7 Best Places for Photography in Dartmoor National Park

dartmoor tors

Dartmoor National Park is located in the southwest corner of England between the cities of Exeter and Plymouth in Devon.

Dartmoor was established as a National Park in 1951, and it is now one of 15 National Parks in the UK. At 954 km² (368 square miles), it is the UK’s second smallest National Park (only The Broads is smaller).

Dartmoor National Park tor

Despite its relatively small size, Dartmoor National Park has more than enough variety to keep even the most ardent of explorers and photographers busy for a lifetime!

Read more: 8 Ways to Improve Your Landscape Photography Workflow

Dartmoor National Park

Dartmoor National Park can be photographed all year round and in almost any weather condition. Many of the park’s best photography locations are on or near the road, making them relatively easy to access.

For the more adventurous photographer, there are plenty of locations whose routes will take you to some of the moor’s most remote areas.

Wild camping is permitted in designated areas if you really want to get away from it all and capture both a sunset and sunrise from a remote location. Check the Dartmoor National Park website for the most up-to-date wild camping information, or visit a visitor’s centre.

It’s important to remember that Dartmoor is also used by the military for live-firing exercises. These zones are clearly marked on good-quality maps (such as those from the Ordnance Survey), and live firing times are published on the gov.uk website.

During these times, access is prohibited, and red flags by day and red lamps by night provide a visual warning.

Dartmoor national park

Once on the moor, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how varied the landscape is. Not only is it a place where people live, work, and play, but thanks to its dramatic landscape, it is also a photographer’s paradise throughout the year.

There are ancient woodlands and rivers, flora and fauna, prehistoric sites with stone circles and standing stones, and of course, its amazing geology that has helped create its unique tors (large freestanding rocky outcrops).

Some photography highlights include bluebells in spring, lush green rolling hills and heather in summer, golden woodlands in autumn, and crisp winter days when snow can reach the higher parts of the moor.

With such a variety of locations and constantly changing weather, there are almost limitless opportunities and subjects to photograph.

Read more: The Best Settings for Landscape Photography

How to get to Dartmoor National Park

The most popular form of transport to get to and around Dartmoor National Park is by car. Dartmoor National Park is serviced by a good network of roads, including dual carriageways along the north and south edge of the moor.

Within the moor itself, the speed limit is 40 mph, and combined with lots of twisty, narrow roads and plenty of cows, sheep, and ponies, travel times can be longer than you might think. But with so much to see, it’s worth taking your time and enjoying the journey.

dartmoor tors

Public transport is also a good option. Regular fast trains will take you from London and Bristol to Exeter, Newton Abbot, and Plymouth.

From there, there are bus routes to Okehampton, Moretonhampstead, Haytor, and Princetown, which are all in popular parts of Dartmoor National Park.

The recently opened branch line from Exeter to Okehampton is also worth a look, especially as the café at Okehampton station is great for some pre- or post-walk sustenance.

1. Great Links Tor

There are several tors in Dartmoor National Park that have “great” in their names, but Great Links Tor, located on the northeast edge of the moor, is certainly one that deserves it.

Those willing to make the 60-minute uphill walk will find one of the moor’s most expansive and impressive tors. There are several routes to Great Links Tor, but if you take the route which starts at the car park near the Dartmoor Inn, you can also photograph Arms Tor and Brat Tor.

great links tor Dartmoor national park

The most interesting side of Great Links Tor is the south-facing side. This side is a great example of a geological process known as horizontal jointing.

These horizontal cracks and lines across the tor provide a strong compositional element and are best captured in the morning or evening light. I recommend aiming to photograph these features between September and April.

A wide-angle lens will help you capture the grandeur of this tor and allow you to include dramatic skies or the Bristle Bent (long Dartmoor grasses), which change in colour as the seasons change.

Read more: How to Use a Wide-angle Lens for Landscape Photography

2. East Mill Tor

For photographers who like a walk but with a lot less ascending, East Mill Tor on the northern edge of Dartmoor National Park is a good option.

There is a large car park marked as Row Tor Car Park on Google Maps, and parking here will not only give you good access to East Mill Tor but you can also extend your walk to include West Mill Tor, Row Tor, and even Yes Tor (Dartmoor National Park’s highest tor).

Though the car park and tor are publicly accessible, they are in the Okehampton military zone. You must check the gov.uk website to see if live firing is taking place on the day (or night) you are planning to visit. Access is prohibited during live firing exercises.

Dartmoor National Park

It’s about a 2 km walk along a military road to the base of the hill and then a short ascent up onto East Mill Tor. At the northern end, you will find the biggest part of the rocky outcrops that make up the tor.

This outcrop shoots particularly well at sunrise during the winter months. There are several pools that, when filled with rainwater, make for excellent foreground interest.

While there are no significant rocky outcrops at the southern end, the rock formations are still worth photographing at any time of day. Due to the 360-degree views from East Mill Tor, it is also a great location for some long-lens photography, especially when the light is interesting.

For an extra bonus, make your walk a circular one by returning via West Mill Tor and Row Tor.

Read more: How to Find and Use Light in Landscape Photography

3. Rippon Tor

If you love 360-degree views, then a visit to Rippon Tor on the southeastern edge of Dartmoor is well worth it. Located near Dartmoor National Park’s most iconic tor (Haytor), the road provides easy access to several car parks that put you within a short walk of Rippon Tor.

It’s an ascent of about 75 meters, but when you reach the top, you’ll be at one of the highest points in the area. The view does not disappoint.

Looking northeast, you will get an excellent view of Haytor and Saddle Tor, while looking to the southeast, you will see the coast and the English Channel. With an unobstructed view of the south coast, Rippon Tor is an excellent location for photographing sunrise.

Dartmoor National Park

There are few better things in life than watching the sunrise light up the rolling hills and tors of Dartmoor National Park.

There are plenty of rocks and outcrops on Rippon Tor, so a wide-angle lens is a good choice. However, with such expansive views, there are plenty of compositions to pick out with a long lens too.

The view towards Haytor with the road curving below also makes for a good panoramic image. If you are after something a bit different, a trip to the disused rifle range to the south will provide you with a rather foreboding and very large brick construction to be creative with.

Read more: How to Shoot Landscape Panoramas Handheld

4. Bowerman’s Nose

Not far from Rippon Tor is the truly unique Bowerman’s Nose. Dartmoor National Park has a rich history of folklore, and how Bowerman’s Nose got its name definitely fits into the category of fantasy (but it’s still an enjoyable read).

If you love a good story, be sure to visit the nearby Jay’s Grave, which is claimed to be haunted!

The best place to park is at the car park for Hound Tor (which is also worth photographing). It’s less than a mile to Bowerman’s Nose from the car park, with most of that on a quiet country lane.

Dartmoor National Park tors

Due to its distinct shape, it should be easy to spot once you leave the road at the gate and start trekking directly to the tor.

You can photograph Bowerman’s Nose all year round, but the ground and surrounding hills look best when they are lush and green during the spring and summer months.

The location works equally well as a sunset and a sunrise location, but due to the surrounding hills, sunrise photography is only worth attempting between May and July.

Read more: Landscape vs Portrait Orientation in Nature Photography

5. Belstone Common

If you like your compositional skills to be challenged, then Belstone Common is a must-visit location. It’s about a 2km walk from Belstone village, where there is plenty of parking and an excellent pub.

The walk can be challenging underfoot, and the area is exposed, so having appropriate clothing and footwear at any time of the year is recommended.

While the rocky outcrops make for great mid-ground subjects, it’s picking out foreground subjects that is the real challenge here.

Dartmoor National Park tor

The area is covered in rocks (known as clitter) and these can be tricky to position effectively in the frame, so it’s worth being patient with yourself and taking the time to explore the area both with your eyes and through the viewfinder.

Using a wide-angle lens will help exaggerate the shapes and lines of the foreground rocks.

Just a little further to the south you will find Irishman’s Wall and the curiously named Rabbit Rock. The wall makes for a great leading line with Rabbit Rock in the mid-ground. There are limited variations on how to compose this scene, but it is still well worth capturing.

Dartmoor National Park tor

At the southern end of Belstone Common, the view of the moor opens up and you can see for miles. It’s another fantastic opportunity for long lens photography and for capturing panoramic images.

Read more: How to Use Focus Stacking for Landscape Photography

6. Holne Bridge

Dartmoor National Park is more than just rolling hills, tors, and open moorland. It also is home to some glorious woodland areas.

A short journey from the moorland town of Ashburton, you’ll find Holne Bridge. This single-arch stone bridge, which spans the River Dart, is nestled in a beautiful woodland. Car parking is limited to a small layby just after you cross the bridge heading west.

Access for photography is limited, with the area east of the bridge and on the north bank being on private land. The south bank to the west of the bridge still offers lots to be creative with, though.

The river can be fast-flowing and the rocks slippery, so caution is advisable when walking the riverbank.

As the river will likely feature in your compositions, the use of a circular polariser is highly recommended, as this will allow you to control the reflections from the water.

Dartmoor National Park

Another essential filter will be a selection of neutral density filters. Light levels can vary at this location depending on time of day, weather, and time of year, but there still might be a need to extend your exposure times with the help of a neutral density filter.

The level of the river and the speed of the water can vary significantly, but an exposure time of between ½ second and one second will normally yield a pleasing result.

While autumn is a popular time of year to photograph woodlands, thanks to the river providing a strong compositional element, the location can be photographed at any time of year, from the starkness of winter to the lime green foliage of spring.

Read more: What are the Best Filters for Landscape Photography?

7. Brentor Church

Nestled on the very western edge of Dartmoor National Park is the striking St Michael de Rupe church, or as it’s more commonly known, Brentor Church. It is one of Dartmoor National Park’s most iconic locations and with good reason.

Built in the 12th century, it is still a working church today.

Located just north of Tavistock (a popular town just outside the park boundary), you will be able to spot the church from miles around as it sits prominently on top of Brent Tor.

There is a car park (and toilets) at the bottom of Brent Tor, and following the well-established path will soon have you at the church wall and the final steps up to the church.

Despite the church being the solitary element of interest, it can be photographed in a variety of different ways. The church is (normally) always open, so whether you are religious or not, it’s worth looking inside to capture interior shots.

Dartmoor National Park

The windows of the church let shafts of daylight in, so playing with areas of light and shadow in your compositions will make for some compelling photographs. Though using a tripod will allow you to use a lower ISO, please be considerate of other visitors and consider going handheld.

Outside, the church can be photographed facing north, or the more popular viewpoint is to photograph it facing south (towards the path and front door). The south view compositions allow you to make the most of the church’s position on Brent Tor.

On one side the hill slopes away gently, and in contrast, the other side is steep, adding even more grandeur to the church.

This viewpoint can also be shot at sunrise, and if you are lucky, a bit of mist can add a lot of atmosphere to the composition.

For those not keen on an early start, Brentor Church also photographs very well at sunset, with the light from the setting sun illuminating the steep side of the hill and the side of the church.

In conclusion

Despite its relatively small size compared to the rest of the National Parks in the UK, Dartmoor National Park offers visitors a rich variety of locations to photograph.

There should be something for every photographer, no matter what you like shooting, and there are amazing locations that you can reach in 5 minutes to locations where you’ll walk for hours and wild camp.

Photographing the wilderness of Dartmoor National Park can be challenging, but it is also highly rewarding.

Thanks to dramatic changes in the look of the landscape through the seasons and what sometimes seems like hourly changes in the weather conditions, you can return to the same location again and again but still come away with dramatically different photographs.

There’s plenty to photograph as well. There’s everything from wildlife, flora, ancient historical sites, dense woodlands, and an impossibly varied number of odd-shaped tors!

Dartmoor will test your photography skills, but I guarantee you will come away with photographs that you will be proud of and that will remind you of your Dartmoor adventure!

Visit Julian's website

Julian Baird is a Devon based photographer and filmmaker who specialises in the creation of inspiring photographs and video content of Dartmoor and the southwest of England. He is also the creator of Discovering Dartmoor, a 5-part video that explores Dartmoor to find out what makes it so special and unique.

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