Okehampton, known as the capital of the northern moor, is home to the excellent Museum of Dartmoor life, which reveals how people lived and worked in the area over the past centuries. Housed in an early 19 th cent mill it comes complete with working waterwheel. Fore Street, Okehampton's high street is dominated by the 14 th century tower of the Chapel of St James.
A short walk from the centre of town, standing high on a grassy spur above a deep wooded valley, are the surprisingly substantial remains of Okehampton Castle. Parts of the castle date back to the Norman period, although most of what remains today was built in the14 th century by the Courtenay family, the Earls of Devon.
Following the execution of the Earl in 1538 the castle was destroyed by Henry VIII, and thus it remains a majestic ruin overlooking the river and beautiful woodlands, once used as a royal deer park. Lady Mary Howard of Okehampton Castle has been described as a wicked woman who married for money then murdered her husbands, as a result of which, so the legend goes, her ghost can never rest but must travel nightly between Tavistock and Okehampton in a coach made of human bones, preceded by a huge black dog with flaming eyes.
To the south of Okehampton, hugging the western extremities of Dartmoor, is the lovely unspoilt village of Lydford, famous for its castle and gorge. Lydford was an important site during the Dark Ages when King Alfred made it a stronghold against marauding Celts and Danes. This importance continued into the Norman period when a castle was built there; a century later, in 1195, the keep was constructed together with its dark dungeon. The castle gained much notoriety as a prison court, as the dank recesses of its dungeon filled with those who fell foul of the stannary law (the official weighing and stamping of mined tin). "Oft have I heard of Lydford law, How in the morn they hang and draw, And sit in judgement after..." wrote a contemporary; those found guilty of adulterating tin would have molten metal spooned down their throats.
The focus of the village is around the 16 th century oak-timbered Castle Inn, once the rector's home and now the guardian of a collection of 1000-year old pennies minted locally during the reign of Ethelred II. The neighbouring 15 th century Church of St Petrock enjoyed the largest parish in medieval England - anyone dying within the 50000-acre parish had to be buried there. Consequently, St Petrock is famous for the size of its graveyard wherein are numerous beautifully lettered slate tombstones. Close by the village is the wooded valley of Lydford Gorge, stretching for one and a half miles and in places 60ft deep. A spectacular riverside walk takes in the high White Lady Waterfall, which tumbles into the swirling, bubbling river beneath and on to the thundering Devil's Cauldron, a dark, strange place where the writhing foam is scooped into a gloomy chasm.
Remaining on the western fringes of Dartmoor, looking toward Cornwall, is the extraordinary sight of Brent Tor. Here, in unashamed glory, sits the solitary, exposed Church of St Michael, perched aloft 400ft above sealevel on an isolated precipitous volcanic tor, in direct communion with the elements. "A church full bleak and weather beaten, all alone as it were forsaken..." is an apt description from 1630. The original church dates from the 12 th century but most of what remains is 15 th century restored in the 19 th century. As the church walls are only 10ft high, to counter the savage lashing so often unleashed by nature on this wild terrain these same walls are built 3ft thick, employing the same volcanic material that this glorious monument to man's enduring folly sits upon.