Walking in Dartmoor: High Willhays and Yes Tor

A recent trip to Cornwall, and some spare time gave me an opportunity to do some well-deserved and well-overdue hiking!

Having studied a few places to go, and wanting not to venture too far off the main roads, I decided that stopping at Okehampton just off the A30 in Devon, and undertaking the circular walk from Meldon Reservoir to High Willhays and Yes Tor would be just the ticket.

I followed the route as described on Walking Britain (but the one here takes you through the woodland which I’d wish I’d done now), and in general it was quite easy to follow. Leaving the car park, you are immediately faced with a climb.

From Meldon Reservoir Car Park, and Up!

Meldon Reservoir to Black Tor

The track down to the riverside track that leads to Black Tor

I do dislike it when a walk starts with a climb as I prefer to get into my stride first, but this first track continues uphill past fields until you reach the reservoir pumping station on your right. At this point follow the ‘concessionary track’ down through the field until you start to see the reservoir. You will see the river down below, and the track that runs to the left of it.

Getting to the riverside track seemed to be tricky though – I followed a track down to some steps, and finally a footbridge with a locked gate. There didn’t seem to be anyway over the gate so I high-tailed it over and continued on my way.

This part of the walk was pleasant and the Dartmoor ponies and the foals made pleasant company, and made up for the fact that despite hearing the river tumble over the Dartmoor stone below, I could only actually see it in places. You then start to near another walled area which and you can see the approaching climb to Black Tor.

The Climb to Black Tor

Dartmoor Ponies

The obligatory Dartmoor pony photo! The foal kept me company for about 300 yards too!

I could have continued along the track, through an ancient forest and made a shorter but steeper climb up to Black Tor but I decided to go for a shallower climb, and this proved to be a mistake.

The climb to Black Tor is clittered with rocks. These are not close enough to clamber over, so you kind of have to walk around them, but in-between the rock is marshy and often very soft ground. This made it hard going, and if you’re not sinking into the bogs and pools you’re having to hop over the various boulders.

Arriving at Black Tor was a relief, and sheltering behind the bigger cairn gave some respite from the strong winds too.

Despite the constant threat (as can be seen in the photo) rain never came – but them neither did the sun either. It was cloud and wind all afternoon.

High Willhays and Yes Tor

The summit of Yes Tor

The summit of Yes Tor with the lower-able Army flag pole next to the Trig Point

From the top of Black Tor you can see the High Willhays and Yes Tor in the distance. Rather then climb High Willhays and hike across the top to Yes Tor, I decided to make a beeline directly for Yes Tor and enjoy a bit of downhill walking for a bit! Of course this didn’t last long and I was soon climbing again to the summit of Yes Tor. This was easier going, as the ground was much firmer, and there was more rock clambering too which is always fun. As mentioned in all the walking guides, Yes Tor is not actually as high as High Willhays but the view is much better, and the top is more, erm, interesting shall we say.

Actually the top of Yes Tor was very pleasant for me, but if you want a quiet unspoilt area, then this isn’t it. There are a few strange portakabins and huts at the peak (although well hidden) which add a little mystery and eeriness. There is also a very rusty old flag pole right near the trig point on the peak, but the views are spectacular, and despite this being a Sunday on a decent day on the May Bank Holiday, I could not see anyone else from the top.

Yes Tor back to Meldon Reservoir Car Park.

Meldon Reservoir Dam

The final part of the downhill trek back to Meldon Reservoir car park with the rather Eastern Bloc looking Dam

There are few set tracks here so you can either make a beeline directly for the car park, or take a meandering route, as I did.

The descent went on for ages! It was only then that I realised how far uphill I’d walked. I eventually joined up with a rough track that took me around Longstone Hill, over the dam and back to the car park. From the top of Longstone Hill you get a good view of the area you’ve just walked and might be lucky enough to see a Buzzard circling around the ‘bowl’ looking for food.

Final thoughts

The walk itself was taxing – much more so that I was lead to believe, with the going underfoot very heavy at times. Perhaps this was due to taking wrong turns, but the combination of the rock clitter and marshy hills made it hard going.

It might also not be for everyone. The Dartmoor landscape is often featureless and bleak, and in the MOD land you might well see strange huts and things that seem out of place in the natural landscape. You also may not even be able to do the walk on certain days if the Army are active (check the link below).

If you like to get away from it all you’ll probably enjoy this walk. Despite there being being plenty of cars in the car park, I saw a grand total of two other people on the entire walk until I returned to the reservoir area. This was despite the volcanic ash scare just the week before, where lots of people were supposed to have been out and about over the Bank Holiday weekend.

It is an enjoyable walk and getting to the highest point in Southern England is an achievement in my book. If you like Dartmoor and are not worried about solitude, then it is defnitely one you need to do.

  • The car park has decent toilets and is free to park (although donations are welcome).
  • You’ll need Ordnance Survey map OL28 – available from Amazon.co.uk
  • The walk is very hilly – I reckon I did less than a mile on level ground – so I think you need to be reasonably fit to undertake it.
  • Like many hill walks, Dartmoor weather can change quickly so make sure you have waterproofs. It was also very windy up on the Willhays
  • I measured the route I took at 7.5 miles – it took just over 3 hours with a few stops
  • The walk enters an Army training are where live firing takes place – make sure it is okay to walk on the day you plan to go by checking here.