Dartmoor is such a stunning landscape that once you’ve experienced it, the memories are instilled into the memory banks. There’s rolling rugged moorland, stone clapper bridges, babbling streams and rivers, but my favourite part, the wild ponies!
The village of Postbridge was the closest to the farm campsite and is worth visiting in its own right.
Wild camping is also permitted in some parts of Dartmoor under permitted rules.
Some Dartmoor Background
Dartmoor National park is 368 square miles (954 square km,) It’s about 20 miles distance from North to South and 20 miles across from East to West. Altogether it makes roughly about the same size as 20,000 football pitches.
Dartmoor is an upland area in southern Devon, England. The moorland and surrounding land have been protected by National Park status since 1951.
Some parts of Dartmoor have been used by the military as a firing range and training area for up to 200 years.
Some visitors to Dartmoor come specially to see birds that are rare in other parts of the UK. Some of the rare breeds include the ring ouzel and the cuckoo.
Meadow pipits, stonechats, skylarks and snipes can also be found flying around Dartmoor. Some of the birds of prey that can be spotted overhead, include the incredible Buzzard.
Adders are rare to see because of their reclusive nature but can be found on rare occasions on the moors along with weasels, and in recent years a return of the polecat.
Common lizards might be seen basking in the sun on a rock if you’re quiet, rabbits, 16 recorded bat species, and if you’re lucky you might spot an otter along one of the rivers.
Dartmoor is populated by many many Tors (what they call hills here).
Dartmoor Camping experience
The area influenced me so much that I decided to write about a wonderful experience of camping in a farmer’s field with the kids, when they were young and give you some information on the area and a little bit of history.
The farm was a beautiful location to camp, with a stream running through the grounds and a coppice of woodland alongside it. This made a good base for our trip. The farm campsite had showers and a toilet block too within a short distance of our camp.
Our trip was a short one, so we had to pack lots into the weekend, we drove down early in the day with just the essentials for camping, in a tiny Fiat car that was amazingly economic.
We had discovered a lovely farm that was perfect for us, so we booked in at the farmhouse and paid for our tent and for some kindling and logs for a campfire.
The farmhouse had an adjoining bunkhouse, although on our visit was already fully booked with a group of hikers, it looked like a lovely option.
Dartmoor is currently the only place in England that is legal to wild camp. Other areas are permissible if you are very careful and you don’t leave anything behind, some areas you must ask the land owner first.
In Dartmoor for wild camping, you must carry everything you need with you, camp out of sight of settlements or roads and only stay for one or two nights at most.
Use a small tent and not as a group. Even so it is only in specific areas which you should research. Motorhome and other vehicles are still not allowed to camp up overnight apparently.
It was autumn time when we visited and the evenings were beginning to get cold and misty, that is why we had planned for a cosy campfire later.
On our drive through the little lanes in Dartmoor, it was so sweet to see the wild ponies with their foals, they would just stop any place along the roadside to feed their young ones, seemingly oblivious to the cars or to us as we took photos.
I had wondered whether the ponies that run freely on Dartmoor are wild?
There have been free running herds of ponies documented to have been on Dartmoor moorland from prehistoric times so they are in fact part of an ancient herd.
To answer my own question, they are wild ponies, but are in fact owned by different landowners and horse keepers. Being owned and being wild at the same time because most of them will not have experienced human handling at all. So do not attempt to approach them. Let them judge what distance they are comfortable with.
Once we had set up our tent and settled into the campsite, we took a drive into the nearby Postbridge, village.
The village only consists of a shop, a hotel, pub and a handful of houses, just a small community. We like to shop locally so we used the local shop for a few treats while visiting the fascinating clapper bridge.
Postbridge Clapper Bridge
The East Dart River runs through the village, and the best-known feature is the stone clapper bridge, thought to be 13th Century and would have been used to cross the river with pack horses carrying tin to Tavistock.
The clapper bridge is a Grade ll listed structure and is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
Beside the clapper bridge is a later addition, a bridge built in the 1780’s also Grade ll listed.
We were very lucky on our weekend visit to get such gorgeous weather, I took the kids to the shop, which I believe at the time was also a post office.
We picked out some ice-creams to enjoy beside the river while chilling out at the clapper bridge, what a lovely experience. The field beside the river on the opposite bank had a friendly domestic pony and a donkey who were happy for fuss.
Princetown and Sir Arthur Conon Doyle
Later we drove to Princetown where the Dartmoor prison museum is located and is one the locations Sir Arthur Conon Doyle used in his book ‘Hound of the Baskervilles.’
The ruggedness of the moorland landscape in Dartmoor sets the perfect scenes for the story and when fog rolls in, it can make a person imagine the whole story of the Hound of the Baskervilles coming to life.
We stopped at the local Princetown shop for a few extra provisions for our camp, including matches for our campfire and some food for the evening.
Princetown has a fully functioning prison still in use today, but the Dartmoor prison museum, is where you can find out more about the local history of this fascinating area.
Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, Secretary to the Prince of Wales, leased a sizeable area of moorland from the Duchy of Cornwall estate with ideas to turn it into farmland.
He called it Princetown, after the Prince of Wales and decided that a prison should be built there, Dartmoor prison is to date the highest prison in the UK at an elevation of 1,430 feet (435 m) the prison first opened in 1809.
The Hairy Hands Legend
The road, now called the B3212 that runs between Postbridge and Two Bridges is also known for a legend, the legend of the hairy hands.
The supposed happenings are reported to involve a pair of hands taking hold of a car steering wheel or motorcycle handlebars and forcing the car or motorcycle off the road. The first reports started around 1910 and are usually described as phantom hands that wrestle to take control of the vehicle. The story is also linked to a play ‘The Hairy Hand of Dartmoor’ by Michael McStay, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 8 February 1999.
During the afternoon on our first day, we took a drive along the B3212 to The Warren House Inn. The drive on this route is absolutely stunning the natural rugged scenery is a real pleasure, and to walk here would be such a delight, I’m sure.
Our visit at the time didn’t allow for much exploration, although we did pack in an awful lot in the time available to us.
The Warren House Inn
At 1425ft (434m) above sea level, The Warren House Inn is the highest Inn in Southern England and said to be the loneliest.
The pub was originally built to provide for the tin mining community locally and was originally called ‘New House.’ The last of the tin mines closed in 1930. Now I love a crackling open fire, and at the Warren House Inn the fire has been burning continuously since 1845 non-stop.
Due to the remote location, electricity is from generators, gas is bottled, and water is gravity fed from a spring. The pub can get cut off in heavy winter snow and in 1966 was so cut off by winter snow drifts that it had to have supplies air lifted in by helicopter.
A wonderful experience and the scenery all around this bleak location, just stunning!
Dartmoor Visitor Centre
The Dartmoor visitor centre was another place I would recommend popping into, we had a fun time there and the kids took part in a competition and did some interactive learning, so many ideas for places to go and activities to do.
Our Dartmoor adventure was such a lot of fun, a campfire beside the stream and lots fun stories to tell in the dark as the mist descended that evening. It may have been a short break, but oh so many memories created.