Top 5 Places to Visit on Dartmoor
Five best Dartmoor locations to visit in 2021, Well in our opinion.
When trying to describe the adventures that await you on the Dartmoor National Park, with its stunning landscapes and unique sites, it's difficult to know where to start.
We can talk about the little thatched villages interspersed between the rolling hills, or the heather covered moorlands, deep valleys lined with ancient woodland or the granite topped hills, but it's the way all these elements come together which make Dartmoor the great place to visit.
Time spent on Dartmoor provides you with the opportunity to explore wildlife and nature along with some stunning views and whether you're taking a drive through the countryside or taking a leisurely stroll, when visiting the southwest of England, you simply have to take in Dartmoor's beauty spots.
Making a top 5 list is never going to be easy for Dartmoor and although there are many more great locations to visit, we've tried our best to highlight what we consider to be the Best Five Locations to visit.
1: Explore the unique granite topped Tors
Scattered across the windswept moorlands, you're going to find some features that are unique to Dartmoor, namely its 160 different Tors. Why not take a day out on Dartmoor and see how many you can explore!
Princetown is a great starting point for tor hunting, head towards Merrivale and explore the tors of Great staple Tor, Cox Tor or Roos Tor. All these tors are close together and a few hours should allow you to explore all three.
What is a Tor though? A tor is natural land formation of ex-volcanic granite rock, they are normally formed at the top of a hill where the magma would have forced its way out through the land during the hills formation. See more at WIKI https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Dartmoor_tors_and_hills
Haytor rocks - The one to climb
Haytor is arguably the most popular tor in the area to visit and not just because of its super ease of access with three large car parks nearby, but because you can easily climb to the top of Haytor, and it's worth if for the amazing views down the Valley.
We highly recommend visiting it on a sunny and calm day and taking a group of people to enjoy the climb to the peak, which takes about 5 minutes from the carpark. Haytor is a very big tor, more like a giant rock so have fun climbing it.
For anyone who's interested in truly stretching their legs, you can continue on and tackle the nearby Rippon and Saddle Tors.
Top tip - don't forget to explore behind Haytor to find the dramatic hawthorn tree at Howell lawn tor, or follow the old Templer Way Granite Railway as its abandoned track runs behind Haytor to the old Haytor quarries. Yes that's correct a railway track made of granite stones rather than steel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haytor_Granite_Tramway
Yes, and High Williways Tors - Highest point in the South West.
At 621m above sea level High Willhays is the highest point on Dartmoor and also the highest point in the southwest of England.
Funnily enough, the second highest point in the area and 619m above sea level, is Yes Tor, both are connected by a well-maintained path. Allowing visitors the opportunity to climb both while exploring the surrounding Moorland an activity that is proving increasingly popular.
Climbing to the top of either Tor will offer you unrivaled 360 degree panoramic views of the sweeping Hills and valleys of Devon.
Make sure to check whether the Dartmoor MOD firing ranges are in use the day you wish to visit Yes and High Willhays tors as these tors are within close proximity of the firing ranges. and you may not be able to visit them on certain days. You can check the firing days at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dartmoor-firing-programme
If you fancy seeing a very remote part of Dartmoor continue on towards Tavy Cleave and follow the river as it winds its way along the Tavy Cleave Valley. You can also find several little tors, waterfalls and some man-made water leats down along Tavy Cleave.
Great Staple Tor - The dramatic stacks
My favourite tor on Dartmoor to visit is Great Staple Tor, the tor itself isn't the biggest nor can you really climb it, but it consists of four or five stacked peaks of rocks about as high as the average house.
The stacks can be photographed from various angles to create some great pictures or use your imagination and turn them into different animals or characters. The stacks look almost man made with the stones almost perfectly balanced on top of each other.
The Dartmoor Brewery at Princetown agrees as well as all their beers Jail Ale, Legend, Dartmoor IPA and Dartmoor Best all feature the stunning Great Staple Tor on there labels. https://www.dartmoorbrewery.co.uk
Great staple tor is a good 30 minute hike from cox's tor car park, has incredible views down towards Plymouth and Tavistock and sweeping rural views across the stunning moorland.
Brent Tor Church - The Church on the cliff
If you're looking for the an impressive tor to visit in regard to composions and a nice little climb you can't beat a visit to Brentor, the area seems like something straight out a ghostly movie set, due to the famous church that sits on top.
The 19th century church is one of the highest elevation churches in England and the view at the top offers you some breathtaking photo opportunities.
Technically Brentor isn't actually a tor, its a sub sea cliff, created by a volcanic plume when Dartmoor was under water and as such the church appears to rise from the land and teeter on the edge of the cliff.
The popular story goes that when Brentor Church was being built, the devil tried to stop the builders progress by moving the church everyday to the top of the hill, determined to finish it the townsfolk and builders continued to build it at the top of the hill anyway.
2: Visit an ancient wood at Wistmans wood, explore Bellever Forest, Postbridge and walk over and ancient 12th century Clapper Bridge
In the heart of the Dartmoor national park, if you want to experience everything Dartmoor has to offer in a single place, you must visit Postbridge. This tiny and friendly village offers unfettered access to the scenery of Dartmoors beautiful moorlands, and it is perfectly positioned right in the middle of the park. Because of its remote nature, the village itself feels like time has forgotten it.
Once you are Postbridge there are so many opportunities and places to explore head to Merrivale to visit Great Staple Tor, Roos Tor or Cox tor as mentioned earlier or head to Prince's hall or Two bridges hotel, an 18th century Hotel.
Princes Hall and Two Bridges as well as the post office at Postbridge all offer amazing cream tea's and meals. Why not try a Dartmoor ale which are made up the road in Princetown about 2 miles away, beat that for local, and whilst your at Two Bridges you can head across the road and follow the path to the out of this world Wistmans Ancient wood.
Wistmans wood is very unique, the woodland itself is thousands of years old, but because it lies next to a river in a damp valley, the lichen that grows on the trees has sapped there energy and kept them small and stunted, hence the oak tree's here are small, twisted and contorted. The druids used to worship here and you can feel the mystical world throughout the woodland.
Be sure to walk over the clapper bridge in Postbridge its from the 12th century! there is also the national park visitors center in the village. This provides the perfect opportunity to study the history of the area and even pick up some souvenirs.
A short walk from Postbridge you will find yourself in Bellever forest, see if you can find the other old Clapper Bridge located here. I will give you a clue look for water and a road. Bellever is mainly a pine forest with lots of picnic tables and things to see and do, so take a bite to eat and breath in the fresh air.
3: Visit Okehampton Castle - The Norman Defense
If you're in the area, it would be remiss not to visit the largest castle in Devon surrounded by beautiful scenery and ancient woodland. The castle today is looked after by English heritage and sits in a semi ruined state.
You can spend hours exploring these extensive ruins and wondering how the original castle looked whilst walking around the countryside. You can also enjoy a stroll by the river Okement, the river the castle was built to guard.
For anyone who has a genuine interest in history, they also provide audio tours and guided walks. The castle is said to be haunted, like a lot of castles in Devon, would you stay overnight to find out? https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/okehampton-castle/
4. Check out Fernworthy Reservoir - and relax
For me this is a real gem on Dartmoor and certainly one for the list. Dartmoor in essence is an expanse of open moorland, wild valleys and forests. Fernworthy reservoir is a big lake right in the middle not far from Chagford.
Now that may not sound very exciting, but combine this with a large pine forest and a nature reserve and the wild sweeping moorland that surrounds it and it just works wonderfully.
It's the tranquility of the water, the calmness and reflections, the wildlife, the swifts hunting for flies on the water or the dragonflies and butterflies busling around that bring the area to life.
You can walk around the reservoir and forget about your busy life. There is something about walking around a body of water, you can't rush it, you can't take a shortcut (well unless you want to get wet) and essentially there is one path. all these elements tend to slow you down and you switch off and enjoy the walk.
Fernworthy just wins for this, there is no road around the reservoir, you won't hear cars or traffic, and there are a few bird hides and picnic tables along the way so be sure to take a bite to eat or bring you binoculars.
5. Just visit Dartmoor, Drive or Walk or even Camp
Now this is the point you would expect me to say either, here is the 5th one or I have saved the best for last and while technically true, I'm not going to actually list a location or a place to visit here.
The reason for this is simple. I have spent the last 15 years working on all parts of Dartmoor and the last 5 years photographing it *See my Photography*. I have woken up at 4am to photograph a sunrise and stayed up till 3am to photograph the milkyway and I can say the most true thing about Dartmoor is you never know what you are going to see.
An amazing sunrise or sunset, the wild Dartmoor ponies running amock, the dragonflies over the mires, the bluebells appearing in May on the fields, the snowdrops appearing in early January or the winter snow on the hills.
Dartmoor is also full of falklaw and tails from the druids, the early settlements and times gone by, nearly every location has a story.
So here it is number five and the best one left to last is to simply explore, take a map, a compass, your walking boots and explore the tors, see the rivers, drive the roads and see the wildlife.
Dartmoor at 368 square miles has so much to see and explore oh and one last thing Dartmoor is the only national park in the UK where its in the parks constitution to allow wild camping in a tent, this is law and allows everyone access to do it - you must be at least 100m from a road be solo or in a small group and must stay in a location for only one night at a time before moving on and don't stay on common ground and please take everything with you when you leave. https://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/enjoy-dartmoor/outdoor-activities/camping
So there you go, see the Dartmoor ponies, explore the tors, walk the valleys and cross the rivers and Stay a night under the stars all for FREE.
What's your favorite place to visit on Dartmoor? Let us know in the Comments box below!
You might find our blog on the 10 Best Short Dartmoor Walks useful
Find out more about the Best Places to Visit in Devon in our Devon Guide
Meet the Author:
I am a Devon based photographer, who enjoys travel, hiking, rugby and photographing the beautiful world in which we live in, I see photography as a creative expression upon visiting beautiful places. Each picture often tells a story.
Thank you for reading this article, Please feel to share it with your friends and please check out all my - Landscape Photography of Dartmoor for Sale
Sebastien Coell Photography