When you’re zooming around in your car it can be difficult to fully appreciate the beauty, culture or history which are all around you. During our recent trip we experienced three different ways to explore Dartmoor and Devon, which let us get a much closer look at our surroundings.
THREE WAYS TO REALLY EXPLORE DARTMOOR & DEVON
1- JOIN A GUIDED WALK IN TAVISTOCK (with MOORLAND GUIDES)
Tavistock is steeped in history so we joined a walking tour by Moorland Guides to learn more about the origins of the town and its monastery. Our guide, Andrew, sensibly pitched his talk at the level of our 12, 9 and 7 year old sons and kept the tour interactive by testing the children’s knowledge of history and nudging them to recall key facts and figures he’d previously referred to in the talk. The children were engaged and had plenty of questions of their own to ask in return.
We all thought the tour was interesting and informative and gave us a good idea of why the town had developed as it had. We thought that ninety minutes was long enough and the maximum length you’d want it to be with children in tow.
The children said:-
It was interesting and the guide was really friendly. We liked seeing the Abbot’s Porch and learning about granite. We enjoyed learning and not just walking for the whole time.
We think it’s a good idea to do a tour like this at the start of a stay as it’s a great way to get your bearings whilst offering the opportunity to appreciate architecture and history behind places you might visit during the remainder of your stay.
2- CYCLE ALONG THE GRANITE WAY (with DEVON CYCLE HIRE)
I do enjoy a bike ride but living in coastal Portishead with its ‘impressive’ hills makes cycling as a family something of a challenge for us. We drove to Sourton where Devon Cycle Hire kitted us out efficiently with bikes, helmets and a lock. Part of National Cycle Route 27, the family friendly Granite Way offers eleven miles of well-surfaced trail along a former railway line between Lydford and Okehampton which can be accessed directly from Devon Cycle Hire.
Along the route you can enjoy sights like Lake Viaduct, Meldon Viaduct, Sourton Church, Lydford Castle, Okehampton Castle and the old railway station. With beautiful views across Dartmoor the route is fairly flat but not boringly so. You can hire bikes for a whole or a half day and if you fancy stopping for lunch, there are plenty of pubs to choose from along the route.
I was impressed with the service and high quality of the bikes from Devon Cycle Hire and did get rather attached to mine by the end! The gentle slopes keep the route interesting, the views are tremendous and having a section of country pubs from which to choose your lunch stop is terribly civilised! We all loved this activity and it was such a pleasure to be able to enjoy it together as a family.
If you really fall in love with your ride, it’s worth mentioning it to Devon Cycle Hire as they do offer the option to buy second-hand bikes!
3- STEAM THROUGH THREE ATTRACTIONS WITH SOUTH DEVON RAILWAY
Dating back to 1872 the former Great Western Railway branch line, originally designed and engineered by Brunel, runs along the valley of the River Dart. Once used mainly for freight, sheep and cattle, it now transports tourists enjoying a leisurely ride. Neighbouring attractions offer a discounted combined ticket which includes South Devon Railway, Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies. We chose to go on a train ride first.
ATTRACTION 1 – THE SOUTH DEVON RAILWAY TRUST TRAIN
We made ourselves comfortable on the train that was waiting for us at Buckfastleigh station and steamed off towards the Rare Breeds Farm right at the other end of the line seven miles away in Totnes. En route we relaxed, enjoyed the scenery and looked out for kingfishers which can sometimes be seen around the River Dart.
This is a pleasant way to see the beautiful South Devon countryside and enjoy some living history. Having the option of all three attractions on one ticket gave us plenty to do for the whole day.
Just sit back and enjoy a relaxing ride!
ATTRACTION 2 – RARE BREEDS FARM AT TOTNES
“Totes Rare breeds farm is a non-profit making organisation which …. aims to preserve endangered species of farm animals and the diversity of British wildlife.”
We were given the opportunity to stroke all sorts of owls which were very friendly, thanks to all the attention their handler gives them.
Visitors are encouraged to go into some of the pens and interact with the animals. The cheeky goats are a favourite, amusing everyone by ripping the food bags we’d bought out of our hands and coat pockets when they decided we weren’t feeding them quickly enough!
The red squirrels in their big run were also fun to watch. It was good to see these small creatures enjoying lots of space in which they could keep active.
We didn’t manage to escape without a visit to the petting section where even the big boys enjoyed handling guinea pigs.
The farm is small enough to be manageable for younger children but there’s plenty to see and do for older children and their grown-ups too.
If your child is confident enough, buy a bag of food and enjoy spending some time with the cheeky goats!
ATTRACTION 3 – BUCKFAST BUTTERFLIES & DARTMOOR OTTER SANCTUARY
The final attraction of the combined ticket was otters and butterflies – one of those places I thought we’d be in and out of within an hour, tops. Ha,ha, ha!
Walking through this tropical paradise I felt like I’d stepped into a Disney film as these beautiful creatures flew all around me, passing right in front of my face or landing on a nearby leaf. A variety of multicoloured chrysalises hung in orderly lines. Waterfalls trickled, turtles crawled lazily and giant goldfish swim through the pool below the bridge I was standing on. It was quite mesmerising but eventually we dragged ourselves away to visit the otters outside.
The aim of the sanctuary is to prevent otters becoming extinct in the wild so they carry out a lot of rescue work here. David the owner explained how they work with other centres to rescue and release British otters into the wild. The otters here are either part of a breeding programme or ones which have become humanised.
After spending a while wandering around the different enclosures, trying to catch a glimpse of an otter, it was time for their dinner and the talk which went with it. Lasting about 35 minutes,feeding time was the absolute highlight of our visit. We saw the otters from every angle and found out a lot about them and the centre.
We learned that the animals keep their bed area clean, that Asian otters are breeders for life and that they’re given dog toys to play with as they’re durable – and these fellows have sharp teeth!
This place isn’t about the money. It’s a labour of love by everyone concerned.
We finally left after a couple of hours armed with significantly more knowledge about the inmates than when we’d arrived, and with a warm fuzzy glow. I’d say this is well worth a visit.
If at all possible, time your visit to coincide with feeding time and the fabulous talk which accompanies it.
So we walked, we cycled and we rode on a steam train, but which was the best? I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions!
How would you explore Dartmoor?
For more ideas of what to do in Dartmoor with kids, have a look at my previous posts:-
6 Fun Family Outings in the Dartmoor Area
and you’ll find lots of ideas and detailed reviews of family friendly accommodation (which are all big enough to accommodate a family of five) here:-
Bedford Hotel Tavistock Video Review, Helpful Holidays Bovey Castle Lodge Video Tour, Woodovis Park Family Holiday and Moorland Garden Luxury Hotel.
Dartmoor Accommodation is a fantastic holiday planning tool. If you’re thinking of visiting this part of Devon, it’s well worth contacting Lisa about any aspect of your trip as she’s very knowledgeable and remarkably organised!
web: Dartmoor Accommodation
email: lisa @ dartmooraccommodation
tel: 01822 810827
Thanks to all those who invited us to review their properties, facilities and activities and hosted us free of charge for the purposes of putting together this guide and a special thank you to Dartmoor Accommodation who did such a brilliant job of arranging this whole trip for us. If you’re considering taking a trip to the Dartmoor area or any of the attractions listed, do take a look at their websites below as they provide helpful information and some offer special rates when you book with them on-line.