Wistman’s Wood – 04/07/2018

So I know it’s been a while since my last post, things have been pretty hectic for me – not only is the World Cup going on, but for work I am taking part in a global fitness challenge, and while that in itself is super rewarding as I am spending more time out and about hiking, I am leaving myself little time for taking photos or writing blog posts. I have however, recently upgraded my laptop, and while in the process I accidentally managed to delete my iCloud (losing all the photos from recent hikes to Brown Willy and some travelling photos I didn’t save anywhere else), it does mean that posts in future should be easier and of a higher quality.

So with that out the way, this Wednesday just gone I went to Dartmoor and explored Wistman’s Woods. Parking just outside of the Two Bridges Hotel near Princetown, the woods are located just a mile north of the carpark. Wistman’s Wood isn’t a large forest; it is in fact very small. What it lacks for in size it makes up for in character. Trekking across the first mile of open moorland it is enchanting when the landscape changes. The trees are old oak and lie across a bed of broken granite boulders. Moss clings to both tree and rock alike, giving a choking and eerie feel to the area.

Twisted trees and broken ground

Legend has it that druids held pagan rituals in these woods, and it is often said that at night spirits of the wood venture out onto the moor stalking human victims. Adders are supposed to nest in the crevices of the broken boulders and the hellhounds (or ‘wisht’hounds) of Dartmoor are kept there by their master, Old Crockern, the devilish spirit who abides in the nearby Crockern Tor. The name is derived from the word ‘wisht’ which in old local dialect means eerie/uncanny, pixie led or haunted. While I personally saw neither druid, hellhound, spirit nor adder, it is clear to see why the area has inspired many stories, paintings and poems. The smell of damp decaying earth really does add to the gothic feel of the area. Being upland moor the weather is always prone to change, and while it can be sunny in Princetown you could well be in choking fog while crawling through the wood, compounding the claustrophobic feel.

Easily haunted and likely a site of pagan rituals

Being a site of special scientific interest and one of the oldest upland oak forests in Britain, it is a place well worth exploring in its own right – ghost stories aside. So explore I did. A good half hour later I moved north, heading to the first of 3 tors I wished to climb – Longaford Tor. The highest point of my walk, an impressive 507 metres (1663 feet) above sea level, and offering a commanding view of Devon, this tor is definitely a site worth visiting if in the area. Standing at the northern point of a granite ridge, the tor marked the first point on the way back to the carpark.

The approach to Longford Tor

Moving along the ridge to the south I reached Littaford Tor in little to no time. Not as impressive as Longaford Tor, or as historically significant as Crockern Tor (the final tor of the three), in many ways Littaford Tor was a destination only because it was on the same route as my overall hike. Being 444 metres (1456 feet) above sea level it still gives extensive views of Dartmoor – particularly of Longaford and Bear Tors. Tors are there to be climbed, and since I have a not too serious goal of visiting as many on Dartmoor as I possibly can, going to tors such as this en route to another destination (or indeed on my return journey) is a rewarding way to ‘bag’ more.

Littaford Tor is actually several rocky outcrops

Marching south, the final stretch of my journey was to reach Crockern Tor. Compared to other nearby tors, Crockern Tor is rather unassuming; peaking at just 404 metres (1326) it is one of the smaller tors in the area. What it lacks in looks however, it more than makes up for in history. In fact it has a history that no other tor can boast,  being the central hub of  the four Dartmoor stannary areas (Ashburton, Chagford, Tavistock and Plympton) whose boundaries radiate outwards from it. The Stannary Court was convoked here when deemed necessary, at irregular intervals, by the Lord Warden who summoned 24 representatives or “jurates” from each of the four stannaries. Each meeting probably continued for several days and dealt with matters such as setting stannary law, registering tinworks and mills, hearing petitions and imposing penalties on those guilty of breaking the stannary laws. Home to the ancient pagan god of Dartmoor, Old Crockern, Crockern Tor is a must visit for anyone able to reach central Dartmoor, and rounded off my hike by Two Bridges nicely.

Crockern Tor summit and the site of the stannary meetings

With this summer looking to be a very hot one, hopefully I will get the opportunity to come back and explore some more (somehow I missed Little Bee Tor along the same route…) and go on a longer trek. I should also have less distractions and be able to post more regularly once the World Cup is over. Until then, I leave you the views from Longaford Tor, and as always the various sources I referred to while either planning or referencing my walk.

Watch this space!

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Views like this are why I climb (featuring my dad)

Credit is due to the following links providing maps and reference for my walk: