Running Adventures on Dartmoor
I love it when a plan comes together.
Late in October, Iffley Road offered me a sneak peek of their new Dartmoor Base Layer. "I'm actually going to Dartmoor next week!" I chimed in, serendipity ringing in the air. Indeed, it just so happened that I had scheduled a trip to Cornwall at the beginning of November. As part of this, I would be spending some time exploring one of England’s famed moorlands. Protected by National Park status, the Dartmoor is a landscape that whispers of ancient histories, boasts stunning views and buzzes with adventure (from its granite tors to those ethereal woods). Namesake aside, it would also be the ideal place to test out a base layer designed to withstand the unshakable British cold, along with some other pieces of Iffley Road kit - the Sheen gilet and Thompson shorts. And so it came to pass - I parked up in Okehampton on a cool November morning and headed into the hills.
My plan was to take in the wonderful High Willhays (621m), not only the highest point in all Dartmoor and Devon but the highest in England south of Kinder Scout in the Peak District. You can see my route here. Situated near the western edge of the National Park and adjacent to its more famous sister peak Yes Tor, it gives those who venture to the top a taste of everything that is wonderful about our British moorland, and more: soft underfoot conditions, multiple singletrack paths, squelchy mud bogs, technical rocky climbs and descents, and to top it off incredible views for miles in every direction. Beginning with a gentle two-mile warm-up along the West Devon Way to the impressive Meldon Viaduct, I was on the verge of being too warm (proof that the base layer was working) - but I knew I would soon be exposed to the elements and the wind-proofing of the gilet would come in handy.
Starting the long ascent at Meldon Quarry (now disused), I entered an army live ammunition range which wasn't in use (you can check schedules for the coming weeks here if you'd like to visit yourself), but I had done my homework and knew they had no plans. Pushing on towards Yes Tor, the gradient steepened and granite debris littered the paths in front of me, at times reducing me to a scramble on all fours.
High-fiving the trig point, then jumping off a rocky outcrop near the top, I let myself push the pace as I scampered across the fairly flat ridge to High Willhays, happy the hard graft was behind me and enjoying fighting the howling wind working to unbalance my stride. The combination of base layer and gilet proved perfect for the conditions, keeping my core warm but allowing heat to escape through my extremities. There was of course time for a quick summit photo before I began the return to town:
Re-tracing my steps to Yes Tor, I paused to enjoy the view and to plot a route for my descent via West Mill Tor. I'd love to say I negotiated this part of the day without any problems, but alas I cannot - in a period of five minutes I ran at speed straight into a messy quagmire, then slipped over on a steep grassy bank. I've heard a lot about the amazing whiff-reducing qualities of merino wool, but when both your sleeves are covered in stinky bog juice there is very little you can do.
I squelched my way back to the car via the road parallel to Moor Brook and the bridleway over the A30, returning to Okehampton station where I'd parked. My girlfriend often likens me to an excitable puppy when I'm out on the trails, and her assertion would no doubt have been backed up had she seen me after this run - covered in mud from head to toe, smelling like a farmyard, and grinning from ear to ear!
If you're heading to Cornwall on holiday, or just fancy a little pause from urban life, why not leave home a couple of hours early and give the route a go yourself? It really is a perfect little adventure in our green and pleasant land.