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Occupying the main part of the county between Exeter and Plymouth, DARTMOOR is southern England's greatest expanse of wilderness, some 365 square miles of raw granite, barren bogland, sparse grass and heather-grown moor. It was not always so desolate, as testified by the remnants of scattered Stone Age settlements and the ruined relics of the area's nineteenth-century tin-mining industry. Today desultory flocks of sheep and groups of ponies are virtually the only living creatures to be seen wandering over the central fastnesses of the National Park, with solitary birds – buzzards, kestrels, pipits, stonechats and wagtails – wheeling and hovering high above.
The core of Dartmoor, characterized by tumbling streams and high tors chiselled by the elements, is Dartmoor Forest. Networks of signposts or painted stones exist to guide walkers, but map-reading abilities are a prerequisite for any but the shortest walks. Overnight parking is only allowed in authorized places and camping should be out of sight of houses and roads.
A significant portion of northern Dartmoor, containing the moor's highest tors and some of its most famous beauty spots, is run by the Ministry of Defence; entry is prohibited during firing practice, so check at Tel:0800/458 4868 or Web: www.dartmoor-ranges.co.uk . Information on all of Dartmoor is given by the main National Park information centre in Princetown (Tel:01822/890414, Web: www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk ).
Scattered accommodation options include several camping barns administered by the YHA (Tel:01629/592700 , www.yha.org.uk). In Princetown, on the B3212 road that crosses the moor, try Duchy House on Tavistock Road (Tel:01822/890552, email@example.com; no credit cards; closed Nov; Price: 41-50). On the northeastern edge of the moor, in the market town of Moretonhampstead, there's classy accommodation at the Old Post House, 18 Court Street (Tel:01647/440900, Web: www.theoldposthouse.com ; no credit cards; Price: 51-60), and Cookshayes, at 33 Court Street (Tel:01647/440374, Web: www.cookshayes.co.uk ; Price: 41-50; closed Nov– Feb), and a first-rate vegetarian hostel, Sparrowhawk Backpackers, at 45 Ford St (Tel:01647/440318, Web: www.sparrowhawkbackpackers.co.uk ; dorms £14, rooms £35). In Okehampton, on the northern fringes of Dartmoor, the beamed Fountain Hotel (Tel:01837/53900; Price: 51-60), an old coaching inn, has rooms with character, or there's cheaper B&B at Meadowlea, 65 Station Rd (Tel:01837/53200, Web: www.meadowleaguesthouse.co.uk ; Price: 41-50).
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