High Willhays, Yes Tor, Hangingstone Hill and Cranmere Pool Walking

This testing circuit of north Dartmoor takes in three of its four highest summits, a number of more interesting lower tors, and a whole lot of rough, boggy moorland in between. It also visits Cranmere Pool. Before the military built their roads through the Okehampton Range this was considered one of the most remote locations on the moor, and even today it takes some finding. Though no more than a reed-fringed puddle in a bog, Cranmere Pool is notable as the site of the first Dartmoor Letterbox, and you can still sign the visitor's book and stamp a card to prove you made it. Geocaching is no new thing: they've been letterboxing on Dartmoor for 150 years! To add some leafy greenery (and considerable effort) to the round, I've included an approach via the idyllic wooded valley of Belstone Cleave. Anyone looking to go easy on themselves could make things more manageable by starting at Belstone village instead. But if you're going easy then you'll probably want to avoid Cranmere Pool too, and maybe this whole walk... Note: This route is only possible when live firing is not taking place on the Okehampton Range. For scheduled firing times see www.access.mod.uk or call 0800 458 4868

On High Willhays, looking south  © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
On High Willhays, looking south
Fetching Map

Detailed description

SX6436694028 From the main road at the east end of Sticklepath, head southwest on a track that leads to a gate into the woods beside the River Taw. First following the south bank of the river, the path heads upstream through the delightful Tavy Cleave. After about 1km cross a footbridge inscribed with lines from Tarka the Otter, then shortly cross a second bridge back onto the south bank. Continue up-valley to a third bridge, followed by a short ascent to the road at Belstone village. Turn left.

SX6205693040 Beyond a bend and some cottages, look right for the gate onto the open moor. A steady climb brings you to the rocks at the north end of Belstone Tor, and shortly after that the tor at the high point. Staying with the broad ridge, pass through Irishman's Wall (there's an interesting story attached to this name), then pass the outcrop of Higher Tor to descend to a shallow col. Passing the marker posts denoting the edge of the firing range, follow the ridge south up to Oke Tor, another nice collection of jumbled granite boulders.

SX6123590026 Passing a military observation hut, continue roughly south along the broad ridge crest, soon meeting a vehicle track. Once above Steeperton Gorge, drop left on a well-trodden path, cross the stream, and make a steep zigzag ascent on onto Steeperton Tor (this can be avoided, but it's a good craggy hill and a fine viewpoint). Head south along the crest of Steeperton Tor, then bear a little right to pick up a footpath that rejoins the vehicle track. This makes a steady climb south, then southeast towards Hangingstone Hill. Where the hard-packed track ends, follow the grassy continuation onto the broad, breezy summit. This is the joint third highest point on Dartmoor, tied with Cut Hill. There's another army hut on top, as with most summits in the Okehampton Range.
Belstone Tor (left), Cosdon Hill and Steeperton Tor from Okement Hill  © Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com
Belstone Tor (left), Cosdon Hill and Steeperton Tor from Okement Hill
© Dan Bailey - UKHillwalking.com, Oct 2020

SX6170186093 Heading roughly west-southwest towards Taw Head, any trace of path soon sinks into bog. Anyone who has underestimated Dartmoor mires is in for a tough lesson here, on one of the major watersheds of the area. In poor visibility, finding Cranmere Pool, or indeed anything much at all, will require careful navigation. A Letterbox marks the Pool, which is otherwise hard to distinguish from the surrounding slop.

SX6030185837 You've made it! Now to escape. Thankfully, a clear path heads north through the bogs, contouring the high ground to reach the bigger pool of Ockerton Court. By now you're unlikely to have dry feet, but here's where things take a turn for the easier, as a military track is joined. Follow this north-northwest over Okement Hill, staying left at a junction by an observation post.

SX5969988323 On the northwest side of Okement Hill the map marks a split in the track: this is less obvious on the ground. Turn left here for a short-cut of sorts, though given the wet and tussocky ground it may not save much time or effort. Head west over a soggy saddle, then bear left to ascend to Dinger Tor. Instead of taking the vehicle track here, head northwest for the gradual climb towards High Willhays; the path is obvious. Of several little tors on the summit, a cairn marks the highest - which also happens to be the high point of England south of the Peak District.

SX5800889194 Go north down to a little saddle, then climb to Yes Tor. Lower than High Willhays, but more craggy, this feels more like a genuine mountain. A signal flag marks the high point, and there's another of those military huts tucked beneath the summit rocks. Heading roughly east, descend across awkward bouldery ground, then hop across a stream to reach yet another army track.

SX5862590075 Take this northeast and then north under West Mill Tor (a craggy top that would be a worthwhile detour if you have the motivation at this stage in the day). Staying right at the junctions, follow the track around the east flank of Rowtor. Below this, cut right to leave the Okehampton Range. Ignoring the turnoff for East Okement Farm, follow the road and then a grassy path down beside the waterfalls of Black-a-ven Brook to the bridge at Cullever Steps.

SX6056292137 Take the track under the western slopes of Belstone Tor, before rounding the north end of the Tor to reach a gate leading off the moor onto a minor road above Belstone. Down in the village, bear right past the church and the pub to regain the open ground above Belstone Cleave.

SX6198593481 For a change of scene take the path along the north rim of the Cleave, with occasional views down along the length of the wooded valley. At Skaigh the path joins the minor road leading down to Sticklepath.

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Further Routes

by Dan Bailey UKH

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