Wild Camp: Father and Son Bivi on Black Tor, Dartmoor

Trailstar sunrise on Black Tor

In late June, my son and I travelled down to Meldon Reservoir in order to do some walking on north Dartmoor. We arrived much later than expected as the traffic was poor, and as we had only a couple of hours until rain was forecast we decided on the modest target of Black Tor, which I had previously visited with my wife a couple of years ago after a wild camp on High Willhays. This is actually a nice Tor with some good rock formations to climb on and great views. We left the car park and headed up the short stretch of road to the reservoir, before crossing the dam and heading up onto the hill.

Crossing the dam at Meldon Reservoir

Once we were on the hill, we followed the path that heads around Longstone Hill and soon we had the sight of Yes Tor and High Willhays in front of us. It was becoming very windy as we gained height and I was fairly keen to get to Black Tor and get the tarp up to get out of it. We toyed with the idea of walking up High Willhays, but it was already getting late so we decided on balance just to head straight to Black Tor. This is not a long walk, only around 2.5km or so and so is ideal if you are taking your children out who may not be used to carrying a pack.

High Willhays and Yes Tor
Approaching Black Tor, Dartmoor
Approaching Black Tor, Dartmoor

Soon we arrived at Black Tor and set about putting up our Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar. My son held the central pole in place whilst I rushed around trying to get the pegs in as quickly as I could. It was windy enough that I felt the need to clip one of the guys to my pack so that we didn’t lose the tarp before I’d pitched it. There was quite a bit of flapping and faffing, but eventually we had the Trailstar up, albeit maybe a bit higher than I would have liked from the ground given the weather was closing in. I did a few adjustments which did lower it slightly, but with hindsight I should have dropped the central pole a bit to bring it closer to the ground. We set the door up facing the Tor in case the wind direction changed overnight.

Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar pitched on Black Tor, Dartmoor

Once the tarp was up I set up a groundsheet and my son’s Outdoor Research hooped bivi. In general I find hooped bivis a bit pointless since some of them weigh as much as a tent but lack versatility. You can’t cook in it, stand up in it, or even get into or out of it when it’s raining. However Outdoor Research do have some surprisingly light hooped bivis and I can just about justify them when they are this light (around half a kilo). I also felt the hooped bivi would be better for my son as this was his first bivi and it gave him good protection from wind and blown rain. I chose a non-hooped RAB ascent bivi bag mainly to keep the strong breeze out but also to provide protection from any splashes of rain that found their way under the tarp.

Once we had set up, we decided to enjoy the views for a while before having some food. The views from here, especially to the North are really quite far reaching for a low hill (Black Tor is just 488 metres). We spent some time clambering over the rocks and enjoying the views before the rain started coming down and we retreated to our shelter.

As it had started raining, we started to make our dinner. I made a chilli con carne on the camp stove, which we both wolfed down, followed by some sea salt and caramel chocolate. I didn’t see much of the chocolate! Once dinner was over and we had organised our camp a bit more, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset in between the showers.

Sunset over Black Tor, Dartmoor
Sunset over our Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar, Dartmoor.

Soon we were zipped up and fast asleep as the showers kept coming and the wind got stronger. It was about now I regretted the large gap under the tarp, having to use a pack to block the wind from my head. However we both fell asleep quickly and slept soundly until the morning, so it couldn’t have been all that bad! I find it definitely helps if you are on a level pitch and this was a pretty good one in that regard.

We awoke at around 6am to a tarp humming and flapping a bit in the wind and torrential rain. This was not looking very encouraging. We had thought if the weather wasn’t too bad we would head up High Willhays, but decided on this occasion just to enjoy a leisurely breakfast and when there was a gap in the weather to break camp and head back to the car. My son had porridge and I toasted crumpets on my Primus toaster. Somewhat unbelievably, I had forgotten to pack any coffee, which made me a bit grumpy!

Dartmoor mist on Black Tor

We packed up as the rain fell steadily, finally deciding to start walking about 08:30am. We enjoyed the walk back, despite the rain, observing several craters which we assume are caused by the army firing during the week. We finally reached the car, a little soggy and having not walked as far as we had hoped, but having had a good adventure and some good father/son time. A thoroughly enjoyable trip.

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

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