When a mist blankets the moorlands, and a pea-soup fog surrounds you, fiction, mystery and real-life become impossibly intertwined. And that’s the moment it becomes clear as to why this is the perfect place to follow in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes across Dartmoor…
For those familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, Sherlock Holmes will need no introduction. Together with his friend Dr Watson, Holmes solves murder mysteries across the UK and beyond. And one of the fictional private detective’s most famous cases? That of the Hound of the Baskervilles, which was inspired and set around Dartmoor National Park in Devon, Southwest England.
In fact, the Hound of the Baskervilles has never been out of print, and its iconic status as Watson and Holmes’ most famous case is largely thanks to the fact that it was the first Sherlock story following Conan Doyle’s first attempt at ending the series eight years earlier. A tale of Gothic Fiction, it’s well worth a read, as is venturing onto the rugged moors that served as the backdrop for the Hound of the Baskervilles…
Duchy Hotel, Princetown
Today, the former Duchy Hotel is the location of the High Moorland Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre in the heart of Princetown, a remote town with little nearby. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was first inspired to create the Hound of the Baskervilles in the early 1900s, he stayed at the Duchy Hotel, then an even remoter destination.
In the early 20th-century, Princetown was best known for the notorious Princetown Prison, a gigantic granite building constructed by Napoleonic French Prisoners, as well as American prisoners of war. The Duchy Hotel was first established in the 1850s, most likely on the site of former officer’s accommodation for the nearby prison.
If you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of Sherlock Home across Dartmoor, then the visitor centre is a great place to start! There, the staff are knowledgeable about Conan Doyle, and there’s a leaflet featuring a six-mile trip that likely retraces many of the routes Sir Arthur would have taken during his stay in the National Park.
Hound Tor, Dartmoor National Park
By far the most iconic location from the book, and what most likely gave its name to the tale’s title is Hound Tor. Located just a short stretch of road away from the ever-famous Haytor Rocks, Hound Tor is a fairly large tor standing 414 metres above sea level.
To the base of the tor, on the opposite side of the car park, there’s an abandoned medieval village that was likely deserted during the Great Plague. The eerie village is best seen when the Dartmoor mist is at its thickest, and the deserted buildings loom out of the fog like long forgotten relics from another era.
Holy Trinity Church at Buckfastleigh
Perched high above the village of Buckfastleigh, an abandoned church lies derelict. Long left to the bleak Dartmoor weather, Holy Trinity has since lost its roof and sits in a sorry state, the result of a ferocious (and so far unsolved) fire in the 1990s. I certainly wouldn’t want to venture in after dark!
And, buried in the churchyard of the now left-to-the-elements ecclesiastical building, lie the mortal remains of Squire Richard Cabell, who lived in the village during the 17th-century. Said to have been an odious man who was known to love hunting with his dogs, Cabell is often cited as the inspiration for Jack Stapleton in the Hound of the Baskervilles story.
Legend has it that when Cabell died, ghostly hounds breathing fire guarded his tomb. He’d apparently made a deal with the devil and will now forever be doomed to roam Dartmoor together with his pack of feral dogs. Now, a double slab of heavy granite lies across his tomb, an effort from nearby villagers to keep the Squire and his hounds at bay…
Fictional Village of Grimpen (Inspired by Gidleigh or Manaton)
The fictional village of Grimpen may not exist in real life. However, it’s still possible to visit one of the many small hamlets and secluded villages which likely inspired the creepy settlement depicted in the Hound of the Baskervilles.
The Devonian villages of Gidleigh, Manaton, and Haytor Vale all fit the bill and are all worth visiting. When you’ve visited a few of these Devonian villages, then why not head to one of the many great pubs in Dartmoor for a cup of tea, or traditional cream tea with a scone? Alternatively, you could stay at Hound Tor and enjoy a takeaway from the aptly named ‘Hound of the Basket Meals’ in the car park!
Fictional Grimpen Mire (Inspired by Fox Tor Mires)
Not far from Princetown, where the landscape remains barren, save for a few stray shrubs and miles of open grassy plains, Fox Tor Mires is a foreboding place during any given time of the year. In fact, such is the remoteness (and complete lack of phone signal) that I would only recommend visiting during the summer months when the water table is at its lowest if you’re looking to follow Sherlock Holmes across Dartmoor.
This muddy patch of bog land is said to be so vast, and so deep that it could swallow a horse whole. Located in the middle of nowhere, it likely inspired Grimpen mire featured in the Conan Doyle story, and that became so vital to the Hound of the Baskerville’s storyline. It was also here, during the middle ages, that Saxon King Childe the Hunter met his end during a particularly fierce snowstorm.