Just a few hundred yards across the moor on one side of the road was Hound Tor with all the chilling resonances of The Hound of the Baskervilles. On the other side, there was a chocolate-box scene as a Dartmoor pony mare grazed quietly with her foal.
There were more contrasts a little further along that ribbon road stretching away over the undulating moor.
At Postbridge, youngsters paddled in the shallow, but still icy, waters spanned by the ancient clapper bridge. Compare that with the grim sight of the grey, forbidding prison as you drive into Princetown – another ‘chocolate box to Conan Doyle’ moment.
However, there are a lot more sights and experiences to warm your heart on Dartmoor than moments to send a chill down your spine. And when you do glimpse the prison and imagine the gangs of Victorian convicts breaking up rocks or recall reading of the howl of the hound through a rolling mist, it serves to heighten the charm of so many delightful places in this very beautiful corner of Britain.
We were staying in an ideal place to enjoy Dartmoor in all its guises, the Ilsington Country House Hotel, now being run by the fourth generation of the Hassel family, brothers Tim and Richard. It’s close to Haytor with its National Park Visitor Centre and walk up to the rock formation. It’s also near the town of Bovey Tracy, one of the gateways to Dartmoor.
It’s such a peaceful setting with wonderful views up to the heather-clad higher curves of the moor. There’s an indoor pool and health centre with spa facilities, fitness equipment and treatments from the resident beautician and therapist.
There are two choices for food, either the restaurant with all the gourmet trimmings or the less formal Blue Tiger Inn.
All in all, it’s idyllic, and the temptation is to stay put instead of exploring further around Dartmoor. There are plenty of places to visit, however. The lanes can be narrow in places, typical of Devon, but all you have to do is slow down and enjoy the reduced pace. There’s usually a handy passing place when you do meet traffic. Here are some places you shouldn’t miss.
Getting There: Car
From the north, the M5 takes you directly to Exeter. From here take the A30 dual carriageway towards Cornwall, turning off on to the north of Dartmoor at Whiddon Down. Alternatively, take the A38 towards Plymouth, turning off on to the eastern edge of Dartmoor at Bovey Tracey. From the south-east, the A303 brings you again directly to Exeter. From Cornwall, take the A30 towards Okehampton, turning off at Sourton Cross and head towards Tavistock in the east of the moor