Okement Hill & High Willhays

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The good weather has continued across Dartmoor over the last few weeks and with the four day Bank Holiday weekend appearing, I started to think about spending a whole day out on the moor and immediately thought about heading to the north moor. So far in this blog I’ve not covered anything further north than Postbridge and was keen to find a route that would take me a little further into the Moor.

Dartmoor is split in two, not only by the B3212 Postbridge road but also by the physical landscape. The southern moor is spread-out; the tors sit lower, further apart and offer amazing unobstructed vistas of the Dartmoor landscape. In comparison the north moor is very different; the tors are big, close together and generally sit at a higher altitude. Approaching the moor from Okehampton Battle Camp it always feels that Rowtor and West Mill Tor tower and loom above me and in many ways it feels very intimidating.

After studying the OS Map at length I decided that I would walk into Okement Hill on the military track before going ‘off-road’ and cutting over to Dinger Tor and then the climb up to High Willhays and Yes Tor before returning to the car via West Mill Tor. It was a shade under a moderate 8 miles but would allow me to get fairly deep into the moor and also revisit the roof of Dartmoor, High Willhays. I had walked the first half of this route about ten years ago when I last visited Okement Hill however on that occasion I had solely used the tracks and missed out the two ‘biggies’ entirely.

I arrived at East Mill car park (SX 59069 91277), got myself together and was on the way by 10 am. There are several options when parking on Okehampton Range. As walkers, the MoD allows access to the military roads and tracks south of Okehampton Battle Camp and so you can park in lots of little off-track areas situated around Rowtor and West Mill Tor. I headed to the north initially to take in Rowtor before crossing a small section of the moor to intercept one of the main tracks that run parallel to Black-a-ven Brook. Around Rowtor there are lots of man-made mounds, trenches and buildings which are the remains of the old Rowtor Target Railway. Built in the late 1950s, the railway moved wooden targets around the artillery range. Once in position, they were used for training soldiers in the use of anti-tank & long range weaponry, missiles and powered grenades. Heavy weapon training was phased out in the 1990s and today a group of enthusiasts maintain the railway to keep it in working order; they even have an original powered Wickham Target trolley which is still capable of looping around the tracks.

Following the track from Rowtor, it’s a steady climb into the moor. I crossed over the Black-a-ven Brook in the shadow of East Mill Tor and started to wind gently up to the flat summit of Okement Tor. There is no marker to show you’ve reached the summit, however, there is an artillery observation bunker which is generally considered to be the top. The bunker is no longer in use. Historically the artillery observers used it to shelter while shells we fired over their heads into the range beyond. As you wander along the tracks on Okehampton Range you see little green doors on strange ‘cabinets’ which have been secreted away in the granite boulders, and what look like plug sockets just poking out of the rocks. In fact, these are telephone points where field telephones can be connected to allow communication between the range coordinator and the numerous lookouts and observers scattered all over the range. Beneath your feet, there are still miles and miles of telephone cable which connect all these points.

After several miles on tarmac and rough tracks my feet were looking forward to the softer ground ahead of me now as I prepared to cross the moor to Dinger Tor and the up to High Willhays, however to get there I had to cross Brim Brook mire which lay in the low ground between Okement Hill and high ground of High Willhays. I remembered from a previous walk that the next 1.5Km was hard-going with lots of uneven ground. There are peat ditches and bog hidden beneath thick dense grass and undergrowth. I’ve made no secret of my dislike for this type of terrain but despite this I never shy away from it, after all, it’s all part of the experience of being on Dartmoor. As I got deeper into the ground I realised that actually most of the bog had dried up, soon enough I was climbing the slope up to Dinger Tor.

As you approach Dinger Tor from the east the West Okement Valley opens up in front of you and really is quite spectacular. If you glance south you can see past Fur Tor out to Princetown and the unmistakable summit of Great Mis Tor 13Km away. Although the tor itself is fairly ordinary, its placement is quite stunning perched high up in the valley. It looked like a perfect spot for lunch so I found a rock to rest on, took my pack off and enjoyed a rest and a cup of tea. There’s nothing quite like a hot cuppa when you’re in the middle of the moor!

From my perch, High Willhays was visible about 1km away and so after I was packed up and secure, I started up the track gradually climbing higher toward the summit which sits just over 71m above Dinger Tor. The tracks around High Willhays are well-trodden as being the highest point on Dartmoor, it attracts a lot of visitors. After 10 minutes or so I found myself at the summit cairn and the rest of Dartmoor below me. The views in all directions are quite breath-taking and I was able to see most of the northern moor. In the south North Hessary, Great Mis and Great Staple we all clearly visible too. I took a few photos and continued along the military track to Yes Tor. Sitting a whole 2m lower than High Willhays, Yes Tor is the second highest point on Dartmoor and actually has a more impressive summit than its taller sibling.

Scrambling down the northern side of Yes Tor is hard on the knees & ankles as it’s very steep and covered in clitter…. real ankle breaking territory! I gradually picked my way through the granite and made my way down toward West Mill Tor. By this time I was starting to flag. I knew that my car sat just on the other side of WMT so I pushed over the summit. Arriving back at the car I felt exhausted but had the foresight to have water and other sustenance. I always like to take a little time to rest before heading home!

Despite feeling a lot tougher than some of my more recent walks, I really enjoyed walking on the north moor. I’m really looking forward to returning soon to explore some more. It’s quite a different style of walking compared to the south with a lot more climbing; the north moor is the real gateway to most of Dartmoor’s most remote areas, I will be back soon!

 

Walk Summary

Distance
Ranges
Bogs
Difficulty
This walk is 12.5km / 7.9mi
This entire route lies inside the Okehampton Range. Please check the official firing times.
The ground between Okement Hill and Dinger Tor is boggy
Easy

Route

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Photos from this walk