Dartmoor is an area of moorland in southern Devon, England. Protected
by National Park status as
Dartmoor National Park, it covers
954 km2 (368 sq mi).
The granite which forms the uplands dates from the Carboniferous
Period of geological history. The moorland is capped with many exposed
granite hilltops known as tors, providing habitats for Dartmoor
wildlife. The highest point is High Willhays, 621 m
(2,037 ft) above sea level. The entire area is rich in
antiquities and archaeology.
Dartmoor is managed by the
Dartmoor National Park Authority, whose 22
members are drawn from
Devon County Council, local district councils
Dartmoor have been used as military firing ranges for over
200 years. The public is granted extensive land access rights on
Dartmoor (including restricted access to the firing ranges) and it is
a popular tourist destination.
1 Physical geography
3.2 Standing stones
3.3 Hut circles and kistvaens
3.4 The historical period
4 Myths and literature
5 Ownership and access
5.1 Use by the Ministry of Defence
7 Towns and villages
9 Leisure activities
9.1 Visitor centres
10 See also
13 External links
Map showing the main granite outcrops of the
Cornubian batholith in
England and the gravity anomaly associated with it.
Dartmoor includes the largest area of granite in Britain, with about
625 km2 (241 sq mi) at the surface, though most of it
is under superficial peat deposits. The granite (or more specifically
adamellite) was intruded at depth as a pluton into the surrounding
sedimentary rocks during the
Carboniferous period, probably about 309
million years ago. It is generally accepted that the present
surface is not far below the original top of the pluton; evidence for
this includes partly digested shale xenoliths, contamination of the
granite and the existence of two patches of altered sedimentary rock
on top of the granite. A considerable gravity anomaly is associated
Dartmoor pluton as with other such plutons. Measurement of
the anomaly has helped to determine the likely shape and extent of the
rock mass at depth.
Panorama of some better known
Dartmoor tors in snow
High Willhays with
Yes Tor behind
Dartmoor is known for its tors – hills topped with outcrops of
bedrock, which in granite country such as this are usually rounded
boulder-like formations. More than 160 of the hills of
the word tor in their name but quite a number do not. However this
does not appear to relate to whether or not there is an outcrop of
rock on their summit. The tors are the focus of an annual event known
Ten Tors Challenge, when around 2400 people aged between 14 and
19 walk for distances of 56, 72 or 88 km (35, 45 or 55 mi)
between ten tors on many differing routes.
The highest points on
Dartmoor are on the northern moor: High
Willhays, 621 m (2,037 ft), (grid reference SX580895) and
Yes Tor, 619 m (2,031 ft), (grid reference SX581901) The
highest points on the southern moor are Ryder's Hill, 515 m
(1,690 ft), (grid reference SX660690), Snowdon 495 m
(1,624 ft), (grid reference SX668684), and an unnamed point,
493 m (1,617 ft) at (grid reference SX603645), between
Langcombe Hill and Shell Top. The best-known tor on
Haytor (called Hey Tor by William Crossing), 457 m
(1,499 ft), (grid reference SX757771). For a more complete list
see List of
Dartmoor tors and hills.
River Erme at Ivybridge.
The high ground of
Dartmoor forms the catchment area for many of
Devon's rivers. As well as shaping the landscape, these have
traditionally provided a source of power for moor industries such as
tin mining and quarrying.
The moor takes its name from the River Dart, which starts as the East
Dart and West Dart and then becomes a single river at Dartmeet. It
leaves the moor at Buckfastleigh, flowing through
Totnes below where
it opens up into a long ria, reaching the sea at Dartmouth.
For a full list, expand the Rivers of
Dartmoor navigational box at the
bottom of this page.
Much more rain falls on
Dartmoor than in the surrounding lowlands. As
much of the national park is covered in thick layers of peat (decaying
vegetation), the rain is usually absorbed quickly and distributed
slowly, so the moor is rarely dry. In areas where water accumulates,
dangerous bogs or mires can result. Some of these, topped with bright
green moss, are known to locals as "feather beds" or "quakers",
because they can shift (or 'quake') beneath a person's feet. Quakers
result from sphagnum moss growing over the water that accumulates in
the hollows in the granite.
Aune Mire, the source of the River Avon.
The vegetation of the bogs depends on the type and location. Blanket
bog, which forms on the highest land where the rainfall exceeds 2,000
millimetres (79 in) a year, consists mainly of cotton-grass
Eriophorum species), sedges (
Carex and Rhynchospora),
and Common Tormentil, with
Sphagnum thriving in the wettest patches.
The valley bogs have lush growth of rushes, with sphagnum,
cross-leaved heath, sundews and several other species.
Some of the bogs on
Dartmoor have achieved notoriety.
Fox Tor Mires
was supposedly the inspiration for Great Grimpen Mire in Conan Doyle's
novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, although there is a waymarked
footpath across it. Sabine Baring-Gould, in his Book of Dartmoor
(1900) related the story of a man who was making his way through Aune
Mire at the head of the River Avon when he came upon a top-hat brim
down on the surface of the mire. He kicked it, whereupon a voice
called out: "What be you a-doin' to my 'at?" The man replied, "Be
there now a chap under'n?" "Ees, I reckon," was the reply, "and a hoss
under me likewise."
Along with the rest of South West England,
Dartmoor has a temperate
climate which is generally wetter and milder than locations at similar
height in the rest of England. At Princetown, near the centre of the
moor at a height of 453 metres (1,486 ft), January and February
are the coldest months with mean minimum temperatures around
1 °C (34 °F). July and August are the warmest months with
mean daily maxima not reaching 18 °C (64 °F). Compared
with Teignmouth, which is on the coast about 22 miles (35 km) to
the east, the average maximum and minimum temperatures are
3.0 °C (5.4 °F) and 2.6 °C (4.7 °F) lower
respectively, and frost is at least five times as frequent. On the
highest ground, in the north of the moor, the growing season is less
than 175 days – this contrasts with some 300 days along most of the
south coast of the county.
Rainfall tends to be associated with Atlantic depressions or with
convection. In summer, convection caused by solar surface heating
sometimes forms shower clouds and a large proportion of rainfall falls
from showers and thunderstorms at this time of year. The wettest
months are November and December and on the highest parts of the moor
the average annual total rainfall is over 2,000 millimetres
(79 in). This compares with less than 800 millimetres
(31 in) in the lower land to the east around the Exe Estuary,
which is in the rain shadow of the moor. Due to the influence of the
Gulf Stream snowfall is not common, though due to its high altitude it
is more vulnerable to snowfall than surrounding regions.
Between 1961 and 1990
Met Office data shows that there was an average
of 20 days when snow fell on the moor, and over 40 days a year with
hail, which is as high as anywhere else in the country. This results
when cold polar maritime air that has travelled over a large expanse
of warmer ocean is forced to rise over high country.
When average temperatures at
Princetown between 1961 and 2000 are
compared, the average annual temperature in the decade 1990–2000 was
up by 0.2 °C (0.4 °F) and the late winter temperature
increased by 0.5 °C (0.9 °F).
The majority of the prehistoric remains on
Dartmoor date back to the
Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Indeed,
Dartmoor contains the
largest concentration of
Bronze Age remains in the United Kingdom,
which suggests that this was when a larger population moved onto the
hills of Dartmoor. The large systems of
Bronze Age fields, divided by
reaves, cover an area of over 10,000 hectares (39 sq mi) of
the lower moors.
The climate at the time was warmer than today, and much of today's
moorland was covered with trees. The prehistoric settlers began
clearing the forest, and established the first farming communities.
Fire was the main method of clearing land, creating pasture and
swidden types of fire-fallow farmland. Areas less suited for farming
tended to be burned for livestock grazing. Over the centuries these
Neolithic practices greatly expanded the upland moors, and contributed
to the acidification of the soil and the accumulation of peat and
After a few thousand years the mild climate deteriorated leaving these
areas uninhabited and consequently relatively undisturbed to the
present day. The highly acidic soil has ensured that no organic
remains have survived, but the durability of the granite has meant
that the remains of buildings, enclosures and monuments have survived
well, as have flint tools. It should be noted that a number of remains
were "restored" by enthusiastic
Victorians and that, in some cases,
they have placed their own interpretation on how an area may have
Beardown Man, Dartmoor.
Numerous prehistoric menhirs (more usually referred to locally as
standing stones or longstones), stone circles, kistvaens, cairns and
stone rows are to be found on the moor. The most significant sites
Upper Erme stone row is the longest on
Dartmoor and in fact in the
world at 3,300 m (10,800 ft)
Beardown Man, near Devil's Tor – isolated standing stone 3.5 m
(11 ft 6 in) high, said to have another 1 m (3 ft
3 in) below ground. grid reference SX596796
Challacombe, near the prehistoric settlement of
Grimspound — triple
stone row. grid reference SX689807
Drizzlecombe, east of
Sheepstor village – stone rows, standing
stones, kistvaens and cairns. grid reference SX591669
Grey Wethers, near
Postbridge — double circle, aligned almost
exactly north south. grid reference SX638831
Laughter Tor, near Two Bridges — standing stone 2.4 m
(7 ft 10 in) high and two double stone rows, one 164 m
(538 ft) long. grid reference SX652753
Tavistock — includes a double
stone row 182 m (597 ft) long, 1.1 m (3 ft
7 in) wide, aligned almost exactly east-west), stone circles and
a kistvaen. grid reference SX554747
Scorhill (pronounced 'Scorill'), west of
Chagford — circle,
26.8 m (88 ft) in circumference, and stone rows. grid
Shovel Down, north of Fernworthy reservoir — double stone row
approximately 120 m (390 ft) long. grid reference SX660859
Yellowmead Down, a quadruple concentric stone circle and stone rows.
Hut circles and kistvaens
There are also an estimated 5,000 hut circles still surviving although
many have been raided over the centuries by the builders of the
traditional dry stone walls. These are the remnants of Bronze Age
houses. The smallest are around 1.8 m (6 ft) in diameter,
and the largest may be up to five times this size.
Some have L-shaped porches to protect against wind and rain; some
particularly good examples are to be found at Grimspound. It is
believed that they would have had a conical roof, supported by timbers
and covered in turf or thatch.
There are also numerous kistvaens,
Neolithic stone box-like tombs.
The historical period
Ancient cross close to Crazywell Pool
The climate became wetter and cooler[clarification needed] over the
course of a thousand years from around 1000 BC, resulting in much
Dartmoor being largely abandoned by its early inhabitants.
It was not until the early Mediaeval period that the weather again
became warmer, and settlers moved back onto the moors. Like their
ancient forebears, they also used the natural granite to build their
homes, preferring a style known as the longhouse — some of which are
still inhabited today, although they have been clearly adapted over
the centuries. Many are now being used as farm buildings, while others
were abandoned and fell into ruin.
The earliest surviving farms, still in operation today, are known as
the Ancient Tenements. Most of these date back to the 14th century and
Some way into the moor stands the town of Princetown, the site of
Dartmoor Prison, which was originally built by Isbell Rowe &
Company, Plymouth, for prisoners of war from the
Napoleonic Wars and
the War of 1812. The prison has an incorrect reputation for being
escape-proof, due to both the buildings themselves and its physical
Dartmoor landscape is scattered with the marks left by the many
generations who have lived and worked there over the centuries –
such as the remains of the
Dartmoor tin-mining industry, and
farmhouses long since abandoned. Indeed, the industrial archaeology of
Dartmoor is a subject in its own right.
Myths and literature
Dartmoor is known for its myths and legends. It is reputedly the haunt
of pixies, a headless horseman, a mysterious pack of "spectral
hounds", and a large black dog, among others. During the Great
Thunderstorm of 1638, the moorland village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor
was even said to have been visited by the Devil.
Many landmarks have ancient legends and ghost stories associated with
them, such as the allegedly haunted Jay's Grave, the ancient burial
site of Childe's Tomb, the rock pile called Bowerman's Nose, and the
stone crosses that mark former mediaeval routes across the moor.
A few stories have emerged in recent decades, such as the "hairy
hands", that are said to attack motorists on the B3212 near Two
Bridges; and the "Beast of Dartmoor", a supposed big cat.
Dartmoor has inspired a number of artists and writers, such as Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle in
The Hound of the Baskervilles
The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventure
of Silver Blaze, R. D. Blackmore, Eden Phillpotts, Beatrice Chase,
Agatha Christie, Rosamunde Pilcher, and the Reverend Sabine
Baring-Gould. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fictional
1994 Quidditch World Cup final between Ireland and Bulgaria was hosted
on the moor.
Ownership and access
Over half of
Dartmoor National Park (57.3%) is private land; the
Forest of Dartmoor
Forest of Dartmoor being the major part of this, owned by the Duke of
Cornwall. The Ministry of Defence owns 14% (see below), 3.8% is owned
by water companies (see
Dartmoor reservoirs), 3.7% by the National
Trust, 1.8% by the
Forestry Commission and 1.4% by Dartmoor's national
park authority. About 37% of
Dartmoor is common land.
Dartmoor differs from some other National Parks in
England and Wales,
in that since the
Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 much of it has been
designated as 'Access Land', which, although it remains privately
owned, has no restrictions on where walkers can roam. In addition to
this Access Land, there are about 730 km (450 mi) of public
rights of way on Dartmoor, and many kilometres of permitted footpaths
and bridleways where the owner allows access.
Because of the 1985 Act,
Dartmoor was largely unaffected by the
Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which established similar
rights in other rural parts of the country, but in 2006, this Act
opened up much of the remaining restricted land to walkers.
Use by the Ministry of Defence
Dartmoor Training Area
There is a tradition of military usage of
Dartmoor dating back to the
Napoleonic Wars. Today, a large British Army training camp remains at
Okehampton — also the site of an airbase during the Second World
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) uses three areas of the northern moor
for manoeuvres and live-firing exercises, totalling 108.71 km2
(41.97 sq mi), or just over 11% of the National Park. Red
and white posts mark the boundaries of these military areas (shown on
Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale maps). Flagpoles on many tors in and
around the ranges fly red flags when firing is taking place. At other
times, members of the public are allowed access. Blank rounds may also
be used, but the MoD does not notify the public of this in advance.
Some "challenge" and charitable events take place with assistance of
the military on
Dartmoor including the long established
Ten Tors event
and the more recent
Dartmoor's fictional use as an MoD centre for animal testing called
Baskerville was referenced in the BBC drama Sherlock episode "The
Hounds of Baskerville".
Rippon Tor Rifle Range
Rippon Tor Rifle Range was built to train soldiers during
the Second World War, and remained in use until its closure in
The clapper bridge at Postbridge.
Dartmoor Hill pony on Dartmoor.
Throughout human history, the landscape has been exploited for
industrial purposes. In recent years, controversy has surrounded the
work of industrial conglomerates
Imerys and Sibelco (formerly Watts
Blake Bearne), who have used parts of the moor for china clay mining.
Licences were granted by the
British Government but were recently
renounced after sustained public pressure from bodies such as the
Dartmoor Preservation Association.
The British government has made promises to protect the integrity of
the moor; however, the cost of compensating companies for these
licences, which may not have been granted in today's political
climate, could prove prohibitive.
The military use of the moor has been another source of controversy,
such as when training was extended in January 2003. The national park
authority received 1,700 objections before making the decision.
Objectors claimed that
Dartmoor should be an area for recreation, and
that the training disturbs the peace.
Those who objected included the
Open Spaces Society
Open Spaces Society and the Dartmoor
Preservation Association. During her lifetime, Lady Sayer was another
outspoken critic of the damage which she perceived that the army was
doing to the moor.
Towns and villages
Dartmoor tor close to Haytor.
Dartmoor has a resident population of about 33,000, which swells
considerably during holiday periods with incoming tourists. The
largest settlements within the National Park are Ashburton (the
largest with a population of about 3,500), Buckfastleigh,
Moretonhampstead, Princetown, Yelverton, Horrabridge, South Brent,
Christow, and Chagford.
For a full list, expand the Settlements of
Dartmoor navigational box
at the bottom of this page.
See also: List of
Dartmoor tors and hills
Ponies on Trendlebere Down
Sherwell Cross, near Corndon Tor. Venford Reservoir and
Avon Dam Reservoir
Avon Dam Reservoir – reservoir popular with walks and trout fishing
Black Tor Beare (Black-a-Tor Copse) – remote woodland of stunted
oaks over 305 m (1,001 ft) above sea level in West Okement
Bowerman's Nose – a tor said to be shaped like a nose
Brentor Church – remote church 344 m (1,129 ft) high on
crag at western edge of moor
Buckfast Abbey – abbey near Buckfastleigh
Burrator Reservoir – late Victorian reservoir
Canonteign Falls – second highest waterfall in England
Castle Drogo – Edwardian faux castle built by
Edwin Lutyens on a
Teign Gorge, Drewsteignton
Childe's Tomb – ancient burial site
South Tawton – 15th century church ales house
Cosdon Hill – prominent hill, northern extremity of moor, site of
beacon fire for invasion warning
Cranmere Pool – original letterbox site and location of the legend
of Cranmere Binjie
Crazywell Cross – ancient cross near Crazywell Pool
Crazywell Pool – artificial lake
Dartmeet – meeting point of East and West Dart
Dartmoor Prison – large prison
Devonport Leat – man-made water channel
Devonport Leat aqueduct – aqueduct over the
River Meavy just down
from Raddick Hill Falls
Duck's Pool – location of a memorial to local writer William
Fernworthy Dam & Reservoir – granite-faced concrete dam and lake
in Fernworthy Forest, near Chagford
Fingle Bridge – a 17th-century crossing of the River
Great Links Tor
Great Links Tor – dominant tor on north west scarp of moor
Grey Wethers – pair of ancient stone circles
Bronze Age settlement
Granite Tramway – early tramway with stone rails; ran from
Haytor to Stover Canal
Haytor Rock – prominent tor and viewpoint between
Bovey Tracey and
High Willhays – highest point on Dartmoor
Hound Tor – rugged tor with remains of Iron Age village
Jay's Grave – burial site
Lustleigh Cleave – deep cleave on the
Sticklepath Fault lined with
trees and tors.
Lydford Gorge – very deep and narrow gorge with waterfalls
Meldon Reservoir & viaduct – 201 m (659 ft) wide and
45 m (148 ft) high concrete dam and Victorian iron bridge
which itself is 165 m (541 ft) wide and 46 m
(151 ft) high
Nuns Cross – ancient cross
Powdermills, Cherrybrook – remains of gunpowder grinding mill near
Rattlebrook railway – remains of horse-worked railway track to peat
works near Great Links Tor
Rippon Tor Rifle Range
Rippon Tor Rifle Range – disused rifle range
Scorhill stone circle – (pronounced 'Scorill') well-preserved circle
of standing stones near Teign-e-ver, Gidleigh
Skaigh Valley – narrow, wooded valley leading up on to moor at
Belstone; on famous
Sticklepath geological fault
Spitchwick – a swimming spot where the
River Webburn joins the River
Staldon Stone Row – longest stone row on
Dartmoor and potentially
Tavistock Canal – 19th-century canal
Tavy Cleave – river gorge on western moor near Mary Tavy
Teign-e-ver – confluence of North
Teign and Wallabrook; clapper
bridges & tolmen stone
Two Bridges – 18th-century coaching inn
Warren House Inn
Warren House Inn – highest inn in south west England
Wheal Betsy – engine house of mine on Blackdown, Marytavy
Widgery Cross – granite cross atop Brat Tor, memorial erected by
William Widgery to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of
Queen Victoria in 1887
Wistman's Wood – remote copse of stunted oaks in valley of West Dart
near Two Bridges
White Hart Hotel – historic 17th-century coaching inn in
Until the early 19th century
Dartmoor was not considered to be a place
worth visiting: in the 1540s John Leland wrote in his Itinerary that
"Dartmore is muche a wilde Morish and forest Ground", and even by 1789
Richard Gough's opinion was that it is a "dreary mountainous
tract". At the turn of the 19th century John Swete was one of the
first people to visit
Dartmoor for pleasure and his journals and
watercolour paintings now provide a valuable historical resource.
The oldest leisure pursuit on the moor is hill walking. William
Crossing's definitive Guide to
Dartmoor was published in 1909, and in
1938 a plaque and letterbox in his memory were placed at Duck's Pool
on the southern moor. Parts of the Abbots Way,
Two Moors Way
Two Moors Way and the
Templer Way are on Dartmoor.
Letterboxing originated on
Dartmoor in the 19th century and has become
increasingly popular in recent decades. Watertight containers, or
'letterboxes', are hidden throughout the moor, each containing a
visitor's book and a rubber stamp. Visitors take an impression of the
letterbox's rubber stamp as proof of finding the box and record their
visit by stamping their own personal stamp in the letterbox's logbook.
A recent related development is geocaching. Geocache clues make use of
GPS coordinates, whereas letterboxing clues tend to consist of grid
references and compass bearings.
Whitewater kayaking and canoeing are popular on the rivers due to the
high rainfall and their high quality, though for environmental
reasons access is restricted to the winter months. The River Dart
is the most prominent meeting place, the section known as the Loop
being particularly popular. Other white water rivers are the Erme,
Tavy, Plym and Meavy.
Other activities are rock climbing on the granite tors and outcrops,
some of the well-known venues being Haytor,
Hound Tor and The
Dewerstone; horse riding, which can be undertaken on any of the
common land; cycling (but not on open moorland); and angling
for wild brown trout, sea trout and salmon—although much of the
river fishing on
Dartmoor is privately owned, permits are available
for some stretches.
The park's main visitor centre is located in
Princetown and features
exhibits about Dartmoor's history, culture and wildlife, as well as
changing displays of local art. The visitor centres located in
Haytor feature information, maps, guidebooks and items
for exploring the area.
Dartmoor Discovery Ultramarathon Race
Dartmoor Preservation Association
Dartmoor Way long-distance footpath
Geology of the United Kingdom
Rock-cut basin The Tolmen stone
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Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Dartmoor.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Dartmoor.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Dartmoor National Park Authority
Dartmoor at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
Ceremonial county of Devon
Boroughs or districts
Ottery St Mary
See also: List of civil parishes in Devon
Devon County Council
Towns by population
Grade I listed buildings
Grade II* listed buildings
South West Coast Path
North Devon's Biosphere Reserve
National parks of the United Kingdom
Peak District (1951)
Lake District (1951)
North York Moors
North York Moors (1952)
Yorkshire Dales (1954)
The Broads‡ (1988)
New Forest (2005)
South Downs (2010)
Pembrokeshire Coast (1952)
Brecon Beacons (1957)
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs (2002)
Parentheses denote year of establishment as a National Park. An area
with ‡ has similar status to a UK National Park. Areas marked †
Settlements of Dartmoor, Devon
Rivers of Dartmoor, Devon, England