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Okehampton sits quietly at the very centre of Devon, at the point where the gentle rolling hills that epitomise North Devon's soft and welcoming character met the stark granite moorland scenery of the Dartmoor National Park, including the high peaks of Yes Tor and High Willhayes. The location of the town, easy access to the moor and the adjacent A30 trunk road have all contributed to establishing Okehampton as the walking centre for the northern region of the National Park.
The towns growing prominence has recently been reinforced by the re-opening of the Exeter to Okehampton railway line. This is a limited service at the present, running on weekends only, but it does provide people with another means of convenient access to the town. A second line, the 'Dartmoor Pony' runs from Okehampton across the dramatic Meldon Viaduct to nearby village of Meldon, where you will find the Meldon Visitor Centre. This is a weekend service for most of the year, stepping up to a daily service during the peak season.
Dartmoor has been inhabited from the earliest of times as the granite strewn moorland, provided the early settlers with ample supplies of easily quarried building materials to construct their hut circles, monoliths and chamber tombs - the granite being easily quarried. This is reflected in the high number of Neolithic and Iron Age sites, hut circles monoliths and chamber tombs, that can be found scattered across the moor - 1500 hut circles alone.
The first documentary evidence of the existence of Okehampton was in AD 980, when the Saxon settlement cross roads, was listed as a place where slaves were freed, so that they could choose their own destiny. The Saxon rulers of the area were replaced by the Norman's following 1066 and the invasion of William the Conqueror. The first Norman Serif of the area was Baldwin de Brion, who built the castle as an administrative centre for the large Devon estates that he had acquired.
The Castle is located just outside of the town on top of a wooded hill, in a strategic position that dominated the River Okemont valley and the main route into Cornwall. Okehampton was the largest mediaeval castle to be built in Devon. The main building was destroyed on orders of Henry VIII, after its owner, the Earl of Devon was convicted of treason, but it is still an impressive, and awe inspiring sight. The remains of the building are administered and cared for by English Heritage.
The Museum of Dartmoor Life.
Situated in a courtyard on West Street, next door to the Tourist information Office, the museum traces the development of the town and adjacent moor over the centuries. The museum, which is housed in a former mill, with a restored water wheel, has a large collection of local photographs and documents, acting as a centre for local research.
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