A view of Dartmoor National Park in winter

The Forming of Dartmoor National Park: Geology and Social History



To understand the unique landscape of Dartmoor National Park, we need to head back in time. Back to when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and our continents were moving too. Even after Dartmoor was formed, it took some time for it to become the beautiful holiday spot it is today. Dartmoor’s geology and social history is an interesting tale.

A view of Dartmoor in winter


Dartmoor National Park’s geology

Around 300 million years ago, Dartmoor was a very different place. Sitting close to the equator and pock-marked with violent volcanoes, the landscape was frightening. Magma flows and volcanic eruptions caused by colliding sections of the earth’s crust enabled granite rock to form.


As time moved on, the continents continued to drift north the magma cooled. The volcanoes moved away from the ruptures in the earth’s crust and became dormant. Britain’s landmass continued to move north and the ice age struck. The frozen landscape began eroding the hardened rock spewed by volcanoes thousands of years before.


Ice and gravity worked to shift the softer soils downhill. As seasons returned, warmer summer months sent layers of thawed earth sliding down the sides of the dormant volcanoes. Large blocks and boulders often followed, moving kilometres away from the places they were born. This is how the boulder fields and large granite tors came to be exposed.


More wind and rain over the course of these endless years eroded the peaks further, leaving behind a landscape of fertile soils and dramatic stony outcrops. These fertile grounds attracted animals and humans alike.


Dartmoor’s social history and national park status

The multitude of ancient settlements, stone rows and burial sites are testament to the human activity that went on here over time. For millennia, Dartmoor has been important not only to the people of Britain but also to the nomadic tribes of ancient Europe.


Fast-forward to the early 1100s and Dartmoor was one of the key centres of commerce in England. Tavistock was a thriving market town. The area became known for the excellent quality of wool it produced.


Another century on and mining fever gripped the area. From the 1200s right through to the 1800s tin, copper and arsenic were pulled from the earth by hard-working miners. Interestingly, between the 1700’s and early 1900s, it was Devon and Cornwall that provided the majority of the world’s tin and copper.


Yet, in the 1800s Wandsworth and other romantic poets began expressing an interest in the beauty of nature. They also expressed sorrow about the destruction of spots by the hordes of holidaymakers arriving on the new railways. It was at this time, the 1850’s, that interest in preserving Britain’s natural beauty spots was sparked.


It took many years for England to designate some areas as National Parks. After two World Wars, the Peak District became England’s first National Park, quickly followed by the Lake District and Snowdonia in North Wales.


Finally, Dartmoor was designated a National Park in 1951, creating the outdoor area of recreation that so many enjoy today. Seventy years on, Dartmoor is still a favoured place for holidaymakers and lovers of the outdoors.

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