Okehampton in West Devon,
Historic "Gateway-to-Cornwall" Town on the edge of Dartmoor.
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Derek W Palmer
Nature and Location
Okehampton is a bustling market town, of population about 7000, in central Devonshire at the north edge of the Dartmoor National Park. It is quickly assessible from the main, A30, dual-carriageway highway that goes through Devon and Cornwall. The City of Exeter in Devon is about 25 miles (approx. 40 km) to the east along the A30 and the Cornish town of Launceston is about 17 miles (approx. 27 km) to the south-west along the same highway.
The area now occupied by Okehampton has a long history. It is known that Iron Age people lived here before and around AD 0, that before AD 70, following the invasion of Britain by the Emperor Claudius in AD 43, the Romans built a fort (found by aerial photography in 1975) close to what is now Okehampton and also at nearby North Tawton, and that the Saxons had a settlement and a church (now part of a much later building) in the area.
However, it was Baron Baldwin de Brionne , one of the knights of William the Conqueror, who, by building a castle, established the basis for the present town of Okehampton as an important trading and market centre throughout the centuries in this part of Devonshire. Baron de Brionne was William's Royal Sheriff of Devonshire, and his castle in Okehampton is the only Devon castle listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. The present castle, on the same site, is that rebuilt and considerably enlarged in the early 1300s by Earl Hugh Courtenay, of the powerful Courtenay family of the County. In 1539, its owner, the Marquis of Exeter, was executed by order of King Henry VIII, and it gradually fell into disuse from then onwards.
Places to See and Visit
In or Close to the Town Centre
. . . . . . The fine town-hall , built as a private house in 1685.
. . . . . . The Georgian "White-Hart Inn" opposite the town-hall.
. . . . . . The famous Victorian Arcade, a covered shopping area.
. . . . . . The Museum of Dartmoor Life .
Within walking distance of the Town Centre
. . . . . . Okehampton Castle , as described above, in the valley of the River Okement, close to the road to Launceton in Cornwall.
Although now in ruins, the remaining walls and towers are still imposing and spectacular,
as befitting a castle that was among the strongest in all Britain in Norman and subsequent times.
An evening visit to see the Castle under floodlight is also very worth while.
. . . . . . . The Iron Age hill-fort, SE of the town on a steep ridge.
Outside Okehampton, easily accessible by Road
. . . . . . Lydford, now a village, but established as a Saxon town by King Alfred the Great in about AD 880.
. . . . . . Tavistock, the home town of Sir Francis Drake.
. . . . . . Dartmoor National Park
a large and beautiful wild area of hills and tors (grassy peaks topped by rock formations).
The two tallest peaks of Dartmoor, Yes Tor and High Wilhays, each more than 600 metres in height,
are not far south of Okehampton town.
. . . . . . Meldon Viaduct ,
formerly a railway viaduct but now open for pedestrians,
giving fine views into the ravine and over Dartmoor.
. . . . . . Meldon Reservoir : a spectacular dam again giving stupendous views over Dartmoor.
. . . . . . The Finch "Foundry" (National Trust) in the nearby village of Sticklepath:
this is a 19th Century iron-forging factory, with its water-channels, water-wheels,
and water-powered machinery still in working order.
. . . . . . Belstone , a nearby, very pretty village on and open to the Moor and its sheep and ponies.
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