Originally an ancient forest covered much of Dartmoor before Mesolithic hunters and gatherers cleared it around 5,000 BC. Now the high altitude moorland is nearly devoid of any trees, but there are a few oakwoods left around the rivers in the valleys. And the eerie and beautiful Wistman’s Wood!
Wistman’s Wood is one of the highest oakwoods in Britain and was made a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is a National Nature Reserve. small area The wood is growing on a small area (only about 9 acres). Walking north from Two Bridges in the middle of Dartmoor along the West Dart River we reach Wistman’s Wood after 2 km and are at an altitude of around 400 m.
The oaks are dwarflike and rarely reach any more than 5 metres in height. The trunks are twisted and move in all kinds of directions, creating an eerie feeling in the wood. They grow between large granite boulders that makes it very difficult to walk in the wood, and it must be even more difficult for the poor oaks to find a way to reach down into the soil with their roots.
Lots of moss and lichen are growing both on the tree trunks and on the granite boulders. Wistman’s Wood has got its name from the old dialect word “wisht” meaning eerie/uncanny. It has inspired numerous artists, poets and of course also photographers.
I can easily imagine myself as a child running between the boulders and climbing the tree trunks looking for a tomte (Father Christmas) or troll hiding behind the moss. Nowadays the only trolls to be found are not the romantic Swedish ones but more the menacing internet trolls!