Our top places to visit in Dartmoor
Dartmoor is one of our favourite areas of England. Having grown up in a busy town before moving to city life in London, then spending a year in Brighton before we began full time housesitting, it’s safe to say that we now prefer the slower pace of life that comes with smaller towns and villages. We seek out these gorgeous rural areas in corners of the U.K., eager to explore the peaceful countryside. Dartmoor is no exception with its dramatic sweeping landscapes which provide a home to hundreds of wild animals, including the famous Dartmoor ponies. It’s also full of endless footpaths up over tors and through pretty places that are just waiting to be discovered! Dartmoor ticks a LOT of boxes on our list of what makes a perfect place – wild animals, great hiking routes, cute villages, beautiful scenery in spades – making it our ideal place to escape to.
We recently received an invitation to housesit one of our favourite pups, sweet and gentle Golden Retriever Bess, for a second time at her home in the village of Chagford. We had such fine May weather during our stay, not too hot and not too chilly, which made for perfect conditions to walk Bess and find some new favourite places in Dartmoor to share with you all! Read on for our top picks.
On our first full day in Chagford, we wasted no time getting out on a hike from our sleepy village on a 16km loop walk to Fingle Bridge and back. Owned by the National Trust, this 17th century stone arch bridge is Grade II listed and just perched on the edge is a cute countryside pub perfect for a rest stop to admire its beauty. We hiked through the cool shade of the trees running parallel to the River Teign, where Bess enjoyed a good swim, before we emerged into brilliant sunshine for our first view of the bridge. We decided to stop at The Fingle Bridge Inn for a refreshing drink, which then turned into lunch as we caught a whiff of some delicious-looking chunky chips on the next table! Not only did our riverside table provide us with a clear view of Fingle Bridge, but as it’s such a popular spot it meant we could wait for a moment where no people or cars were crossing the bridge to snap that perfect shot!
If you do make your way to Fingle Bridge be sure to check out the footpath higher up along the ridge, as we did on our way back, to obtain a gorgeous view over the valley as well as a sighting of another National Trust spot – Castle Drogo – emerging from the trees.
This quiet reservoir is a popular spot for dog walking, fishing and picnicking! We arrived down a little dirt track, with several small parking areas off both sides, and chose our park up spot at Norsworthy Bridge car park. We began our hike by heading into the woodland and out the other side, to climb one of the steep hills on either side of the Reservoir. We took some time to admire the view with Bess before making our way back down, spotting some adorable Dartmoor foals at the bottom just before we entered the gate to the footpath that circles the Reservoir.
While the area is set up with many dog-friendly trails, they must be kept on lead and the route we took was partly on road – something to bear in mind as you walk. On our stroll, we spotted a gaggle of geese at the water’s edge, as well as a fisherman happily standing waist deep in the water. The dam at the south end of the Reservoir makes for a lush view over the water, before you head onto the road and find the Burrator Reservoir waterfall close by – where Bess stopped for a swim once again!
A lot of our hike back around the Reservoir was shaded by gorgeous woodland, and trees with twisted, fairytale-like branches provided respite from the heat of the sun. After such a long hike in the sunshine, totalling around 10km, we planned to continue walking along the dirt track back to our car. But we just couldn’t resist one more climb up a steep hill on the West side of the Reservoir for one last stunning view, complete with a family of Dartmoor ponies and the serenity of the landscape all around. A definite must visit for a well-rounded walk.
Hay Tor and Hound Tor
Back in 2019, while getting in some hiking practice for our Muddy Dog Trek in aid of Battersea, we hiked 17km across the moors to climb Hay Tor and Hound Tor. On a cloudy day in March, the landscape was almost deserted as we made our way through seemingly endless heather to reach the top of the stones protruding from the ground. I remember feeling truly in awe of the Dartmoor landscape as we stood on top of Hound Tor, and feeling incredibly accomplished for putting in the steps towards getting ready for our Battersea hike! We have fond memories of that hike and that’s why it’s earned a place in our list of top spots. It’s worth noting that this walk is completely out in the open with very few trees for shelter – check the weather ahead of your visit and plan your outfit accordingly!
This is truly unlike any natural place we’d visited before. Steeped in history and famous in folklore, Wistman’s Wood was selected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1964 and is one of the highest oak woods in Britain. When we visited this magical place, it was completely deserted which only added to the eerie atmosphere. Symbols carved into moss on craggy rocks, talismans hanging from twisted branches and a complete stillness in the air – it’s easy to see why the woods were voted one of the U.K.’s most haunted places. Locals will never venture into the woods at night, and after our visit we’d advise the same! It takes around thirty minutes to reach the Woods from the small car park on the road side – make sure you factor in this hour long round trip when you plan your visit, to avoid being there after sundown!
On our last day looking after Bess in Chagford, we planned a few stops on a local road trip of our area. At the end of our day, we both agreed that Foggintor Quarry had been our favourite stop! The quarry was once one of three great Dartmoor granite quarries, providing the stone for famous landmarks such as Nelson’s Column in London. Now disused, nature has reclaimed the industrial landscape and in doing so, made the quarry a wonderfully unique place to visit. A short fifteen minute walk from the road side car park, the first sighting you’ll get of the quarry is in the form of a crumbling building. One of the paths into the quarry is just opposite this building, where the rocks either side fall away to reveal a bright blue pool of water. The quarry lake is popular with wild swimmers, with both deep and shallow parts providing a good place to swim for people of all abilities. Bess wasted no time jumping in at the first chance she got, much to the delight of heart-eyed swimmers in the water. Exploring the dusty paths through the quarry surrounded by towering stone above us on a sunny day, before sitting atop a flat rock to admire the view and watch Bess swim, was really special. Once you see it for yourself, you’ll see why it was our favourite stop of the day!
St Michael’s Church at Brentor
Our last stop before we left our housesit in beautiful Dartmoor, sitting high on top of Brentor, was St Michael’s Church. Legend has it that during the construction of the church, the devil kept throwing more and more stones onto the hill to make the worship site higher, in an attempt to dissuade church-goers from attending. This 12th century church is still open today, and although it is open to the elements, it has two trees on the south-west side – we found these were perfect for resting in the shade after the climb to the top. Although it only takes around ten minutes to reach the church from the car park below, the climb is steep, and we’d recommend taking caution in bad weather. If you do visit on a lovely sunny day, as we did, you’ll be rewarded with breath-taking panoramic views of the surrounding area – the perfect place to reflect on our trip.
We hope we’ve given you some inspiration for your next visit to Dartmoor! You can find more photos of our Dartmoor adventures over on our Instagram. Let us know in the comments below – have you visited any of the places on our list? Where are your top spots in Dartmoor?