Wild Camp: High Willhays – Dartmoor National Park

Hilleberg Staika wild camp on High Willhays

Not every wild camp trip needs to be an epic. This trip was a good example of that. My wife enjoys going wild camping, but it should mainly be about having a relaxing time rather than 15 mile days. This circuit, from Meldon Resevoir taking in Yes Tor, High Willhays and Black Tor is probably only about 8km, but we camped in a spectacular location and had a great evening. This was our second wild camp on Dartmoor together and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Dartmoor is unique in England in that it is legal to camp on a lot of the land. You can check exact locations where it’s permitted to camp here. Note also that North Dartmoor contains several firing ranges and you should check the firing schedule before setting off. You can do that here.

We parked in Meldon reservoir. I had not been here before so after a small false start trying to find the correct path out of the car park we were away. The reservoir itself is very picturesque, and it was a beautiful hot afternoon. Our packs were quite heavy, mostly with cans of gin and tonic! But we were in no hurry not having to do much in the way of distance on this trip.

Once out of the reservoir area we followed the path to the base on Yes Tor. High Willhays, which is just a short walk from Yes Tor, looks like it’s lower from here, but it’s actually slightly higher and is in fact the highest point in southern England at 621 metres. We took a slow trudge up Yes Tor, not following any path, and soon we were at the summit, spoiled only by the radio mast. The weather was great and the views across to High Willhays and beyond were great.

We set off across the moor towards High Willhays. Our aim was to pitch our tent somewhere near the summit, and to enjoy a meal and the aforementioned gin and tonics before settling down for the night. We found a really nice spot just below the summit, which although not perfectly flat was good enough and soon we had pitched our Hilleberg Staika. It’s a good job we did, as it was getting a bit cool as the evening drew in and it was good to be out of the wind. We have since sold our Staika. It’s a good tent, but it’s very heavy for the space available and a bit cramped for two. We’ve replaced it with a Hilleberg Keron 3. This is also heavy, but much bigger and is great when the weather turns.

We enjoyed some food and a drink or two whilst we watched the sun go down over the hills and enjoyed the views from the summit cairn. Then crawled into our sleeping bags for a good night’s sleep.

We had two surprises when we woke up, the first was we were entirely surrounded by cows, which my wife was less than impressed by. I did my best to shoo them away, not realising that at some point in the night another camper had appeared on the other side of the summit as I made wild noises and ran around waving my arms, much to the amusement of the cows who just continued to stare at me.

The second surprise. We are on Dartmoor, which isn’t that high. But is that a cloud inversion I see before me? I almost think it might have been. It certainly made for a dramatic backdrop as I made our breakfast and morning coffee.

Wild camp in Hilleberg Staika on High Willhays, Dartmoor.

Soon we were packed and away. We decided to take in a third tor on our way back to the car, Black Tor. This is quite a nice tor overlooking the West Okement river and we enjoyed the views and climbing on the tor for a while before heading back down the car. A really nice overnight trip, that wasn’t at all a physical challenge but did much to refresh us after a busy week at work. I highly recommend this route if you are just starting out on your wild camping journey. It’s a nice easy walk, you can pitch almost anywhere around here (indeed we passed many Duke of Edinburgh groups camping on our way back to the car). It’s almost impossible to get lost on this trip, especially in good weather. Plus you can say you’ve camped at the highest point in Southern England if you choose to camp on Hill Willhays. A really good option for beginners.

I used the excellent Harvey Maps British mountain map of Dartmoor for this trip.

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