North-Western Dartmoor Hike and Sub-Zero Tarp Camp

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A view that I see very often on my commute to and from work is the entire length of the North-western flank of Dartmoor National Park. From Belstone in the North, via the likes or Rowtor, West-Mill Tor, the high tors of Yes Tor, High Willhays, Great Links Tor, and then over Arms Tor and all the way to Brat Tor with the impressive Widgery Cross on top of it.

This impressive vista always taunts me, “come here Trevor, come and walk me!” And so one Saturday, I woke with the intention of doing just that!

An Impromptu Adventure

It was early April 2022, and due to being busy with family life commitments, I had missed the National Bivvy Camp event earlier in the year. Well, since I had been and visited the RAB factory a few weeks prior and had received a brand new Down Sleeping Bag and already owned a RAB bivvy which I still hadn’t used, I had wanted to get out for a bivvy camp. One Friday, whilst driving home, the setting sun illuminated the moor, and I just had the urge to, even more so than usual, to get up on the moor and hike that route, stopping off on the way for a Tarp and Bivvy Camp.

Checking the weather, all looked good, dry for the most part and even a chance of snow. This would be a great test of both my gear and my mettle.

So, the following morning, I woke early, plotted my route on Outdoor Active App, which had recently taken over from my favourite hiking App Viewranger, and I pinged the route over to my Garmin Solar watch. Then I packed my Lowe Alpine ProTrail 35:45 backpack, which for me is a small pack, and got my family to drop me off at the car park underneath Brat Tor.

Setting off

Walking from Brat Tor to Belstone was more like walking home for me, so it made sense, and I must admit that I felt pretty good when I first set off, although that first hill took the wind out of me a bit as I had pretty much not done any exercise throughout the winter months.

Reaching the top of Brat Tor, I was able to see some more of the tors of my journey coming into view. It was a cold and overcast morning, with clouds surrounding me which looked like they were threatening to drop something on me, whether it was rain or snow remained to be seen.

Picking Up Pace

Once I had made it up to the top of the moor though, I was able to pick up pace somewhat, and the rest of the tor hopping was nowhere near as much as a struggle as that first climb had been.

I took in Arms Tor next, taking in the views of Great Nodden and then beyond that, down over the rolling hills and patchwork fields of Devon. By this time I had it in mind that I would stop to camp at Black Tor, one of my favourite tors on Dartmoor which overlooked the awesome West Okement Valley, so I thought I would take this time on top of Arms Tor to check what the weather was planning to do tonight.

I looked at High Willhays on the Met Office site (the closest tor on the app to Black Tor), and was excited but a little nervous to see that it was looking like heavy snow at 8pm! Would I be bivvying it or would the DD Hammocks Superlight Tarp be coming out too? Time would tell.

On my way over to Great Links Tor, another favourite of mine (in fact this walk takes in many of my favourite parts of the moor) it did start to snow a little, but not enough to distort my visibilty. Despite the fact that I had the Garmin going steadily showing my route, and was obviously armed with a map and compass, I knew this part of the moor so well that I could walk it unaided.

Great Links and Beyond

Once up on Great Links, I started to see all sorts of groups of people walking around in all directions. Not sure whether it was 10 tor training, or Duke of Edenborough or whatever, but there were folks all around. As I hopped down off of Great Links, I passed two fellow YouTubers Dave and Balders as they made their way up. We stopped for a chat

The weather began to improve a little as I left Great Links Tor, the sun broke through here and there, and I even glimpsed blue skies too through some gaps in the moody looking clouds. I arrived at Sourton and took in the views of Devon again from beside the trig point. From here now the next phase of the route was also beginning to appear. Meldon Resevoir below, with Shelstone Tor and Black Tor sitting either side of the West Okement valley.

A little Confusion

The next part of the journey got a little confusing. I headed down towards Meldon reservoir to find the track down to the Okement valley and over a bridge, which I thought may be the easiest way over the river.

Even when plotting this route I was a little confused as to what the route was. There used to be a route all the way around the resevoir but the land owners have since fenced it off and made a circular walk around more complicated and a lot longer than it has to be.

Even so, as I headed down into the valley towards the reservoir, even my watch was confused, and was certain that I trespassed as I emerged out the other side. I made my way down the bank towards the Okement and could see the final destination of Day 1 above me, Black Tor.

I was 6 miles into the walk, and just approaching 6pm was making good time, had a good couple of hours to reach the top and set up cam p for the night before the sun set and the snow was due to begin.

The climb up to Black Tor was a little boggy underfoot, and there is no real discernible track from the valley to the top, so its a case of trying your best to avoid the boggy slopes. As you start the climb, Shelstone Tor sits above you on the opposite side of the river, before too long you are soon looming above it and looking down on it.

An Icy Tarp and Bivvy Camp

I reached the top and decide that with the chance of snow on it’s way (which could always turn out as rain) that I wouldn’t risk it and would use the Tarp shelter to add some extra protection. I found a dip in the ground tucked in beside the granite rocks of the tor and set my tarp up over this. This little dip created a huge extra space beneath the tarp, although I wasn’t sure how it would fare if the rain did start – I may end up doing a Nath and end up sleeping in a pool.

I cooked my tea, a dehydrated Firepot meal, and sat on the rocks over looking the valley, watching the clouds clinging to Corn Ridge across from me, and the sun setting beyond Sourton Tors as I ate my meal. This was a relaxing and awe-inspiring end to a good days stomping.

As 8pm came and went, it soon became aware that there was no snow at all, so I retired for the night beneath the trap, tucked into my Rab Down Bag and Bivvy, laying on my Thermarest Neo Air Xlite (with a really good R-Value and a matress feel this expensive purcchase has been an absolute game changer) and Thermarest Ridgerest foam pad (to protect the Ridgerest. and after watching a film on my phone, I soon fell asleep for a surprisingly snug and cozy night in sub-zero temperatures below a canvas that was already freezing over.

A Glorious Morning

The morning was awesome. It was freezing cold as I woke, but the sun was already out in full bloom and there was barely a cloud in the sky.

My nose and cheeks had been exposed in the night, and were tingling in the icy air, but apart from that, my sleeping system had more than proven its worth. It had been one of the most comfortable nights yet out on the trail. I stirred, made a breakfast and a brew, and it was that cold that the water froze like slush puppy as I tipped it into my mug.

Onto The High Moors

I had soon packed up my kit and it was time to set off again. The walk up to High Willhays from Black Tor can be a thankless slog, and so I had decided that it would be a good idea to follow the beaten track up to Fordslands Ledge first. The ground beneath my feet, very often marshy, wet, boggy was rock solid in the frost. My RAB Microlite Down Jacket, another freebie from my Rab Trip, was an absolute treasure, I was so warm as I walked on this bitter cold morning.

At Fordslands ledge I took in the views beneath me of Lints Tor, and then carved my way along the ridge and over to High Willhays, a tor I have visited on may occasions, and the highest tor on the moor. Its not as impressive as it sounds though, to be honest, a mere granite clump which is no real feat to climb up onto. From a distance, both Great Links Tor and Yes Tor seem a lot higher.

The sun was burning bright this morning, and soon eliminated the frost as it rose higher in the sky. As I passed by the rocks of High Willhays the frost clung to the shade and vanished where the sun lay. It was a quick hop over to Yes Tor from here, and now the views across tot he final tors of Westmill, Rowtor and the Belstone Tors were apparent. The final leg was upon me.

From here I made my way to the tracks below the tors, access for farm and military vehicles I think, and soon made my way over to West Mill and Rowtor, a pleasant stroll on such a beautiful morning. No matter how many times I visit this area, which I do a lot as its the closest to me, I never get tired of the views.

The Last Leg

From Rowtor I had to make my way down to the valley beneath, passing the East Okement at Culliver steps. Then it was another climb up to the tors of Winter Tor, Higher Tor and Belstone Tor. This final leg began to take a toll, I was beginning to slow, and as the sun rose higher, I began to over heat, stopping to remove layers as I edged up the first hill.

As I pass by Winter Tor, and head up to higher tor, the ground becomes less marshy and becomes a little more rocky beneath the feet, the clitter strewn slopes can be a little dodgy so you have to start watching your step a bit more closely. I remembered when Nath and I first visited this area, we were lost in the mist and spent hours up and down this patch between Higher Tor and Irishmans Wall. The moor seemed a lot larger and more daunting back then, on days like today however, without the need of a map and with a few more years of experience beneath my belt, it seems much smaller

Soon I’m over Irishmans Wall, over Belstone Tor, and heading down into the village of Belstone where my family await me. We meet at the Tors Inn for a well-earned bitter shandy and a Carvery. What better way to celebrate the first real hike and camp of the year!

3 responses to “North-Western Dartmoor Hike and Sub-Zero Tarp Camp”

  1. Craig Elliott Avatar
    Craig Elliott

    Good effort Trev!

    1. Trev Avatar

      Cheers Craig! Thanks for reading!

  2. Jim Sallis Avatar
    Jim Sallis

    Fantastic effort Trev! I’ve watched the YouTube video several times and fancy a stab at that myself. Might you be able to share the .gpx file? 👍

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