As much as I love walking on the Moor I also have a real passion for taking photographs, especially of Dartmoor itself. I don’t pretend to be particularly good at it however it’s something I really enjoy doing. I decided that although this was initially started as a walking blog to record my wanders across the Moor (mainly for my own purposes) that I would also open it up a little and post other stuff too. The weather on the Moor isn’t always conducive to deep moor walks and so I have started to start exploring with my camera a little more on my ‘walking day’. Wistman’s Wood is not a challenging walk, it’s more of a leisurely stroll really so I decided to count this one as more of a exploratory photography trip. The wood is an area I know well; as a kid I can remember going there a few times and being totally creeped out by the stunted miniature oak trees, twisted and contorted casting their eerie shadows over the moss covered boulders that litter the wood floor. I’d not been there in twenty years and decided that now I was all grown up and everything…. I could make the trip unaccompanied apart from my camera.
I parked in the little car park just opposite the Two Bridges Hotel (SX609750 / PL20 6SW) and headed up the well-worn track that runs along the sides of the West Dart valley. Initially you climb up a little heading toward Crocken Tor before the track levels off and continues toward Wistman’s Wood about a mile distant. The path isn’t challenging and the worst I struggled with was a few muddy puddles. Pretty quickly I arrived at the wood itself and was immediately whisked back 35 years to my first visit there. It still looked the same, sounded the same and even smelt the same. It was dark, foreboding and eerie just as I remember it being all those years ago. I pushed straight into the wood and explored it a little before I found two other chaps who’d had the same idea as me and were there with camera and tripods. I left them to it and found another area to explore. At some point someone has been up there and removed moss from the rocks to form patterns. I would normally not support something like this as I believe that we should always try to leave the Moor as we find it and try not to damage or hurt anything….. however, what they had done looked really good and somehow enhanced the mystical feeling that Wistman’s Wood always seems to exude.
“It is hardly possible to conceive anything of the sort so grotesque as this wood appears,” the local Reverend Swete declared about Wistman’s Wood in 1797
The wood itself is a relic of the past and is one of the very few remaining parts of the old Dartmoor Forest which covered the entire Moor around 7000BC. Around 5000BC most of the Dartmoor Forest was cleared by hunters and settlers leaving the beautiful baron moorland we see now. Wistman’s Wood is made up predominantly of dwarf oak trees with some rowan and a few holly, hawthorn, hazel, and eared-willow dotted around for good measure. The floor is completely covered in clitter. Unlike the clitter out on the open moor though the boulders in the wood are smooth and washed, a sign that at some point they were submerged in the river as it carved through the valley and they make it very difficult for the Dartmoor Ponies to get in amongst and so it’s been preserved through the years. They also provide perfect homes for snakes and Wistman’s Wood is home to a large adder population (not that I saw any when I explored in November as I hope they would be tucked up and hibernating by then)
As you’d imagine, a spooky wood such as this has lots of stories, myths and legends attached to it. It’s said that the Devil’s ‘Wishthounds’ or Hellhounds are kennelled there or that there are satanic rituals and ceremonies held there on the Solstices. There is indeed a large boulder that is known as the Druid’s stone or Alter Stone on which there are accounts of it being found with animal remains covering it, or just blood stains. Certainly when I was at school in Tavistock there were more rumours and stories surrounding Wistman’s Wood than any other part of the moor.
RouteDownload my GPX file