Let’s Live on Dartmoor
With its spooky legends ranging from hairy hands and long-robed ladies, to Merripit pigs and reputed wild cats, Dartmoor has always exuded mystery and romance, but its towns, hamlets and villages exude a strong sense of community and many would li...
Debra and Mark Wilson have owned Primrose Cottage Tea Rooms in Lustleigh since October 2004 and last year won the Devon Life Best Tea Room of the Year award, which is hardly surprising when you look at the mouth-watering home-made cakes, scones and savouries. "Village life is lively," said Debra. "It is a very busy village with lots of clubs and societies." At midday one Saturday in January the café was certainly buzzing. "We get very good back-up from the village itself," explained Debra. "At eleven o' clock this morning it was packed." She added: "We also have a lot of cyclists, walkers and overseas tourists. People come back 12 months later and say, 'Hi, we're here.' It's almost like a pilgrimage."
What can I get for my money?
As always, house prices depend very much on location; thus the traditional stone cottage can be more expensive on the moor than on the fringes. For instance, a two-bed granite cottage in the centre of Chagford costs around £225,000, while a modernised Grade II Listed cottage in Ashburton is much cheaper at £156,000. You can still buy a standard three-bed house in or around the moor below the 1% stamp duty threshold of £250,000.
Could you live here?
Beelands Farm is a Victorian brick and stone farmhouse set in more than 42 acres of farmland on the outskirts of Moretonhampstead. Besides the four bedrooms with two en-suites, the property has five stone outbuildings, which include a garage and office. Inside, the property has been completely modernised but retains the Victorian high ceilings and granite stone fireplace with wood-burning stove in the sitting room. Beelands is on the market with Strutt & Parker, Exeter, at £925,000. (01392) 215631
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Express buses circumvent the moor along the A30 and A38 to Plymouth, Exeter and Okehampton, and regular buses run along the A382 and the A386, while there is a less regular service along the B3212 which crosses the moor. All the moorland towns and villages are served by at least one bus route, although some run only in the summer. Essentially, you need a car.
Dartmoor is known for its small village schools. Hennock, Moretonhampstead, Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Bovey Tracey all have their own primaries, as do the towns on the peripheries. Chagford has a state primary as well as a Montessori in Lower Street - call Tina on (01647) 432403. Lustleigh has the pre-school Orchard Playgroup (01647) 221516 or (01626) 833690), while Mary Tavy has a pre-school and toddler group - call Cheryl Downham on (01822) 810177 or Alli Hatcher on (01822) 841657. There are no secondary schools on the moor, so pupils travel to either Newton Abbot, Kingsteignton, Okehampton, Ashburton, Tavistock or Exeter.
Out and About
The National Trust owns Finch Foundry at Sticklepath and The Church House and Sexton's Cottage at Widecombe. Buckfast has its famous abbey with exquisite stained-glass windows designed by an artist-turned-monk. Pick up a bottle of tonic wine while you're there. Buckfast Butterflies & Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary is open from April 1 to October 21, and the South Devon Railway runs steam trains alongside the Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes. At Pennywell Farm children can meet the animals as well as ride a quad bike, and at the Miniature Pony Centre you can see delightful Shetland ponies and Mediterranean donkeys.
Dartmoor's waterfalls are spectacular. Trek along Lydford Gorge to the 30-metre high White Lady waterfall or walk the plank over the Devil's Cauldron whirlpools. Canonteign Falls are the highest in England and descend almost vertically for 220ft through ancient woodland. Becky Falls include children's nature trails, letterboxing and school holiday activities. If you want an easy, tranquil walk, head for the reservoirs of Fernworthy, Burrator, Venford, and the triplets, Kennick, Tottiford and Trenchford.
Find fresh meat from Widecombe farms plus locally grown vegetables, cheeses, apple juice, honey, home-made bread, cakes, jams, chutneys at Widecombe Village Market, usually on the fourth Saturday of the month (www.widecombe-in-the-moor.com). Visit The Smithy for quality fine china, ceramic and porcelain gifts, many from Widecombe Pottery.
In Chagford, AL Martin & Son has its own abattoir and sells home-made sausages and home-cured bacon and ham. Blacks Deli can provide all you need from a picnic to a gourmet dinner party; Moorlands Dairy has such a vast selection of local cheese that its owner is nicknamed 'Cheesy Pete', and James Bowden & Sons and Webber & Sons are 100-year-old family-run department stores which claim to sell everything. The Big Red Sofa invites you to sip a coffee while browsing the books. Buy local artwork at Chagford Galleries or The Monks Withecombe Gallery. Divine and Susan at No.10 stock ladies' clothes.
Arnolds Ironmongery & Hardware in Moretonhampstead stocks bicycle parts and carries out repairs in its Bovey Tracey shop. Listen to live jazz at Bovey Tracey farmers' market every other Saturday and pick up local deli products or enjoy a home-cooked lunch from Mann & Son and Country Cuisine. Weavers display their skill during the summer at Bovey Handloom Weavers, and the Devon Guild of Craftsmen has constantly changing exhibitions of top quality craftwork. Try painting your own ceramics at Cardew Pottery.
On the outskirts of the moor, Ashburton boasts around 11 antiques dealers plus the famed Fish Deli and Ashburton Delicatessen. Velizioso, an Italian deli in Fore Street, Buckfastleigh, serves breakfast, home-cooked lunches and home-made cakes, with more home-cooking at The Singing Kettle. Okehampton has its attractive Victorian Arcade and Red Lion Yard precinct; you can find women's clothes in Teazles and Abstracts and in Angel, along Fore Street. Further south, the newly opened Beau at the Leg o' Mutton in Yelverton stocks ladies' clothes and accessories, while Tavistock has its famous pannier market, open from Tuesday to Saturday.
Tor to Tor operates a free delivery service within a certain radius or for customers ordering a meat box. You can also visit the farm shop at Holwell Farm near Widecombe-in-the-Moor, (01647) 221335 or 221534. Eversfield Organic offers free delivery on its Meat Box Club which costs £60 a month for a box, although you can order one item if you wish and pay for delivery or pick-up from the farm shop at Bratton Clovelly near Okehampton, (0845)603 8004.
Have a hot, home-cooked lunch delivered on weekdays for just £2.50 from Michael Howard Quality Family Butcher & Delicatessen of Moretonhampstead, or visit the shop for local meats, game and free-range poultry, plus fish, home-made pasties and cakes, locally made granola and deli products. At the click of a mouse you can order luxury chocolates, hand-made from Browne's Chocolates, Okehampton
(01837) 55681, www.brownes.co.uk.
On the moor, the traditional stone village pub is certainly the hub. In Chagford, there are four, including the stone-built Three Crowns. Try the Rugglestone and The Old Inn at Widecombe or The Cleave at Lustleigh. A walk along the upper Teign at Fingle Bridge can be followed by a cream tea at the Fingle Bridge Inn. The Castle Inn at Lydford or the nearby Dartmoor Inn will keep you going if you're walking through Lydford Gorge, while the 13th-century Highwayman Inn at Sourton is convenient for the Granite Way. The Tors at Belstone is situated right at the edge of the open moor. The Plume of Feathers is Princetown's oldest building, constructed in 1756, and was a former coaching inn.
If you're climbing Hay Tor, drop into the The Rock Inn at Haytor Vale. After a swim in the river near Huccaby, cross the bridge and travel up the hill for the Forest Inn at Hexworthy. Some of the pubs have unusual names, like The Leaping Salmon at Horrabridge, The Leg o' Mutton Inn at Yelverton or The Who'd Have Thought It Inn at Milton Combe - deemed to have been Sir Francis Drake's local - and so-called on account of the landlord's surprise at being granted a licence when they were introduced. Moretonhampstead and Bovey Tracey each have several pubs and there are plenty more in all the periphery towns.
Tea rooms are equally popular. At Dartmeet you have Brimpts Farm and Badgers Holt, which sits right on the river. In Chagford, Whiddons is known for its treacle pud, The Old Forge Tea Rooms for savoury tarts and The Courtyard for its organic fare. For upmarket European cuisine, drop into 22 Mill Street.
Open to non-residents
Many moorland hotels are open to non-residents. Enjoy a half-price swim in the pool with a three-course lunch at the Ilsington Country House Hotel. If you are walking in Wistman's Wood with your dog, both are welcome at the Prince Hall Hotel, signposted off the B3357 near Two Bridges; here you can savour the breathtaking views over coffee, lunch, tea or dinner. Dine in the splendour of the former home of Viscount Hambleden at Bovey Castle, North Bovey. The Sandy Park Inn, Sandy Park, near Castle Drogo won the Les Routiers Inn of the Year regional award last year and has fly fishing and clay target shooting on site. Celebrity chef Michael Caines serves his modern European cuisine at The Gidleigh Park Hotel.
Chagford Singers perform works from the 14th to the 21st centuries: contact Secretary Frances Spencer on (01822) 613279 or log onto www.thechagfordsingers.co.uk. Moortones is a male voice choir in Moretonhampstead with an affiliated female section: call Musical Director John Willis on (01647) 440456. The Dartmoor Folk Festival is held from 8-10 August this year in South Zeal. Log onto www.dartmoorfolkfestival.co.uk. Based in east Dartmoor, MED Theatre stages regular performances (01647) 441356, www.medtheatre.co.uk.
Sport & Leisure
Dartmoor offers the widest choice of sports in Devon and includes horse riding, wild camping, cycling (either on moorland tracks or along designated trails), rock climbing and abseiling, and canoeing on the Dart from October to March when the river rushes with the winter rain and the salmon are not spawning. See the British Canoe Union website www.bcu.org.uk for details of local canoe clubs, the British Mountaineering Council (www.thebmc.co.uk) for local climbing groups.
Free cycle and canoe shuttle buses may operate this year, subject to funding. Download leaflets on all these sports or buy the Off-road Cycling Map from the website www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk.
Walkers have an extensive choice of walks led by local guides and you can take a course in map reading from the National Park Authority. The Ramblers' Association www.ramblers.org.uk is very active; the local RA group is the Moorland Group, which walks every Sunday at 10am (e-mail Michael Willis on email@example.com).
Chagford boasts the largest freshwater swimming pool in the country. Numerous stables offer horse riding for all levels, and golf enthusiasts can tee off at Bovey Castle, Christow, Okehampton, Yelverton and Tavistock. Try the Teign Valley Golf Course and Hotel (01647) 253026) for a particularly picturesque location.
The Holne Chase Hotel offers falconry courses.
Children and teenagers can let off steam at River Dart Adventures near Ashburton, which offers climbing, canoeing, zip wires and abseiling, plus a toddlers' beach and play area (01364) 652511). Spirit of Adventure runs day and residential courses in canoeing, white water kayaking, rock climbing and walking (01822) 880277).