Thatched roofs, real ale, tors, tombs and moorland – Dartmoor National Park, in Devon, has everything you’d expect from the traditional English countryside. And with characterful hotels, rustic eateries and blood-pumping adventures, you’re in for a treat. Here’s our pick of the best.
You’ll want to drive slowly along the serpentine roads of Dartmoor: the sprawling national park is full of wandering livestock, but a slow drive also allows you to take in the spectacularly rugged countryside. Hikers will love the weather-carved tors, remote moors and deep river valleys, while historians will be in their element exploring neolithic tombs and prehistoric menhirs. Those after a little R&R can expect a deep slumber in quiet villages within the park.
With a thatched roof, whitewashed exterior and overflowing flower beds, the 13th-century Ring of Bells Inn is a welcome sight when you’ve been hiking through the rugged wilds of Dartmoor National Park. After staggering in with muddy boots and wind-tangled hair, retreat to your room, turn on the in-room kettle and lounge on your pillowy Hypnos bed with a brew and locally made biscuits. Most rooms have a bath if you fancy an evening soak, and when it’s time for grub, head downstairs for hearty pub fare and West Country real ale next to the toasty log burner.
This medieval stone and cob longhouse, on the edge of Dartmoor, has wonky beams, bumpy walls and crooked ceilings that match the untamed nature of the moors. Wake up to the sound of birdsong, then tuck into a complimentary locally sourced breakfast before slipping on your wellies for long walks through dew-laced woodland. If the wind looks particularly fierce, retreat to your room and relax with a good book in the sheepskin-draped window nook. Alternatively, browse the vintage oddities and extensive film library (there is no TV signal but each room has a DVD player); or you can grab a glass of biodynamic wine from the honesty bar as chilled music pipes through the Sonos system.
The rooms at Glazebrook House, up a tartan-covered staircase overlooked by an emu skeleton, are named after Alice in Wonderland characters that will send you tumbling down a rabbit hole into a world of eccentric luxury. The Mad Hatter is decorated above the bed with wall-mounted doll’s houses complete with tiny windows, and the Jabberwocky has brushed-steel aircraft engine mirrors that you can catch your reflection in. In the White Rabbit room, relax on the sheepskin bed – fittingly reminiscent of a bunny tail. If you fancy yourself a connoisseur, sample some wine or whisky under the watchful eye of the tasting room’s Winston Churchill bust, then sober up with a stroll around the gardens.
It’s one thing trekking through the Dartmoor wilderness, but to see it from the sky is something else altogether. There are many hot-air balloon tours in the area that will take you up and show you Devon’s natural wonders, all the while sipping champagne as you gaze down at the jigsaw-piece wetlands, rolling hills and heather-clad moors. Along the way, you may also catch sight of the overgrown ruins of the 15th-century Plymouth Castle and the magical Lukesland Gardens.
It’s not just cows and sheep you’ll see roaming the craggy moorland of Dartmoor; this rugged landscape is also home to many hardy ponies. Make sure to pack your walking boots and camera as you’ll be clambering over rocks to get a shot of the grazing creatures. If you’re unsure where to start, why not join a tour led by a professional photographer, who will show you the best techniques, vantage points and angles for a quintessential Dartmoor pony photo. You can expect to capture a lone pony in mid-gallop, a herd drinking from a rocky stream or, in the summer, a picture-perfect shot of prancing foals.
Once you’ve had your fill of blustery walks, you’ll likely be craving some time in the shops and pubs of Dartmoor’s villages. If you don’t fancy the drive, hop on a tour and sit back as your driver winds through the scenic countryside. You’ll be able to enjoy a couple of stops for photos at archaeological sites on the way, but soon you’ll be pootling along the cobblestone streets, rummaging through antique shops and indulging in warming drinks at a traditional boozer.
Wisteria cascading down stone walls, windows flickering with light from the log fire – this quintessential English pub will have you yanking off your boots and heading inside for hearty beef and ale pie in winter, while on sunny days, you’ll enjoy devouring a traditional steak pasty in the garden. Be careful when carrying your pints of local ale outside, though, as you’ll need to cross a small footbridge over a trickling stream, while clucking silkie hens and curious ducks roam nearby.
The Riverford Field Kitchen specialises in plant-centric, organic, seasonal fare, with vegetables and fruit picked daily from the garden, while the grass-fed animals provide locally farmed meat. Dishes range from burnt pointed cabbage drizzled with brown butter vinaigrette to tender grilled lamb sprinkled with fresh oregano. And it’s not just the food that’s Instagram-worthy – the walls are with rustic bunches of wildflowers, garlic and dried chilli peppers. You’ll need to make a booking, as the chefs cater exactly to the number of people coming, in a bid to reduce waste.
Wandering through the floral labyrinth of the Walled Garden, you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled into Eden. The fragrant gardens, behind a 400-year-old thatched cottage, have winding pathways that twist through manicured bushes and vibrant flowerbeds to tables and chairs hidden in secluded nooks. Cream tea is the order of the day here; as you smother your scones with thick cream and jam, keep an eye out for hungry birds. If your rumbling stomach requires something heartier, the home-made burgers and pies will hit the spot.