Dartmoor National Park
The 'Forest' of Dartmoor refers to a hunting area rather than an area of woodland. This is one of the best areas in the UK for bronze age remains and much of the moor seems almost littered with stone circles, stone rows and burial stones.
Dartmoor forest; Dartmoor prison at Princetown, built during the Napoleonic wars; Conan Doyle's book, The Hound of the Baskervilles featuring Sherlock Holmes is set in foggy Dartmoor. Tin mining has had an important role in Dartmoor's history. The so-called stannary towns had their own assemblies, laws and courts and there was even a stannary gaol. Rabbit rearing was important once and there are places still carrying the name of Warren. More recently the china clay industry provided the raw materials for the Potteries area of Staffordshire.
Moorland, rocky tors & quite a lot of wet places called bogs. Tors are hills with granite outcrops.
Flora and fauna
Ferns, wild ponies, Dartmoor cattle. Foxes, Buzzard & badgers in reasonable quantity.
Can be very changeable. You can be sun-burnt and get lost in mist on the same day.
Access to the National Park is free. Various towns and villages on the edge of the park rightly claim they are th "Gateway to the Moor"
Plan to be on foot to see Dartmoor's best. There are lots of lay-bys where it is safe to leave your car all day. There are plenty of tors to climb and rugged footpaths between them. Energetic children can also manage hours of hiking on Dartmoor as the terrain is suitable. Bring plenty of drinking water and dress for changing weather (layers and water-proofs). A decent set of weather proof hiking boots make for a more comfortable walk on Dartmoor as there's plenty of wet marshy land to cross.
Other beauty spots
Letterboxing is very similar to the much newer craze of Geo-caching, but has been around a lot longer.
Like geo-caching each post/letter box consists of a small weather-proof box which contains a rubber stamp and may also contain a note pad. The stamp designs are limited only by the imagination of the person who placed them, and come in a very wide range sizes. As you find each box you record your visit by taking an impression of the located stamp. Finding the boxes usually requires a series of clues, ranging from the very easy, to the fiendishly difficult. Most letterboxes are placed on the moor by private individuals, who give their clues to friends and family. Some clues will be made available for the wider community to find. Some boxes are placed by charities/groups wishing to raise a little money. These charity boxes normally form the basis of a circular route, in a particular part of Dartmoor, and usually consist of a set of stamps with a common theme. These are also only available for a short period and the clue sheets are sold for a nominal fee. Most people who do letterboxing on a regular basis will usually have their own stamp which they carry around with them to put in the notepad of the boxes they find.
Letterboxing on Dartmoor has a big following in the local region and beyond. You will find people who go out for an hour or two on their way home from work, as well as people who come down from all over, to spend a week walking to find new and exciting stamps.
The number of boxes is constantly changing as people lose, update or simply remove stamps.
The Old Police Station in Princetown serves some of the best fish and chips on the moors.
Campsites in Dartmoor are scattered sparsely over the National Park. Rough camping/bivying is allowed but is restricted in many areas. Worth checking the local information centres and the park website for the restrictions.
Otherwise a really good way of finding a tent pitch is to ring up farms. A fair number who aren't denoted as campsites on Ordnance Survey maps nevertheless will offer a pitch for a nominal fee (a few pounds per night). They usually have phone numbers available through a quick web search. They have the added advantage of being quieter and in fantastic locations for backpacking.
Dartmoor can be a deceptively dangerous place. The weather is very changeable and you could get surrounded in mist very quickly, in the summer it can get extremely hot and you may not be able to find shade for several miles . If you're planning on going out for a walk of any length on Dartmoor, it is best to know how to read a map and use a compass, this is vital if you plan to go off the beaten track, it can be almost impossible to navigate some areas and you will end up walking in circles. If you must use a GPS, take plenty of spare batteries.
As with any outdoor activity, it is always best to let somebody know where you're going and how long you expect to be.