Where did I go: Dartmoor, UK
When did I go: January 2015
We arrived in Dartmoor on a Winter evening as dusk was falling. As you enter Dartmoor from the south you are greeted by the river Dart, on its way to the south coast . Next up is a steep climb on winding roads – finish the climb and you are at the top of the moors – a flat, rugged land, strewn with boulders.
By the time we were at the top, there was just enough light to see the outline of some wild moorland ponies. Many of them were grazing away without a care in the world, but one small pony was standing by the side of the road, curiously looking at the cars driving past. We stopped the car and got out to take a photo. To our amazement, he started to walk towards us, perhaps to say hello. Not knowing how to deal with wild ponies, we ran back to the car and quickly drove off! Something I still regret to this day.
We were staying at the Two Bridges hotel in the middle of Dartmoor, which dates back to the 17th century, when it used to be a coaching inn known as the Saracen’s head. According to Wikipedia and the hotel website, a map dated 1765 suggests the origin of the name, for in those days the road crossed both the West Dart and the River Cowsic, just upstream from the point where they meet, and required two separate bridges.
By 1891, these had disappeared and there was just a single bridge, further downstream, over the West Dart. Today, however, there are again two bridges on the site, because a more modern structure has been added alongside its earlier predecessor, to carry modern traffic.
We got our first “proper” look at Dartmoor over breakfast the next morning. The hotel is in a valley surrounded by the hills and tors of Dartmoor and on this bright, crisp day you could see the rolling moors for miles.
After breakfast, we set out from the hotel on a short walk to Wistman’s Wood – an ancient woodland where, gnarled oak trees, moss-covered boulders that would not look out-of-place in one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Wistman’s Wood is one of only three remote high-altitude oak woods on Dartmoor.
We also investigated one of the nearby Tors. A large number of flat rocks on top of each other, which looks like it has been purpose-built by giants from a bygone era.
For lunch we headed out to the small market town of Tavistock, on the west border of Dartmoor. There were only a few shops open, given this was a sleepy Sunday morning in the middle of Winter.
After lunch we came back to the hotel via Oakhampton and Moretonhampstead. Both sleepy villages with not much to see, but the drive from Moretonhampstead to Two Bridges has many stunning views of the moors.
We had stopped the car on a lay by and considering a wander out on to the moors when it happened. A thick mist descended over the moors in the space of a few minutes. What had been a bright clear day was now miserable and foggy. You could only see a few yards in front of you. This is the Dartmoor described by Conan Doyle in “Hound of the Baskervilles”.
On the whole, is it worth it? Hmm, on a good sunny day it is probably not that different to many other national parks – rolling hills and lots of footpaths. But let the sun hide and the drizzle and the mist comedown, you could easily be back on the 1800s – your phone wouldn’t work and you could easily get lost on the moor and all those stories could just be true.