(The Gear Loop) - Think of Dartmoor’s 160 tors as small, rocky peaks that punctuate the otherwise wild and superbly sparse vistas of the UK’s epic national park.
Like the summits of some of the UK’s tallest mountains, hikers and adventurers like to "bag" these natural statues, effectively ticking them off a bucket list to say that, one day, they’ve experienced them all. Although we may no longer be able to wild camp freely on Dartmoor, it's still possible to enjoy these natural wonders.
Interestingly, these granite formations each have a unique persona and the towering stacks of rock that make them up can be recognised by their shape and structure, the bespoke characteristics acting as waypoints for seasoned walkers in the area.
Whether you want to get up close and personal to further understand some of the ancient folklore (tors have been the site of worship, burials and trials, you know…), or you simply want an end goal to make an epic day in the hills a little more bearable, heading for one of these rocky beacons is always a good mission objective.
Situated just under four miles southwest of Princetown, Sheeps Tor is probably our number one recommendation for the Dartmoor hiking novice. It’s an almost perfect introduction to the area.
If you’re worried about being too far from the car, there’s a small parking area in the village (the imaginatively titled 'Sheepstor'). Alternatively, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can park in Princetown and head out via South Hessary Tor and Nun’s Cross.
While it is relatively diminutive at just 369 metres high, the rocky outcrops at the summit are pretty impressive (a granite wall on the southern approach is popular with rock climbers) and the views are surprisingly spectacular. On a clear day, you can see Brown Willy (stop laughing) - the highest point on Cornwall’s Bodmin Moor - to the west, with the southern vista stretching right out to the coast near Ivybridge.
There aren’t many natural water sources nearby though (ironically despite Burrator Reservoir being just a stone’s throw away) and, in the summer months, it can be a popular haunt so might not feel as remote as you would wish.
Yes Tor and High Willhays
Choosing the highest points in southern England might not sound like an entry-level activity, but hear us out. After parking at Meldon, the northern approach to Yes Tor is only a couple of miles for the mildly-adventurous direct route, or six miles for a more meandering route on marked paths via West Mill Tor.
Okay, both of those options will involve between 1,200-1,500ft of ascent (around 365-460 metres in new money) and High Wilhays - England’s highest point south of Kinder Scout in Derbyshire’s Peak District - is another half a mile south but, the lung-busting effort is worth it.
The northern moors of the Okehampton range leave you feeling especially alone (especially when looking at the vast expanse of barren land south of you) and, at over 600m you’ve got a great chance of waking up in the morning to a spectacular cloud inversion.
High Wilhays may have the bragging rights by a scant two metres but, Yes Tor provides the better views (although the Brecon Beacons can be seen from both on a clear evening). Expect a cold night though, so pack a descent sleeping bag and mat if you are willing to risk a wild camp.
Great Links Tor
Found near the intersection of the Okehampton and Willsworthy ranges, Great Links Tor is an impressively tall hunk of granite that, thanks to its location on the western fringe of Dartmoor, affords you an expansive view over the neighbouring county of Cornwall.
The ground is rarely perfectly flat around the tor itself. However, if you find yourself a tent-worthy pitch, you’ll be treated to a near-perfect panorama that includes the equally-stunning Chat, Sharp and Hare tors to the south.
A gentle downhill return via Stourton Tors takes you back towards Meldon Reservoir, making this an ideal partner to High Willhays, if you fancy more than a single night out in the wilds of Dartmoor.
Great Mis Tor
The Merrivale and Peter Tavy regions are home to some of Dartmoor’s most popular hiking ground so, pitching up at the jewel in the crown of the area - Great Mis Tor - would be no great mistake. Sorry, we couldn’t resist…
There are ample parking locations all along the B3357 (the road between Tavistock and Two Bridges) where you can start, the nearby Staple Tors and Roos Tor are also great for exploring and, thanks to its proximity to Princetown, if you finish up back in the village, the Old Police Station café does some truly superb chips.