Meldon Reservoir to Black A Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and Black Tor

Black a Tor Copse and Black Tor make a lovely Dartmoor walk at any time of year. You can start at Meldon Reservoir (16 miles from Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges) and go up to High Willhays and Yes Tor first, then cross to the West Okement valley. Or you can walk along Meldon Reservoir and up the river. Either way, the navigation is easy and you get a good taste of the wild north moor. Take a compass and map though, just in case.

Easier Walk Option
Start at the Meldon Reservoir carpark (small charge, but it has loos). Walk over the reservoir dam, enjoying the spectacular views. Turn right and head along the side of the Reservoir until you get to the far end. At the head there’s a charming stone bridge (see picture).

But don’t cross this, instead turn up the valley towards the copse of trees you can see. This isn’t Black A Tor Copse yet but it’s very picturesque. Walk along the track above the river – it’s the West Okement here.

You’re soon on a wide track. When you get to a walled enclosure skirt around it and from the far side you’ll see Black A Tor Copse, a National Nature Reserve. It’s special because it’s all English Oak (not sessile oak, the more common species on Dartmoor) and few woods are found this high. Because Dartmoor is often damp (it’s true – we have to admit it!) this a a great spot for lichens – they grow on the moss cloaked boulders beneath the trees as well as on the trees themselves. Several nationally-rare species grow here. It’s also one of the best places on Dartmoor to see breeding ring ouzels (a thrush like bird).

  • Lichen covered tree in Black A Tor Copse, Dartmoor

OK, the wood itself is not huge, but it’s very pretty – it’s where the fairies live. Or maybe it’s hobbit country. It’s also delicate, so please take care. Don’t wreck the moss on the boulders by scrambling thoughtlessly.

Just east of the wood you find Black Tor itself. Well you could hardly miss it. And it’s worth the climb when the views open out for you. Watch out for faces in the stones!

At the Tor you’re on the high ground. You could strike out eastwards and make it to High Willhays or Yes Tor and so get to the highest bit of Dartmoor. Or you could just follow the track heading north-ish, which will take you back to the hills above Meldon Reservoir without needing to cross any Dartmoor rivers. It’s more exposed up here, so can be windy. As long as it’s clear, you can’t really get lost.

By the time you get back you’ll have had a proper taste of Dartmoor’s high moor.

Heading For The High Point

A slightly tougher walk is to head up to High Willhays and Yes Tor first. A map (and compass) will be helpful this time. Cross the reservoir dam, and turn right, but then follow a small path on the left hand side and turn up Longstone Hill. Follow the path around a big curve to the right, and stay on the left hand path when it splits. When you get to another parting of the ways you can leave the paths and strike out between the two, uphill to Yes Tor. Once you’ve taken in the views, walk to High Willhays. Between Yes Tor and High Willhays there’s a fairly clear path, so it’s easy navigation even if Dartmoor gets misty. From High Willhays, walk southwest and you’ll end up in a valley with the West Okement river running through the bottom. If you haven’t already hit Black Tor or Black A Tor Copse, then turn right and walk along the river until you do. Once you’ve been entraced by the copse, follow the river downstream, skirt around a stone walled enclosure, and continue along the clear path back to the head of Meldon Reservoir. From here, walk along the path back to the dam and your start point.

Underfoot
Mostly firm, but uneven and plenty wet if it has been raining. Expect boggy bits, a puff up to the Tor and some wind on the top. As always, remember Dartmoor weather can be very changeable so go dressed for worse conditions than you are hoping for. Come and borrow the Dartmoor map from the farm house before you set out. A compass is also highly recommended, in case it’s foggier on the top than you expect.

Getting there
If you’re staying at Wheatland Farm’s eco lodges you’re probably going to need a car for this trip. Parking is at Meldon Reservoir car park. On a Sat Nav the postcode EX20 4LU should get you close enough to follow signs. No car? That would be a challenge from the eco lodges. Anything’s possible if you’re determined, you’d probably be talking about a biie ride to Okehampton (about 15 miles from Wheatland Farm)but the start point is about 18 miles away and public transport is not good in that direction.