Visit Dartmoor National Park: Places to stay, things to do

Helen Tew provides some useful tips on how to maximise your mysterious Dartmoor weekend and where to find the best pub grub

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Why go there?

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Dartmoor is breathtaking, and it can also become a very mysterious place this time of year. The evenings grow shorter and the light distorts well-known places into unrecognisable forms, shadows stretch across its moors, and the gorse holds tight to its luminous yellow.

So what is it that Dartmoor’s 368 square miles can offer you before any other national park? Perhaps it could be the wandering mare and foal that nuzzle your car, or the lone buzzard circling the tip of a tor. I am suggesting that there is more to Dartmoor than even this. As the road signs read ‘Take Moor Care’ you slow to glance out of the window and see man working in partnership with the land. This connection between wildlife and human-life breeds only respect as much of the land is demanding, and at times the work to maintain it falls into the hands of the ready volunteers who abide there.

There are a large amount of attractions scattered throughout Devon, and on Dartmoor there are some of the best. If you are keen to get as much from the landscape as possible, one of the best ways to do so is on horseback. Horse riding can give you a free pass to the wild side of the moors and once on top of said horse you can become immersed in your surroundings. Birds and other animals falter before they dash into the gorse or take refuge in their homes. This opportunity to connect with wildlife on another level has often deserved me a close sighting of a family of roe deer, or a sleepy kingfisher. To find an appropriate riding stables it is important to firstly check the place for it’s professional standards. The stables should be able to cater for any ability, providing horses that are steadier for a nervous or inexperienced rider. This website gives a large variety of stables based in or around the national park http://www.discoverdartmoor.co.uk.

Of course, there is more to do on Dartmoor than riding and nature watching. Climbing, canoeing, walking and cycling can also feature in your Dartmoor diary if you so wish. However, the weekend visitor should not vacate the moors until an afternoon stroll to the top of a tor has been successfully undertaken and enjoyed, (even if the rain does show). Visit www.dartmoor.co.uk for more information on activities.

Where to eat?

Think roaring fire, think home food and think stunning views and traditional surroundings. These are the things that should be in place when you enter a pub on Dartmoor. If you’re looking for more mainstream food, it would be a good idea to head off the moor slightly toward one of the bigger towns or cities. Plymouth will offer you a nightlife and a cocktail or Tavistock, on a Friday or Saturday night, will greet you with raw charm and a selection of visiting young farmers from around Dartmoor.
Picking a pub to eat at is always the most difficult part of the day, the selection is wide and the choice is usually weather dependant. I suggest the ‘Who’d have thought it Inn’ in Yelverton for lunch, and perhaps ‘The Royal Oak Inn’ in Meavy for dinner. Neither of these are large pubs, which is half the charm, so its always good to book in advance to ensure a table.

Where to stay?

To find the balance between luxury and tent living, visit the ‘Higher Coombehead House’. The beautiful gardens provide a hub for wildlife so you can get photographing before you even hit the moor.

A local secret

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During the Great Thunderstorm of 1638 a small Dartmoor village called Widecombe-in-the-moor is said to have been visited by the devil.