Photograph by Marc-Oliver Schulz, laif/Redux
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Hound Tor, a granite outcrop in Dartmoor National Park, is popular with hikers—and the more adventurous.

Photograph by Marc-Oliver Schulz, laif/Redux

Dartmoor National Park, England

Name: Dartmoor National Park
Location: England
Date Established: 1951
Size: 368 square miles (953 square kilometers)

Did You Know?

High Moors Dartmoor is dominated by the cool, wet, wide-open spaces of the high moors made famous in works like Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. The moors were born of frequent rain falling on soil backed by hard granite, and by the behavior of sphagnum mosses, which absorb water and resist decay after death to form thick layers of peat. The park’s moors aren’t monotonous, however, and are broken by tree-lined river valleys and the rocky outcrops sprinkled across Dartmoor.

Tors Some 160 rocky outcrops, known locally as tors, lie scattered around the park, offering climbing and bouldering routes for all abilities. These dramatic formations were formed by forces of erosion weathering away granite over millions of years. The park’s high point is High Willhays, which tops out at 2,039 feet (621 meters).

Wildlife Dartmoor is full of life as varied as its different landscapes. Mossy bogs provide good nesting grounds for dunlins, small wading birds, and golden plovers. Upland heaths, with their cover of heather and gorse, are habitat for skylarks, red grouse, lizards, and adders. The wet valley bottoms known as Rhôs pasture teem with butterflies and birds and sustain larger mammals like foxes and roe deer. The moors are also known for ponies owned by local farmers and turned loose to graze in season.

Human Influence The moor was once a vast forest, but humans began to clear it by 10,000 B.C. or earlier. Dartmoor houses the largest concentration of Bronze Age ruins in England, including numerous stone rows, circles, and round houses. Burial cairns and barrows bear silent witness to veneration of the ancient dead. About a dozen Iron Age hill forts also dot the landscape, as do many castles and country homes of later days. Some 33,000 people live inside the national park today; its largest town is Ashburton.

Treasure Hunters The practice of letterboxing, in which people use orienteering skills to track down and visit treasure chests scattered across the landscape, began in Dartmoor in 1854. James Perrott built a cairn on remote Cranmere Pool where visitors could leave their calling cards. Since then the sport has exploded in popularity and individuals and clubs now scour the countryside while treasure-hunting for hidden letterboxes—most of which contain a visitor’s book to sign and a souvenir stamp.

Local Products Small farms dot the Dartmoor landscape. Many sell produce and other products direct to any visitors who stop by. Farmers markets gather the best veggies, honey, breads, beef, lamb, cheeses and other products in the lively traditional atmosphere of a town center. Such markets offer a true taste of local culture.

River Attractions Canoeing on the River Dart is especially popular when winter rains swell the waters, creating a more exciting run. A shuttle bus may be available to facilitate downriver trips. Anglers head to these waters for wild brown trout, sea trout, and salmon.

Training Grounds The Ministry of Defense has a long history of training on Dartmoor and maintains a live-fire range, which requires visitors to exercise some caution.

How to Get There

Dartmoor National Park is in Devon, 231 miles (343 kilometers) from London in southwest England. Trains service several nearby stations, including Exeter, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Ivybridge, and Plymouth. Buses also service the park.

When to Visit

Spring visitors find bluebells in bloom while in summer the park is clothed with pink heather and yellow gorse. The park is worth a nocturnal visit in any season—its extremely dark skies make stargazing a delight.

How to Visit

Dartmoor is home to more than 450 miles (730 kilometers) of public rights of way for walkers as well as miles of moors that can be walked off-track. On- and off-road cyclists are also spoiled for choice. The park puts on a wide range of year-round guided walks and events that showcase everything from botanical species to industrial archaeology of the tin ore industry. Self-guided audio walks are available for download to an iPod or mp3 player.