[This post is adapted from my recent article for the iffleyroad.com journal]
I love it when a plan comes together.
Late in October, at a meeting with some of the Iffley Road brand ambassadors, Claire and Bill showed us an example of their brand new Dartmoor baselayer. “I’m actually going to the highest point in Dartmoor next week!” I chimed, serendipity ringing in the air. And so it came to pass – I parked up in Okehampton on a cool November morning and headed into the hills, armed with my phone and trusty Gorilla Grip tripod, sporting a range of Iffley Road kit.
My route was to take in the wonderful High Willhays (621m), not only the highest point in all Dartmoor and Devon, but above anything England south of Kinder Scout in the Peak District. Situated near the western edge of the national park and adjacent to its more famous sister peak Yes Tor, it gives those who venture to the top a taste of everything that is wonderful about our British moorland, and more: soft underfoot conditions, multiple singletrack paths, squelchy mud bogs, technical rocky climbs and descents, and to top it off incredible views for miles in every direction.
Beginning with a gentle two mile warm-up along the West Devon Way to the impressive Meldon Viaduct, I was able to stop to set up a few pictures and prepare myself for the climb up past the tree line and onto the moor.
Starting the long ascent at Meldon Quarry (now disused), I entered an army live ammunition range which was not in use (you can check schedules for the coming weeks here if you’d like to visit yourself), but I had done my homework and knew they had no plans. A navigational error saw me heading up the wrong side of a deep valley, but I was able to cross it near the top without trouble and make a beeline for the summit of Yes Tor. Pushing on, the gradient steepened and granite debris littered the paths in front of me as I picked my way along the sheep tracks, at times reducing me to a scramble on all fours.
High-fiving the trig point then jumping off a rocky outcrop near the top, I let myself push the pace as I scampered across the fairly flat ridge to High Willhays, happy the hard graft was behind me and enjoying fighting the howling wind working to unbalance my stride. I was very happy to be in good quality kit, as the exposed ridge of the ‘Roof of Dartmoor’ proved to be quite a hostile environment. There was just about time for a quick summit photo before I got too cold and needed to return to the shelter of the lower slopes.
Re-tracing my steps to Yes Tor, I paused to enjoy the view and to plot a route for my descent via West Mill Tor. I’d love to say I negotiated this part of the day without any problems, but alas I cannot – in a period of five minutes I ran at speed straight into a messy quagmire, then slipped over on a steep grassy bank. I’ve heard a lot about the amazing whiff-reducing qualities of merino wool baselayers, but when both your sleeves are covered in smelly bog juice there is very little you can do!
I squelched my way back to the car via the road parallel to Moor Brook and the bridleway over the A30, returning to Okehampton station where I’d parked. My girlfriend often likens me to an excitable puppy when I’m out on the trails, and her assertion would no doubt have been backed up had she seen me after this run – covered in mud from head to toe, smelling like a farmyard, and grinning from ear to ear!
If you’re heading to Cornwall on holiday, or just fancy a little pause from urban life, why not leave home a couple of hours early and give the route a go yourself? It really is a perfect little adventure in our green and pleasant land.