Happy Christmas from Dartmoor Magazine
I reaise that I have somewhat neglected this blog during 2022 – put it down to being constantly busy and trying not to spend too much time glued to a computer screen. I will try to do better next year.
So much of my walking these days happens because I’ve been commissioned to work out a route. I’m not complaining – far from it! – but it has meant that over the last few months I’ve been walking more on Exmoor and in the Tamar Valley, and round the edge of Dartmoor (working on The Dartmoor Way) than on the moor ‘proper’. So it was great at the start of December to be able to get out onto the northwest corner of the moor and introduce my friend James (visiting from Scotland) to one of my favourite circuits: from Meldon Reservoir, up the valley of the West Okement River to Blackator Copse, then back via Black Tor and over Longstone Hill.
It was a cracking day: very cold and bright, with a chilly easterly breeze. The view from the dam to Meldon Viaduct – which opened in 1874 to carry the London and South Western Railway on from Okehampton to Lydford – was spectacular; the waters of the reservoir eerily still. It’s a really beautiful walk, following a narrow path along the eastern shore of the reservoir to Vellake Corner, then heading southeast upstream alongside the tumbling waters of the West Okement.
It’s one of those walks when you very quickly and easily feel immersed in the moor, without having to trek across pathless moorland for hours. I mapped it out back in 2000, when working on my first walking book for AA Publishing: 50 Walks in Devon (it’s hard to believe it was such a long time ago!). A version of it also appears in my Dartmoor: Short Walks for all the family book (I did say it was a good one!). As you head upstream you’ll catch sight of Blackator Copse, a National Nature Reserve since 1996, on the east bank of the river. Along with Dartmoor’s much-more-famous Wistman’s Wood near Two Bridges, and Piles Copse in the Erme valley north of Ivybridge, Blackator Copse is a rare fragment of high altitude sessile oak woodland (see header photo) – an example of ‘lost temperate rainforest’, so celebrated in Guy Shrubsole’s recent book The Lost Rainforests of Britain (which will be reviewed in the spring 2023 issue).
From the copse the route ascends the steep east side of the valley, from where the views across to Shelstone Tor and the countryside beyond the moor open up. Black Tor itself (three huge granite outcrops) is more extensive and impressive than it first appears…
The homeward route crosses the great expanse of Longstone Hill, passing below Yes Tor and West Mill Tor, towering above the valley of the Red-a-ven Brook (there’s something magical about the light on these cold winter days).
Finally we dropped back to the dam. It felt so good to be out on the moor again, even just for a couple of hours.
Happy Christmas and best wishes for a peaceful 2023! Thank you all for your support, and your company, through yet another year of publishing Dartmoor Magazine. I couldn’t do it without you!