Six Brilliant Things About Devon's Dartmoor

A wild Dartmoor pony grazing on the moor, with Kes Tor in the background.

“Between the North and the South Hams (for that is the ancient name) there lieth a chain of hills, consisting of a blackish earth, both rocky and heathy, called, by a borrowed name of its barrenness, Dartmoor: richer in its bowels than in the face thereof, yielding tin and turf which to save for fuel you would wonder to see how busy the by-dwellers be at some seasons for the year; whose tops and tors are in the winter often covered with a white cap; but in the summer the bordering neighbours bring great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep to pasture there. From these hills or rather mountains the mother of many rivers, the land declineth either way; witness there divers courses, some of which disburthen themselves into the British Ocean, others by long wandering, seek the Severn Sea.”

--Tristram Risdon, Survey of Devon


A Glimpse into Dartmoor: Six Brilliant Features of Devon’s Central Moorland

As the quote above (written by Tristram Risdon 360 years ago) suggests, the region of Dartmoor appears to be a deceivingly simple, barren landscape located at the southernmost part of the Devon county. Extending from the fringes of Okehampton down onto the north of Plymouth, Dartmoor comprises of a large area of wilderness, from fertile woodlands and forests, to vast open hills and grasslands, to its well-known tors.

In this website, we would like to capture the essence of this wonderful region of Dartmoor, giving our readers a taste of what it’s like to witness the mystical feel of the landscape and visit an area which has left such an imprint on the culture of Devon. In order to do this, we have compiled a list of our favorite features of the Dartmoor region, in the hopes that these traits of both the land and the culture will also entice you to visit:

Six Brilliant things about Dartmoor

  1. A combination of wild and dense foliage and bare, rocky outcrops, the moorland is considered the home of unique rock formations known as the tors. Derived from the Celtic word “twr”, meaning tower, these rock forms were once believed to have been created by the druids who lived there long ago--today, we know that they are natural rock formations. A combination of wind and water-weathering, as well as the merging of minerals such as quartz and feldspar have molded the tors into their unique shape and color, and also provide the surrounding landscape with a wealth of minerals to help it thrive.

  2. Dartmoor is also known for its vast archaeological heritage. According to the National Park website, there  are 1,200 scheduled archaeological sites currently located in Dartmoor encompassing human history up to 10,000 years ago in Prehistory. Many of them are easily accessible by hiking--it isn’t hard to travel from a Neolithic grave site to the abandoned medieval village near Hound Tor, for example.

  3. A wide variety of wildflowers thrive and bloom in between the cracks of the tors and granite quarries. It is especially beautiful to visit Dartmoor in the late spring and summer, since then you might be able to witness such wildflowers like western gorse, bell heather, milkwort, red clover, and even bluebells in full bloom, making the landscape exceedingly beautiful and colorful.

  4. Dartmoor is also the home of several wildlife species: from a myriad of bird and insect species, to the local breed of Dartmoor ponies, as well as deer, foxes, several species of mice and vole, bats, and the domestic cattle owned by local farmers.

  5. There are various towns and villages which call Dartmoor a home as well, such as the towns of Bovey Tracey, Okehampton, Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Lydford, Bellevere, and dozens more. Each village celebrates their own local festivals and traditions, and each also has their own unique features which make them worthy of exploration.

  6. The villages located within Dartmoor also foster some of the most interesting legends and myths concerning the moorlands. Stories of headless riders, men turned to stone by witches, and even spectral creatures dot the countryside and add to the spectacular quality of the region. For more information on the legends of Dartmoor, visit the Myths and Legends section of our Digital Devon website, and make sure to ask around the locals of the Dartmoor villages for their own version of the stories.

There are plenty of more features and characteristics that make Dartmoor unique, and we have merely provided a small idea of what to expect from the area—the rest of these traits are out there for you to discover, if you feel intrigued by the mysterious nature of the moorlands, as we are. Whether you are an adventurer hoping for an outdoors challenge, a historian searching for the story of the moors people, or simply a curious traveller, we guarantee that there is something to discover in Dartmoor that will make you fall in love with the region.

Written by: Janice Rivera-Pagan & Grayson Ponti