One weekend at the end of the summer, we walked around Wistmands wood over here in the UK. A little futher on there is a small hill and we found some wild horses there.
Nestled on the eastern slopes of the West Dart river stands a wood of dwarf oak trees, Wistman's Wood is one of only three remote high-altitude oakwoods on Dartmoor, Devon, England. It lies at an altitude of 380–410 metres in the valley of the West Dart River near Two Bridges.
It forms one of the highest oakwoods in Britain and, as an outstanding example of native upland oak woodland, was selected as aSite of Special Scientific Interest in 1964, It is also an NCR site and forms part of the Wistman’s Wood National Nature Reserve.
Once you walk into the tangled web of trees you are transported into a mystical world of moss carpeted boulders, lichens of all descript, finger like oak branches, all engulfed in a wonderful smell of earth and age. For millennia this small, mystical, stunted woodland has been held in awe and for many fear. Tales of Druids, ghosts, the Devil and a host of other supernatural creatures abound, some dating back to the long lost ages before man could write. Many writers have described the wood as being "the most haunted place on Dartmoor", others warn that every rocky crevice is filled with writhing adders who spawn their young amidst the moss and leaf strewn tree roots. Locals will never venture near once the sun begins it slow descent over the nearby granite outcrops for it is when the dark mantle of night draws tight that the heinous denizens of the wood stalk the moor in search of their human victims. So be afraid, very afraid, as the wagging finger of fate warns you to stay clear and risk not your mortal soul in the 'Wood of the Wisemen'.
The trees are mainly pedunculate oak, with occasional rowan, and a very few holly, hawthorn, hazel, and eared-willow. Tree branches are characteristically festooned with a variety of epiphytic mosses and lichens and, sometimes, by grazing-sensitive species such as bilberry and polypody. On the ground, boulders are usually covered by lichens and mossy patches – frequent species include Dicranum scoparium, Hypotrachyna laevigata, Rhytidiadelphus loreus and Sphaerophorus globosus – and, where soil has accumulated, patches of acid grassland grow with Heath bedstraw, Tormentil and Sorrel. In places protected against from livestock grazing, plants such as Wood sorrel, Bilberry, Wood rush and Bramble occur. A fringe of Brackensurrounds much of the wood.
The oldest oaks appear to be 200–400 years old having originated within a degenerating oakwood that survived in scrub-form during two centuries of cold climate. In c.1620 these old trees were described as "no taller than a man may touch to top with his head". Tree height had increased somewhat by the mid-nineteenth century, and during the twentieth century approximately doubled: in 1997 the maximum and average height of trees was around 12 m and 7 m respectively. In addition, a wave of marginal expansion of new oaks occurred after c.1900, which approximately doubled the area of the wood. Part of the evidence for these changes comes from a permanent vegetation plot located in the southern end of South Wood. A small part of this was recorded by Hansford Worth in 1921 and is the oldest known its kind in British woodland.
The name of Wistman's Wood may derive from the dialect word 'wisht' meaning 'eerie/uncanny', or ‘pixie-led/haunted’. The legendary Wild Hunt in Devon is particularly associated with Wistman's Wood – the hellhounds of which are known as Yeth (Heath) or Wisht Hounds in the Devonshire dialect.
(Source Wikipedia & http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/wistman.htm)
Legend has it that Wistman's Wood was a sacred grove of the Druid's and it was here that they held there pagan rituals. The wood is also said to be the kennels where the diabolical 'Wisht Hounds' are kept. These are a pack of fearful hell hounds who hunt across the moors at night in search of lost souls and unwary traveller's. It is said that they are huge black dogs with blood red eyes, huge yellow fangs and an insatiable hunger for human flesh and souls. It depends on what part of the moor you meet them but they are either led by the Devil or occasionally by the ancient spirit of Dartmoor known as 'Old Crockern' who lives nearby on Crockern tor. There have been reports from travellers that on dark, misty nights the hounds can be heard howling and baying for blood. The wood is also said to be home to 'hosts' of adders who writhe and slither amongst the velvet moss covered boulders, their bites are apparently more venomous that any other adder on Dartmoor. Sometimes the small ghost of a dog called 'Jumbo' can be seen scurrying around the rocks and boulders in search of rabbits. At nights, the plaintive cries of the little terrier can be heard echoing down through the valley below. History has it that the poor dog died in the wood, from what nobody is sure but there is a strong possibility that it was from an adder bite. Some people say that the small oak trees never produce acorns but on the other hand people also say that if you carry an acorn from the Druid's Grove it will protect from rheumatism. Near to the northern edge of the wood is the ancient Lych Way or 'Way of the Dead'. It was along this track that the corpses were carried for burial at Lydford. There have been reports of a ghostly procession of monastic looking men dressed in white habits slowly walking by the oak wood in sombre silence.
For centuries Wistman's Wood has been the inspiration for numerous artists and poets and a whole plethora of paintings, etchings and poems have been produced. The noted poet Carrington went into full flow when he penned the following drear lines: