Moss Pillows. Black-a-Tor Copse, Dartmoor

“They are really like pillows,” said our daughter with delight as she squashed her hand into mound of moss until it disappeared up to the elbow. “Lovely.”IMG_0186

Black-a-Tor Copse is a little oasis of sessile Oak woodland surrounded by moorland heath. It’s one of three, small, but perfectly formed, high altitude woods on Dartmoor, the other two being Wistman’s Wood, near Two Bridges and Piles Copse near Plymouth.  These woods are remnants of the ancient forests that used to cover the moor and their rootstock goes back to the Bronze age. The mild winters, high humidity and low levels of air pollution here provide the perfect conditions for many threatened species of mosses, lichens and ferns, some extremely rare.

Diminutive in size it maybe, but what a beauty. Bright green fuzz blankets the boulders, and envelopes the tangle of trees above them. Mound upon mound of mosses, some as un-giving as the granite beneath, some, soft as downy cushions, spread out under the trees and down to the rushing water of the West Okement River.  Ferns fringe along velveteen branches, twigs snag delicate nets of bearded lichens and the wonderful aroma of clean, clear air fills your lungs. The mosses are another landscape in themselves when you look more closely, with tiny flower-like structures, pods and capsules rising in miniature in a myriad of colours.

This is a place to lie quiet, and stay a while.

Our friend Martin Stephens-Hodge, who has walked the moor for over thirty-five years, first introduced us to this wood. He told us it’s rare survival is caused by the rock clitter (debris fallen from Black Tor) creating a dense area of rocks so saplings  to grow between them without being eaten by sheep. It makes one realise that, without grazing animals, Dartmoor might be a very different place.

I couldn’t find any myths relating to this particular copse but in the past these singular places were known as eerie and frightening.  Wistman’s Wood was notorious as the home of diabolical hounds and considered the most haunted place on Dartmoor.  Things have changed, and around here, these kind of woods are seen as spiritual places, full of mystical energy and an inspiration to artists.

“You sit in Black-a-Tor Copse on your own, and you will feel it,” Martin told me on our first visit, and then with a big wink, “go on Mid-summers Eve though, and you might even see the little people.”

I think you are more likely to come across someone with an easel or a rucksack so start out early, it’s well worth it.

Martin Stephens-Hodge, is a Dartmoor guide and expert on the moor’s archaeology, botany, geology and meteorology.  For a for a small charge he guides walks custom built to individuals or groups 3hours walks, 1/2 day or  1 day.  Fascinating. To Book tel: 01647 231 564 and ask for Martin.


The walk took us 3 hours round trip from Meldon reservoir near Okehampton. AA Map below:

Keep left and go past Meldon dam on your right.IMG_0155

IMG_0159Keep to the path around the reservoir until you come to a little bridge, cross it.

Later, cross another little bridge and keep left when the road forks.IMG_0160

It gets a bit boggy.

It can be boggy, so don't fall in like I did, up to my knee, though wet jeans dry surprisingly quickly.

It can be boggy, so don’t fall in like I did, up to my knee, though wet jeans dry surprisingly quickly.



There it is, the smudge on the left of the picture.


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