Jo Kemp’s Trail Running All the Tors Challenge

Trail runner Jo Kemp has completed the challenge as a continuous circuit over 9 days during the summer of 2023. Here is her story… Pictures further down when the weather got better!!

Day 1

I had a pretty unsettled night sleep of tossing and turning. I woke up around 6:30 to the feeling you always get when you’re about to do something very adventurous and which is going to require a lot of energy. It had a been a weird couple of days and I still couldn’t believe it was starting, after well over eighteen months of planning and prep from having this original idea of following Emily Woodhouse’s All the Tors route.

Dan (my brother-in-law) was running the first two days with me and he arrived at 8:30am to find me flitting between route planning and the task of trying to fit everything in my backpack. The prep had seemed endless with only finishing school as a teacher for the summer on the Tuesday and having to do a big U turn to change my mindset from work and onto something else altogether. I had been exhausted from the end of term shenanigans and it seemed unreal to be attempting a challenge like this so soon after I had finished a school year.

It was almost a relief to get in the car and set off, as it meant no more wondering what I hadn’t packed in my holdall that my sister and mum were dropping off at Fox and Hounds Pub after dropping us off. The holdall needed to hold everything I would need for at least a couple of days. My sister and Mum drove myself and Dan to Princetown, where we had one last pee break and then after a couple of photos, we started our watches and off we went.

The first hill and three tors down (North Hessary, Hollow and Rundlestone Tors) were no problem, apart from the realisation that the ground was pretty wet and we were in for a soggy foot day! A rain shower hit on the next hill, luckily only lasting about 10 minutes. We headed up Little and Great Mis Tor, before descending and had to find a place to cross a deep leat before climbing up a hill to grab four more tors. There was a nice little section where we had to cross a main road in order to bag Heckwood, Pew and Feather Tors, and then we started a very hard push up a very steep hill with Cox Tor on top. After descending past lots of wild ponies, we then made our way across a couple of farms to Boulters Tor which was very much out of the way. Due to having made such a descent, the only way was up and we had a hard slog getting up White Tor which drained me of energy before refuelling and heading to a very remote Lynch Tor. 

Then the fun really started by walking across a nature reserve over very wet marshland and descending down thick Bracken before crossing a remote River Tavy and then having to make a lot of height up to Nat, Ger and Hare Tors. It was starting to get quite tough and after bagging a handful more tors (Sharp, Chat, Doe and Brat Tors) we finished the day on Brat Tor with a big cross on top and Arms Tor, which was arguably an underestimated sizeable hill. After running down to the Fox and Hounds pub, we checked into the bunk room and got our luggage. A bare boned room but all we needed. After copious amount of food and liquid, it was time to prep for tomorrow and rest our weary bones!

Day 2

The night in the bunkhouse was comfortable, however my body was still raging with adrenaline so sleep was on and off all night. We had opted for an early start so had planned for 7am. From looking outside and looking online, rain was imminent. We took off up the hill, instantly getting wet and realised that visibility was also pretty shocking, therefore today was going to be interesting

After making the early morning big descent and hitting Little and Great links, as well as Green Tor, the terrain worsened and so did the rain. We made our way up to Kitty Tor and realised although the map showed a clear path, we could not find it and therefore had to walk through endless amounts of elephant grass. The weather then worsened, and we were now getting very wet. We came around the corner to the Okement River Valley, a pretty dramatic landscape at the best of times when there wasn’t a howling wind and pouring rain, however in this weather it made it look rather intimidating. 

We struggled to cross the river, which was raging and swollen and this resulted in going back on ourselves to a footbridge. We then made our way up the valley, having to take a detour up Black Tor in very wet conditions. We continued up the valley to an even more remote area to find Lint Tor and I ended up falling in the river quite dramatically. I was fully submerged, although I was already very wet and I was thankful that everything was in a drybag and it wasn’t particularly cold. 

The weather was getting progressively worse as we ascended to Dinger Tor, then struggled to find a more direct path up Yes Tor. The wind howled and we were struggling simply running in a straight line. We reached the highest tor on Dartmoor without a view and a pretty hostile environment, although we couldn’t resist touching the trig point to say we had officially stood on top of the highest Tor on Dartmoor.

After this we tried to make as much time up as possible with West and East Mill Tors, and the lower we got, the wind began to dial down, and the mist began to slightly clear. We made our way to Belstone, right past the pub and having to run another 1.5 miles there and back to Ivy Tor in the woods. We finished around 2pm at All the Tors pub, soaked through, shellshocked at the weather conditions.

 I was very happy to eat a meal, get to the Air BnB in Belstone and rest the rest of the evening.  My phone had got wet on the day out and it was touch and go whether or not it would survive, which was an extra stress I didn’t need. Luckily, with a bowl of rice and a warm radiator, my phone came back to life and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Day 3

Yesterday was hard, and I was a little worried how well I would cope with another day like it. My dad, a weather enthusiast, had reassured me that the weather was not going to be a replicate of yesterday, there would be wind, but it would be showers rather than persistent rain. I was also having my doubts about doing half a day by myself. Dan had finished his two-day stint and I had half of the day to do alone before my mum joined me for half a day. However, I somehow turned it around and woke up in a good mood, put in headphones and got going.  It felt rather nice running a section by myself and after bagging the first four tors, I opted for another route up Steeperton Tor with a slightly spicy river crossing.

I headed over to Wild Tor, the wind picked up (ironically for Wild Tor) and had to navigate a hard section across to Watern Tor which was really remote. After getting up both Hound Tor and little Hound Tor, it was raining pretty hard now. I was now heading off to Shilstone Tor, where paths seemed scarce although I had found one path that seemed solid. However I soon realised I was indeed running in the wrong direction! This move actually helped me out, as it meant when I got down to Shilstone I wouldn’t have to retrace my tracks and I could change my route, which would be helpful considering how wet it was. I just needed to run up Rival Tor first, which was really remote. Rival Tor had no path going up it and was surrounded by gorse and after a bit of a fight with bracken, I bagged the Tor and ran back where I had come from. 

 The run from Rival Tor to Shilstone Tor was hard work, with barely any paths and a lot of bracken and gorse, up until you actually get to the Tor itself. Eventually I was sat in the car with mum, very relieved to see her. I ate, changed my t-shirt and coat and changed my route to run along the road on the edge of the moor to Scorhill with Mum driving behind! Mum then joined me and we had to run through more gorse before finding the right path to Scorhill Tor. We then crossed over a clapper bridge to Middle Tor. Going through a final big bog, finding the route and running up to Thornworthy Tor to find my sister, my niece and her dog Wilbur there to welcome us! A great surprise! We then walked together down to the car, before collecting mums car and getting home for the night.

Day 4

I spent the night in my own bed at home with Andy my husband and my body was still rather shell shocked with what I was putting it through. I was feeling sick in the evenings and I think this was due to not eating enough in the day. My friend Katie was joining me today and I was definitely needing her energy that she brings when we run together. She was also great at eating the right amount on long runs and I felt I needed her knowledge of how much I should be eating to keep my energy up! I was still very aware that in an ideal world I still had six days left to run and was my body going to keep up. 

After having to repack my holdall, which was actually quite useful as there was a lot I was taking that I didn’t need, I was picked up by Katie and her Dad and driven to Fernworthy Reservoir, where I had finished the day before. We started with a steep ascent gain some height.  We had opted to start in our rain gear, which was the right decision, as the rain started to come thick and fast and soon, we were running into very heavy rain.

Running the ridge by Hameldown

We bagged 4 tors in the pouring rain (Birch, Hookney, Shapley and King) and once we got to the top of Hameldown, the rain stopped and this made all the difference. Running along the top of Hameldown and seeing the East Moor, my home turf, was a real boost for me and especially as we had a view too. We hit Wind Tor for a lunch break before we started the descent into Poundsgate, where we ran along the roads for a while, which was a nice change from hard terrain. 

We filled up water bottles and had another stop to fix my very tired feet, before making our way upwards to Leigh Tor,  following upwards again to a line of tors above the Dart River. We luckily found the top of Aish Tor, which we were convinced was surrounded by gorse.  However, finding Hockington Tor was a massive issue, as there was no path and thick gorse in every direction. After Mel Tor we then started making our way down towards the river, however this was very difficult, no path and we retreated towards a more set path. We ran all the way down to find a very mossy tor, and came back exactly where we had walked down. We then up to Sharp tor, followed by Conies Down and Yar Tor, before descending into Dartmeet. After a long uphill slog on the road, we went back on the moorland up to Laughter and Bellever and descending into Bellever Hostel. 

Day 4 – the sun’s out!

Day 5

What a day. What a nightmare. 

We had enjoyed a good night sleep in the Bellever Hostel and had opted for a later start, mainly due to the weather forecast and knowing there was not going to be a way of avoiding the heavy rain today. However, it was the shortest day of the whole expedition and we were just going to have to suck it up and try and get the day done as soon as possible. 

Within minutes of starting we were soaked and the driving rain didn’t slow. We reached Arch Tor before retreating back to the Postbridge main road and ran along to have a quick stop at the Dartmoor Information Centre to add another layer of plasters. We headed off the road at this point up to Hartland Tor and Stannon Tor, which were pretty straight forward. We then found a very good sheep tracks up to Sittaford, it was all going too well. 

We followed the wall down to the East Dart River, however due to the rain in the week the river was massively swollen and it was difficult to see where we were going to cross. We spent a good hour walking up the river, adding an extra two miles to our day attempting to find somewhere. Katie then suggested sitting down to eat our lunch bagels, a sensible decision to calm me down a bit, I was tired, wet and the last 5 days were wearing off on me. All I wanted was to cross the river and get going for this run to be over! The only spot we found was a large boulder on the other side of the river, next to a 10 foot gap of fast flowing water we would need to cross. In order for us even to get to this, we had to wade up to our knees in bog water. After realising that this was probably the best situation, we ensured everything was in the drybags and slipped into the river. With the use of our poles, the water came up to our waists and we were both able to cross, but only with the help of each other. There was no way I would have crossed that river alone and felt really relieved that

A) We were across the river  

B) Katie was with me so we could help each other cross. This river crossing was uncomfortable and on the edge of being a little dangerous, and also soaked us even more.

We started up the hill to get moving, I was conscious we had both been in the water up to our waists and needed not to slow down or get cold. Somehow, the weather then worsened again, if that is even possible and we were dealing with sidewards slanted heavy rain. We passed Brandon Tor, which was only named a Tor in March 2023 this year so therefore was a bonus tor. 

We made our way up the last three tors (Lower White, Higher White and Longaford Tors) before retreating as quickly as possible to Powder Mills Bunkhouse, a lovely room with a bunk bed and cosy feel to it, which was located between Two Bridges and Postbridge, where we instantly stripped off and got into sleeping bags to warm up!

Day 6

After a difficult day yesterday, I had become aware that we were heading into the most remote section of moorland. I was concerned that not having the right clothing would put us in a vulnerable position in case one of us was to get injured, so I opted for a proper walking jacket. After a weather report from my Dad, we set off along the road, up Crockern and Littaford Tors before heading to the river for somewhere to cross. This was another tricky situation but luckily we found someone had created a fence spanning the river that we climbed across without any dramas and a lot easier than the day before. 

We headed up to both Crow Tor then Rough Tor, with the majority of it being hard to walk let alone run due to the tough uneven terrain, which only got harder to navigate as we headed to an underwhelming Flat Tor before making our way across the marshland to Fur Tor. This was the most remote tor in the moorland and it came 

out from some low hanging clouds to become quite a magnificent sight. 

After retreating, we put our heads down and marched through really uneven ground for well over an hour before thinking we were almost at our next tor. However we then realised we were attempting to go up Rough Tor again. Luckily there was a very good path between Rough Tor and Devils Tor which helped, but still frustrating to have added on a bit of distance. From Devils Tor we headed down a valley and up the other side to Conies Down Tor before following the wall up to Lydford and then Beardown Tors. From here is it was an easy going downhill path into Two Bridges and then onto Princetown, where for the first time, we finished earlier than expected. 

Day 7

Today’s run started from Princetown and the morning prep was really hard to get motivated. It was taking longer to sort out all the gear, food and tape my feet. The night before had been a low moment of the run. In my head I had split the run into three sections, each holding three days. With tiredness kicking in, it seemed impossible to me that I would need to run for another three days, especially today being one of the longest days. This was going to be Katie’s last day of running with me before my husband Andy joined me for the final two days.  

Resting on a tor during Day 7

We started from Princetown and ran along the very well-trodden path to South Hessary. There was no rain and we then set off running on the Abbots way up to Fox Tor. This was a remote area and you could see a line of tors I had already run over the last few days. As we picked up several sheep tracks and veered around Ryders Hill, we opted to run down to the road and along to Combestone Tor and then onto Bench Tor. The sun shone and the clouds parted and it was great to have a good patch of weather for a long day of running. 

We were running towards home turf. Having grown up in Ivybridge, the South Moor was very familiar terrain to us, and as we then headed up alongside Snowdon and Pupers Hill, we saw the Avon Dam. Katie was feeling really dehydrated as we made our way down to meet my parents. My Mum ran with me to Black Tor and then we beasted through the bracken to Shipley Tor, heading down to Shipley Bridge to meet Katie and Dad. Katie was too dehydrated to continue the run, so I went solo running up Diamond Lane, Bull Gate, Glascombe corner and ended the day on Sharp Tor and then on the back roads to Cornwood.

Day 8

Today was my husband Andy’s first day and we set off knowing that by 3pm a storm would hit the area and we needed to be off the moors by then. As we set off, it was already raining and ran along to a very underwhelming Rook Tor before heading back to the road. This was the longest section of road on the whole run and it felt odd running a good 4 miles on tarmac, but the rain reminded us we were most definitely still on Dartmoor. 

We ran to Wotter on the road, it felt nice to be running for longer distances today. After hitting two tors we headed back to the road and ran to Cadover, where we bumped into some family friends who were really happy to see us and it was a nice mood lifter. We headed up to both Trowlesworthy Tors and the wind picked up as well as the rain. I could see the route ahead of us and knew we just had to put our heads down and finish the day as quick as possible. After a shorter than expected route across to Hen Tor, although through a couple of bogs, we went down the valley to a small Shavercombe Tor and then crossing a leat to Calverslake Tor.

By now, the wind and rain had really picked up and we were being blown in lots of directions and we were thoroughly soaked. Ploughing on, we crossed the stream and headed up to both Higher and Lower Hartor Tor. We pressed on through worsening weather and ran down to Eastern Tor, then down to Dittsworthy house. From there we ran across hitting both Legis and Gutter Tor. From there we ran to the car park and waited for pick up and out of the storm. The feeling of relief after finishing this day was prominent and I knew there was only one more day to go before the finish. The end was in sight! 

Day 9

After a broken nights sleep, mainly from excitement that the finish line was in sight, myself and Andy awoke to clouds and sunshine and busied ourselves getting ready. I have learnt over the last 9 days that it does take probably a good hour from getting up to being ready, with forcing myself to eat breakfast, to packing snacks, sorting out water and a variety of different tablets, such as electrolytes and salt tabs and also a longer task of taping my feet to support them from the last 8 days of beatings I had given them. I opted for shorts today and a nice blue outfit, mainly because I thought if I did finish today my family would take photos that I would look at for the rest of my life and I didn’t want to be wearing a weird outfit. Once leaving home and being driven off back to Gutter Tor where we had finished the day before, the sun seemed to be around and we started the day off in a positive way, running up the track to Sheeps Tor.

Looking down towards Burrator on Day 9

A great view from here and it was really positive starting the day off right with a beautiful view. After this it was nice running back down the hill we had run up and made our way across some woodland and up to Down Tor. Andy had to beat down the bracken with a stick, this was mainly for his own benefit as he was scared of adders! 

Once hitting both Down and Combeshead Tor we made our way down into the valley and up again towards Cramber Tor. This route had no path, but in my head I knew these route direct sections of no paths were coming to an end for good so I didn’t complain too much and soldiered on.  Cramber Tor led onto Hart Tor and we sat and had our daily sandwich.

 Out of nowhere we had a downpour of rain for about 5 minutes, Dartmoor showing us never to take our eye off the ball and expecting no rain when none forecasted. We came to Black Tor and ran alongside the road when I got a phone call from mum saying that her and my Dad were on the edge of Sharpitor and they could see us. We ran up to meet them and somehow gained not only our crazy Cocker Spaniel Willow to our team, but also my parents golden retriever Alfie. 

We ran there and back from Leather Tor before heading off to Leedon and Ingra Tor, before heading along a very well-trodden path towards the two final tors of the whole run. Hucken Tor was tucked away within a wall boundary. To start off with it was suggested I jumped the wall alone and ran to get to the Tor. However, both dogs had other ideas of not wanting to miss out and jumped the wall as well, leaving Andy to not wanting to miss out. After reaching the tor jumping back over the wall using the stile this time, we started running up to the final tor, King’s. 

Once reaching the top, we climbed onto the top of the tor, where we got a very good view and a feeling of almost relief came over me. Andy took a few photos and we spoke to my Mum who was on the track and could see us. We asked a very nervous looking man to take our photo before heading down to the path to meet Mum, who was going to run the final stretch with us. 

The Finish!

We ran along the path towards Princetown before I saw my Dad, sister, brother-in-law and niece all shouting and waving. I couldn’t resist a sprint finish and I finished just before 2pm. 

A massive run of emotions hit me as I hugged my family, as I couldn’t truly believe I had finished!  After a small little photoshoot, we walked back to the carpark, where I insisted  waiting until we were in the car park before turning off the watch and even more photos were taken next to the Princetown sign. A lot of food was consumed at the pub afterwards and the relief I felt, and the feeling of triumph was overwhelming, although I did suddenly feel rather lost and couldn’t get over the fact that I didn’t have to run tomorrow, and that my body did in fact deserve a rest and after 18 months of planning, prepping and then performing, I had achieved what I had set out to conquer – to run the 119 Dartmoor Challenge Tors. 

A massive thank you to Emily for inspiration for running such a challenge!

Homemade medal at the finish!