The Dartmoor National Park, located in Southern England is a unique place for adventure encompassing a range of remote natural landscapes and thatched villages interspersed between rolling hills, heather covered moorlands and deep wooded valleys.
Time spent on Dartmoor provides you with the opportunity to explore wildlife and nature along with some stunning views and is the perfect place for the landscape photographer to capture some truly inspiring imagery.
Having been a landscape photographer local to Dartmoor for most of my life, I have explored many parts of the park from the more well known to the hidden gems.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out these Top 5 Locations for Visiting with your Camera.
1: Great Staple Tor – The Stacked Peaks
Scattered across the windswept moorlands not far from Princetown you’re going to come across my favourite tor on Dartmoor, Great Staple Tor.
The Tors at Great Staple Tor are not the absolute tallest, but it consists of several stacked rocks that are as high as a house. The stacks can be photographed from various angles creating an almost unlimited number of compositions.
The stacks look almost man made with the rocks almost perfectly balanced on top of each other and are generally a great place to visit for views across Dartmoor’s remote landscape of which the surrounding land around Princetown is some of the most sparsely populated.
The walk to Great Staple Tor takes a good 25 min from the Cox Tor Car Park and includes a good amount of elevation. The walk is worth it for both photographic opportunities as well as 360 degree sweeping views across the more and not to mention a good amount of exercise.
The weather conditions at Great Staple Tor can often be very interchangeable due to its exposed position. This image was taken during an overcast day, to add some drama to the scene, I used a long exposure to add movement in the clouds.
Great Staple Tor, Dartmoor (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)
3: Holwell Lawn – The Tor with the Tree
Dartmoor’s Holwell lawn is somewhere I have visited many times. It’s a pretty easy walk from behind Haytor rocks, taking around 15 mins to get to the location.
The area consists of several large Tors, but Holwell is almost unique as it has a hawthorn tree growing beside the Tor, it’s a classic Dartmoor location and another one where the compositions are semi-limited, but you can use the foreground of various scattered rocks to make your image unique.
To get to the Tor you can park at one of the various smaller car parks by Haytor and then walk behind Haytor Rock with Saddle Tor at 90 degrees to you. You should eventually see Holwell Lawn Tor and the tree.
The Tor is Parallel to the Red Barn at Emsworthy but further up the hill to the right. You can locate the Tor at grid reference: 50.57928168983975, -3.767462060723997
Dartmoor’s Holwell Lawn (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)
2: Brentor Church – The Church in the Sky
If you’re looking for an impressive sight and composition, then a visit to the highest working church in Southern England is a good choice. Brentor church sits on top of a sub sea volcanic plume (created when Dartmoor was under water) and as such the church appears to rise from the land and teeter on the edge of the cliff.
There is a popular story with Brentor church as well. It goes that when the church was being built, the Devil tried to stop the builders progress by moving the church further up the hill every day, determined to finish it the townsfolk and builders continued to build it at the top of the hill anyway in defiance of the Devil.
Brentor church has a small car park right at the bottom and is a steep but short walk to the top, the views are stunning and stretch for miles and I would highly recommend a visit, the compositions tend to be limited so my advice is to aim for a less busy time in the year if you want the area to yourself.
This image was taken during the golden hour with strong golden light hitting the church to the right, I had wanted a panoramic shot of this location for a while and using the golden colours allowed me to try a different composition than the usual shots taken here.
Brentor Church, Dartmoor (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)
4: East Dart Woods – Silver Birch Galore
East Dart or Yarner Woods is a stretch of woodland running by the Old Manaton Road in between Bovey Tracey and Manaton. It is home to many species of trees, brooks and rivers and offers a very diverse range of woodland photographic opportunities.
To me the crowning gem is a twofold story, the ever-green trees in the background and the silver birches that are dotted around. You can capture some unique images of golden Birches in the autumn framed against the luscious greens in the background.
Parking is very easy due to the several small carparks along the road, make sure you are earlier to the location in the autumn as the sun is easily blocked by the landscape and it can get dark an hour or so before sunset.
A telephoto lens is a good choice here to gain some compression which in photography terms means you can magnify your subject this will have the effect of fitting more background into your images compared to your subject.
This image was captured during a quick visit, in fact I challenged myself to capture an image in under an hour, this included driving to the location.
Dartmoor’s Yarner Woods (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)
5: Bowerman’s Nose – The Frozen Hunter
Bowerman’s Nose on Dartmoor is a unique Tor indeed, it’s worth a visit for many reasons as well as making a good photographic location, it’s also full of rich folklore.
The story of Bowerman goes like this. Bowerman was once the area’s most famous Hunter who used to roam the Moors with a pack of large dogs.
“One day while he was hunting, one of his hounds disrupted some witches during their incantation of a spell. One witch turned herself into a hare and led Bowerman into a mire (a wet boggy hole) to trap him. The witches then turned Bowerman to stone as well as his three hounds who now sit on top of hound tor”.
When you get to Bowerman Nose you can really see the tale in the rock formation, it’s unique and looks almost man made.
Bowerman sits at Hayne down and is a 15 min walk from Houndtor car park. It’s easily found on google maps and you can follow the track from the cattle grid around the corner from the car park.
Photographically speaking the area is another one where the weather is unpredictable, your composition is also very limited, and the rock formation loses its appeal from different angles.
The images captured here, was taken over a long exposure of around 60 seconds. This is undertaken by fitting a filter over the lens almost like a pair of sunglasses, this reduces the light entering the camera and allows photographers to capture images with movement such as the clouds in this capture.
Dartmoor’s Bowerman’s Nose (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)
WHY NOT JUST VISIT DARTMOOR
Now this is the point you would expect me to say here is a bonus one, but I’m not going to list a location or a place to visit here.
The reason for this is simple. I have spent the last 15 years working on all parts of Dartmoor and the last 5 years photographing it. I have woken up at 4am to photograph a sunrise and stayed up till 3am to photograph the milky way and I can say the truest thing about Dartmoor is you never know what you are going to see.
An amazing sunrise or sunset, the wild Dartmoor ponies running amok, the dragonflies over the mires, the bluebells appearing in May on the fields, the snowdrops appearing in early January or the winter snow on the hills.
Dartmoor is also full of folklore and tales from the druids, the early settlements and times gone by, nearly every location has a story.
So here is my best advice and that is to simply explore, take a map, a compass, your walking boots and explore the tors, see the rivers, drive the roads and see the wildlife.
Dartmoor at 368 square miles has so much to see and explore.
Sebastien Coell at Cornwall Gardens of Heligan (Photo Credit: Sebastien Coell)