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In response to my previous post, in which Ratnamurti asked an interesting question:  what is a “moor”? here is a post about moorland and Dartmoor in particular.

A moor, or moorland, is a type of landscape found in uplands areas of the United Kingdom, and is characterized by low-growing vegetation and is mainly on acidic soil.  Moorland today generally means uncultivated, rather hilly, land, such as Dartmoor in Devon, and Exmoor (which straddles both the counties of Devon and Somerset) and also includes low-lying wetlands, such as Sedgemoor, in Somerset.

Generally speaking, moorland refers to an area, too, where rainfall is substantially higher than average for the area.   In Cornwall, to the west of Devon, there is Bodmin Moor.  All my photos here are of Dartmoor National Park, in the various seasons of the year.



Dartmoor is one of the 15 National Parks in the UK, among which are the Lake District, New Forest, Peak District, Cairngorms, and Snowdonia National Parks.  National Parks are not theme parks, they are Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

On the Dartmoor National Park website it states that “Dartmoor National Park is one of the UK’s finest landscapes.”  Indeed, it is the largest open moor in southern England and “a place of remoteness and tranquillity.  Radiating out from the moorland core are deep river valleys cutting through enclosed farmland with distinctive field patterns and historic features which evidence our historic relationship with the land.”

One of those rivers is the River Dart, which takes its name from the moor and it enters the sea at Dartmouth, famous for Britannia Royal Navel College where Prince Charles, Prince Andrew (aka the Duke of York) and other members of the royal family have trained for service in the Royal Navy.

The River Dart where it enters the sea at Dartmouth


Dartmoor is lovely at any time of the year – above the ferns have turned to bracken, a wonderful rich deep reddish brown.

As well as being a lovely place for walkers – although preparations and precautions about what to wear and what to have with one are essential as mists can descend quickly and people can easily be lost on the moor – and riders, Dartmoor has a long history and it is rich in cultural heritage from early Bronze Ave stone rows and hut circles to abandoned medieval settlements.  The land has been exploited for its stone and mineral resources, too.

As I have said, there is a higher-than-average rainfall on Dartmoor.  Leats (watercourses built by people to transport water over long distances) were constructed to carry water from the high ground and thread across the open moor and through the enclosed farmland to provide drinking water for farms and villages, even for the population of the coastal city of Plymouth, several miles away.  Some of these leats are still fully operational.  Furthermore, in the 19th and 20th centuries, several dams and reservoirs were constructed on Dartmoor to provide drinking water to lowland towns and cities.

Here (above) are two views of Tottiford Reservoir (taken March 2011), which was the first major reservoir built in 1861. The most recent was built at Meldon in 1972.  Several old farmsteads had to be abandoned and disappeared under the water but at times of drought some of these farmsteads reappear, ghost buildings from the past.  Today, 45% of South West Water’s daily supply comes from Dartmoor.

Burrator Reservoir (winter 2009)



It would almost be impossible to visit Dartmoor without seeing animals although it is best known for the Dartmoor pony, the indigenous horse of the area. These are all owned but are allowed to roam free and are rounded up once a year to check on their health.  They are very resilient animals and can cope with the weather conditions on the moor.  There are also herds of sheep and cattle.  This is why there is a 40 mph driving speed for the moor as these animals are free to roam, there are no barriers shielding them from the roads.

I love the moor best at the end of summer when the gorse is a golden yellow and the heather is beginning to emerge.

With such a wonderful landscape – and one that can turn from blue skies and sunshine to damp and misty within minutes, little wonder that it has inspired writers, poets and painters over the centuries, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles which is on the moor. More recently Steven Spielberg set his film War Horse on Dartmoor.

Bikers enjoying a sedate 40 mph (or less) ride across the moor

There are areas of the moor which look totally different from other areas, notably this part with tufted grass which looks golden at almost any time of the year.

I don’t have many good photos of Dartmoor ‘tors’, granite outcrops of rock, but I do have one of Hay Tor which those more energetic than I like to climb.  I have done this once, but more than 50 years ago.

In the spring groups of young people compete in the Ten Tors Challenge, where for 48 hours they walk from tor to tor, sleeping under canvas.

The closer you get to sites of habitation, such as the towns of Ashburton and Tavistock, the wide open spaces become more contained within dry stone walls, and green fields emerge.

The main town of the moor is Tavistock, in West Devon, and it is the product of its two owners:  Tavistock Abbey from the 10th century to the 16th, and the earls and dukes of Bedford from the 16th to the 20th.  The abbey created the town and the Russells (the dukes of Bedford) gave it its present appearance and character.  Between them they owned the town from 974 to 1911.

But I shall leave our tour of Dartmoor here, in Tavistock.  I hope this has answered your question, Ratnamurti, regarding moors and moorland?

And one last photo, below, of typical Dartmoor scenery. There is even a seat here (unusual!) for visitors to enjoy the view in some degree of comfort.  This view was taken from the Warren Inn, which is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall (i.e. Prince Charles, as Duke of Cornwall) and where the fire has not been allowed to go out since 1845.

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. Thank you so much for this, Margaret. The photos, to me, show a hauntingly beautiful landscape. I was mesmerised looking at them. Quite a different sort of landscape, too, from what I’ve seen in photographs of Great Britain.

    You might be amused to know that gorse, which was introduced to New Zealand some years ago, is considered a weed, here. It grows like wildfire. Landowners are expected to dig it out. But on the moors, it just looks lovely. I believe, but am not 100% sure, that it was introduced for hedging. Which obviously didn’t happen.

    I was fascinated to see how different a moor is, to some of our national parks. It is so different. But so beautiful.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Yes, some plants, wonderful when newly-introduced, have quickly become garden, or countryside, ‘pests’. In Cornwall, rhododendron bushes abound, and lovely though they are when in bloom, there are rather a lot of them! Japanese knot weed is also a menace and can undermine the stability of buildings and I think if you find it growing on your property you must, by law, remove it. Of course, the various National Parks in the UK are not all moorland like Dartmoor, but they all have a charm and beauty of their own. Glad you enjoyed your virtual visit to Dartmoor, Ratnamurti!

  2. Thank you for the wonderful explanation and pictures of moors. As I’ve read English novels and moors were mentioned, I have wondered what they look like, and now I’ll be able to have beautiful pictures in my mind as I read! (I like to read your blog on my I-pad so I an really zoom in on the pictures…it’s such a pleasure to “visit” your country this way!)

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Hello, Joyce, and I’m glad you enjoyed your Dartmoor visit! I think we tend to take it for granted that people will know what moorland looks like which is silly if they don’t have such open spaces of this kind in their own countries. One thing I didn’t mention is that as Dartmoor has some very remote areas, and some of those are used as training ground for the military.
      There are also lots of small farms on Dartmoor, most of them either built from granite (the underlying rock) or are cob-walled and painted white. Cob is a semi-wet mix of stiff clay and chopped straw which can be put into position to form a wall by lifting it with a garden fork. Walls were made vertical by eye of the person making the wall, hence their quirks and irregularities! According to the historian, W G Hoskins, “Many surviving Tudor houses surviving in Devon are built of cob, as an example *Hayes Barton, where Ralegh was born in 1552.” Hoskins also mentions the book Small Talk at Wreyland by Cecil Torr in which Torr “cutting through the cob wall of an old house, found a silver coin embedded in the middle. This could only have got there when the cob was in a liquid state, and cold be dated between 1216 and 1249. It had been in circulation for a good many years so that the wall was perhaps built in the late 13th century. The cob was well over six hundred years old when cut through in 1919, and found to be as hard as brass for cutting.”
      (*Hayes Barton is in East Devon, not on Dartmoor.)

  3. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    We used to live on the outskirts of Okehampton Devon so Dartmoor was never far away, so passed through and stopped on many occasions, it is a beautiful place.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      I haven’t been out towards Okehampton for many years, but the drive through Dartmoor to get there is lovely, Marlene.

  4. Thank you for another interesting post Margaret, I can attest to the higher level of rainfall associated with moors having been caught out on several occasions! It’s good to remember that there are still some relatively remote places on our island, hauntingly beautiful and where nature still rules, perfect in my eyes.

  5. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    What an interesting post, and what a wealth of information, especially nice for those who are used to a different kind of landscape. Although I have visited Dartmoor several times (and Exmoor too ) I have given little thought to it other than to enjoy the scenery. Some lovely photography, as always.

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Thank you, Eloise. I was able to look up some of the facts in my local books. We don’t visit Dartmoor all that often because while it is beautiful, and we love a drive across the moor via Ashburton to Tavistock, we actually prefer the coast. But we’re lucky – we have both in Devon.

  6. Such a beautiful article !
    Thank you for the many beautiful photos and descriptive passages.
    I recall the beautiful scenery of the Lakes District (?) in the BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice when Lizzie is taken on holidays with her aunt and uncle. Breathtaking.
    Another wonderful trip with Margaret’s Tours !!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      Oh, that’s a good one: Margaret’s Tours! I shall be taking a virtual coach party somewhere else soon, perhaps to Beer (not the drink!) in East Devon … now that would be a challenge as on that virtual tour we’d need hard hats, we’d be visiting some historic quarry caves!
      Husband and I have never visited the Lake District, but we do know of its beauty. Indeed, younger son and his partner and Barry-the-dog visited there this year and really enjoyed the experience (they had lovely weather, which does make a difference to a holiday.) Glad you liked the photos of Dartmoor.

  7. Lovely pics, Margaret. Until a couple of years ago we had house between Postbridge, and the Warren Inn, to the right of your picture taken from the inn. You’re right about the rain!

    • Margaret Powling
      Margaret Powling

      my goodness, living on Dartmoor close to the Warren Inn! You must’ve almost grown webbed feet! Whether this was your main home or a holiday home, it was certainly in a wild and exposed position!

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