The missus and I have always enjoyed seeing different places together. Although a little more difficult now that we have a toddler, I think we still do a decent job of finding new places to visit as a family – be it day trips or short breaks. As we’ve ruled out big holidays abroad – for now, at least – we’re discovering some awesome places around the UK, thanks largely to the review opportunities I get through this blog. The most recent of which was a short break to Dartmoor.
I’ve not been to Dartmoor before. Sure, I’ve driven passed it on the way to Devon and Cornwall, but it’s never been the destination – always the bridesmaid, never the bride. Accommodation and an itinerary had been arranged for us in advance by the lovely PR folk who had offered us the break for review purposes. We were really looking forward to seeing what the county had to offer us as a family – that included our sausage dog, Dax, who was coming with us.
We were due to stay at Woodovis Park for three nights in a luxury caravan, then have one night at Moorland Garden Hotel. During our break, we were going to visit Morwellham Quay, National Marine Aquarium and Tamar Valley Donkey Park. In reality, we did the above and more, including Brentor Church and Lydford Gorge, as well as activities such as swimming.
Here is my – some might say, overly – detailed account of where we visited, what we did and what we thought of our short break to Dartmoor. Spoiler alert: it was awesome!
Day 1 – Friday – Woodovis Park
Having packed our bags and loaded up the car in the morning, we began our 250 mile drive to Dartmoor. Although Google Maps told me that the drive would be four hours, Friday traffic saw us encounter a few delays, so the journey – with stops – took around six. It was therefore a great relief when we made our way along the last few country roads and saw the signs for Woodovis Park – our home for the next three nights.
Woodovis Park is a small five star holiday park not far from Tavistock – as soon as we arrived, we knew we were going to have a great stay. I received a very friendly welcome when I checked in and the entire site felt homely and of a high standard. We were staying in a luxury caravan, but the site can also be used for camping, glamping and touring. As such, it has all the facilities you’d need, such as a shop, toilet, showers, laundry, ironing and dishwashing areas. There’s also a swimming pool, games room, adventure playground and activities like archery.
Our accommodation was a Super Robin – a luxury, 35 foot, three-bed caravan which sleeps up to six people. As we were shown around the caravan, we were told that ours was one of the newest on site. It totally showed as everything was in pristine condition. There was also nice little touches like a box of fudge for us and a dog biscuit for Dax. We’d stayed in a static caravan a few weeks before, but this one was a lot nicer – everything was of a better quality and had a more luxurious feel about it. If you want a hotel comparison, it’s the difference between a Travelodge and a Hilton – this one obviously being the latter.
We settled in, unpacked and set Toddler L’s travel cot up in one of the bedrooms – we made space by folding up a bed in one of the bedrooms. The more I looked around, the more I was impressed with the caravan. I particularly liked the little dining area, the fully-equipped kitchen, the modern fire and the contemporary decor – all going to show that a caravan doesn’t have to be dated.
On arrival, we’d spied a hog roast being set up in the car park, so it was a no-brainer what we were having for dinner. Incidentally, this happens every Friday evening and is just one of the ways that Woodovis Park works with local companies. We walked the short three minutes – 30 seconds without a toddler – from our caravan to the car park and ordered our food.
Slow-cooked, juicy, roast pork in a fresh bread roll with apple sauce, crispy crackling, homemade stuffing and roast potatoes. I’m salivating just thinking about it again. We took the food back to the caravan and ate it on the picnic bench outside the front door. A pretty awesome way to kick off our Dartmoor holiday.
After eating, we put the sprog to bed and settled down in front of the TV for the evening. With a comfy sofa, heating and TV with DVD player / Freeview, we had everything we needed. We then went to bed, ready for our Dartmoor adventure to start the next day.
Day 2 – Saturday – Morwellham Quay
After a good’s night sleep, we awoke to the smell of freshly baked pastries. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a fabrication – we couldn’t smell the pastries, but they were ready and waiting for us just 50 feet away. You see, Woodovis Park bake bread, croissants and pain au chocolats to order every morning. As we were staying as part of a review, they’d kindly offered us some complimentary ones on the morning of our first stay. I picked them up from the shop and we quickly devoured them for breakfast.
After this, we decided to try out the swimming pool, which was literally a 30 second walk from the caravan. Within the building was the main swimming pool – which is solar heated – a spa pool, Physiotherm infrared therapy cabin, changing rooms, showers and seating for spectators.
The pool felt a little on the cool side – Toddler L was shivering after a while and my nipples could cut glass – but I was told it was running at the recommended 29ºC. I guess I must just be used to slightly warmer water when we do Water Babies swimming classes. I warmed up in the spa pool afterwards anyway!
After getting changed, we went back to the caravan where we chilled out for a bit, put Toddler L down for a nap, then had lunch – with our freshly baked bread, may I add. In the afternoon, it had been arranged for us to visit the nearby Morwellham Quay. This is an open-air museum which includes a 19th-Century village, docks, quays, a copper mine, farm and nature reserve – plenty to keep the toddler and dog entertained.
We arrived just as it decided to piss it down, so we took shelter in the shop until the rain passed. We then had a wander around the site, which had been done up to make you feel like you’re part of Victorian life. We took in some of the old mining equipment, historic sailing boat, some of the old buildings and a number of people dressed up in Victorian costumes.
We then had a walk over to the George and Charlotte copper mine, where we saw some scenic views across the nearby River Tamar. You can actually get a train which takes you underground into the mine, but with a toddler and dog in tow, we had to skip this part of the attraction. After this, we walked along the river, explored some caves and went back to the sailing boat as Toddler L liked to pretend she was a pirate.
Although she was a little young to get involved, there were a number of activities and demonstrations for kids, such as a Blacksmith, panning for gold and singing. Something Toddler L can get on board with though is a playground. We found one one our way back to the car and she loved it. Who am I kidding? I did too, particularly the cool, pedal-powered roundabout.
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We spent just under two hours at Morwellham Quay – we could have stayed longer, but were a little hampered by the intermittent rain. Although Toddler L enjoyed running around and exploring, I’d perhaps think that a slightly older kid would get more out of visiting. Still, we enjoyed looking around – considering I don’t really like history things – and it was great that we could take Dax as finding dog-friendly places can sometimes be a problem.
The rest of the day was pretty chilled. We went to Tavistock to have a look around and find a supermarket so we could cook something for dinner. We then headed back to the caravan where we ate, played, put the sprog to bed and then watched a film before heading to bed ourselves.
Day 3 – Sunday – Brentor, Lydford Gorge, National Marine Aquarium
After another breakfast of freshly baked pastries from Woodovis Park, we planned to check out two nearby attractions that we’d passed on our way to the holiday park – Brentor Church and Lydford Gorge. We stopped first at Brentor – AKA the Church of St. Michael de Rupe – which stands at an impressive 1,110 feet above sea level on an extinct volcanic cone. We parked up in the car park and began our ascent to the top of the hill.
It was a bit muddy and we had a fair few cow pats to avoid, but the climb was pretty comfortable – even when I was carrying a two-stone toddler. Dating back to the 13th Century, it was unsurprising that the church was having restoration work, albeit a shame as it hid a fair bit of the building. However, we’d not climbed up to look at the church – we wanted to check out the views across Dartmoor from the top. We weren’t disapointed.
After descending the hill and getting back into the car, we made the short drive to Lydford Gorge. It is part of National Trust, and as members, we were able to enter for free. We tackled a circular route which took us down the deepest gorge in the South West to the 30 metre high White Lady Waterfall.
We made our way into the valley and through the ancient woodlands via a load of steps. I’d imagine it could be a little slippy at times, but the missus managed fine whilst babywearing. The dog – with his stupid little sausage dog legs – struggled a bit more!
As we continued descending, the sound of the waterfall became louder and louder. We turned a corner and caught our first glimpse of the waterwall as we entered the gorge. Luckily, there were hardly any other people around, so we were able to get a fair few photos without anyone photobombing. We’d also brought our wellies, which meant that we were able to have a splash and paddle at the foot of the waterfall – unsurprisingly, Toddler L loved this.
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After enjoying the waterfall, it was time to make the journey back to the car. The problem with walking down a valley is that you’ve got to then make your way back up. Our route took us next to the River Lyd and through loads more forest. It was a really nice, idyllic walk – well, until Toddler L got overtired and started to whinge.
We headed back to the caravan, put Toddler L down for her nap and enjoyed an hour of relaxation as we watched Tim Lovejoy try to be funny – but fail miserably – on Sunday Brunch. Although we’d already done a lot, it was only lunchtime and we had plans for the afternoon. We’d been provided with complimentary tickets to the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, so made our way down to the coast in the early afternoon.
On our journey, we drove along some moorland and stumbled upon a number of grazing Dartmoor ponies. As an iconic site of the county, it was great to have randomly encountered them on our journey. It would have been funny to have seen Dax next to them to totally screw with perspective.
We parked up next to the aquarium and made our way to the entrance. I hadn’t realised, but the National Marine Aquarium is actually the largest public aquarium in the UK – I guess the name suggests that, in hindsight. We took the lift to the top and began looking around. Toddler L is a huge fan of anything animals, plus has recently discovered Finding Nemo, so was captivated from the start.
We started in the Plymouth Sound section, which included a number of tanks and a rockpool filled with aquatic animals found in the local area. We then moved on to the Eddystone Reef, which is a huge replica of an offshore reef in British waters. It houses a number of different species, including sharks, mackerel, pollock and bass.
As we continued our journey around, we encountered jellyfish in the Ocean Drifters zone. Then, was able to see behind the scene in The Laboratory, where fish are bred and plants are cultivated.
Next, we came across an awesome sight – the Atlantic Ocean exhibit. Complete with a ‘crashed’ plane, this is the largest single tank in the UK with over two million litres of water. You can view the tank from a number of different spots as you work your way around the building, which allows you to see what creatures hang out at which levels. We saw loads of different species, most impressively the sharks and rays.
As we approached the end of the visit, we came across the Biozone and Great Barrier Reef. Here, we saw things like clownfish, octopus and turtles – it was just like watching Finding Dory.
We could have stayed much longer than we did, but you kind of have to go to the pace of the toddler. She loved running from exhibit to exhibit, so we didn’t get much chance to just sit and relax! We’ve been to a fair few aquariums and this was by far the most impressive in terms of size, scale and variety. A definite place to visit if you’re in the area.
We’d hoped to have a bit of a wander around Plymouth, but the sprog was a little grumpy due to tiredness. We therefore headed back to the car so that she could sleep on the way back to Woodovis Park. When we got back to the holiday park, we decided to go swimming again just before tea. After eating and putting the toddler to bed, we chilled out with a DVD and a couple of local beers bought from the shop. Incidentally, the newest Godzilla is crap.
Day 4 – Monday – Lydford Gorge, Tamar Valley Donkey Park, Moorland Garden Hotel
No pastries for us today as I’d forgotten to order them from the shop the day before – epic fail. Today, we were leaving Woodovis Park and travelling to Moorland Garden Hotel to stay the night. However, before getting to the hotel, we had another day of fun and adventure planned.
After packing up the car, we decided to have a quick wander around Woodovis Park. We’d been so busy that we’d not had chance to go to the games room or playground yet. In the games room, we found a giant connect four, table football, pool table and plenty of info on the surrounding area. The adventure playground was well equipped with a tractor, swings, playhouse and a large multi-functional wooden tower thing with a slide.
We’d had a great time at Woodovis Park and would return in the future without hesitation. I literally have nothing negative to say about our experience of staying there. With a tear in our eye, we got in the car and drove back to Lydford Gorge, this time to tackle a different part of the valley. We parked up at an alternate entrance and began the walk to the second must see attraction – Devil’s Cauldron.
Similarly to yesterday, we made our way down steps and walked by the river. We then crossed a bridge and began a slightly arduous walk up the side of a cliff as the water battered the rocks beneath us. This is where it got slightly scary as the missus was babywearing and I had the dog – both of which were a little unsure of where we were taking them!
We went through a gate and there was very little stopping you from falling in – one false move and “geronimooooooo”. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Devil’s Cauldron was really weird, but really cool. You walk in between two rock faces and feel a sense of claustaphobia with the dark, jagged edges hanging over you and loud, crashing water around you.
We then made our way from the whirlpool back up the valley, which had some pretty awesome views of the river below. We’d really enjoyed spending a bit of time at Lydford Gorge and were chuffed we’d made the random stop off. For any outdoorsy families, then this is a great place to visit.
Our next activity was Tamar Valley Donkey Park, which was a half an hour drive away. This is a donkey sanctuary, which is home to a range of animals, an indoor play barn and outdoor playground. It’s also dog-friendly which is fab when you have your four-legged friend with you. We’d been provided with complimentary entry as part of our trip, however instantly felt guilty with it being a charity!
We arrived at around noon, so decided to head inside and get something to eat from the canteen. The main building was a huge warehouse which included a shop, canteen, a large soft play and various other kid’s activities like ride-on tractors. As we waited for our paninis, Toddler L and I checked out the soft play area. As you’d expect from a kid with no fear, we soon got to the top of the structure.
I was really surprised with how good the soft play was. Everything was clean, the equipment was in good condition and there was a range of obstacles for different ages. We visited Tamar Valley Donkey Park thinking that we’d only really be looking at animals, yet this indoor play barn was a massive bonus.
It didn’t just stop there though. Inside the play barn, there were other things to keep the kids – and big kids, like me – occupied too. For instance, there was an area full of large, foam LEGO blocks and a number of ride-on vehicles.
After managing to drag Toddler L away from the play barn with the promise of animals, we headed outside to the farm. Here, we saw donkeys, goats, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs – some of which were roaming free and able to be stroked. The sprog enjoyed getting up close with the animals, whilst Dax also got friendly with a donkey.
After vising the animals, we made our way back through the indoor play barn to the outdoor play area. This place just kept on giving! Outside, we found a number of different things to play with, ranging from playhouses to wooden obstacles to slides to a zip wire.
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We expected to be at Tamar Valley Donkey Park for maybe an hour or so, but ended up spending the majority of the afternoon there. With indoor play, outdoor play and animals, it had everything needed to keep Toddler L entertained. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit should you ever be in the area.
With it being late afternoon, we headed over to Moorland Garden Hotel where we’d be spending our last night. The hotel was located near to where we’d seen the Dartmoor ponies the day before and we found a number of them hanging around outside the hotel, which was an unusual welcome. I parked up, checked in and was given directions to our room.
The hotel and grounds looked impressive and grand from the front, however we were a little disapointed when we made our way to our room. We’d been told we could access our room from a back door, which although was convenient when we had a dog, felt a bit like a dumping ground as there were things like gas canisters and boxes ruining the luxury feel.
Our room was great though – we’d been given a dog-friendly room which overlooked the gardens. The room was clean, the decor was pleasant, the views were nice and the bathroom was big. The latter always being important as we usually put the travel cot in there so that she’s in a separate room. Weird, maybe. Effective, hell yeah!
The room came with some nice touches like a dog bed and bowl for Dax, as well as some chocolates, a fruit bowl and a bag containing local products for us. Little things like this really help to make you feel welcome, so these were much appreciated. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take Toddler L long to find the chocolates!
Once settled into our room, we decided to have a wander around the grounds. The hotel is set in nine acres of land, so there’s plenty to explore. We came across random sculptures, sat on the terrace and Toddler L saw how many large sticks she could carry at the same time.
We’d been provided with a complimentary meal in the evening, so we made our way to the Dartmoor Bar for 6.30pm. There’s also a restaurant at the hotel, but we didn’t want to leave Dax in the hotel room, so we chose the bar as he could join us. The bar was nice – it was very relaxed and had an old man’s pub feel to it.
The missus ordered a cheese souffle to start, smoked salmon gnocchi for the main course and a chocolate fondant for dessert. I had crab fishcakes, sirloin steak and sticky toffee pudding. The food was OK, but if I’m honest, it felt a little pricey. It was all edible, but I kind of expected nicely presented, locally sourced products, whereas it just tasted like normal pub grub.
The kids offering was a little disappointing too. They didn’t have any kid menus to hand, so these had to be printed especially for us, we weren’t offered a high chair and we weren’t given anything – such as crayons – to keep her entertained. At £14.95 for three courses – there was no visible option of just buying just one course – the kid’s menu was probably the most expensive we’ve encountered. When you’re not sure how much your child will eat, I’d be hesitant to pay this much normally.
For her, we ordered tomato soup, chicken and chips and an ice-cream sundae. Again, the food was alright and Toddler L particularly enjoyed the dessert. However, the whole ‘kids package’ felt a bit like an afterthought rather than being a truly family-friendly eating experience. I provided this feedback after our stay and promises were made to make it more child-friendly. I think this would really help make the hotel more of a destination for families.
After our meal, we went back to our room, popped Toddler L in the bathroom (!), watched TV, then had an earlyish night.
Day 5 – Tuesday – Home
After a good night’s sleep, we headed down to breakfast. This was in the Wildflower Restaurant opposite the Dartmoor Bar. We were able to order hot items from the menu, plus there was a buffet-style breakfast of cereals, pastries, yogurts and fruits. As is the rule when you’re having breakfast in a hotel, we both ordered the cooked breakfast, but were a little disapointed that they didn’t have porridge for the sprog. It was on the menu, but they made some excuses about the delivery not arriving yet.
I hate to be critical, but breakfast really wasn’t that great. Similarly to my expectations at dinner, I’d have thought that in a location like this, breakfast would be top notch with great ingredients. However, the sausages were poor quality and the missus’ scrambled egg was barely cooked – she actually left most of her meal, which is saying something considering how she loves a cooked breakfast!
We did enjoy our stay at Moorland Garden Hotel. As I say, the grounds and hotel are nice, it’s in a great location and some of the added touches – like dog bed etc – were appreciated. However, the food was a bit of a let down – there’s the potential for it to be a great dining experience, but it felt like too much complacency had crept in.
After packing up the car and checking out, we began our 4+ hour journey back to Hertfordshire. We’d earmarked a stop around the two hour mark and had found a National Trust site near Weston-super-Mare which fitted the bill. We stopped off at Brean Down and decided to walk some of the coastal path. This included a walk up 150+ steps – hats off to the missus who was babywearing – then a wander along the 300 feet high coastline. The sun was out, the views were fab – a really nice way to end our holiday.
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Having never been to Dartmoor before, we didn’t really know what to expect. What we found was a beautiful part of the country with so many different things for families to do together. Despite constantly being busy and seeing a lot, it feels like we only scratched the surface. We’ll definitely be looking to go back for another Dartmoor break sometime in the future.
Have you ever been to Dartmoor or any of the places we visited? What’s your favourite thing to do in the county? Let me know below!
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N.B. This review was written by me (Dave) and represents my honest opinion. We were provided with accomodation and entry to the attractions with the purpose of writing an honest review in exchange for the Dartmoor holiday.
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