I feel quite lucky that I grew up walking on Dartmoor from quite an early age. I took part in Ten Tors, I camp there regularly, I’m into walking and ancient remains and good beer. If you’re a holidaymaker, a kayaker or teetotal, then you’ll have a different experience to me and so Dartmoor will mean different things to you. It struck me today that simple geography has an impact on your perception of Dartmoor too. If you live in Torbay, you’ll probably visit the Bovey-Ashburton-Princetown triangle more often than other areas. This part of the moor has a high concentration of small hamlets and village pubs, and as you drive through Ponsworthy or enjoy a pint outside the Rugglestone you could quite easily imagine yourself in Hobbiton or at the Prancing Pony in Bree. Okehampton feels a bit further away and you’ll probably head that way less frequently. There are no villages, roads nor pubs beyond the periphery of the north moor, but the tors are higher, wilder and somehow more mountainous. The bogs are more extensive and at times impassable, even high up on hillsides where you would least expect to get sodden feet. And you have to know what you are doing, because if the fog comes down or you end up walking after sundown, it can be a remote and forbidding place. You quickly realise you’re not in the Shire any more.
Remarkably, we realised over breakfast that, although I’ve done plenty of Ten Tors and DofE training up there, we had never been to the north moor as a family, and rarely even as a couple. There is no particular reason for this – it actually takes less time to get to Okehampton from here than Princetown, though the drive is less scenic – so today was the day to start putting that right.
We planned to just have a stroll round Meldon Reservoir, but there is no circular route round it any more. The bridlepath that replaces the old permissive path just looked less interesting than the open moor, and the weather was sunny and clear. It was the youngest member of our party who decided we should strike straight up Longstone Hill, and we were so surprised by his sudden enthusiasm for uphill plodding that we went for it straight away. Soon were were at the top, munching on sandwiches and grapes and gazing at the nearby heights of Yes Tor, High Willhays and East Mill Tor, as well as enjoying views over the reservoir to Sourton Tor.
From here we looked across and saw we were on a ridge of land that led, a mile or so to the south, to Black Tor. This is one of the tors marked on the Dartmoor Scratch Map, so we decided to pay it a visit and tick it off the list. The path was well defined but quite hard work for little legs, with a few bouldery areas and small gullies to traverse, but the boys did well and we were soon at the two impressive outcrops of Black Tor. The views from this area are fantastic, with the land really dropping away in places, leaving a sweeping vista across the relatively flat landscape to the north.
We polished off some coffee and cookies and realised we were quite a long way from home, with the Sunday night routines of dinner, baths, bins, and general school/work preparations still to be squeezed before bed. Sadly we tarried for less time than we would have liked, and made our way down past Black-a-tor copse towards the reservoir. We had a bit of fun bog-hopping, with eldest in particular delighted every time he spotted a patch of ‘COTTON GRASS!!!’, before we came back to the path that eventually led around the reservoir and back to our car.
It felt great to be back up on the north moor again. It’s a whole new landscape that the boys have never experienced, and it has wilder and more remote feel to it that I think they really appreciated. We’re not quite ready for a boggy yomp to Cut Hill just yet, but we have found some places to explore with fresh eyes.