DARTMOOR SCENIC DRIVE
This scenic drive across Dartmoor National Park takes in Bronze Age hut circles, ancient dwarf-oak woodland, cosy pub, traditional moorland village, Victorian prison and epic views
North Bovey - Two Bridges - Princetown - Dartmeet - Buckland in the Moor - Widecombe in the Moor - Hound Tor - North Bovey
Start your driving tour from North Bovey and head out to meet the B3212 towards Princetown. A slight detour takes you to one of the most complete examples of the moor’s prehistoric villages, a stone enclosure littered with 24 Bronze Age hut circles. First settled about 1300 BC, Grimspound’s stone perimeter wall is thought to have stood at 1.7 metres high in places. The roundhouses were made from double granite walls with a rubble infill - a technique still used in dry-stone walling. The eerie setting was the model for the prehistoric hut in which Sherlock Holmes spent the night in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Free, and open all year round. > More Dartmoor prehistoric villages
2. Wistmans Wood, Two Bridges
The next stop on your Dartmoor road trip is to Wistman’s Wood, a vestige of the prehistoric dwarf oak trees that used to cover Dartmoor. Here, a moss-covered, boulder-strewn woodland floor is dotted with stunted oaks furred with mosses and lichen. The easy one-hour walk starts from the Two Bridges Hotel, near Princetown. Park at Two Bridges Hotel, near Princetown, PL20 6SW.
3. Dartmoor Prison, Princetown
Skip this part of the scenic drive if you’re squeamish - it’s not for the faint-hearted. The Mad Axeman, Frank Mitchell and the Acid Bath Murderer were all inmates at Dartmoor Prison, a grim, gothic jail in the mist-wreathed Dartmoor town of Princetown. Once a byword for the most violent offenders, the prison – now Category C – has a museum for the macabre-minded, featuring makeshift weapons and confiscated escape gear. Most shocking is a razor mounted on the tip of a toothbrush and vicious knuckle-dusters made of six-inch nails. Most amusing is the time-honoured classic of knotted bed sheets, once used in an escape attempt. Also on display are leather-belted tunics, which were used for restraint, and a fading photo of a "mad cupboard", in which deranged prisoners were locked and doused with freezing water.
Take a break from your driving tour to take in this scenic spot where the East and West Dart rivers meet; nearby is an ancient field system and an 18th century bridge. A shallow section of water makes for ideal summer paddling round the scattered rocks.
5. Buckland in the Moor
The next stop on your scenic drive is this tiny hamlet, one of the most irresistibly pretty in Devon, with a gorgeous scattering of thatched cottages and an ancient church. Stroll across the hill above Buckland to find the ten commandments carved into an exposed rock.
6. Widecombe in the Moor
This stunning moorland village is one of Dartmoor’s most beautiful sights and a highlight of any road trip across Dartmoor. Its church, St Pancras, has an immense 40m tower that has seen it dubbed the Cathedral of the Moor. Inside, search out the boards telling the fire-and-brimstone tale of the violent storm of 1638 – it knocked a pinnacle from the roof, killing several parishioners. As ever on Dartmoor, the Devil was blamed, said to be in search of souls. Stop for lunch at the Rugglestone Inn, which with flagstone floors, open fires and Dartmoor ale poured straight from the barrel, will make you want to move to Dartmoor immediately. The rudimentary bar is tiny, providing plenty of opportunity to join in on the old boys’ conversations. The two restaurants - one of which has an open log fire - are more spacious - and outside, over a small bridge, is a large sheltered garden with picnic tables and fabulous views. There’s a lovely National Trust shop in the main square selling, amongst other homewares, beautiful blankets.
7. Hound Tor
The last stop on your driving tour is to the jumble of boulders that make up Hound Tor, which has one of the most easily accessible and expansive viewpoints in Dartmoor. Supposedly the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s moorland classic, The Hound of the Baskervilles, the tor is a gentle, half-mile walk from the car park along grassy paths and dells. Look out for ‘letterboxes’ – Tupperware boxes hidden by grown-up treasure trailers – hidden between the crevices. At the top, you can see the rocky peaks of several other tors, as well as Widecombe-in-the-Moor and Bowerman's Nose. Just southeast of the tor, are the remains of a medieval village. From here, it’s a short drive back to North Bovey.