Yet another inspiring and energising Dartmoor Town, many walkers comment on how Moretonhampstead is one of the friendliest and most welcoming overnight locations on the Dartmoor Way - perhaps due to its rather isolated location set at the North East corner of the moor. The name comes from a Saxon word “Mortun” meaning ‘enclosed piece of land near the moor’ whilst the Hampstead is from one of the many Lords of the Manor.
Moretonhampstead’s location is almost exactly in the centre of the county of Devon, and it has always been an important stop for travellers at the crossroads of the two roads which cross the moor. This would no doubt account for the incredible 18 public houses listed as open here in the 18th century. Then it was a busy town, supporting paper, tannery and tallow works as well as the cloth mills.
A great fire in 1845 destroyed all but a few of the buildings but did leave the impressive 15th Century church of St Andrews, which stands proudly against the moor at one end of the village. There is a set of unusual alms houses, two-storey granite buildings now owned by the National Trust. Both are well worth a wander to from the centre of town.
Today, Moretonhampstead has become a bit of a centre for craftsmen and artists and because of this there are many fine sculptures of local moorland wildlife around the town to spot, including sheep and Dartmoor ponies 'grazing' in Pound Street and mice and owls decorating the town's railings.
From a wall in the town square you will see a flying sculpture of what has become the towns emblem, the sparrowhawk, which represents the time when King John granted the town its charter in the thirteenth century and set the rent at one sparrowhawk per year.
There are a several good inns here providing accommodation and food for walkers as well as some excellent B&B’s.
The town is justifiably proud of its refurbished Green Hill Arts Gallery which is in the old Victorian Schoolhouse and holds contemporary art and heritage displays. As with all these East Dartmoor Towns there is also a welcome outdoor swimming pool, heated this time by solar power and open to all....including dusty walkers arriving from North Bovey.
The helpful Tourist Information Centre is situated right on The Dartmoor Way, with a comprehensive range of books, maps and guides. There are a choice of “moorland” tea shops and cafes and generally the towns amenities, including a chemist and supermarket, can provide whatever else may be needed by the passing walker.