Road Tripping Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park
Exploring Dartmoor in the Vauxhall Mokka X
United Kingdom

Petting a wild pony in Dartmoor National Park probably wasn’t the best idea. It lunged for my hand, attempting to bite. There’s a reason these furry ponies are called “wild!”

Dartmoor has sometimes been described as the ‘last wilderness’ of the United Kingdom. Its vast open landscape is home to a variety of unique features — wet peaty bogs, stunted oak forests, rocky outcroppings called “tors”, and icy mountain waterfalls.

If you’re looking to escape London for a while, Dartmoor National Park is an excellent place to relax and enjoy the serenity of nature. The park is only a 4-5 hour drive away from the hustle & bustle of the city.

My friends at Vauxhall loaned me their new Mokka X SUV for the trip, a fun city-friendly turbo diesel with 4×4 capability that can handle off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Dartmoor Ponies at Haytor
Wild Dartmoor Ponies
Sunset at Saddle Tor
Lone Hawthorne Tree at Sunset

Exploring Dartmoor In Autumn

Autumn in Dartmoor is a beautiful time to visit. Sure, it’s a bit colder then normal, but the ground and trees are rich in color. A mix of burnt reds, yellows, and greens. There are less people on the roads too.

The narrow lanes in Dartmoor are a lot of fun to drive, if not a bit scary.

Winding asphalt hugs the hills & valleys, passing through small villages from time to time. Some of the smaller roads are single lane, causing trouble when two people approach from opposite directions.

The area is covered with small stone bridges too. Some of them, called “clapper” bridges, date back to the 1300’s. You can’t drive on the clappers, but they’re a wonderful piece of British history.

Emsworthy Farm
Emsworthy Farm
Waterfalls in Dartmoor
Beautiful Venford Falls

Legends Of Dartmoor

Humans have been living on Dartmoor for at least 12,000 years, so there is a ton of history here. Which means there are plenty of legends and myths too. Here are some of my favorite…

Spectral Hounds: Roaming the misty mires and barren hills of Dartmoor at night, abnormally large and ghostly black dogs patrol the region, and you don’t want to be around to meet them…

Pixies: Small mythical creatures with pointed ears who live in caves, around stone circles, and cause mischief. Similar to fairies and sprites, but a different race.

Headless Horseman: Multiple tales of a headless horseman riding fast over narrow lanes after dark, sometimes accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds.

The Devil’s Visit: Back in 1638, the Devil visited St. Pancras Church in the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Lightning struck its tower, killing 4 people inside during Sunday mass.

Vauxhall Apple Car Play
Apple Car Play is Great for Road Trips!
Vauxhall Destination Download
Destination Download with OnStar

The Vauxhall Mokka X

Traveling from London out to the wilds of Dartmoor, the Vauxhall Mokka X was a perfect road trip companion during my drive. It’s full of features that make long road trips through unfamiliar territory an absolute pleasure.

Apple Car Play

The ability to connect the car’s touchscreen to my phone, and control my apps is super handy. I listened to my Spotify playlists, loaded previously saved navigation routes, and could make calls with ease. You can even access the power of Siri by pressing a button on your steering wheel!

Destination Download

With OnStar activated in the Mokka X, you can press the OnStar button to call an operator and ask for directions, which will then be uploaded into your car’s navigation system automatically. So nice! It’s like having a personal assistant for your drive.

4×4 All Wheel Drive

The compact size of the Mokka X makes it great for city driving, but with good clearance and 4×4 electronic all wheel drive capability, you can easily navigate winter roads, steep rocky inclines, or muddy off-road tracks in the countryside when you need more traction.

Remote Unlock

Vauxhall has it’s own smartphone app, called My Vauxhall, which gives you all kinds of power over your Mokka X. For example, you can lock or unlock the vehicle from further away then your key fob allows, check tire pressure or fuel level, plus much more.

Haytor Rocks in Dartmoor
Haytor Rocks
Climbing in Dartmoor
Climbing the Granite at Haytor

Hiking Around Haytor

Dartmoor National Park is covered in “tors”, exposed granite rock outcrops sitting on the summit of hills in the region. There are hundreds of these, some of them are pretty impressive.

Many can be climbed, either by scrambling, or rock proper climbing with ropes. One of the most famous is called Haytor.

Hill walking through the moors is a popular activity in Dartmoor, and you can find short or long-distance trails all over the place.

Many take you from tor to tor, passing by old farms, ancient stone circles, or ruined Bronze-age villages along the way.

Mokka X Off Road
Exploring Off-Road with the Mokka X
Sheep in Dartmoor
So Many Sheep!

Dartmoor Ponies

Dartmoor has its own special breed of horses, called the Dartmoor Pony. These hardy ponies have been living on the moor for millennia — there’s evidence of them from 3,500 years ago.

They reminded me a lot of Icelandic ponies, with thick fur, long manes, and short powerful bodies. The harsh winter weather on Dartmoor can be similar to Iceland too.

While the Dartmoor ponies are collectively owned by locals, they roam free throughout the national park, and are not handled by humans. So be careful if you approach, there’s the possibility of getting bitten or kicked.

Yes these ponies are super cute, but they are still wild!

Dartmoor Pony Group
Herd of Dartmoor Ponies
Driving Dartmoor National Park
Driving Dartmoor National Park

Tips For Visiting Dartmoor

There are a handful of villages within the park with decent accommodation like Postbridge and Two Bridges. I spent 3 nights at the Two Bridges Hotel, a wonderful old building on the side of a river. They have an excellent restaurant too.

Some people decide to stay outside the park in the towns of Tavistock or Bovey Tracey. Summer is the most popular time to visit, but I had a great time enjoying the fall colors of early November.

You can embark on all kinds of different outdoor activities in Dartmoor — hiking tors, horseback riding, cycling, rock climbing, even whitewater kayaking is popular here. Wild camping is allowed in certain areas of the park, you can find a map here.

Driving to Dartmoor from London was a fun little weekend road trip getaway. It was nice to discover a slice of rural life in the United Kingdom that I hadn’t experienced before. ★

Watch Video: Dartmoor National Park


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Travel Planning Resources For Dartmoor National Park

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights on Skyscanner. This is my favorite search engine to find deals on airlines. Also make sure to read how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent apartments from locals on Airbnb. Read more about how I book cheap hotels online.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Great Britain
Suggested Reading: Hound Of The Baskervilles

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Dartmoor National Park road trip in the United Kingdom. More at ExpertVagabond.com
Dartmoor National Park road trip in the United Kingdom. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE SCOTLAND TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on driving in the Scottish Highlands! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Have any questions about Dartmoor? Do you think the ponies are cute? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Vauxhall

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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Comments (13)

  1. Yes, the ponies are cute, but that is correct that they are wild – literally. They have a fear of humans and may see us as a threat. But it would be nice to see them in the wild, running free.

  2. I’d love to go there again, perhaps with my daughter! If we do I think we may stay at the Two Bridges Hotel, it looks very British and adorable

    • Two Bridges is a perfect base for exploring the area. The hotel was fun, felt like I stepped back in time a few decades.

  3. One of our dream road trips is around UK. Glad reading this blog post & beautiful pictures. Those sheep remind me so much of Shaun the Sheep.

  4. I visited Dartmoor many years ago with my parents, I was only about ten. My dad actually did get to pet one of the ponies, very briefly. I have photo evidence, taken with my Kodak Instamatic :-) His fingers were intact afterwards ;-)

    I’d love to go there again, perhaps with my daughter! If we do I think we may stay at the Two Bridges Hotel, it looks very British and adorable. I only hope they can serve some vegan dishes…

    I agree with the Beatrix Potter comment above!

  5. Those ponies ARE so cute, lol. The sheep, too. I love wildlife in the UK, somehow it seems very Beatrix Potter. =)

    Great photos as always.