Wistman’s Wood is one of only three remote high-altitude oakwoods on Dartmoor, Devon, England. Wistman’s Wood is more than just a group of trees. Because of its altitude and climate, the trees and rocks are coated in a layer of moss, and in certain places the moss may form large clumps on the trunks and branches from which ferns and lichens grow, giving the place a mystical quality, almost as if you had been transported to an alien world.
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.
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.
Studies have found that the oldest trees are about 400 years old, with the woodland area doubling in size in the last 100 years. There is much conjucture as to how this woodland came about, and many suspect that it may be a remnant of the original ancient woodland which once covered the moor.
Tales of Druids, ghosts, the Devil and a host of other supernatural creatures abound. 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’.
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.
They are huge black dogs with blood red eyes, huge yellow fangs and an insatiable hunger for human flesh and souls. 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.