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Dartmoor Forest, the wildest and bleakest part of Devon, is an extensive and elevated tract of heath, morass, rocky tors and crags, and lofty moorland hills and dells - stretching about thirty miles in length from north to south, and 14 from east to west. The towns of Okehampton, Tavistock, and Moreton Hampstead are near its borders, and it extends northward to within a few miles of Plymouth. It comprises about 200,000 acres, of which 53,000 acres, in the central and most dreary part, are in Lidford parish. It belongs mostly to the Prince, of Wales, as part of the Duchy of Cornwall, but the outskirts and part of the hills are appendant to the surrounding manors, many of which have likewise the prescriptive right of common on the Forest, on paying an inconsiderable sum annually to the Duchy, under the name of Venville (fen field). The Duchy, however, possesses the right of stocking the forest by agistment, and for this purpose much of it is leased in districts to various persons who pasture the stock of the neighbouring parishes at low rates.
During the last thirty years, many thousand acres of its outskirts, belonging to adjacent parishes, have been enclosed and cultivated, and other extensive tracts have been planted; but the central part, comprising more than 60,000 acres, is still nearly in a state of nature, and many of its eminences rise to the altitude of from 1500 to 1800 feet. On approaching this mountainous tract, the eye is bewildered by an extensive waste, exhibiting gigantic tors, large surfaces covered with vast masses of scattered granite, and immense rocks, have been precipitated from the steep declivities into the valleys. These huge and craggy fragments are spread confusedly over the ground, and have been compared to the ponderous masses ejected by volcanoes; to the enormous ruins of formidable castles; and to the wrecks of mountains torn piecemeal by the raging elements.
Few places are really less known, and few are more deserving of attention than Dartmoor; and though a large portion of the high road which crosses it, presents an unvaried scene of solitariness and desolation, yet to those who pursue their investigation beyond the ordinary beaten track, much will be found to delight the artist, the poet, and the antiquary. The peculiar characteristics of Dartmoor are derived from the granite tors, which are found piled mass upon mass mostly upon the summits of its numerous heights; and the wild impetuosity of its numerous streams, which dash through narrow channels, between craggy hills and cliffs, and give rise to many of the larger and smaller rivers of the county.
The numerous remains of rude stone altars, circles, obelisks, logans, and cromlechs scattered over the moor, and the names still attached to many of the tors, such as Bel-tor, Mis-tor, Ham-tor, etc, show that it was one of the most favoured haunts of the Druids. From its lofty elevation, it is peculiarly the region of mists, storms, and tempests. The peaks of its mighty tors stand up many hundred feet above its lofty hills, and intercepting the moisture of the clouds, cause great quantities of rain to fall in and around the moor. The mist comes on at times so sudden and dense, that those who are overtaken in it, out of the beaten track, are sometimes lost , and even the moor men have great difficulty in regaining their habitations. But the climate is considered healthy, and it is said that persons born and bred here seldom or never die of pulmonary consumption. There are now but few trees on Dartmoor, except the lonely wood of Wistman, but immense trunks of oak and other trees have often been dug up in the peaty bogs and marshes in many of the romantic dells, as well as on some of the higher table lands.