While the majority of moss-covered oaks you'll see today seem to be only 400 - 500 years old (still nothing to sneeze at), legend has it that Wistman's Wood was an ancient sacred grove of the Druids, who would have been pushed into Wales and Cornwall in the 6th and 7th centuries by the encroaching Angles and Saxons in this area of Dartmoor. So if folk memory dictates that it did belong to the Druids, (or simply, the people living here who would have practiced the old ways of the Celtic religion) the trees we see now would be descendants of the original grove that existed then.
|Embarking on our journey|
If you're lucky, they might even lead you to the Druid Stone, one of the only remaining standing stones on the eastern side of the wood, which when I found it was sheltering a mama and baby sheep. There are no paths through the wood, and some websites warned that the woods are home to dozens of Adders, poisonous black snakes that in late spring and summer will be sunning themselves on the rocks - but I didn't see anything and never felt a moment of danger. I did pick my steps carefully, and in any case, you want to avoid trodding on the moss and destroying the look of the boulders that are littered throughout the woods. Sarah and I quickly separated to explore each on our own and time slipped away. Before I knew it, I had been quietly sitting on a rock for nearly two hours, though it felt like only one long moment. The quiet of the wood, punctuated only by the occasional footsteps of another explorer or trilling of bird song, lulls you into such a deep and meditative state. I imagine the atmosphere could feel quite wild at nighttime, though I must say, I didn't have the urge to find out. I was stirred from my quiet space by an eerie feeling after a long while, which made me uncomfortable enough that I stood and made my way to find my long lost Sarah toward the river that runs at the foot of the sloping hill.
There's likely a reason the wood may derive its name from "wisht" meaning spirit, or "Haunted Wood."
Thanks for the recommendation to visit, which came from several readers. I had a wonderful experience there and thought of you all.
|Witman's Wood, an oasis of green on the thirsty, windswept moor.|