supposedly Bowerman, while the smaller ones scattered below about are meant to be his dogs. Head to Bowerman’s Nose for amazing walks and picturesque scenery. Read more: Mythical Dartmoor, the history, and the legends behind the reality.
Cross Postbridge Clapper Bridge
The little Clapper Bridge in Postbridge on the very middle of Dartmoor has provided safe passage across the river for centuries. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Dartmoor and can easily be visited en route to Princetown or another popular Dartmoor attraction. Dating all the way back to the middle ages, no trip to must-see Dartmoor places would be complete without a quick walk across this ancient passageway. Read more: Postbridge Clapper Bridge.
See Venford Falls
The mystical falls of Venford are secluded in a little copse of woodland not far from Venford Reservoir. Beautiful and mystical, they can only really be visited in the summer months and in dry weather. If you do decide to visit, then just make sure to bring a tripod in order to capture the falls in a ‘fairytale-like’ way! While there, you may want to stroll around the fairly flat Venford Reservoir, which is pretty picturesque in of itself.
Read more: Where to find Venford Falls.
The quaint village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor lies in the very heart of the Dartmoor landscape. Situated in its own valley overlooked by countless tors, it’s a little Devonian village filled with pubs, cafés and little shops. Widecombe-in-the-Moor is the perfect place to enjoy a local cream tea or sample one of the many local beers on offer…
Make a trip to Grimspound, a 3000-year-old settlement
This neolithic village of Grimspound is situated on one of the highest points of the moor. Once upon a time, this now abandoned settlement was home to dozens of people and their livestock. Today, it is hard to imagine how people could have made such a barren landscape their home (there’s even a shortage of phone signal here).
However, thousands of years ago, the landscape of Dartmoor was a very different place and filled with trees. That’s not to say it wasn’t a difficult place to live though! Now, you can visit the remains of the settlement and wander through the ancient houses, some of which have been partially reconstructed.
Visit Hound Tor Abandoned Medieval Village
To the base of Hound Tor, you’ll find another abandoned village. Dating all the way back to medieval times, no one knows quite why this village was so utterly abandoned, or what happened to all of its residents. Today, you can visit the ruins of the houses and imagine what life must have been like centuries ago. Famous writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set one of his Sherlock Holmes Novels on Dartmoor, naming it ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ as a nod to ‘Hound Tor’. Read more: Visiting the abandoned village of Hound Tor.
Be amazed by Brentor Church
Of all the top Dartmoor attractions on this list, Brentor is probably the quirkiest. The little place of worship dedicated to St Michael is situated at the very top of an extinct volcano. The church is dedicated to the Archangel Michael like so many churches in the area. Other St Michael Churches can be found on St Michael’s Mount and at Rame Head. There is no road leading up to the chapel, and you often hear tales of brides hiking up to the small church in their Wellington Boots! Read more: Visiting Brentor Church, a chapel atop of an extinct volcano.
Enjoy a Cream Tea in Ashburton
One of the best things to do in Dartmoor National Park if you love vintage shopping and delicious food, is to visit Ashburton. Full of quirky antique shops and vintage boutiques, Ashburton is worth a visit if you love shopping and curios. The ancient stannary town also happens to be home to one of the best places to enjoy a cream tea in Dartmoor, Taylor’s Tea Room.
Head to Ashburton to wander the ancient market town, see the shops and sample a regional specialty, the cream tea. Just make sure to spread the cream before you add the jam- after all, this is the Devonian way! Read more: A quick guide to Ashburton.
Visit Dartmoor Prison Museum
Dartmoor prison is still a working prison, high up on the expanses of Dartmoor, in the town of Princetown. Associated with the prison, you’ll find Dartmoor Prison Museum, where you can find out plenty of information on prison life throughout the ages. The prison dates all the way back to 1809 and was constructed by Napoleonic and American prisoners of war.
Walk the Haytor Tramway
To the base of Haytor rocks, you’ll find all that remains of the Haytor Tramway. On this part of the moors, granite quarrying was once the greatest industry and provided hundreds of people with steady jobs. Haytor was home to one of the largest quarries on the moor. And from here, the granite was transported all the way down to nearby Bovey Tracey via horse and cart along granite slabs.
Today, you can wander along the remains of the Haytor Tramway and admire the gorse and heather bushes, as well as the fantastic views all the way over to the sea in Torquay. You’ll also probably get the chance to see some Dartmoor ponies up close as they tend to hang about in this area (just remember not to feed them!)
Visit Castle Drogo, the last Castle to be built in England
The imposing and grand residence of Castle Drogo is the last castle to have been built in England. It even has a working portcullis (though this was never actually used)! The castle was built in the early 1900s, commissioned by Julius Drewe who had made his fortune in tea trading and retired at the young age of 33. It was designed by the famous Architect, Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Cenotaph in London among other things. The Read more: A Visit to Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in England.
Wander around Lustleigh, the prettiest Village in Dartmoor
Full of quirky little cottages and thatch rooftops, Lustleigh is regularly cited as the prettiest village in Dartmoor. Head here if you love quaint houses, woodland walks, and Neolithic Sites. (In the Cleave, a wooded area just outside of the village, you’ll find the remains of various stone huts.) There is also a village pub and a cute little tea room where you can enjoy a selection of homemade cakes and warm drinks. Read more: Lustleigh Guide, best things to do in the prettiest village in Dartmoor.
See Lydford Gorge, Castle, and Village
Lydford has a long and rich history. As a result, there’s plenty of things to do in the village and its surrounds. Once inhabited by the Vikings, today you can see the ruins of ‘Lydford Castle’ which was used as a prison in the middle ages, as well as the ruins of a Castle dating back to Norman times. Nearby, you’ll also find Lydford Gorge, a mysterious area of woodland filled with small coves, streams and even a couple of waterfalls. Read more: Guide to Lyford Castle and Gorge.
Visit Chagford, an ancient Stannary Town
The ancient stannary town of Chagford dates all the way back to the Neolithic era (approximately 4000 years to be exact!) A market was held in the town on a weekly basis for centuries and it was designated a ‘stannary town’ by King Edward I in 1305.
The towns were essentially meant to process all tin mining in the area, making them some of the most important towns in all of Devon during that time. Today, you should visit Chagford if you love old architecture (some of the pubs here date back Centuries), shopping in independent boutiques, and eating local produce.
See Meldon Reservoir
The impressive body of water that forms Meldon Reservoir is located approximately 900 feet above sea level. Here, you can wander around the lake, snap a few picturesque photos and simply enjoy the beauty of Dartmoor. It’s easily one of the best things to do in Dartmoor National Park if you love hiking and photography.
Admire the springtime bluebells at Holwell Lawn
Each and every year come Spring Time, thousands upon thousands of bluebells bloom across the moorland. It’s pretty amazing to see, and one of the best spots is at Holwell Lawn, a field situated midway between Haytor and Hound Tor. If you’re heading to Dartmoor in the late springtime, then make sure to head to Holwell Lawn for one of the prettiest sights of the year! Read more: I found the best bluebell field in Dartmoor.
See the old School and chapel at Huccaby Church
The quaint little chapel at Huccaby once doubled as a schoolhouse, teaching local children basic numeracy and literacy skills. Today, although the chapel is no longer in use as a school, you can see the vintage desks (which doubled as pews) and school equipment. The chapel holds services intermittently and can usually be accessed during daylight hours. Read more: Huccaby Church and a place for learning.
Visit Okehampton castle, once the largest castle in Devon
A set of abandoned hills and walls on the edge of the quaint town of Okehampton are all that remains of Okehampton Castle, once the largest castle in Devon. Today, you can visit the ruins of the castle, wander through the palace and learn about its rich history through an ever so helpful audioguide. Read more: Visiting Okehampton Castle, one thousand years of history in the making.
Marvel at Spinster’s Rock, an ancient Dolmen
In the middle of a farming field (where you’ll more often than not find sheep set out to graze), you’ll find the curious set of rocks which collectively form ‘Spinster’s Rock’. This Dolmen dates all the way back to Neolithic times and is supposedly a prehistoric burial site. Due to the nature of the acidic soil on Dartmoor, no human remains can be found on site and so the ‘burial site’ theory has never been proven.
But what makes Spinster’s Rock so fascinating is that it collapsed at some point in the 17th or 18th Centuries. Local legend suggests that there were once three spinsters, who also happened to be witches, living nearby. One morning, before breakfast, the sisters set out and re-erected the stones, thus the name ‘Spinster’s Rock’. Read more: Visiting Spinster’s Rock, a Neolithic Dolmen on Dartmoor.
Pin best things to do in Dartmoor National Park
Visit Dartmoor and some very useful information
Fancy seeing more of Dartmoor? Well here’s information on where to stay in Dartmoor National Park, some of the best places to eat in Dartmoor and where to find plenty more information so as to make your trip as good as it can be!
Visitor Centres in Dartmoor:
There are various visitor centres spread across the moors. These are designated information points where you can find out all sorts of useful information such as local walks, more history and important safety information. At many of the visitor centres across Dartmoor, you’ll also find public lavatories which are usually open during daylight hours throughout the year.
Haytor Visitor Centre (located in the bottom carpark as you look up towards Haytor Rocks). Haytor Vale, Newton Abbot TQ13 9XT
Princetown Visitor Centre (located in the very centre of the town, opposite the shop and next to one of the best Fish and Chip Places on the moors). Tavistock Rd, Princetown, Yelverton PL20 6QF
Postbridge Visitor Centre (located just up the road from the medieval Clapper Bridge of Postbridge). Car park on the B3212 Moretonhampstead to Two Bridges road., Yelverton PL20 6TH
Where to eat in Dartmoor National Park:
Throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, the Westcountry in England is known for its fresh and locally sourced produce. And, of course, Dartmoor is no exception. Here are the best spots to eat on the moors!
Taylors, 5 North St, Ashburton, Newton Abbot TQ13 7QJ Easily the best spot in Dartmoor to enjoy a cream tea (a regional specialty) and a perfect place to stop off for a break in between searching for treasure in the town’s antique shops.
Primrose Tea Rooms, Lustleigh, Newton Abbot TQ13 9TJ. Often, after a long walk, you want nothing more than a hot drink and homemade cake. Well, the Primrose Tea Room in Lustleigh has all this, and a friendly atmosphere to boot!
Ullacombe Farm Café and Shop, Haytor Rd, Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot TQ13 9LL. This little café is on the edge of the moors, pretty close to Haytor and is perfect for a quick stop. While here, you can also check out the farm shop which is filled with local produce you can purchase. Time to purchase a souvenir from your time in Dartmoor?
Where to enjoy a drink in Dartmoor (and the best pubs):
England is known for its pubs and those of Dartmoor are particularly spectacular. Many have breathtaking views from the windows, and some, such as the Warren House Inn have fires which haven’t been extinguished for decades! Read more: best pubs in Dartmoor National Park.
Warren House Inn, Postbridge, Yelverton PL20 6TA. This is the highest pub in the South of England and has a fire which has been burning perpetually for decades. Head here for the ambience and to enjoy a local drink (I wouldn’t head here specifically for the food).
Rugglestone Inn,Widecombe in the Moor, Newton Abbot TQ13 7TF. Quaint and quirky, the Rugglestone Inn is located around half a mile from Widecombe-in-the-Moor. This cute little pub is the perfect spot to head to after a hike up one of the nearby tors and to enjoy a cosy fire.
Where to Stay in Dartmoor (hostels, hotels, etc.):
Hay Tor Cottage, Widecombe in the Moor. This sweet little cottage is located just minutes away from the open moor and offers spectacular views over the surrounding moorland.
Hamel Down Hideaway, Widecombe in the Moor. Situated next to a Grade II listed farm house, and is surrounded by an open garden.
The Rock Inn, Haytor Vale. This pub and restaurant is located in the heart of Haytor Vale, a charming village with quick access to the moor.