Perched high on the moor where the mists roll in and a Napoleonic prison looms large, Princetown has this other-worldly feel about it. I remember visiting as a kid and being instantly intrigued by a village that seemed to me - a softy southerner - as though it came from way up north somewhere, like Yorkshire or Lancashire or, what’s another one? Cumbria?

Princetown has an appealing bleakness to it that pulls visitors in and keeps some of them there (and I’m not talking about the prison that once incarcerated category A criminals, including Mad Axeman Frank Mitchell. It’s a Category C prison now). Many of Princetown’s residents have lived elsewhere and then ended up here in the highest village in Dartmoor National Park because there’s something about it.

People become passionate about Princetown and its heritage. It’s believed the village started as just a couple of cottages, built for farm labourers working at Tor Royal Farm in the 1700s. The farm was part of a drive to ‘tame and cultivate the moorland wilderness’. In 1806, the foundation stone was laid for a prison to relieve the hulks at Plymouth.

Great British Life: The National Park centre is in the old Duchy Hotel where Conan Doyle once stayed. The National Park centre is in the old Duchy Hotel where Conan Doyle once stayed. (Image: Photo: Martin Berry / Alamy)

Other claims to fame include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who stayed at the old Duchy Hotel (now Dartmoor National Park’s flagship visitor centre) and started writing his famous Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The history is fascinating and on show at both the Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre and Dartmoor Prison Museum. But the village has moved on in more recent times, thanks largely to more people and businesses setting up here. Princetown is increasingly modelling itself as a jumping off point for outdoor adventure because of its prime Dartmoor location with easy access to some of the best climbing, hiking, kayaking spots in the country.

In the village centre, you’ll find an outdoor equipment and clothing store run by polar explorer Jim McNeill (Ice Warrior) and a lifestyle store, cafe and clothing brand (Dewerstone).

Other points of interest include a nationally important whisky distillery, currently being built on a site close to. It’s been a long time in the making (ageing), but things are apparently nearly nearing completion.

There are promises of boosts to the local economy and a bright future for this place, famous for its adverse weather. Bring a proper coat and don’t let the mizzle dampen your spirits. This is a village well worth exploring.

Great British Life: DewerstoneDewerstone (Image: Dewerstone.)

Food & drink

The Plume of Feathers is Princetown's oldest building and public house. It closed after the pandemic but is being brought back to life. The bar and courtyard are fully open. They’re also serving coffee and cake. The kitchen was due to be up and running early this year.

The Prince of Wales (Tavistock Road) does decent grills sandwiches, jacket potatoes and more. The Prince of Wales four cheese platter looks irresistible.

Dewerstone outdoor lifestyle clothing brand has its flagship store in Tavistock Road, complete with café. They’ve also been known to host cocktail evenings.

The Fox Tor Café (Two Bridges Road) serves hearty all-day breakfasts, lunch and cream teas etc in warm and welcoming surroundings.

The Old Police Station Café (Tavistock Road) does all the favourites: pasties, fish and chips, burgers and more.

Great British Life: The shepherd's hut at Tor Royal. The shepherd's hut at Tor Royal. (Image: Tor Royal Farm)

Where to stay

Some of the foodie stops here double up as accommodation. The Fox Tor Café also has a bunkhouse, which can sleep up to 12 people.

The Prince of Wales offer comfortable, B & B en-suite rooms and bunkhouse accommodation suitable for single travellers on a budget or larger groups taking part in the many activities on the doorstep.

The Ramblers’ Rest has a choice of self-catering accommodation to suit all budgets, including an apartment. Owners Nikki and Terry recently splashed out on a 14ft hot spa pool to help revive and rejuvenate weary Dartmoor travellers. 

There’s a B&B, plus a shepherd’s hut and bell tents at Tor Royal, a family-run hill farm. The two six-metre-wide bell tents with ‘facilities pods’ are ideal for guests who want to feel in touch with the great outdoors but who also value flushing toilets.


Great British Life: Jim McNeill of Ice WarriorJim McNeill of Ice Warrior (Image: Jim McNeill)

Ice warrior Expedition Base Camp

The Ice Warrior Expedition Basecamp store sells a hand-picked selection of high-quality outdoor clothing and equipment. Founder Jim McNeill, a presenter and keynote speaker, with over 30 years of experience travelling in the polar regions, set up shop in Tavistock Road in 2017.

Moorland walks

There are many fantastic walks to enjoy, which start from the visitor centre car park. For a relatively easy stroll, start in Princetown and follow the route of a disused railway to Foggintor Quarry.

Jail time

Learn about life inside one of the world’s most famous and notorious jails. Dartmoor Prison Museum is a fascinating day out. More than 200 years of the prison’s turbulent history are brought to life through memorabilia, artefacts and displays.