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Visiting Towns and Villages

Dartmoor is famed for its wide open spaces, its dramatic tors, wooded valleys, rushing rivers and for its wildlife but it is also important for its diverse cultural heritage. The history of people on Dartmoor goes back more than 10,000 years.

Much of what we see on Dartmoor today reminds us that people continue to live and work here - in fact, about 33,400 people live in the National Park.  By using skills necessary to conserve and maintain local distinctiveness and by continuing traditions of use, many local people  - such as farmers, thatchers and wallers - are part of this heritage. Meavy Oak

Dartmoor’s cultural heritage encompasses prehistoric, medieval, industrial and military archaeology; the historic built environment including settlement patterns, towns, villages, hamlets, farmsteads, vernacular and other historic buildings and routes.  It also includes historic landscapes such as parks and gardens, forest and commons, field patterns, and managed woodland and orchards.  

This heritage also reflects a wealth of archive material, oral history, long-established institutions, traditions, events and customs (such as Widecombe Fair and Lustleigh May Day), and Dartmoor-inspired literature, art, legends and folk music.

Scattered throughout the area, particularly on the fringes of high Dartmoor, are towns and villages which have played - and continue to play - an important part in the area’s history and well-being.

The Dartmoor National Park Authority plays its part in seeking to protect and enhance the built environment of Dartmoor.  Where possible, and often in partnership, it also supports the provision of local services and facilities in such a way as to support community well-being without harming the character of the local environment.

Where possible, support the local community by buying locally-produced goods including food, souvenirs and crafts, and please support local Post Offices and petrol stations.

Dartmoor’s towns and villages are full of historic and cultural interest.  You can spend many rewarding and enjoyable hours exploring churches, side alleys, shops, architectural splendour, amenities and the surrounding countryside.

Scroll down for more details (towns listed in alphabetical order):

Ashburton

www.Ashburton.org (External website, opens new window)

Ashburton is the largest town within the National Park and its historic core is nationally renowned for its outstanding architecture.  The main reason for the town’s growth has been its location on the southern edge of Dartmoor - the interface between moor and lowland.  From the 13th century its early wealth came form its position as a Stannary town where tin was weighed, stamped, taxed and sold.
There is a wide selection of shops and small craft and antique enterprises; an outstanding church; a fascinating museum and the unique Chapel of St Lawrence.  A visit to this town and the surrounding area will be well rewarded.

The museum is at No 1 West Street in the town centre.  There are excellent displays on local history and an internationally-renowned North American Indian collection.

St. Lawrence Chapel is well worth a visit.  Through its history, the building has been a chantry chapel and a grammar school and, for a long time, the traditional meeting place of the ancient Courts Leet and Baron.  An exhibition and leaflet outline the building’s fascinating history, its links with the town and the town’s links with Dartmoor.  There is also a superb wall hanging depicting the Chapel’s history.  The Chapel contains unique plasterwork - some of the most important in a public building in Devon.  One piece features the Town Crest or Arms of the Borough of Ashburton which depicts the main influences on Ashburton’s history.  The Guild of St Lawrence, a registered local charity is responsible for the building.  The Chapel is open to the public on Tuesdays 2pm - 4pm and Thursdays & Fridays 10am -12 noon, May - September.

The Beacon Villages area of Dartmoor (Belstone, South Zeal, South Tawton, and Sticklepath.)

www.beacon-villages.co.uk (external site, opens new window)

Annual events include the Dartmoor Folk Festival, The Fireshow, Sticklepath Midsummer Weekend, South Zeal Carnival, Belstone Pantomime and the Cosdon Run.

Situated in the north of the National Park, 0.8 km from South Tawton, South Zeal lies astride a road that was formerly the main Okehampton to Exeter Road.  Economically, it benefited from its location on this route but a new road bypassed the village in the early 19th century.
South Zeal village doesn't have a church, only a C.of E. chapel and a Methodist chapel. The church is situated in the smaller South Tawton village, down the road. The differences have their basis in history when South Tawton was a manor and South Zeal was a village in that manor, where the manor hall was situated.

South Tawton is the smaller of the villages, although containing the largest church. The community here has always lived by farming the land north of Dartmoor. In the past, wool made the village rich and this wealth paid for the impressive church with its slab-sided tower, which now serves one of the most extensive parishes in the county.
You can approach South Tawton from three directions, the smallest being the country lane that cuts through from both the north of the parish and from Oxenham Manor and the south. The main approaches are on the single road that runs from South Zeal, over the A30 Trunk Road and on to North Tawton.

Sticklepath lies 5½ km east of Okehampton in the valley of the River Taw, on the edge of the high moor.  The river provided the energy to power several industries including corn grinding, wool and cloth businesses and, in the 19th century, a successful tool manufacturing centre - Finch Foundry. The Foundry is really a forge and is now run by the National Trust as a working water powered museum with unique machinery. At the rear of the Foundry is the site of the village's original Quaker Burial Ground.  Farming and mining also played strong parts in the development of Sticklepath.
Across the bridge into the village, there is a huge oak tree on the green behind the Millennium memorial seating and gardens. Just past this, crossing the narrow entrance to Willey Lane is the village stores and Local Information Point.

Belstone

The Belstone village website (external link, opens new window)

Perched on the northern edge of Dartmoor, Belstone nestles amongst the wild and rugged scenery where all four seasons can visit on one day. In the past people would have both lived and worked here, providing a lively, active community and, despite the need to commute nowadays, the village still remains as vibrant as ever with many leisure activities for young and old and the sense of community is still with us.
For those people looking for peace and tranquillity, Belstone makes an excellent place to stay with many opportunities for walks. Several places offer bed and breakfast facilities and the village pub ‘The Tors’ also provides a warm welcome to locals and visitors alike and is a local information point for the National Park.
The pretty little Church of St Mary the Virgin, dating from Norman times but essentially rebuilt during the 14th and 15th Centuries affords a pleasant sanctuary where you can sit for a while and enjoy the splendid stained glass windows and experience a sense of history in its calm stillness.
The Village Hall – refurbished in recent years – forms the community hub of the village where various clubs and societies meet. A quick glance at the notice board outside gives a flavour of the wide range of activities taking place – again, with much to offer visitors as well as residents of Belstone and the surrounding area.
Just down the road from the hall is the, reputedly, highest cricket ground in England but remember – this is a Dartmoor village where cattle, sheep and the delightful Dartmoor ponies roam free, so keep your camera at the ready, as you walk!

In the preface to ‘The Book of Belstone’, a wonderful mixture of history, anecdotes and personal memories, Chris and Marion Walpole write:
‘Tors End, the northern summit of Belstone Tor, is a good place to look over our parish. At first glance the view is little changed. Skylarks still rise over the sweeping moorland, and the patchwork of fields that stretch away to the northern edge of the parish is essentially unaltered. Look closer and changes begin to emerge. To the south distant figures hunched along Irishman’s Wall are no longer picking whortleberries but searching for letterboxes. Eastwards the leat which ran through open ground along Belstone Cleave has become a footpath amid luxuriant tree cover. To the north the new A30 dual carriageway rushes tourists into Cornwall, just hiding Fatherford viaduct which carried the first catalyst of change to the village – the railway. Half hidden these days behind summer foliage is the ancient heart of the village clustered around its church and greens, now expanding up to Birchy Lake with a ribbon of houses stretching down Skaigh Lane’.

Bovey Tracey

www.boveytracey.gov.uk (external link, opens new window)

On the south eastern foothills of Dartmoor lies the ancient and attractive town of Bovey Tracey, a perfect base for exploration.  Leave your car in the car park next to the Tourist Information Centre and within a short distance you are in the rich countryside of the River Bovey valley. It is also a great base from which to explore nearby moorland and picturesque villages.
Parke estate, owned by the National Trust and headquarters of the Dartmoor National Park Authority, is situated within a short walk from the town centre and offers beautiful strolls in woods, parkland and along the riverside.

The town is rich in history and legend.  In the heart of Bovey Tracey, the river flows under a granite bridge that Oliver Cromwell crossed on his way to the battle of Bovey Heath.  Take a gentle stroll to the shops along Fore Street and then visit the parish church of St Peter, St Paul and St Thomas of Canterbury with its elegant tower and superb rood screen.
There is a good range of small shops and there are antique and craft centres; you can also see a working weaving loom, glass blowing and pottery making.  The Devon Guild of Craftsmen holds exhibitions in the fascinating Riverside Mill.  This is a prestigious centre for the promotion of creative crafts.

There are restaurants, pubs, tea rooms and good local amenities including an outdoor heated swimming pool, two nearby golf courses and cricket.  Within the town and surrounding villages, there is a wide range of accommodation from simple guest houses to, thatched cottages, country pubs and hotels or medieval farmhouses..  For further information contact the Tourist Information Centre.

Buckfastleigh and Buckfast

The Buckfastleigh website (External website, opens new window)

Notice anything about the spelling of Buckfastleigh?  The word uses exactly half the alphabet using each letter once!  Buckfastleigh is an historic mill town on the southern border of the National Park and is characterised by narrow alleyways at right angles to the main streets leading to court yards behind.  The town has a wide range of interesting shops selling, antiques and bric-a-brac, locally produced arts and crafts and much more. Here, too, can be found a good choice of food and drink, accommodation, and things to do.  Amenities include two public parks, an outdoor swimming pool and tennis and bowling facilities.  

The Valiant Soldier Heritage Centre (External website, opens new window)is a fascinating step back in time to the 1940's and 50's, set in a pub where time stood still. There is also a Local Information Point which is a great place to start to explore the south east corner of Dartmoor.  Hembury Woods and Hill Fort (National Trust) lie just to the north of the town and opportunities abound for walking here and in the many combes in the area.

The town’s origins are obscure.  It may have begun as a key settlement of the Cistercian Abbey of nearby Buckfast and remained within monastic ownership until its Dissolution in 1539.  Throughout England, the Cistercians were associated with sheep husbandry and the wool trade.  It is this industry, powered by the waters of the River Mardle and the Dean Burn, which has until comparatively recently been the sustaining economy of Buckfastleigh.  About seven mills were in operation here in the 16th century and two serge mills are recorded in 1850, together with 300 wool combers.  The peak of the town’s industrial prosperity was reached in the late 19th century when there were five blanket, serge and combing mills, as well as corn and paper mills and a tannery.  The same period saw a significant amount of building in the town including modest workers’ cottages and public buildings.

Chagford

The Chagford website (External website, opens new window)

www.visitchagford.com (External website, opens new window)

Chagford lies in a parish rich in prehistoric remains and it is likely that the area has been continually settled for more than 4,000 years.

A charter of 1305 ordained that Chagford should be one of the Stannary Towns of Devon, that is a place where smelted tin was collected for stamping and taxation purposes.  An early record of the tax paid in Chagford showed that more than 40% of Devon’s tin production passed through the settlement and the town remained the most important Devon Stannary until the 15th century.
Chagford also shared in the prosperity enjoyed by Devon’s woollen industry especially in the 16th 18th and 19th centuries.

The church and churchyard of St Michael are well worth a visit.  Inside the church, look out for the finely carved roof bosses, one of which depicts the symbol adopted by the tinners - three rabbits each carved with two ears but with a total of three ears only (honest!).  Also look out for the inscription on the sanctuary floor dedicated to Mary Whiddon who died on 11 October 1641.  The story is that Mary was shot on the steps of the church immediately after her marriage.  Could this have been in R D Blackmore’s mind when he was writing Lorna Doone?

Chagford today is a thriving local centre with many shops, places to eat and stay. There are excellent recreation amenities including a nearby open air swimming pool.  A Local Information Point is located near the town square.

Cornwood

The Cornwood Website  (External website, opens new window)

The Parish of Cornwood, on the southern edge of Dartmoor is a rural community made up of three villages, Cornwood, Corntown and Lutton; the present Population is 1045. The Parish is in the Plymouth-travel-to-work area and has a bus link with Plymouth. The town of Ivybridge is south of the Parish with a community bus once a week. There are two china clay companies to the north of the Parish. There is a Church, Chapel, a Church of England Primary School, a Village Stores, Post Office with Tea Room, a Village Hall and two Inns. There are numerous organisations run within the Parish. The Cornwood Agricultural Show is held in August.

Drewsteignton

www.drewsteigntonparish.co.uk (external link, opens new window)

Drewsteignton, located in the north-east part of the National Park, is set in an elevated position, north of the River Teign.  Originally a service centre for the surrounding agricultural community, that role has now declined. Drewsteignton is a village of thatched cottages perched above the Teign Gorge on the Eastern fringe of Dartmoor. Julius Drewe of Castle Drogo is buried in the churchyard beneath a granite memorial by Lutyens. Below the village, on the River Teign, lies the popular beauty spot of Fingle Bridge; Castle Drogo, another busy tourist attraction, lies 1.6 km south-west of the village.

The Neolithic burial chamber known as Spinsters Rock and the Iron Age hill fort of Prestonbury Castle are nearby.

Horrabridge

www.horrabridge.org.uk (external link, opens new window)Horrabridge developed around the bridge over the River Walkham.  It grew because of the vigour of the local mining industry in the 19th century, and was boosted by the opening of the South Devon and Tavistock Railway in 1859.  The A386, which bypasses the village centre, offers ready access to Plymouth and Tavistock.

It is a quaint village on the western edge of Dartmoor and the River Walkham has always been an important part of the town's history.

Ivybridge

The Ivybridge website (External website, opens new window)

The town of Ivybridge enjoys both a magnificent natural setting and centuries of history as a mill town and a staging post on the London Road.

Tumbling from the moors, the River Erme has formed the lifeblood of the town. Originally providing power for three mills (one of which still exists today), the river now provides a wonderful feature for the town centre and is the start of walks south along with Erme Valley Trail and north to Dartmoor; the town itself marks the start of the “Two Moors Way”.

Crossing the river at the northern end of the town centre is the medieval packhorse bridge, the “Ivy Bridge”. Spanning the valley a little further upstream, the railway viaduct provides a striking backdrop to the town. There are a number of shops, hostelries and cafes in Ivybridge.

Lustleigh

Until the mid 19th century, Lustleigh remained a small centre for the surrounding hamlets and farmsteads. With the arrival of the railway in 1866 it saw significant expansion and, over the course of the 20th century, its particular charm enabled it to develop as a tourist centre.  Lustleigh is one of the most picturesque villages on Dartmoor with its pretty thatched cottages, ancient church and village green, where the village cross stands.  It is famous for it's 15th Century thatched inn. Lustleigh is popular with walkers with several beautiful woodland walks.

Water plays an important part in moulding the character of the lower-lying parts of Lustleigh, with the Wray Brook and leats flowing through the village.  The woodland area between the leat and the river at Twinyeo is an important open space, as are the green, cricket ground and the orchard.

Lydford

The Lydford website (External website, opens new window)

The Village of Lydford lies on the former stage-coach road between the towns of Okehampton (about 12 km to the north) and Tavistock (about 9 km to the south). There is a Local Information Point at the garage.

What is remarkable about Lydford is its relative lack of modern development and therefore the preservation of its historical form.
There is evidence to suggest a Dark Ages (5th-7th centuries AD) origin for Lydford.  By the 10th century it had been created a burgh by the Saxon Kings of Wessex and it ranked in importance with Barnstaple, Exeter and Totnes.  The late Saxon/early Norman period was probably Lydford's peak, and the small amount of subsequent development means that Lydford must rank as one of the most important medieval settlements in the county, if not further afield.  The village owed its revival, in part, to the arrival in 1865 of the Launceston and South Devon Railway, and the Victorian 'discovery' of natural beauty, which drew visitors to Lydford Gorge.

Lydford is, arguably, the most archaeologically important village in the whole of the National Park

Moretonhampstead - the gateway to east Dartmoor

The Moretonhampstead website (External website, opens new window)

Moretonhampstead lies on the north eastern slopes of the central granite mass of Dartmoor.  It is surrounded by fine wooded and hilly countryside offering many spectacular views and opportunities for exploration.

Although Moretonhampstead is a small town, lying on an historically important Dartmoor crossroads, it is essentially a village in character.  There is a selection of shops, guest houses, camping and bed and breakfast accommodation in the area.  A surprising range of sporting and recreation facilities can be found, including fishing, archery and golf.  The town also has a fine open air swimming pool (variable opening, May-September).  Moretonhampstead is an ideal base for superb walks into the surrounding countryside and from which to explore the wider Dartmoor area - no part of Dartmoor National park is more than a one hour drive away.

The town is well worth a visit all year round but not to be missed in August when they hold the Moretonhampstead Carnival.  Other annual events include a dog jamboree, secret gardens weekend, flower shows, a bonfire and fireworks night and Christmas lights.  A community-run Information Centre (external link, opens new window) is located in the town centre and operates throughout the year.

Okehampton

The Okehampton website (External website, opens new window)

Okehampton is the gateway to north Dartmoor.  It is a bustling market town full of historic interest and provides all the essential goods and services for the people who live there and those from the many nearby villages.  Here it is possible to step back into the past with a visit to the ruins of the dramatic Okehampton Castle, located in a beautiful woodland setting.  This is the largest medieval castle in Devon.  There is also more history to explore at the excellent Museum of Dartmoor Life, where you will find a variety of artefacts tracing the development of the moor and town through the centuries.
Okehampton has a fascinating history.  A Saxon settlement was probably established here around the parish church which stands over half a mile from the town centre.  Okehampton is first recorded in AD980 as a place where ‘slaves’ were freed at a cross-roads so they could chose their own destiny.

The Saxon lords were overthrown by Norman conquerors.  Baldwin de Brion, the first Norman Sheriff, established Okehampton Castle as the administrative centre of his vast Devon estates.  These passed by marriage to the Courtenay family who rebuilt the castle as a lavish but defended country retreat.  Then, in 1538, Henry VIII seized the estate and had Henry, the 9th Earl, beheaded for conspiracy.  The castle stands a short distance from the town centre and is now administered by English Heritage.
The area abounds in the remains of past industrial activity - look out for tin workings, mills, copper mines, peat works and quarries on the north Dartmoor foothills which form the dramatic backdrop to Okehampton.

The 19th century saw great improvements in communications with better roads and, in 1871, the coming of the railway.  This resulted in many more visitors coming to see the town’s greatest asset - Dartmoor.  The railway line has re-opened with a limited weekend service
Okehampton and the surrounding area provide all the facilities to make a visit well worthwhile.  The shops are many and varied and the beautiful Simmons Park offers tennis, bowls, putting and swimming facilities.

There is a series of leaflet-guided trails to help you explore the immediate area.  From the town it is possible to follow one of two rivers - the East or West Okement - up onto Dartmoor itself.
The southern part of the Tarka Trail runs through the area.  The Trail goes all the way to the North Devon Coast, following the rivers Taw and Torridge, and taking in the sights and sounds of Henry Williamson’s famous book Tarka the Otter.
The West Devon Way walk also offers the chance to skirt the western edge of Dartmoor on a route that heads for Tavistock and beyond via local footpaths, bridleways, quiet lanes and old railway lines.
The Granite Way provides an easy cycling route that skirts the northern edge of Dartmoor and for the most part follows the route of the old railway.  

The Okehampton area is perfect for walking, cycling, wildlife and fishing enthusiasts.  For further information contact the Tourist Information Centre just off West Street, next door to the Museum of Dartmoor Life.  For more adventurous outdoor pursuits or advice on high moor walks contact the YHA Activity Centre.

Princetown

www.princetownnews.co.uk (external link, opens new window)
Princetown is a major centre for visitors to Dartmoor.  The arrival of the railway in 1879 provided easy access for visitors to Princetown and its surrounding moorland.  The prison is a principal attraction. and the Prison Museum (External website, opens new window) in the old Prison Farm dairy, with its fascinating history of prison life ,is worth a visit. The High Moorland Visitor Centre which is open through out the year is based here.  The Tyrwhitt Trail gives a good insight into the history of this historic settlement and provide opportunities to explore the high moorland beyond. Princetown is the ideal base for walking on the high moor.

South Brent

The South Brent website (External website, opens new window)

Situated adjacent to the A38 trunk road on the southern boundary of the National Park, South Brent has good road links to Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter. The village was originally a woollen and market centre with 2 annual fairs and a station. Now the village centre is within Dartmoor National Park, and it is a thriving community with shops, businesses, school, village hall and community centre.

Widecombe-in-the-Moor

The Widecombe in the Moor website (External website, opens new window)

Widecombe-in-the-Moor lies in the valley of the Webburn River, between Bonehill Down and Hamel Down.  It has remained a small service centre for a large agricultural parish for most of its existence, but is now probably the best known and most visited village in the National Park.

World famous thanks to Tom Pearce, his Grey Mare and the annual Widecombe Fair, which takes place on the second Tuesday of September.  Widecombe has retained much of its unique character and is home to the ‘Cathedral of the Moor’ the impressive Church of Saint Pancras that dominates the stunning views of the village from the surrounding moorland.

Widecombe is a popular destination for coach trips and motor car tourers. There is a large car park and you can enjoy a stroll around this small village, a shop for a gift, tea and cakes at one of the cafes and a meal and a beer at one of the pubs. You could also visit the National Trust Shop in the Old Sexton's House which is also a Local Information Point.

Yelverton

On the western edge of Dartmoor, the thriving town of Yelverton is rich in heritage and history: the area is known as Drake’s Dartmoor because here you are following in the footsteps of one of the greatest figures in English history.
Just outside the town is the old home of the hero of the Armada.  He bought the beautiful former monastery of Buckland Abbey, today administered by the National Trust and home to permanent exhibitions on the life and work of Sir Francis.
Other attractions include one of the finest gardens in Britain, The Garden House, centered on an enchanting terraced walled garden surrounding the ruins of a medieval vicarage.  The Yelverton Paperweight Centre is a unique, free, attraction with a permanent exhibition of these beautiful works.
Yelverton has a variety of shops, as well as a selection of pubs and restaurants and even a golf club.  There is an information point at Yelverton Garage, where you can also surf the net for a small charge.

If you want to find out about what to do and where to stay in the area, you can visit a website set up by local people involved in the tourism industry.  www.drakesdartmoor.co.uk (external link, opens in new window) has a database of attractions and accommodation providers as well as history and information on community news. The group has also designed a series of moorland walks showing off the history and scenery of the area.


Page last updated: 26 Nov 2012
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