Appreciating Literature on Dartmoor
Dartmoor is a beautiful and rugged region in the Southwest of England. Known for its rolling hills, granite tors, and vast moorland landscapes, it is hardly surprising that by this unique landscape has inspired numerous writers and artists, and helped to birth awe-inspiring literature. Some of the most famous works to have been set on Dartmoor include Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Sittaford Mystery” by Agatha Christie. There are many authors who feature Dartmoor in their work, and the area continues to be a source of inspiration today.
Simon Hall – Detective Tales on Dartmoor
An author who has written extensively about Dartmoor is Simon Hall. Hall is perhaps best known for his TV and radio work, following a 20 year career as a BBC News Correspondent. However, he has also written a number of very successful books, both fiction and non-fiction. His compellingly written crime novels are set in ‘Evil Combe’, a real place located in the south of Dartmoor National Park. The protagonist, a TV reporter named Dan Groves, finds himself investigating crimes in rural Devon in a series titled “The TV Detective”. Each tale serves up a new, intriguing mystery to solve and is sure to leave readers guessing until the final pages!
It has been pondered, how much of Simon’s career as a correspondent and his real life experiences have influenced his narratives? We are left to speculate on this with great intrigue – where does fiction end and real life begin? One thing that is clear however, is that the beauty of Devon and Dartmoor depicted in stories is in fact no work of fiction.
“Dartmoor has always been a source of great joy, comfort and soulfulness to me. I delight in the changing moods of the moor, from those wonderful days of sunshine, to the glowering fogs, and the shifting scenery, from the wooded valleys to the wide open moorland. There’s an experience to match every mood.
In my books, Dan, the hero, will often take his dog Rutherford to Dartmoor when he needs space to think about the crimes he’s covering and attempting to crack (he’s a Plymouth based TV reporter with a side-line in detective work!) The majesty of the moor always helps to inspire his thinking.
I’m also very proud to have made my own small contribution to the great history of Dartmoor. I found the hidden memorial to the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, after a long search. The story appears in the first of my novels, The TV Detective. It’s also a wonderful walk, if you fancy it. The details are here: http://www.richkni.co.uk/dartmoor/hughes.htm”
Today, Simon shares his time between Devon and Cambridge, where he works at the university – though Devon will always be home for him.
Photo credit: @simonhallnews
Michael Jecks – Historical Murder Mystery Stories in Devon
Another well-known author to have not only written about the area but has also called it home, is Michael Jecks. Jecks is a prolific writer of historical fiction, and many of his novels are set in and around Dartmoor, Exeter, and Devon. Perhaps his most famous series, the Knights Templar Mysteries, features Sir Baldwin Furnshill, a knight who solves crimes in medieval Devon. Jecks vividly evokes the rugged landscapes and writes with a historic accuracy that is incredibly compelling.
“When I first started to think about trying my hand as a writer, I knew that I would have to write about Dartmoor. Whether it was a mediaeval story or a modern day thriller, I was always drawn to the moors. Much of my research has been spent walking the moors with a rucksack on my back, camping out for two or three days at a time. There is no better way to see how our ancestors used to live, out in the wild without the noise of cars or aircraft to distract, but instead the wind soughing through the grasses – or the battering of rain as the weather changes.
Even with my latest book, Portrait of a Murder (April 2023, Severn House Publishing), much of the story is based on a real series of locations on Dartmoor. Why? Because Dartmoor has a unique atmosphere. It can be bright, picturesque, green and clear, with gorgeous views – but in moments all that can be snatched away, and suddenly the walker is in the midst of a fog that conceals everything more than a few paces away. On Dartmoor the visitor is always aware that behind the grandeur stands nature in all her wild and brutal beauty. And that, for an author, is captivating and inspirational.”
Photo credit: Michael Jecks
Sir Basil Thomson – Inspiring Fiction for Generations
Dartmoor has been the inspiration for works of fiction for many years. ‘The Dartmoor Enigma’ an Inspector Richardson Mystery by Sir Basil Thomson, explores a questionable ‘motor accident’ on Dartmoor and the subsequent investigation that follows when a mystery letter eludes to foul play. It is the 5th book in this crime novel series and was first published in 1935.
Arthur Conan Doyle – Famous Local Legends
Perhaps the best known tale featuring infamous protagonist Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles was inspired by a local legend – the ghostly hounds that howl for blood in the dead of night. The novel explores the rolling, wild landscape in great depth, painting an eerie and sometimes chilling atmosphere. Dartmoor is expansive, unruly, wild, and strikingly beautiful – with the ability to inspire both fairy tales and nightmares alike. Bovey Castle offers folklore tours to hotel guests and day visitors, giving people a taste of this incredible wildness, that has evoked such powerful imagery in the minds of authors and artists throughout the ages.
Countless Works, Inspired by the Countryside
There is an extensive list of highly talented authors who have featured Dartmoor within their work. Heartfelt children’s illustrated story books, such as ‘Bertie’s Dartmoor Adventures by Sally Anderson, to poetry anthologies by local poets, wildlife inspired tales such as ‘A Black Fox Running’ by Brian Carter, fabulous works of non-fiction depicting the landmarks across the region, have all been born from the passion and emotion the moors evoke. It is impossible to credit all the incredible pieces that have taken inspiration from the region, so we encourage you to do a little research and discover your next literary escape for yourself. Or, perhaps venture to Dartmoor for a little inspiration of your own.
In conclusion, Dartmoor continues to be a rich source of inspiration for writers and artists. Whether it is the rugged beauty of the moorland landscape or the rich history and culture of the region, Dartmoor has a unique and enduring appeal. The living authors who have written about Dartmoor are all able to capture some aspect of this appeal, whether through historical fiction, crime novels, or non-fiction exploration. For those who have yet to experience the magic of Dartmoor, these writers offer a tantalizing glimpse of what the region has to offer.
Photo credit – Mark Lakeman