The ancient market town of Okehampton sits on the northern edge of Dartmoor in the centre of Devon. A popular gateway into the National Park, the town has Saxon roots dating back to the 7th century. It takes its name from ‘Ocundtune’ meaning settlement by the Okement. The heart of the Saxon settlement is thought to have been around the still standing parish church located about half a mile from today’s town centre. The Museum of Dartmoor Life, also home to Okehampton’s Tourist Information Service, sits in the town centre and is where to head for local guides and to find out about the granite upland landscape surrounding Okehampton, as well as the history of settlement and traditional industries in Dartmoor including mining and hill farming.
Parklands Leisure Centre is open throughout the year, with a swimming pool the whole family can enjoy, and a rainy afternoon can be spent enjoying a movie at the New Carlton Cinema screening all the latest films and offering a licensed auditorium. Take a tour of Okehampton’s Eastcott Vineyard and visit their on-site shop. The town contains a host of uniquely individual shops and antique emporiums around its pretty Victorian Arcade and Red Lion Yard. The wide choice of places to eat and drink cater for all tastes and include everything from charming 16th century inns serving fine locally sourced food and ales to stylish cafes, ice cream parlours, quaint Victorian style tearooms and world cuisine restaurants.
The Norman conquerors were the first to establish a motte and bailey castle with a stone keep here, however it was the Earl of Devon Hugh Courtenay who transformed the Norman structure into a lavish residence in the 14th century. The Earl fell out with Henry VIII in 1538, after which the castle fell to ruins, allegedly haunted! Okehampton Castle ruins are the largest castle ruins in Devon and the town’s famous heritage site, set in pretty woodland just a short stroll from the centre, with picnic areas and gentle woodland strolls onsite.
Museum of Dartmoor Life
The long-standing Museum of Dartmoor Life located in the centre of Okehampton on West Street offers one of the best introductions to the National Park. The museum is spread across three floors and features exhibits exploring the geology of the landscapes, ancient pre-historic settlement and traditional industries in Dartmoor. Social history and people in the the past who have worked in local industries such as quarrying, glassmaking, rural crafts, mining and hill farming are a focus in exhibits. Highlights include a Bronze Age hut, a reconstruction of a blacksmith’s shop and several farming exhibitions.
The museum is family friendly with a dressing up area for younger visitors who can try on historical costumes. Guided tours, permanent and changing exhibitions and regular events are on offer through opening season. A continuous display of artwork by local artists features in The John Young Gallery and a little shop with local guides, maps, books, gifts and crafts is in the reception area.
Walking & Outdoor Activities
The Meldon area in Dartmoor’s north west corner just south west of Okehampton is home to the highest part of the Dartmoor granite massif which rises to 621m at the Yes Tor-High Willhays ridge. Ancient pre-historic sites like the Nine Maidens stone circle around Belstone village just south east of Okehampton also feature in this area which is one of Dartmoor’s most popular with walkers and outdoor enthusiasts. Adventure Okehampton is a specialist activity company based at Okehampton YHA and they offer a wide range of activities for groups and individuals including climbing, mountain biking, gorge scrambling, kayaking, guided walks and much more. The many lakes and rivers in this area of Devon are also hotspots for coarse, river and still water trout fishing and local Eastlake Riding Stables offers fantastic rides across Dartmoor. The town also has a golf course which extends a warm welcome to visitors.
Visit the tourist information centre at the Museum of Dartmoor Life to find out about the many walks and trails branching out from Okehampton ranging from gentle local woodland, deer park and river strolls, themed castle to castle or museum to museum walks to more challenging tor walks around surrounding moorland heights. Okehampton also sits alongside or is the starting point for long distance walking trails like the 37 mile long West Devon Way between Okehampton and Plymouth which flanks the western edge of Dartmoor. Beautiful local dam, viaduct and reservoir walks like the 1 mile Meldon Dam Walk are easily accessed.
Cyclists have a choice of trail options around Okehampton including the 11 mile traffic free walking and cycling trail The Granite Way between Okehampton and Lydford which is part of The National Cycle Network – Route 27, Devon Coast to Coast. Hire bikes from Devon Cycle Hire just outside Okehampton off the A30 which is situated directly alongside The Granite Way. The circular 90 mile Dartmoor Way cycling and walking route passes through Okehampton and pushes around the edge of the National Park.
One of the most popular annual events in the area offering a great day out for all the family is the Okehampton Show in mid-August held at the Stoney Park Showground on the western edge of Okehampton. The showground is easily accessed off the A386 and the A30, and the event features a host of entertainment from Terrier Racing and Vintage Vehicle Parades to family Dog Shows and falconry displays. Trade Stands located in the huge food hall showcase the best of local Devon producers. You’ll find everything from locally made farmhouse ciders and apple juice to homegrown vegetables, traditionally reared meat, locally made cheeses and artisan breads here.
Getting Here & Where to Stay
Okehampton is accessible by road, easily reached off the A30 dual carriageway which connects to the M5, or you can follow the scenic A303 and A30 route to the market town. Okehampton and surrounding villages and moorland contains a wide choice of accommodation. In the centre sit character Victorian guest houses, traditional coaching inns and classic heritage hotels with rooms, restaurant and conference/wedding facilities. Elegant Edwardian B&Bs are set in their own grounds with stunning views of Dartmoor or stay in a luxury country house hotel in the area.
Walkers and outdoor enthusiasts can choose from a great range of rural cottages and barn conversions, farmhouse B&Bs and historic inns on the outskirts of the town. Family and dog friendly farm holiday experiences are plentiful around Okehampton, serving as ideal gateways into Dartmoor and Central Devon with cream teas on arrival and hearty Full English breakfasts with sausages, eggs and bacon produced on the farm.