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Dartmoor is a National Park in the centre of the English county of Devon. It covers 368 square miles (954 square kilometres). The wildlife is both rich and diverse. The landscape is characterised by bleak moorland and exposed granite hilltops (known as tors).

Dartmoor differs from other National Parks in England and Wales, in that since a 1985 Act of Parliament much of it has been designated as 'Access Land', with no restrictions on where walkers can roam. There are still footpaths in these areas, but they are for guidance and convenience - they do not have to be kept to, and in fact footpaths in these sections of the Park are generally not waymarked. On larger scale - ie, 1:25,000 - Ordnance Survey maps of Dartmoor, Access Land is edged in purple for easy reference.

This is not connected with the Labour government's Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which in due course will establish similar rights in other rural parts of the country. Dartmoor will be largely unaffected by this legislation because of its existing arrangements.

Dartmoor's Access Land, incidentally, is still privately owned land. Much of it, in fact, is owned by the Duke of Cornwall, which title is currently held by Prince Charles. Other parts of the Park can, of course, still be accessed via the usual network of footpaths and bridleways.

Myths and History of Dartmoor

Dartmoor, an eerie place even in high summer, abounds with myths and legends. It has been used as a setting by writers such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Eden Phillpotts, and the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould.

Some way into the moor stands the town of Princetown, the site of the notorious Dartmoor Prison, which was originally built both by, and for, Napoleonic prisoners of war. The prison has a (now misplaced) reputation for being escape-proof, both due to the buildings themselves and its physical location.

The definitive guide to walking on Dartmoor was written by the Victorian walker William Crossing. Amongst the pre-Roman antiquities one may come across whilst walking on Dartmoor are stone circles, kistvaens, cairns and stone rows. Later additions to the landscape include the remains of the once mighty Dartmoor tin-mining industry such as abandoned tinners' huts, or farmhouses long since abandoned. Indeed the industrial archaeology of Dartmoor is a subject in its own right.

Dartmoor is also the birthplace of letterboxing. Several thousand letterboxes are hidden in watertight containers throughout Dartmoor; clues to find them are placed in other letterboxes or on the Internet.

Preserving Dartmoor

The integrity of this landscape, many human geographical features of which date back further than the Bronze Age, remains under threat from the industrial conglomerates Imreys and Watts Blake Bearne. These companies hold extensive china-clay mining licences from the British Government but have recently renounced them after sustained public pressure from bodies such as the Dartmoor Preservation Association.

Many of these licences predate much of the heavy machinery which is in use today. Imreys have been singled out particularly for criticism since their 'development' of Lee Moor destroyed a considerable number of archaeologically significant sites.

The British government have made promises to protect the integrity of the moor; however, the cost of compensating the companies for these antiquated licences which would not have been granted in today's political climate may prove to be prohibitive.

The northern part of the moor has been used by the British army for manoeuvres and live-firing exercises; this is part of a tradition of military usage which dates back to the Napoleonic wars. Recently, this usage of the moor has been challenged by a number of groups such as the Open Space Society and the Dartmoor Preservation Association. During her lifetime, Lady Sayer was also an outspoken critic of the damage which she perceived that the army were doing to the moor.