Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve, Okehampton, Dartmoor National Park

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve, Okehampton, Dartmoor National Park

BBC’s ‘Secret Britain’ rare high altitude oak woodland

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve is one of Dartmoor’s rare high altitude oak woodlands. The copse runs along a bank of the West Okement River in the north west section of Dartmoor National Park. The Reserve was featured in the BBC’s 2010 programme 'Secret Britain’. It’s relatively remote and the setting is stunning.

 

Location of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve is located in the north west section of Dartmoor below the national park’s highest ground at Yes Tor and High Willhays.

Every Dartmoor obsessive takes a trip to Cranmere Pool. Located in a remote spot south of Okement Hill on the high north plateau in an area where many of Devon's most famous rivers rise, Cranmere Pool is essential visiting. Stand by Cranmere Pool's famous letterbox and you're also near the West Okement Head which is where the West Okement River rises in Dartmoor. On the northern flank of Okement Hill is the East Okement Head which is where the East Okement River rises in the National Park. These rivers perform a pincer movement around Dartmoor's highest ground at High Willhays and Yes Tor before meeting at Okehampton to form the River Okement.

From West Okement Head, the West Okement River curves around Great Kneeset before turning sharp north west past Lints Tor into a steep-sided and beautiful valley. There, the river runs past Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve on its way to Meldon Reservoir. The water collects in the reservoir and then falls from the dam into the West Okement River as it flows under Meldon Viaduct into the West Okement Valley. It passes English Heritage's Okehampton Castle (English Heritage) and meets the East Okement River near the centre of town.

We've positioned Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve on Google maps. Zoom in on the 'Satellite' setting to see its location.

 

Directions and parking for Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve

We’d recommend using the car park at Meldon Reservoir when visiting Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve for the first time.

The A30 skirts the northern boundary of Dartmoor National Park. The exit for Meldon Reservoir is on the eastbound side of the road (traffic heading in the direction of Exeter). Note that there is no exit for Meldon Reservoir on the westbound side of the road. From whichever direction you are coming, head for the major A30 junction Sourton Down. Drive onto the eastbound side of the road and very shortly you'll see an Okehampton turning on you left by a bridge spanning the A30. Take that exit and then turn right over the bridge to the hamlet Meldon. Drive through the hamlet and turn hard left to get to the reservoir.

If you're coming from Okehampton, take the Tavistock Road out of town. This leads to the abovementioned bridge spanning the A30.

There's a large car parking area on the north side of the reservoir dam wall. Note that there are public toilets and information boards there. Parking fees apply.

 

Walking to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve for the first time

Steps rise from the top of the car park and connect to a tarmac road that drops down to the reservoir dam wall. Walk across the dam wall and enjoy the views across the reservoir and down the Lower West Okement Valley to Meldon Viaduct.

Turn right and follow the side of the reservoir past the picnic area and continue all the way to the far end of the water. You pass a pretty island at the bottom of Meldon Reservoir.

You are now at the foot of the Upper West Okement Valley in which sits Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve. A track gently climbs towards open ground that takes you to the western side of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve. You’ll see an information board. A path runs through the copse. Note that the area of open ground before Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve can be boggy after a period of heavy rain.

Black Tor is high on the north side of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve. Slipper Stones (steeply rising to Corn Ridge) dominates to the south. The West Okement River runs between the two and alongside the copse. Lints Tor is at the upper end of the valley. High Willhays and Yes Tor are to the north west. It’s easy walking.

 

Walking to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from other directions

Routes and directions to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the north

You can take a more direct route from Meldon Reservoir car park to Black Tor and Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve.

Steps rise from the top of the car park and connect to a tarmac road that drops down to the reservoir dam wall. Walk across the dam wall and enjoy the views across the reservoir and down the Lower West Okement Valley to Meldon Viaduct.

Turn left and slog up the very steep side of Longstone Hill. You’ll connect with the army track that takes you south to Black Tor. Descend the moor west of Black Tor to the information board at western end of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve.

 

Routes and directions to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the west

You can walk in from the car parking areas at Prewley Moor and Sourton village.

Head in the direction of Shelstone Tor. A steep-sided valley drops down to the West Okement River. There’s a very narrow weir bridge that spans the river near Vellake Corner as marked on Ordnance Survey mapping. You are now at the foot of the Upper West Okement Valley in which sits Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve. A track gently climbs towards open ground that takes you to the western side of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve. You’ll see an information board. A path runs through the copse. The area of open ground before Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve can be boggy after a period of heavy rain.

Note that the bridge at the bottom of Meldon Reservoir is blocked off so you can’t use this to access the Upper West Okement Valley.

 

Routes and directions to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the east

You can drop down to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the High Willhays area.

Yomp to the top of High Willhays from one of the car parking areas near Okehampton Camp. Descend from High Willhays to Fordsland Edge before dropping down to the Upper West Okement Valley. Follow the north bank of the river to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve.

 

Routes and directions to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the south

You can walk to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from the Great Links Tor area after a prolonged period of dry weather. You can only cross the West Okement River when the water level is low. Don’t try this route after rain.

Start from the car parking areas at Prewley Moor, Sourton village or the Dartmoor Inn. Walk up to Great Links Tor. Head across to Kitty Tor and then drop down to Sandy Ford as marked on Ordnance Survey mapping. Ford the river and follow the north bank to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve.

Return via the narrow weir bridge near Vellake Corner. Ascend to the Shelstone Tor area and head back to where you started.

 

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve

There’s an information board on the edge of the forest that reads: 'This is one the best examples in Britain of high altitude oak woodland. It is nationally important for the great variety of lichens and mosses that clothe the trees and rocks. The high humidity, mild winters and low levels of air pollution on Dartmoor provide perfect conditions for mosses and lichens. Some of the species found here are threatened with extinction in Europe, primarily because of air pollution.’

Above the Reserve is Black Tor which offers wonderful views of the valley as it runs down to the reservoir. To the north east is Dartmoor’s highest ground at High Willhays and Yes Tor. Across the valley is Corn Ridge.

 

Views of Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve

Perhaps the best view of the Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve is from Corn Ridge. Walk to Corn Ridge from the car parking areas at Prewley Moor or Sourton village.

The view from Shelstone Tor is great as well. Again, walk in from the car parking areas at Prewley Moor or Sourton village.

The classic view is from the approach to Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve from Vellake Corner and the southern end of Meldon Reservoir.

We’d also recommend the view from Black Tor above the copse. Sunsets here can be incredible with Cornwall to the west.

 

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and other high altitude oak woodlands in Dartmoor National Park

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve is one of three high altitude oak woodlands on Dartmoor. Also visit Wistman’s Wood National Nature Reserve and Piles Copse.

Wistman's Wood National Nature Reserve is Dartmoor’s most famous woodland. 

Piles Copse is located near the southern border of Dartmoor and is more remote than Black-a-Tor Copse.

 

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and other National Nature Reserves in Dartmoor National Park

Black-a-Tor Copse is one of four National Nature Reserves on Dartmoor. It’s one of nine National Nature Reserves in Devon.

Other National Nature Reserves in Dartmoor National Park:

East Dartmoor National Nature Reserve

Dendles Wood National Nature Reserve

Wistman's Wood National Nature Reserve

Other National Nature Reserves in Devon:

Axmouth to Lyme Regis Undercliffs National Nature Reserve

Berry Head National Nature Reserve

Dawlish Warren National Nature Reserve

Dunsdon Farm National Nature Reserve

Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve

 

Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve and Dartmoor’s wooded gorges, valleys and cleaves

In addition to high altitude oak woodlands, Dartmoor’s high moors are fringed by stunning, heavily wooded gorges, valleys and cleaves. Visit:

Dart Gorge

Teign Gorge (National Trust)

Lustleigh Cleave

Dewerstone Valley

 

Walks that include Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve

We’d recommend visiting Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve as part of a bigger walk. Try:

Dartmoor's Highest Points Circular Walk (High Willhays/Yes Tor)

 

Places to eat and drink near Black-a-Tor Copse National Nature Reserve after a walk

Bearslake Inn in Lake

The Highwayman Inn in Sourton

The White Hart Hotel in Okehampton

Lydford The Castle Inn in Lydford

The Dartmoor Inn in Lydford