Trip Report: Hiking in the Dartmoor National Park
It wasn’t your typical Christmas getaway, but then again that wasn’t what we were looking for. My boyfriend and I recently booked a week-long stay at a cottage in the Dartmoor National Park in southwest England. This large expanse of moorland is known for its high, rocky tors, standing stones, and perhaps the spectral hounds from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hounds of Baskerville.
Though the weather has been touch and go, with heavy fog on Christmas Day, we’ve embarked on a number of good hikes out on the moors. Unlike hiking in Colorado, or most of the United States I would imagine, walking trails in the UK often consist of public footpaths and that wind through private farmland, country roads, or follow low stone walls across the hills. Essentially, you have to follow the trail notes to a T, making frequent turns down unmarked roads or across different fields.
Following the instructions isn’t necessarily my strong suit, so on our first hike we made quite a few inadvertent detours, but eventually we righted ourselves and had what can only be described as a pleasant stroll across the moors with Hare Tor striking a pose in the distance. A tor is a hilltop with exposed outcrops of bedrock on the top.
Perhaps one of the most impressive is Hound Tor. Towering granite spires are stacked one upon the other like the spine of a great hound. Local legend tells of a particularly evil squire in the 1600s who once road across the moors with his giant hounds. When he died, the spectral hounds chased him into his grave. Perhaps the inspiration for The Hounds of Baskerville?
It was a heavy, heavy fog when we hiked out to the Merrivale Stone Rows. Though they were only a short distance from the carpark, our path was completely lost in fog within minutes. Thankfully we waymarked it on the GPS! Two double rows of stones stretch roughly 250m across the moor. There are also numerous cairns and rings in the area. In the fog, it was a little like a scavenger hunt following one stone to the next!
There are fifteen stone circles in Dartmoor dating from approximately 3,000 – 1,500 BCE, and numerous other neolithic as well as medieval ruins that can be hiked to quite easily! We’re off to explore more today!