For the first five years of studenthood at Exeter, I didn't have a car.

This is probably pretty normal for your standard, cash-strapped student (although having seen the wheels sported by most of the students here in Exeter, I'm beginning to wonder where exactly my baked-bean worshipping peers are hiding). 

In any case, being carless in Exeter is a particular shame as it means that the vast majority of one of England's most atmospheric national parks is completely off limits. Before, Dartmoor was only accessible when my parents came to stay (hooray for weekend day trips!) and after all these years of occasional visits, it still feels like a bit of an enigma.

So faced with the choice between sitting at home and working on some data analysis versus jumping in the car and making the most of one of Autumn's finest days yet, we made the sensible choice.

And headed straight for the pub!

We ordered a huge spread of traditional pub grub at the Rugglestone Inn at Widecombe-on-the-Moor. The Rugglestone is quite possibly the most picturesque little pub I have ever come across, with its wisteria winding across the front, a little stream cutting through the garden, and the hills of Dartmoor gently rolling up from its nesting place.

Having feasted on an inordinate amount of fish pie and butternut squah and goats cheese stew, we decided that it was probably time to get back out into the crisp Autumn air and walk our lunch off.

Although not before we'd said hello to some of the goats in the field next to the car park!

On our drive into Widecombe, we'd climbed a series of steep hills, each one topped with a more imposing tor than the last. The Dartmoor tors are the rugged, stony caps on the hills throughout the moors, and they range dramatically in their shapes and sizes. They're a lot of fun to scramble up and are the most fantastic viewpoints for unbeatable panoramas.

We'd spotted Haytor from a distance and set our sights on climbing to the top. Finding a little spot beside the road, we clambered out and began to walk towards the summit.

We arrived at a smaller tor first (which apparently, according to Google maps, doesn't actually have a name). Already, we had climbed a substantial way from the road and our little post-lunch walk was beginning to look more like a semi-decent hike.

With some trying to pack more exercise in than others...

Already, the afternoon light had begun to wash the landscape in gold, despite it only being 2:30pm. The winter evenings really do suck but on the plus side, you don't have to wait as long to see those gorgeous long-reaching shadows and that rose-tinted filter on the world.

The views stretched all the way to Torbay and the coast. A perfect opportunity to remind ourselves of just how tiny we were.

As if we needed more reminding, we climbed down off our unnamed tor and started striding towards the Western outcrop of Haytor.

This is the smaller of the two rocky crags that sit astride the same summit and is definitely easier to scramble up, thanks to a series of little metal handrails.

It's amazing how just much a view can change from a couple of metres higher up.

Of course, we couldn't rest for long - the grand prize of reaching the top of Haytor rocks awaited us.

As we neared the higher tor, we heard the exhilarated shouts of those who had already scrambled to the top.

Children perched precariously close to the edge and dogs ran and barked happily across the granite surfaces. Groups of teenagers yelled and whooped at the horizon whilst families took gentle steps up and down the undulating peaks.

So we began to clamber up too to see what all the fuss was about.

Some more elegantly than others, I might add. I ended up taking the first part on my hands and knees. I have no idea how I managed to climb up and onto the rock on all fours but it happened. And it hurt. But I survived.

And lucky I did!

Up here, the chilly wind whipped at us whilst the sun tried to bear some warmth down upon us. The rock was warm beneath our fingertips and the pockets of pure and absolute silence that came between gusts of wind were startling after so much time in the city.

We sat up there and drank in the views for as long as we could stand the cold!

Sadly, Lizzie had to get back to Cambridge so we scrambled back down the tor (on two feet this time) and started to make our way back to the car.

Although sad that our little adventure was over, Dartmoor had one more surprise in store for us that afternoon.


Despite being an absolutely huge horse geek for the majority of my childhood and adolescence, I've never actually been within 100m of a foal before so this was a very exciting experience for my inner child.

As we came down from our unnamed tor again, the Dartmoor ponies were grazing along the path in abundance.

We had taken some carrots along but there were lots of signs up at the entrance to the National Park instructing visitors not to feed the ponies.

Unfortunately, not everyone heeds the signs - although it did provide us with some entertainment as we watched some shrieking students getting chased back into their cars by a hoard of ponies who were hungry for more of the bread they'd been given!

And so, our little off-the-cuff adventure came to an end. We drove back to Exeter and waved Lizzie off, on her way back to the East.

But we'd finally been given a real taste for Dartmoor. And so we returned the very next day for a slightly longer ramble across the hills and moors. But that can wait for another time!

Have you ever been to Dartmoor? Is there anywhere in particular I should visit?