A common theme for our trips away is the sea, mountains/hills or a combination of both. On a week away in North Cornwall with the family just being in the house was going to tick the sea box, with the living room providing wonderful views across Widemouth Bay. After a quick look at the map we realised that we could tick the hills box too, with a short-ish drive across into Devon, to the edge of Dartmoor.
I was left in charge of picking a route as I normally leave everything up to Matt, so bought a map and read some walk reports on the internet. It was quickly decided that we’d ‘do’ High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor and even convinced my sister Meg, and her partner Ben, to come along for the day.
We parked up in the carpark at Meldon reservoir and as somebody who loathes paying for parking was pretty impressed with the reasonable £2 for 3 hours and over. If all car parks were like that I’d be more then happy to part with my cash without a grumble.
Leaving the car park we started off south-west along the bridleway for a short stretch before cutting down towards the water, hoping to meet up with the path that ran along the east edge of the reservoir. We promptly failed to find it. So much for me planning the route! Not to be flustered, we carried on towards the top end of the reservoir and hopefully a potential place to cross the river. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between gorse stands, finding a frog and discussing whether we should ignore the ‘no access’ sign on a gate we decide the best thing to do was just to cut down to the water and cross the river! Matt made it straight across, jumping from rock to rock, and disappeared beyond the trees. The rest of us were a little bit more cautious, with Ben and I removing our shoes to wade across and offering Meg a helping hand. Nothing like a bit of adventure to start off a walk!
As we emerged from the thin band of trees Matt stood waiting for us on a path, which did not exist according to the OS map, but cut around the western edge of the reservoir and would have saved us a whole lot of trouble if we’d known it was there. Oh well!
Following the path we started to slowly gain some height and I gawped at the river as it ran through the wooded gully next to us. I have a real soft spot for watercourses that run through streams and this one was just beautiful, jumping over and falling down rocks. I half expected to spot naiads and dryads flitting out of view as the path ran parallel to the water. I was very tempted to go for a dip but figured it was too early on in the walk for that. Upon reaching an old wall we cut off the path towards the craggy tors rising from the hill. Jumping from boulder to boulder, avoiding the gaps and small streams, I was a little worried as to how Meg and Ben would find it but they continued without a grumble, despite Meg’s foot briefly disappearing down a hole. Walking got easier as we got higher and the ground became firmer. Matt and I climber to the top of the first tor, followed by Meg and Ben as I declared we’d reached Black Tor, to then look at the map and realise it was probably the next one along. Because we can’t help ourselves Matt and I had to stand on the top of each of the three craggy points to take in the views, though the novelty seemed to have worn off for Meg and Ben by that point and they’d already started to head in the vague direction of High Willhays. From Black Tor it's not quite possible to see the highest point so we aimed for the top of the ridge, angling more to the right following behind Meg and Ben.
Driven by hunger Meg and Ben had sat themselves on the rocks at Fordsland Ledge next to the army hut by the time we’d caught up with them and we all tucked into the food we’d packed. I think they were relieved to see that the majority of the climbing had been done and it was more of a gentle amble as the top of the High Willhays cairn came into view. As the highest point on Dartmoor it was slightly underwhelming, and if it wasn’t for the cairn probably wouldn’t have even caught my attention. The cairn itself was slightly spoilt, being topped with a soggy jellybaby with a crane fly attached, so I removed them for the next walker. The views were good though, particularly as you could see the sea. Back on a path we headed towards Yes Tor, a slightly more impressive structure rising up from the ground. Matt and I did the obligatory touching the trig and had a nice chat with a family who’d done the same route as us, accompanied by a gorgeous fox red lab.
Although there was no clear path, heading down back towards the reservoir wasn’t too steep though did require navigating over a few rocks. I probably made this a little harder for myself as I veered towards a group of ponies grazing on the hillside. Stopping at a respectful distance from them I was delighted to see not one, but two beautiful foals. We are looking into getting ponies at work so I obviously needed to check them out. When I’d finished ogling I hurried on to meet the others.
From Longstone Hill we could have cut down to the reservoir and made our way back to the car park but I’d hear of a potential swim spot in an old limestone quarry, called Meldon Pool, so carried on in the direction of the viaduct, taking the looping path down to the West Okement River, below the reservoir wall. Crossing a bridge adorned with ‘no swimming’ signs we started to check out the swimming spot just as a farmer turned up on a quad bike. It was clear he was checking for swimmers so we changed our minds, re-crossed the bridge and had a dip in the river there. It wasn’t deep enough to swim but we, eventually, got our shoulders under and messed around in the water for a little while.
From there it was only a short walk back to the carpark. There was a small slope to climb but it was all now on a track, from which at one point you could see the path we’d failed to find early on!
It was a cracking walk, covering just under 12km in approx 4 hours. The weather was on our side for once (Matt and I often get rained on) and I think despite the slight mishap at the start Matt will let me choose future routes. Meg and Ben, who aren’t normally walkers, both survived and were still smiling at the end which I took as a good result. Neither Matt or I have really done any walking on Dartmoor and I know Matt enjoyed it a lot more then he thought he would, so we’ll definitely be back to climb a few more tors!
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