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Dartmoor's Highest Tors

A view of Yes Tor and High Willhays - without having to climb them - and an ancient oak woodland.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 45min

Ascent/gradient 722ft (220m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Grassy tracks and open moorland

Landscape Reservoir, ancient oak woodland and open moorland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 28 Dartmoor

Start/finish SX 563917

Dog friendliness Dogs can run free at all times, watch for sheep

Parking Car park at Meldon Reservoir (voluntary contributions)

Public toilets At car park

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1 Walk up the stone steps by the toilets, through the gate and left on a tarmac way towards the dam, signposted 'Bridleway to Moor'. Cross over the dam.

2 Turn right along a stony track. You will soon see a stile (right) leading to a waterside picnic area. Don't go over the stile, but leave the track here to go straight on, following the edge of the reservoir through a little side valley and over a small footbridge. The narrow path undulates to a steepish descent at the end of the reservoir to meet the broad marshy valley of the West Okement River; the swell of Corn Ridge 1,762ft (537m) lies ahead.

3 Cross the small wooden footbridge and take the narrow flinty path along the left edge of the valley, keeping to the bottom of the steep slope on your left. The path broadens uphill and becomes grassy as it rounds Vellake Corner above the tumbling river below right.

4 At the top of the hill the track levels and Black Tor Copse can be glimpsed ahead. Follow the river upstream past a waterfall and weir, right of a granite enclosure, and along the left bank through open moorland to enter Black Tor Copse - a wonderful picnic spot.

5 Retrace your steps out of the trees and veer right around the copse edge, uphill aiming for the left outcrop of Black Tor on the ridge above. Pick your way through the bracken to gain the tor; there's no definite path here, but it's straightforward. The right outcrop rises 1,647ft (502m).

6 Return to the flattish grassy area north of the tor. Turn right to continue directly away from the river valley behind, aiming for a fairly obvious track visible ahead over Longstone Hill. To find the track go slightly downhill from the tor to meet a small stream. Turn left, then right towards three granite blocks marking the track.

7 The intermittent track runs straight across open moor, with good views of the quarry ahead. Where the Red-a-Ven Brook Valley appears below right, enjoy the view of (left to right) Row Tor, West Mill Tor and Yes Tor. High Willhays, Dartmoor's highest tor, lies just out of sight to the right. The track veers left around the end of the hill and drops back to the reservoir.

8 Turn right to rejoin the track back over the dam and back to the car park.

If you want to get a 'quick fix' and to experience examples of almost everything that Dartmoor has to offer, but fairly easily and in a relatively short time - then this is the walk for you. Within 10 minutes of the A30 as it races past Okehampton you can get the lot: a tranquil reservoir, a sparkling river and waterfall tumbling though a beautiful tree-lined valley, wide expanses of open moorland, an area of ancient lichen-encrusted oak woodland and a great view of the highest tors on the moor - and all without expending too much effort. You don't have to tramp for miles over unhospitable moorland or get to grips with a compass to get a real feel of the moor. Note: Be very careful if attempting this walk in mist.

Owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, this is one of the best areas of ancient high altitude oak woodland in Britain, and was established as a National Nature Reserve in 1996. There is a huge variety of mosses and lichens covering the granite boulders from which the stunted oaks emerge - and the whole place is enchanting. It makes a wonderful focus for the walk. There are two other areas of upland woodland on the moor - at Piles Copse in the Erme Valley and at Wistman's Wood by the side of the West Dart River just north of Two Bridges. In all three places the oaks have remained ungrazed because the clutter of granite boulders beneath has protected them from the ravages of the local sheep. Black Tor Copse feels little visited and remote - the atmosphere is quite magical.

Dartmoor is basically a huge granite intrusion, pushed up through surrounding sedimentary rocks, formed in the same way as Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Where it is exposed to the elements this raised granite plateau has been weathered into giant blocks, creating the tors so characteristic of the area. The highest part of the moor lies in the north east corner just south of the A30, where it rises to 2,037ft (621m) at High Willhays, seen from this walk. The average height of the moor, however, is around 1,200ft (366m).

Sold by British Rail after privatisation, Meldon Quarry is around 200 years old, and was originally mined for a range of minerals. Tin, copper, limestone, roadstone and aplite, arsenic, copper, granite and churt have all come from here. The Black Down copper mine was in operation in the 19th century, as was the Hornfeld Quarry, which produced ballast for the new railways in the area. The quarry today produces ballast, roadstone, concrete aggregates and building stone, and covers 235 acres (95ha).

What to look for

There is clear evidence of the military presence on Dartmoor from this walk. As you admire the view over the Red-a-Ven Valley you will notice a line of red and white posts running along the hillside, which marks the boundary of the live firing ranges in this part of the moor. These are used for training on a limited number of days each year, and you can walk within the ranges outside these times - so long as you are sensible and take care not to touch any strange objects you might find.

While you're there

Have a look at Meldon Viaduct, which you can see easily from the dam. This is a scheduled ancient monument dating from 1874, when the London & South Western Railway line was extended from Exeter to Lydford. Standing 150ft (45.7m) high and 541ft (165m) long, it was originally constructed in wrought iron, and now carries a National Cycle Route. The line from Meldon to Exeter is still used for quarry traffic.

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