Our first stop was to the Dartmoor Prison Museum (well once we had found the right car park – we were definitely there to visit the museum and not the current inmates at the prison!).
You can’t take any photos in the museum and are told that this is because there may be current prisoners working in the museum! It’s £3.95 to enter and I think well worth the small fee to say you have been there and to have a look around. There is lots to see and read including information and displays dating back 200 years. There are walls full of prison memorabilia and information from when the prison was first established though to the current day – I hadn’t really realised it was still an actual working prison! Today the prison houses category C adult males and has a capacity of 640 cells. On the day we visited the staff at the entrance told us there was currently 637 cells being occupied meaning 3 were vacant and suggested should Nathan misbehave I could lose him there for a while!
The museum has displays which inform you about various notorious and famous prisoners including Frank Mitchell who was termed “the mad axeman”. He famously escaped from Dartmoor and was never recaptured despite a large manhunt. It was later learnt that the infamous Kray twins had not only helped him to escape but later murdered him – how confusing!
There’s also displays of both the prisoners uniforms though the ages and those of the staff too. You can see current riot gear the staff use and a cabinet full of old keys used to lock the prisoners in. My favourite display was probably the one where you can see all the contraband that has been confiscated over the years in the prison including mobile phones, homemade lights and a serious amount of weapons. Whilst this was a really interesting display it was also quite disturbing seeing the homemade weapons prisoners have created out of everyday items available to them such as tooth brushes, plastic cutlery and razor blades. It reminded me of watching Prison Break! I also found the information on prisoner diets and tuck lists interesting and it contrasted the difference of food that is offered to prisoners now nutrition and variety wise compared to the older days. It made me think about how prisons now have a lot more rights compared to times gone by and how human rights have to be abided by despite the prisoner’s criminal histories.
As if that’s not enough information on prison life there’s a mock cell to explore and the outside farm machinery area which shows you the machines the orisons used to use when they were put to work.
I left the museum feeling like I had learnt a lot and how I could have learnt even more if I had spent even more time to read every single display board – there were so many you could make the most of the entry fee and be there all day! Certainly something different for a mornings excursions!
After a lot of thinking about people who are locked up we made our way to the moors. We drove along the main road though the moor and were delighted to come across tonnes of sheep milling around on the hills, some very close to the side of the roads. We often had to quickly slow down as stray sheep meandered along the roads – it was funny to watch as they often didn’t seem too bothered by the cars and certainly didn’t hurry! There were also lots of gorgeous wild horses which again were right on the roadside you could have touched them if you stuck your arms out of the windows. They again didn’t seem too fussed by the close proximity of many passing cars and looked peaceful and settled as they chewed on the moors grass.
After taking a wrong turn and driving along some very tight narrow lanes we stopped at Princetown. Princetown is a small village which is highest village within the National Park. We briefly popped into Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre which is located here in the old Duchy Hotel. It has a couple of informative and interesting exhibitions and lots about local knowledge and the Dartmoor area. There’s a shop too full of Devon souvenirs and an all-important Dartmoor National park rubber and pencil for the collection! After looking around Princetown we realised that the Prison and Prison Museum were only up the road – somehow we had managed to do a big loop coming back on ourselves – thank goodness it was such a lovely drive through the moor!