Steven Spielberg’s movie version of War Horse has hit cinemas worldwide, splashing the dramatic scenery of the UK’s Dartmoor across the silver screen. The book, written by veteran children’s author Michael Morpurgo (he’s written over 90 books, I’ve interviewed him and he’s as sage as he is a smart storyteller), follows the story of Joey, a farm horse from Devon, who is sent off to the wasteland of the First World War.
Spielberg acquired the film rights in December 2009, arriving on Dartmoor in August 2010 to begin filming. Dartmoor locations included the small village of Meavy, Gutter Tor, Venford Reservoir and Ditsworthy Warren House. The multi-Oscar winning director praised the beauty of the Dartmoor countryside.
“I have never before, in my long and eclectic career, been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty as I experienced filming War Horse on Dartmoor … And, with two-and-a-half weeks of extensive coverage of landscapes and skies, I hardly scratched the surface of the visual opportunities that were offered to me,” he told The Daily Mail.
A Hollywood film based on another local book, We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee, has also opened worldwide. Based on the story of Dartmoor Zoo, the film has been translated to Southern California and stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Damon plays Benjamin Mee, a journalist who lost his wife to cancer, leaving him to raise their seven-year-old daughter (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and rebellious teenage son (Colin Ford). Struggling to cope and needing a fresh start, Benjamin quits his high-flying job and buys a small, ramshackle zoo with 47 species and a handful of employees. Johansson plays a zoo employee without a sense of humour.
The film reveals Benjamin’s fight to hold his family together and find his place in life with the quest to get the zoo up to scratch in time for a make-or-break inspection. Directed by Cameron Crowe (who made Jerry Maguire), it’s a step up from the awful Elizabethtown which threatened to derail his career.
Covering 953 square kilometers (368 square miles) of breath-taking natural beauty, Dartmoor is host to spectacularly diverse landscapes, from deep wooded valleys and patchwork fields, to the rugged splendour of its windswept moors.
Here’s where to stay:
The Prince Hall Hotel (www.princehall.co.uk) is a luxury country house hotel and restaurant set in the heart of Dartmoor. Prynse Hall, as it was originally called, is one of the ancient tenements of Dartmoor and a property has stood on this site since 1443. At the end of the 19th Century the house became the private home of the Barrington family, who were stewards to the Duke of Cornwall. The current Duke, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, still controls much of the surrounding moor and is the hotel’s landlord. It’s thought that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stayed at Prince Hall and was inspired by the surrounding countryside to write The Hound of Baskervilles.
Today guests can look forward to a roaring log fire in the sitting room, selection of fine wines and spirits in the comfy bar and some of the best local produce in the relaxed restaurant, all with picture-postcard views of the moor. From £115 per person per night including three-course dinner and breakfast.
The Elephant’s Nest Inn (www.elephantsnest.co.uk) is a quintessentially English country pub set on the western fringes of Dartmoor National Park. This 16th century free-house offers a cosy winter bolt hole with open log fires as well as glorious al fresco summer dining in the large English country-garden with its stunning views of the moor. The seasonally changing menu features such delights as homemade fish pie, Devon sirloin steak and Eton mess with local berries. The three beautifully finished guest rooms each have solid oak floors with under floor heating, large Vi-Spring beds and soft goosedown duvets and pillows. From £85 per room per night including a Devonshire breakfast.
Until the early 1950s the pub was called, somewhat uninspiringly, The New Inn. The landlord at the time, a well upholstered gentleman by the name of Charles Ossington who weighed in at 20+ stone, was in the habit of pulling pints or turning round to use the spirit optics while continuing to remain seated on a stool he had behind the bar.
One day a regular customer came in and said “You look like an elephant sitting on a nest”. Charles was tickled by the description and changed the name.