343km (213 miles) SW of London; 21km (13 miles) W of Exeter
This national park lies northeast of Plymouth, stretching from Tavistock and Okehampton on the west to near Exeter in the east, a granite mass that sometimes rises to a height of 600m (1,968 ft.) above sea level. The landscape offers vistas of gorges with rushing water, spiny shrubs, and purple heather ranged over by Dartmoor ponies -- a foreboding landscape for the experienced hiker only.
Chagford: A Good Base for Exploring the Park -- 351km (218 miles) SW of London; 21km (13 miles) W of Exeter; 32km (20 miles) NW of Torquay
At 180m (590 ft.) above sea level, romantic Chagford is an ancient town. With moors all around, it's a good base for exploring the often forlorn yet enchanting north Dartmoor. You're in Sir Francis Drake country now. Chagford overlooks the Teign River and is itself overlooked by the high granite tors (high craggy hills). There's good fishing in the Teign. From Chagford, the most popular excursion is to Postbridge, a village with a prehistoric clapper bridge. This ancient form of bridge, found on the moors of Dartmoor and Exmoor, is formed by large flat slabs of granite supported on stone piers.
To get here, take a train to Exeter, and then catch a bus to Chagford (Stagecoach bus no. 173). If you're driving from Exeter, drive west on the A30, and then south on the A382 to Chagford.
Other Towns in the Area -- Some 21km (13 miles) west of Exeter, the peaceful little town of Moretonhampstead is perched on the edge of Dartmoor. Moretonhampstead contains several 17th-century colonnaded almshouses and a Market Cross, a carved stone structure used for centuries to mark the site of the local market, which is still around.
The much-visited Dartmoor village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor is only 11km (7 miles) northeast of Moretonhampstead. Widecombe also has a parish church worth visiting. Called the Cathedral of the Moor, with a roster of vicars beginning in 1253, the house of worship in a green valley is surrounded by legends. When the building was restored, a wall plate was found bearing the badge of Richard II (1377-99), the figure of a white hart (an old word for stag). As a personal badge of Richard II, the symbol of the hart was derived from the coat of arms of his mother, who was called Joan, "the Fair Maid of Kent." The town is very disappointing, tacky, and unkempt in spite of its fame.
Let yourself drift back in time to the days when craftspeople were the lifeblood of thriving communities. Basket weavers, wood-turners, and potters are among the traditional crafters that you can still see in the area. In the Dartmoor National Park in West Devon, you'll find that The Yelverton Paperweight Centre, Leg O'Mutton (tel. 01822/854250; www.paperweightcentre.co.uk), presents an impressive display of more than 800 glass paperweights for sale along with paintings of Dartmoor scenes. It's open April to October daily 10:30am to 5pm.