Last Updated on March 21, 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Beautiful and windswept, the most iconic photographs of Dartmoor (full name: Dartmoor National Park) often capture the landscape as barren, with the occasional sheep roaming around or rocky outcrop, known locally as a ‘tor,’ jutting out of the heather-filled hills. But what many people don’t realise is that there are plenty of Dartmoor towns and villages, hidden in the valleys and woods between the open moorland.
For those who love rural hikes, open spaces, and stunning vistas, Dartmoor National Park is a must-see on your next escape to South West England. What you should know before you go is that there are no cities on Dartmoor, and the biggest town is that of Ashburton. Altogether, there are just over 33,000 people residing in the National Park.
Stunning Villages in Dartmoor
Until recently, the settlement of Meavy was home to an oak tree that’s said to have been over a thousand years old. Unfortunately, the tree, which sat in the very heart of the Village Green, had come to the end of its life and had to be cut down.
However, Meavy has plenty more by way of attractions, not forgetting the charm of this teeny tiny Dartmoor village. After all, there’s a pub in which you can sample local tipples, as well as a beautiful church which is home to some of the best-stained glass in all of Devon!
The tiny little settlement of Lydford many not have many inhabitants but is more than worth visiting thanks to its sheer amount of history. Once home to several castles, not to mention some rather stunning cottages and a historic pub, today Lyford offers a glimpse into times gone by. Nearby, Lydford Gorge is one of the most beautiful walks you could hope to take within Devon.
Pretty as a postcard, the most beautiful village in Dartmoor is undoubtedly the breathtaking settlement of Lustleigh, which can be found somewhere between the ‘gateway to the Moor’ town of Bovey Tracey and the town of Moretonhampstead. Home to thatched cottages and granite stonework, wandering around Lustleigh feels akin to stepping back in time.
Nestled in the Wray Valley, the village is home to the ancient ‘Cleave’ (a historic woodland with evidence of hut circles dating back thousands of years), as well as a pub of the same name. In the heart of the village, there’s a park known locally as ‘The Orchard,’ as well as a small village shop which also serves as the post office. During the late spring, summer, and early autumn, a tearoom runs which is called Primrose Tea Rooms.
Situated close to the town of Ashburton and boasting a yew tree that some allege to be close to a thousand years old, Holne is one of those Dartmoor villages with little by way of attractions, but with more than enough charm to make up for the fact.
Head to the centre of the village and you’ll soon discover that there’s a well-run community shop selling all the essentials you could possibly ask for from such an establishment. We particularly loved the selection of locally produced items such as homemade jams and Dartmoor sourced honey.
Close to the ever so luxurious hotel, Bovey Castle (see all the details here!), North Bovey is a tiny village centred around one village green in the very heart of the National Park. Though there are little by way of attractions, some of the best things to do include eating at the pub, visiting the church, and embarking on countryside walks from the Dartmoor village.
Hands down, the top attraction in the small Dartmoor village of Buckfast is that of Buckfast Abbey, a modern built ecclesiastical building which is free to visit and truly a ‘must-see’ when passing through the area. Even if you don’t know what the Abbey looks like, undoubtedly you’ll have heard of ‘Buckfast Wine,’ a strong tonic wine that is produced by the monks and is now sold globally and raked in close to nine million pounds in 2014!
Widecombe in the Moor
So iconic is the church in the heart of Widecombe in the Moor (often abbreviated simply to ‘Widecombe’ for short), that the ecclesiastical building has since been nicknamed ‘the Cathedral of the Moor’. Situated close to Hound tor, Widecombe is home to a small selection of independent stores, a handful of pubs, and several coffee shops.
Fancy a snack? We particularly recommend the pretty ‘Cafe on the Green’ and the ever so rustic ‘Ruglestone Inn,’ which can be found around a half mile’s walk or drive from the village centre. If you’re looking to spend a weekend in Dartmoor, then Widecombe makes for a great base from which to explore the surrounding region!
Marvellous Towns in Dartmoor
Best-known for being the site of the ruinous Okehampton Castle, once the largest and most prominent fortification in Devon, Okehampton is a lively town to the Northern edge of Dartmoor National Park. As well as visiting the English Heritage managed Okehampton Castle, other highlights of the town include several independent shops and the Museum of Dartmoor Life.
Home to a handful of art galleries and a selection of pretty pubs, Moretonhampstead lies on the main A road between Bovey Tracey and Chagford. Busy throughout the year, this Dartmoor settlement boasts the title of having ‘the longest single-word place name in Britain’ at a staggering 16 letters long!
Situated on the Western edge of Dartmoor National Park, Tavistock is one of the so-called Stannary towns that would have been allowed to assess tin during the Middle Ages. Today, highlights of the quaint Dartmoor settlement include the railway museum of Morwellham Quay, plenty of typically Westcountry dining experiences, and taking a day trip Buckfast Abbey.
Though not strictly in Dartmoor National Park itself, the quaint town of Bovey Tracey is often heralded as the ‘Gateway to the Moor’. Home to a plethora of coffee shops and independent boutiques, the town is often referred to as simply ‘Bovey’. And at just three miles away from Haytor and its quarry, the town makes for the perfect springboard from which to explore Dartmoor.
Situated just a couple of miles away from Buckfast, the quirky town of Buckfastleigh is best-known as being one of the most important wool trade towns in Devon. Visit today and you can expect to find the Valiant Soldier Museum, many independent shops (including several interesting art galleries), and even several adventure activities on offer (nearby, there’s the chance to go caving, hiking, and even rock climbing).
For those who adore antique shops, Ashburton is the place to visit. Home to a plethora of vintage stores and shops selling everything from second-hand furniture to antiquarian books, we particularly recommend heading to Tom Woods Antiques and Coins. This ‘Olde Curiosity Shoppe’ of sorts is a treasure trove of historical finds and unique souvenirs, all for sale.
Elsewhere in Ashburton, much of the action is focused around two main streets. There are the usual chain mini food markets, as well as several independent cafés (the cream tea at Taylor’s is delightful!) and a number of quirky and historic buildings which you’ll just love photographing!
Surrounded by rolling green hills and the high moors in the distance, the town of Chagford is an ancient stannary town, meaning that it was one of four towns allowed to refine, assess, coin and sell tin during the Middle Ages. Visit today and you can expect to find a historic settlement full of traditional Dartmoor architecture (rendered houses, thatched rooftops, granite stonework).
Some of the best things to do in Chagford include perusing the Dartmoor town’s many galleries, independent shops, or simply enjoying a scrumptious coffee and cake in The Bird Cage, the top café in town. If you’re looking for an extra special souvenir, check out Amy’s Flowers for some gorgeous planters and indoor houseplants. Otherwise, head to Chagford Church for a delve into history (right back until Medieval times). Of all the Dartmoor towns, Chagford is definitely one of the top to visit!
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