Even on a summer's day, the brooding hills of this sprawling wilderness appear a likely haunt for such monsters as the hound of the Baskervilles, and it seems entirely fitting that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Sherlock Holmes thriller in this landscape. Sometimes the wet, peaty wasteland of Dartmoor National Park vanishes in rain and mist, although in clear weather you can see north to Exmoor, south over the English Channel, and west far into Cornwall. Much of Dartmoor consists of open heath and moorland, unspoiled by roads—wonderful walking and horseback-riding territory but an easy place to lose your bearings. Dartmoor's earliest inhabitants left behind stone monuments and burial mounds that help you envision prehistoric man roaming these pastures. Ponies, sheep, and birds are the main animals to be seen.
Several villages scattered along the borders of this 368-square-mile reserve—one-third of which is owned by Prince Charles—make useful bases for hiking excursions.
Accommodations include simple inns and some elegant havens. Okehampton is a main gateway, and Chagford is a good base for exploring north Dartmoor. Other scenic spots include Buckland-in-the-Moor, a hamlet with thatch-roof cottages; Widecombe-in-the-Moor, whose church is known as the Cathedral of the Moor; and Grimspound, the Bronze Age site featured in Conan Doyle's most famous tale. Transmoor Link buses connect many of Dartmoor's towns and villages. The National Park Visitor Centre in Princetown is a good place to start your trip, as are centers in Postbridge and Haytor. You can also pick up information in Ivybridge, Okehampton, Moretonhampstead, Tavistock, and Buckfastleigh.