YES TOR, HIGH WILLHAYS, BLACK TOR WEST OKEMENT VALLEY AND MELDON RESERVOIR
START POINT: MELDON RESERVOIR CAR PARK GRID REF: 562917
DISTANCE: 8 MILES

This 8 mile walk up to the highest point on Dartmoor was led by Fran Allen on 15th August 04 and despite the earlier rain in the Plymouth area and the grading of moderate to strenuous 13 walkers from the Plymouth Group gathered together to savour the experience of a walk upto the highest point on Dartmoor. It promised to be a lovely walk, if only the weather allowed us the views I knew we would have virtually throughout the walk, in the absence of low cloud and fog which is often found up on the moors.

The outline route we took is shown above and it is best followed in conjunction with a 1:25000 scale map of Dartmoor, such as the OS leisure map no 28 of Dartmoor.

At the start of the walk from the reservoir car park at 10.30 AM the conditions were light rain, light winds and cloud on the higher moors, not quite what was forecast. However within minutes of the start the skies were clearing, the rain had stopped and the forecast was right, light winds, dry with even some sunshine at times.

Once out of the car park, we turned left onto the road to the reservoir and immediately left again through a gate. Although we were intending to go up to the highest point on Dartmoor, we started with a descent to way below the end of Meldon Reservoir.

Once down in the valley to the north of the reservoir dam the climb started. We were at a height of 422 metres and were aiming up to the highest point on the moor on High Willhays at a altituDe of 622 metres, so a 400 metre ascent before lunch was the order of the day.

As Fran as indicated at the start, although it was up all the way to High Willhays, after lunch it would be downhill all the way. Comments about the Grand old Duke of York are not necessary!!

Accordingly we started our way up and we could see a huge worked out quarry ahead of us and we were soon across the Red-a-Vaen brook around the quarry and then uphill and looking down onto the quarry from above.

Ahead of us and high above us to the south was Longstone Hill and the contour lines on the 1:25000 map looked quite close together which might imply something to map readers.

Behind us as we started the steady climb was Meldon reservoir although not many were looking in that direction as we got into the swing of the good uphill bash!!

However we were not into the straight up approach and we soon picked up a track which, whilst still climbing all the time led us in a clockwise direction around the hill, before we straightened up to head up due south passing to the east of the highest point of the hill.

 

Off to the east of us, standing between us and Yes Tor, high above, was a deep valley. We had no intention of dropping down into that valley just to climb up the other side.

We continued south for about a kilometre, and the ground levelled out for a while.

At last we could comfortably pass round the top of the valley and we even had time to grab a cup of coffee on almost level ground for a short while before the ascent continued.

Beyond the top of the valley we swung south east for the steady final 200 metres height gain to the top. We were half way up was one way of looking at it.

We had about 1.5 km to go to reach Yes Tor so it would be a steady old climb before lunch.

With weather conditions giving excellent visibility Fran wisely allowed us our heads pointed out Yes Tor and said we should all get together again at the top.

Some chose the direct straight up approach whilst other favoured the slightly longer but marginally easier approach of looping more around to the south of the Tor giving a less steep approach.

From our point to the west of Yes Tor, we had a clear optical illusion that the tor to the left of Yes Tor was higher than Yes Tor. We checked the map, the tor was West Mill Tor, surely the maps couldn't be wrong. but looking at it, we certainly could see that West Hill was higher than Yes Tor.

Surprisingly, the ascent up to Yes Tor was rather easier than I had initially thought it might be.

Steep in places it most certainly was but the going was relatively straightforward with little in the way of bogs and tussocks. With a little care, it was possible to walk to the side of the most of the clitter on the western side of the Tor on our way to the top.

We climbed up to the Tor following our own paths of preference.

When we arrived at the top, the views from the top of the Tor were excellent, it would have been very disappointing to have arrived there in cloud or in poor visibility.

 

We all reached to the highest point on the Tor within 10 minutes of each other and the idea that West Mill was higher than Yes Tor was proved to be a pure optical illusion, but it does show how the eye can be fooled.

From the top we were indeed looking down on West Mill, a kilometre to the north east of us and way below us at a height of 541metres.

Yes Tor sits at a height of 619 metres and although much more impressive as a Tor than High Willhays, that scattered outcrop of rocks, less than 1 kilometre to the south, wins the highest point stakes for Dartmoor at a height of 621 metres.

 

We enjoyed trying to work out what Tors we could see from the top and soon everyone was indeed gathered together with no mishaps.

Since it was a little early for lunch, Fran decided that we should make our way across due south to High Willhays before our well earned rest.

Pretty obviously, once down from Yes Tor is would be relatively level going across to High Willhays and so it proved to be.

The descent from Yes Tor was easy and 15 minutes later after an easy stroll along a rough, stony, military track linking the two we arrived at High Willhays.

 

There were several small outcrops on High Willhays and it wasn't immediately obvious which was the high point.

We decided is was the rock pile atop one of the outcrops where several photographs were taken to record our our ascent.

It is very rare for me to appear in any photograph on the web site since I take them, however on this occasion.............

Everything is relative, it is our local Everest, after all.

After a welcome half an hour break, we had marched right up to the top of the hill and all we had to do was to march right down again but not following our route up for sure.

As you can see from the route, we looped out round to the most southerly point at Fordsland Ledge, a small tor in my view, but not named as such on the 1:25000 map.

Fran had planned an excellent descent first to Fordsland Ledge and then down to Black Tor with great views the whole time over the West Okement Valley and across to Branscombe's Loaf.

So it was indeed almost a gentle downhill to Fordsland Ledge, a nice outcrop of rocks, as I've mentioned, but I was very surprised to see two quite intrusive military storage huts on the rocky ourcrop. There seemed little attempt to merge them in with the surrounding landscape.

But there we are, they are not and we were in the Okehampton Firing range so I guess they have a reason for making them stand out quite so much.

We spent few minutes enjoying the first good views of the West Okement Valley stretching up to Great Kneeset in one direction and down to Meldon Reservoir in the other and we could see Lints Tor almost two kilometres to the south. The West Okement valley is a very steep sided valley and with Black-a-Tor copse just above the river again there was plenty to catch the eye.

The next target, allied to the descent down into the valley, was Black Tor, some 75 metres below us in height and about 1.5 km to the north west.

 

I had never visited this Black Tor before and had only in consequence seen it only from a distance.

The descent was relatively easy and following narrow paths it only took us 25 minutes for this particular downhill section.

What surprised me was the surface area that Black Tor covered. I had always imagined it to be a closely grouped set of rocks comprising the tor. I was very surprised to find that there are in fact three distinct outcrops making up the tor and they could have easily been designated at Higher Black, Middle Black and Lower Black Tors. In fact there must be 150 metres between each of the outcrops making up Black Tor.

From the approach from above, the outcrops didn't appear that big but when we are at the top of each of them the dropoff on the West Okement side made us realise just how big the outcrops really are.

From Black Tor, we made our way down, avoiding bracken and clitter in as much as we could to arrive at the valley floor right beside the West Okement river and just to the north of Black-a-Tor copse, this magnificent old oak wood on Dartmoor. Whether Darmoor was full of such woods at one time we are not certain, but there are only three such woods still in existance on the whole of Dartmoor. They are this one, Wistmans Wood above Two Bridges and Piles Copse in the Erme Valley about 5 kilometres above Ivybridge.

All we had to do now was to follow the river downstream to Meldon Reservoir and we would be almost back to the starting point.

The going was generally OK as we made our way down but it was boggy in places and besides a walled in area, we had to hop from rock to rock to clear some quite boggy ground.

The enclosed area merits a mention. Within the boundaries of this walled in area, almost full of trees incidentally, there is a weir and a small pond behind it of. The entry gate to it is securely bolted and the walls are quite substantial and designed to keep animals and people out for sure.

Mike Brown's Guide to Dartmoor does offer a little insight on this old development, in that there are a number of NDWB boundary markers in the area.

Since NDWB stands for North Devon Water Board then a reasonable conclusion to draw is that NDWB did some work in the area and this enclosed land, pond and weir once belonged to them.

Further information might therefore be forthcoming from SWW.

Further research reveals:

It is a water intake point. It consists of a weir and a pond in an enclosed area, the extracted water being conveyed by gravity-flow via a 12 inch diameter main through to the water treatment works on Prewley Moor. [High Dartmoor p903 - Hemery]

Below the weir and pond, the West Okement descents very steeply through almost a mini gorge to level out again further down the stream. There are many rocks in the area and the area in which the gorge sits is known as the Valley of Rocks. Mike Brown writes in his excellent CDROM Guide to Dartmoor about this section of the West Okement:

The West Ockment plunges over a series of steep falls and rapids through a narrow gorge appropriately called the Valley of Rocks. Some of the miniature falls are quite spectacular, as the water fights its way over the boulder-strewn river bed.

When cold snowy winters grip northern Dartmoor the whole scene is transformed into a magnificent ice palace, the smaller falls becoming solid curtains of ice, swifter currents emerging from large ice caverns, and myriads of icicles, some of enormous length clinging to every boulder and rock face.

A grove of trees has taken hold in the gorge, their roots clinging precariously to the boulders on the precipitous slopes. A logan-type boulder stands poised on another in mid-stream just above the lower weir.

The river falls some 150 feet in just a short distance and, following the riverside track which begins on the right bank opposite Vellake Corner and runs along the ledge high above the valley floor, it comes as rather a surprise to suddenly find oneself at river level again after just a short climb to the weir at the head of the gorge.

 

We continued on down the path to the north east of the river walking right by the Valley of Rocks populated with many trees now and into a flatter area, named on the map as Vellake Corner.

Some of us crossed over the West Okement via a narrow footbridge, which leads to a SWW meter house to measure the water flow into the reservoir incidentally, whilst others went a little further down to cross over a stone, more convential, bridge.

We then made our way round to cross Vellake brook, although not named on the map and memories of granite being very slippery when covered with water came flooding back so we took rather more care than when we had crossed it a couple of months before. Once across we went up, through a gate and then headed north uphill to get our first real views of Meldon Reservoir.

Those who had chosen the convential stone bridge crossing had chosen the shorter route to make their way up to the vantage point over the head of the reservoir, although they were faced with 100 stone steps to walk up.

 

We were all very surprised to see just how low the water level was in the reservoir.

It hadn't been a dry summer, by any means, but nevertheless the water level seemed to indicate that it had been a long dry period or that people had been less than frugal with the use of the water this summer.

After a short break, above the southern end of the reservoir, we followed the narrow track along relatively level ground to emerge out at the nothern end, just to the west of the dam itself.

We passed through a gate onto the road and thence straight back into the car park and the facilities. The three level car park was very full, it was the height of the holiday season and the school holidays after all. For the second time in just a few weeks, Fran had led us admirably on two visits to North Dartmoor, we had been right up to Fur Tor and Cut Hill on the first and now upto the highest point on Dartmoor, in fact the highest point in the whole of Southern England. The tussocks on this well led walk were minor compared with those we encountered on the Cut Hill expedition. It is always good to go to somewhere new on Dartmoor and for me Fran had achieved this on her last two walks with both Cut Hill and this time Black Tor being firsts for me. <\center>