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Dartmoor: Lonely Stone Circles, Big Rocks, and Wild Ponies

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Lonely stone circles, big rocks, and wild ponies: That's Dartmoor. One of England's most popular national parks, Dartmoor is one of the few truly wild places left in this densely populated country. A moor is characterized by its low and scrubby vegetation. England's moors are vast medieval commons -- rare places where all can pass, anyone can graze their sheep, and, in the case of Dartmoor, ponies run wild.

Of the hundreds of Neolithic ruins that dot the Dartmoor landscape, the Scorhill Stone Circle is my favorite. Tranquil and nearly forgotten -- erected some 4,000 years ago by mysterious people for mysterious reasons -- it's yours alone... the way a stone circle should be.

We finished our episode about the southwest of England as the sun set deep in Dartmoor. At the private stone circle, with wild ponies in my periphery and thoughts of druids dancing in my mind, I looked into the camera and said, "Ponder the 40 centuries of people who've made this enchanting landscape their home, and the wisdom of today's English to protect it and keep it pristine. I hope you've enjoyed our swing through Cornwall and the southwest of England. I'm Rick Steves. Until next time, keep on travelin'."

Dartmoor sits upon a granite plateau, and occasionally bare granite "peaks" (called tors) break through the heather. Rising like lonesome watchtowers, these distinctive landmarks are the goal of popular walks. Haytor is the most famous of these rocks. Hiking to its summit offers unforgettable views and a rewarding king-of-the-mountain feeling.

The iconic ponies of Dartmoor run wild. Their ancestors were the working horses of the local miners. Living in the harsh conditions of the moor, these ponies are a hearty breed, known for their stamina. Today they're beloved among hikers for the romance they bring the otherwise stark terrain.

This is Day 87 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, and beyond. Find more on my travel blog.

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