If you feel like me right now, you’ll be missing the feeling of being on Dartmoor.
It would be great just to get out there, regardless of whether it’s to feel the crunch of gravel underfoot as you pass by ambling sheep, to see horses’ tails blowing in the wind while you battle the elements, or even to leap over bogs and curse the incoming clouds which threaten your afternoon hike.
Most of all, I long for the beating in my chest after conquering a tor; the feeling I get as I stand tall and survey the beauty unfolding around me in every direction is completely unique. It’s something truly special to hear the pulse of everyday life humbled down to the low sound of cars miles away.
So how do we get that back?
Throughout my life I have always turned to literature for comfort and escape, so I’ve compiled a list of the best books to take you back to our beloved national park.
1. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
‘… it was reading the Sherlock Holmes stories as a boy that first turned me on to the power of writing and storytelling’ – Stephen Fry
I know, I know, we all saw it coming – but it’s a literary staple of Dartmoor and 100% a must read!
Set on a haunted and atmospheric Dartmoor, fans across the world have absorbed themselves in the tale that captures all the magic of the Devon-based Spectral Hell Hound legend. The book, which was written as a prequel to Sherlock’s untimely and wildly unpopular death, has been voted as one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best works and remains popular to this day, over 100 years since its publication.
2. Dartmoor Tors Compendium by Josephine Collingwood
‘Beautifully presented book with stunning photos of many of the tors, plus interesting facts or information about them. Highly recommended’ – Amazon Customer
Feel revitalised as you make your way through this beautiful collection of professional Dartmoor photography. Created by Josephine Collingwood, a local photographer who has called the moorland home for over 35 years, the book captures each tor in detail with locations, history, and gorgeous imagery. When interviewed about the book in the Okehampton Times, Collingwood said:
‘Since the Ice Ages, when Dartmoor’s emergent tors were sculpted by ice and water, people have lived and worked upon its slopes. So much can still be seen today. Walking through this incredible landscape is like walking through time; you can still shelter in the homes of Bronze Age families whose contemporaries in Egypt were building the pyramids some 4,000 years ago, explore the workshops of medieval tinners and marvel at the ingenuity of Victorian mining engineers.’
You can buy the book for £22.50 + postage on the website here, at Waterstones, or over on Amazon. £2 from each sale goes to Donate for Dartmoor, a charity based around the conservation of the national park. There are beautiful images and samples of the book on the website that serve as a complete feast for the eyes – you can see them, here.
3. The Moor by Laurie R. King
‘The great marvel of King’s series is that she’s managed to preserve the integrity of Holmes’s character and yet somehow conjure up a woman astute, edgy and compelling enough to be the partner of his mind as well as his heart’ – Washington Post
If you’re hankering for some more detective action after The Hound of the Baskervilles, Laurie R. King will take you along to solve a brand-new case on the ambient moorland in her novel The Moor. Through King’s own ears and eyes, you can listen to Holmes reminisce in the Devonshire wilderness as he cracks the case with wife Mary Russell (shocking, I know!).
The New York Times Book Review praised it, saying ‘there’s no resisting the appeal of King’s thrillingly moody scenes of Dartmoor and her lovely evocations of its legends’ , while Time Out commended the author for her creation of a female protagonist: ‘Mary Russell combines the quirky intellect of her mentor with a modern modus operandi, and promises to be a heroine to contend with.’
4. Dartmoor National Park: A Celebration of its People, Places and Wildlife by Andrew Cooper
‘I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor’ – Steven Spielberg
We all have our own experiences of Dartmoor, and I’m sure everyone would love to experience it again as they did the first time. Luckily, you can do just that through the eyes of others; in this book, Andrew Cooper captures the sprawling beauty of the landscape, its rich and far-reaching heritage, and the generations of people who have lived and breathed it throughout the years. If you’re interested in dipping into all aspects of the moors, from farming and livestock to history and archaeology, you’ll be delighted by the accounts and stories told in this book by the local community.
5. Dart The River by the Two Blondes
‘A delightful story, beautifully illustrated, this book should inspire the curious to find out more about Dartmoor and the River Dart’ – Unknown Reviewer
Get the young ones in your house involved with some at-home Dartmoor discovery through Dart The River, a children’s book written by the Two Blondes. Lucy and Fi, the women behind the Two Blondes, hope to get young ones engaged with the wonderful wild through their children’s books.
“Dart is a river. He starts life high in a bog on Dartmoor. This book tells the story of Dart’s adventures, as he splashes his way down off Dartmoor to the sea at Dartmouth.
A ‘Find and Explore’ book from Two Blondes Walking. Read the story then visit the locations for yourself.”
This book could be a great way to get children’s imaginations running wild. Why not use it to inspire some artwork or tales of their own? You can buy it directly from their website, or on Amazon. If you’re quick, you can snap up their book ‘The Dartmoor Christmas Tree’ from the Harbour Bookshop before they sell out – I couldn’t find it stocked anywhere else!
6. Contemporary Poetry from Dartmoor by Moor Poets
For me, poetry is a comfort like no other. It’s often in the short, vivid lines of verse that I find an entirely new way of picturing or thinking about something. There’s plenty of Dartmoor-related poetry to go around, but I’d recommend supporting local artists during the coronavirus pandemic.
Moor Poets are a local community of Dartmoor based poets – they run workshops with visiting speakers as well as publishing anthologies of their work. Harbour Bookshop, an independent bookshop in Devon, have copies of their anthologies, and I’m sure they would really appreciate your support!
7. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
“An excellent book to take away for a weekend reading” – New York Times
From our very own Devonshire legend Agatha Christie, aka “the Empress of the crime novel”, we are immersed in an epic murder mystery brought directly from a wintery, snowbound Dartmoor. When six sit down for a séance, they’re told that Captain Trevelyan, living six miles away, is dead – but who is to face to blizzard strewn moorland and find out?
8. Dartmoor Artists by Brian Le Messurier
‘Stunning book which will make a great gift’ – Amazon Reviewer
If you’re into art history, what better way to explore Dartmoor than through the stroke of a paintbrush? Brian Le Messurier’s collection of Dartmoor artistry spans three centuries, from the 1700s to our present day, uncovering creations from a wealth of artists who, over the years, have found the same inspiration we find today in our impressive moorland. You can buy the book second-hand from Abe Books, or from Amazon.
9. The Bertie Books by Sally Anderson
Professional Teignmouth artist Sally Anderson is known around Devon for her creative seascape paintings, but did you know that she also writes and illustrates children’s books about her dog Bertie?
Bertie’s Dartmoor Adventure is another great book for the younger members of the family, following him and his friend Todd on a journey after they find themselves lost on Dartmoor. Who will they encounter, and how will they get home? You can find out by purchasing a copy from Sally’s website directly or Waterstones.
10. Dart by Alice Oswald
‘In an age where “nature” poetry and spirituality are unfashionable, it is always exciting when someone does the job with panache and without being boring’ – Guardian
I’m sure someone once said that poetry is soup for the soul, and Alice Oswald is a master of the trade. The multiple award-winning poet created her pioneering poetry collection, Dart, directly from the conversations of the River Dart community. The collection, which was Oswald’s second, won the T.S Eliot Prize in 2002 and received wide critical acclaim.
Living in Devon, she has since gone on to win several awards, including the Ted Hughes Award and the Arts Foundation Award for Poetry. Impressively, she was also the first poet recipient of the Warwick Prize for Writing in 2013.
11. A Black Fox Running by Brian Carter
‘Thrilling … An intense and transporting read’ – BBC Wildlife
Dubbed a lost classic of nature writing, Brian Carter serves you dreamy Dartmoor imagery in his novel A Black Fox Running.
Follow Wulfgar, a dark-furred fox of Dartmoor, in a tale of survival against Scoble the trapper during the wrought winter of 1947. Explore themes of humanity and struggle as you immerse yourself in what the BBC dubs “A beautiful, brooding tale. Bleak realism is balanced by gorgeous nature writing, teeming with earthy scents and sounds, and beautiful descriptions of Dartmoor’s wilderness through the seasons.”
12. The Wildlife of Dartmoor by John Walters and Norman Baldock
‘I have long awaited a book like this, which explains the natural history of Dartmoor in clear and easy to follow terms. The accompanying beautiful illustrations and photographs, make it a must for every lover of Dartmoor, visitors (like myself), and Devonians.’ – Amazon Review.
And finally, if you want to brush up on your birding skills for when Dartmoor once again envelopes you in its wide, seemingly never-ending embrace, The Wildlife of Dartmoor will make you an expert of the skies. With photography, illustrations and an easy-to-follow guide on the natural history of the moors, this collection also covers a range of wildlife that will have you searching between the rocks and tree trunks. It is from 2008, though, so certain things may have changed!
Have you read any of these books? Let us know down in the comments below – we’d love to know if you’ve started reading any, or if one in particular is your favourite!
Seren Kiremitcioglu is a freelance writer passionate about mental health and disability advocacy. In her spare time, she enjoys cycling, hiking, and wild swimming. You can read more from Seren, here: www.serenkiremitcioglu.com