We had a chance to visit Dartmoor again on our vacation in England a few weeks ago. The moor has a certain sombre feel to it, especially in foggy and rainy weather, and it's easy to imagine a wisthound or two lurking in the mist on days like this. We braved the rainy weather for a hike to Wistman's Wood from Princetown, as we had done the other walk on the abandoned railroad tracks on our last visit.
It was a two kilometre walk to Two Bridges, where the trail to Wistman's Wood started.
The beginning of the trail. Doesn't it look like it goes to Faerie?
Wistman's Wood is hundreds of years old. If you've been to Dartmoor you know that a lot of it is open moorland, and the sheep and Dartmoor ponies grazing and the long history of farming in the area have affected its ecology. This old wood probably survived because it's growing in rocky ground unsuitable for farming.
The mossy trees do feel a bit ghostly, so I wasn't surprised to find out that there were legends about the wood. It is said that when darkness falls the devil's wisthounds hunt unweary travellers and drive them deeper into the woods never to be seen again.
Here's a poem V.I. Phillips wrote about the Wood:
There's eeriness in Wistman's Wood,
Where stealthy shadows slowly creep
About the boles of moaning trees.
There's terror where the foaming stream
Streaks all the gorge with ghostly light,
And creaking willows toss their arms
Naked and lean against the flood.
There's mourning on the bleak hillside,
And grief in sodden cotton grass
Black bogs, and peewits fluttering.
There's mystery in great grim tors
All silent in the sobbing rain
Where in the shade of Windy Post
A whist hound's baying to the moon.
And yet the wailing wind is dear-
A child, untamed, of that great clan
Of ling and gorse and granite grey.
One with the old eternal hills,
One with the tender moorland sky,
One with the ancient loneliness
Where peat fires burned and loved ones lie.
V. I . Phillips